- Monday, 20 November, 2017
18:00 - 19:45
Registration – 6.00pm
Event Start – 6.30pm
Event Finish – 7.45pm
Delivered by Sir John Jenkins
‘The Chatham House Version Revisited’
Vote of Thanks from Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs
In the struggle against Islamist extremism, history matters. It is often under-appreciated how far groups from across the Islamist spectrum, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Da’esh, are powered by a simplistic yet powerful historical narrative. Events from a century ago – like the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Skyes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration – loom large in the imagination of contemporary extremists. In part, this is because Islamists have successfully weaponised a version of history that became dominant within western societies.
Almost fifty years ago, Elie Kedourie charted the contours of this in his seminal collection of essays, The Chatham House Version and Other Middle Eastern Studies, which eviscerated the self-flagellating, liberal guilt complex that, to his mind, had taken hold of the British Foreign Office. A hopelessly romantic view of Arab and Muslim societies, Kedourie noted, had become infused with an uncritical and ready acceptance of western malfeasance. In short, the blame for all the problems of ‘the umma’ was laid squarely and solely at the door of the West. There is surely much here that Kedourie would recognise in the narratives that today dominate popular and even scholarly accounts of Middle Eastern history – and which in turn fuel the Islamist culture of grievance and victimhood. There is surely merit therefore in revisiting ‘the Chatham House version’, to reflect on its enduring relevance.
Elie Kedourie died in 1992, aged just 66. His wife, Sylvia (née Haim) – a distinguished scholar in her own right – died late last year, aged 90. This inaugural lecture celebrates the memory of their shared commitment to the best traditions of incisive, sober and rigorous historical inquiry – what one obituarist called “a special sort of conservative realism”.
Sir John Jenkins served as UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Burma. During a 35-year career in the FCO, he held a number of other diplomatic posts, particularly in the Middle East, and was recognised as the government’s senior diplomatic Arabist. In 2014, he was tasked by Prime Minister David Cameron to lead a review of British policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamism. He is Executive Director of The International Institute for Strategic Studies and a Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale.
Venue: Policy Exchange