Bad news tends to travel faster than good news. But there’s always the odd exception to the rule. I lost a dear friend earlier this month and learned of his departure from this world today. It’s unbelievable that Professor Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research for International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and editor of the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), and one of the most prolific writers on Middle East politics and author of a hundred books, is no more. He lost his battle against cancer on February 3.
Professor Rubin (as I would call him in deference to his wisdom, knowledge and sagely white beard) was one of the gentlest souls I have come across. He was a patient and gentle teacher who would explain to you the big picture, unravelling strand by strand the many intricate, inter-woven strands of Middle East politics, while urging you not to get distracted by minor details of the moment. His brilliance shone through his words, spoken and written. “It is vital to note that Barry’s work was characterised not only by its analytical depth, but also by a profound sense of moral urgency,” Jonathan Spyers writes in his touching appreciation.
During my many visits to Israel I would make it a point to meet Prof Rubin – either at the café below his apartment or at restaurant on the beach. A coffee or a beer would stretch to several coffees and beers. Silence would descend on Jerusalem and I would be listening spellbound to him. He introduced me to the editor of The Jerusalem Post, where he was a columnist, and that led to my writing for the paper.
I missed him on my last visit to Israel a year ago – he was in the US. His emails became infrequent as the cancer ravaged his body, but he bravely wrote on. His last article, “Imagine All the People Living in Islamist Hegemony: Why Lennon and Dylan Know All About Islamist Hegemony”, was published on January 21.
My interest in Israel and Middle East politics stems from my friendship with another Israeli writer, Eric Silver, whom I met while working for The Statesman. Those days Eric wrote a fortnightly column for the Statesman’s editorial page. Like Prof Rubin, Eric was a patient teacher who generously shared his knowledge and was capable of enormous affection. When I joined The Pioneer, the then editor, Vinod Mehta, asked me to invite Eric to write for the paper. Eric happily obliged.
Years later, when I returned to The Pioneer, Eric returned to writing for the paper. He was a contributor till his death in 2008. Like Prof Rubin, he too fell victim to cancer. It was around that time I was introduced to Prof Rubin by a common friend. He came on board and The Pioneer had the finest analysis and commentary on Middle East affairs.
It was Prof Rubin who discovered, while going through Arthur Blair’s papers, that he had signed up to join The Pioneer as its editor but couldn’t honour the appointment due to ill health. We ran the story on the front page, headlined “George Orwell, the finest editor The Pioneer never had”.
Prof Rubin occasionally wrote for Niti Central. His scintillating multi-part analysis of Obama’s Middle East policy is one of the finest essays in Niti Central’s archives. His articles in Niti Central’s archives can be read here.
Among my vast number of books, stacked erratically, lies buried a copy of Elie Wiesel’s Night, signed and gifted by Eric Silver. And three books of Prof Rubin, signed and gifted by him – Arafat: A Political Biography, The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East. Books are a wonderful reminder of friends dead and gone, reviving and refreshing memories.
For, memories are all that remain of times past as we reconcile ourselves to our mortality.
(Picture courtesy tabletmag.com)