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The Oil Cringe of the West: The Collected Essays and Reviews of J.B. Kelly Vol. 2. Paperback – April 15, 2014
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John Kelly sets the standard by which historians are to be judged. A careful researcher, he made sure of the facts and expressed them in beautifully measured prose. More than that, a lifelong determination to do justice to the truth completes the special authority of his writings.
— David Pryce Jones, Sr. Editor of National Review and author of The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs
John Kelly had an unrivalled knowledge of the historical and diplomatic sources for Arabia and the Persian Gulf region over the last two centuries, and equally important, an incisive mind which saw through what he regarded as the, then fashionable, cant about the supposed iniquities of British imperialism and the alluring prospects held out by nationalism for democracy and freedom in the Middle Eastern lands; such views, so prevalent then, seem pathetically misguided today. The present collection of essays and reviews, many of the latter of considerable length, complements Kelly's books, now standard works on the history of the Gulf region, and well illustrate his insights in bringing fresh historical materials to light and showing how he set out to combat and correct uninformed, sloppy and tendentious writing on the modern Middle East.
— C. Edmund Bosworth, Professor Emeritus of Arabic Studies at the University of Manchester and the British editor of the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Islam.
“Thou hast been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” That is the judgment of scholar J.B. Kelly on the rise of revolutionary Arab nationalism and the long Western retreat from responsibility in the Middle East since the 1950s. But what has been found wanting—the failed revolutionary regimes or a West surfing home on the wave of the future? Or both about equally? With a matchless dry wit Kelly describes in this collection the long tragi-comedy of how ruthless socialist tyrants and deluded Western diplomats between them kept the Arab world in a state of progressive backwardness and eventually midwifed Islamist terrorism. If we had listened then, we might not have to laugh through gritted teeth now.
— John O’Sullivan author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister--New English Review
The received wisdom and unexamined assumptions underlying the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts to forge peace between Israel and her enemies are as predictable as the ignominious collapse of this latest attempt. We are now well into the seventh decade of this false knowledge and the spurious narrative dominating American foreign policy under administrations of both parties. Just how old and worn this narrative is can be seen in the late John Barrett Kelly’s The Oil Cringe of the West, a collection of reviews and essays that originally appeared in the critical decade of the 1970s after the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars.
Kelly was a New Zealander who earned his PhD at the London School of Economics. In the 1970s and 1980s he was one of the most influential scholars on the Middle East. Like Elie Kedourie and Bernard Lewis, he was a respected advisor to governments and commentator and on the region who was not afflicted with the sentimental romanticism and civilizational self-loathing that continue to distort Western foreign policy. Dedicated to facts and objective analysis, Barrett was no partisan, criticizing all sides equally when criticism was due. More important, he was the enemy of unexamined opinion and ideological fashion, which of course made him an enemy to the anti-imperialist, Arabophilic establishment, especially in England.
Kelly’s 1973 description of the foreign policy establishment’s view of the Israeli-Arab conflict and Britain’s culpability in creating it is a jewel of concision and eviscerating wit. That view pertains “less to the mundane affairs of men and governments than to the most solemn matters of faith and dogma––of British guilt and Arab innocence and the doctrine of redemption through vicarious atonement.” One can hear the echoes of this sensibility throughout Obama’s notorious 2009 Cairo speech. Also reprised by Obama is Kelly’s reconstruction of the historically false narrative generating that sensibility, which deserves quotation in full: “Britain promised independence to the Arabs during World War I and betrayed that promise afterwards. The worst act of betrayal was the Balfour Declaration which led to the formation of the state of Israel. Arab unity was stultified by British obstinacy in propping up reactionary regimes and opposing revolutionary movements. Although Britain has at last seen the error of its ways and has left the Arabs alone, it still bears the stigmata of past misdeeds. Until these have been erased and the guilt purged, the Arabophile order must toil at its penitential labours, ritually flogging the irreverent and ceaselessly chanting the orisons of repentance.”
Forty years later we still see in England the baneful effects of this false history in an anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism, in the cringing appeasement of Muslim sensibilities, and in the vigorous Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement that seeks to dismantle Israel politically on behalf of the Arabs who want to destroy her root and branch. And ever since Edward Said’s fatuous Orientalism––that toxic stew of historical lies and Foucauldian folderol––this same myth-history now dominates the American establishment as well. It bespeaks not just the noble-savage/Marxist romanticizing of the colonial dark-skinned battlers against Western imperialism, but the concomitant self-loathing and cheap guilt that in Britain followed the intellectuals’ disenchantment with the Empire, and that has been aped in America by professors and pundits who think that biting the cultural, political, and economic hand that amply feeds them is the height of cosmopolitan sophistication...
— Bruce Thornton--Front Page Magazine
About the Author
Professor John Barrett Kelly was one of the foremost commentators on the Middle East, and noted for his independence of mind; along with Bernard Lewis, PJ Vatikiotis and Elie Kedourie he was one of the so-called “Gang of Four,” pre-eminent scholars in the field who believed that Western policy towards the Arab world was distorted by sentimental illusions—notably, that it mistook the tyranny imposed by Arab nationalist regimes for progress.
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