When Barry Rubin passed away on Feb. 3, the best tributes came from those who had known him well. PJ Media’s Dave Swindle wrote one of them, and has been compiling some of the others, including Roger Simon’s moving account of Barry Rubin: Conscience of the White City.
I did not know Barry well. I met him in person only once, a few years ago, for a chat in Washington over a cup of tea. But for more than 10 years I was in touch with him, by email, occasionally by phone, and by way of reading his clear and prolific writing on the ways of tyranny and power, particularly in the Middle East. I am feeling the loss of him so keenly that I would like to add a few words.
Barry was not only smart, and wise in the ways of politics and power. He was also gracious; generous with his knowledge, and his time. Back around 2003, I began reading Barry’s online bulletins on the Middle East. They made so much sense that I wrote to him, with questions about some of the more baffling complexities on which U.S. policy seemed endlessly to run aground. Barry replied. He always replied. He always made sense. From time to time, over the years — usually when I was trying to puzzle out something while on a deadline — we also spoke by phone. He always made time, he always returned a message or a call, he always brought clarity to the picture.
How he found time for such things, I don’t know. He wrote so prolifically — and his writing was so packed with information and insights — that I cannot begin to claim I was able to keep up with it all. Together with his wife, Judith Colp Rubin, Barry published a political biography of Yasir Arafat, in 2003, which was an invaluable resource — explaining in depth and detail how Arafat, “the man who did more than anyone else to champion and advance the Palestinian cause, also inflicted years of unnecessary suffering on his people, delaying any beneficial redress of their grievances or solutions to their problems.” Another of his books, The Truth About Syria, published in 2007, is crammed with insights into the Assad regime’s longtime belief that “the only way to navigate around the country’s limitations has been to export unrest to the rest of the region, whether through terrorism, military action, occupation, or the spread of radical ideologies.” (As Dave Swindle reports, Barry recently decided to offer 13 of his books, free, online, The Truth About Syria among them. You can find them here.)
And, as readers of PJ Media know, while Barry worked on subjects that were deadly serious, he had a lively sense of humor. Amid the insights into tyrants and terrorists and the madhouse of Middle East diplomacy, he savored the comic side of life. In 2011, he turned a ghastly encounter with international air travel into an entertaining tale of “Escape from the Planet of the Airlines” — in which he chronicled the logistics of trying to fly from Washington to Israel with his wife, son, four suitcases, a guitar and three cats.
When Barry told PJ Media readers in 2012 that he had been diagnosed with cancer, I sent him a note. He must have been flooded with messages at that point, and he was embarking on a mortal struggle. But, as always, he sent back a kind and gracious reply. Publicly, he went on writing, indefatigably sharing his insights, offering up truths about the mortal struggles of the Middle East. His passing is a great loss.