We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Marion Farouk-Sluglett on March 1 in Salt Lake City. Marion had been diagnosed with cancer just a year earlier, but up until a few weeks before her death she continued to teach and write. In early December, she traveled to Washington for the MESA meeting, where she chaired a panel on poverty in Turkey. She told us then about a new work-in-progress relating to leading Islamist thinkers. Even in her time of grievous sickness she maintained the formidable affirmative spirit that had been her signature.
Marion had been a contributing editor of this magazine since 1989. She was best known for her highly critical writing on contemporary Iraq, and with her husband, Peter Sluglett, she was the author of Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship (Kegan Paul, 1987). She also lived in and wrote about Yemen, Lebanon and Morocco, and over the past decade she and Peter had done archival work on Ottoman court records in Aleppo as part of a project looking at nineteenth- and twentieth-century land tenure trends.
Iraq was no dispassionately selected scholarly topic. Marion, a native of Berlin, traveled to Baghdad as a teenager with her family in the early 1950s. There she met and married Omar Farouk al-Awqati, a young officer from Mosul attached to the court of King Faisal II. He only revealed his affiliation with the banned Communist Party of Iraq at the moment of the July 1958 revolution that overthrew the monarchy. Marion, her anti-fascist commitment formed out of her German childhood, instinctually associated herself with the Iraqi left in the subsequent years of recurrent clashes with Baathist forces. The Baath seized power in a bloody putsch in February 1963, and tortured and killed thousands of communists, among them Omar Farouk. Marion fled to Berlin that summer with Omar’s parents and her baby sons, Marwan and Sha‘lan.
Marion remained engaged with the life of her adopted county, and her tiny Berlin apartment hosted scores of solidarity meetings on Iraq. She also began doctoral studies at Humboldt University. It was while working in the British Public Record Office that she met Peter Sluglett, who was himself researching Iraq’s British mandate period. To those of us who knew them, they always conveyed an unabashed enthusiasm for each other’s company, all the more so for those frequent times when jobs and research grants placed them apart. As a team they produced a wide range of essays on land tenure, labor movements, ideological trends and historiography. It is worth recalling that the highly critical appraisal of Iraq that Marion provided in these pages and in her book was produced at a time when most writings in the West were deferential, if not openly apologetic, to the regime in Baghdad. In the 1980s, as Baghdad warred against revolutionary Iran, this deference fully accorded with the political agendas of the great powers. This was a time when Marion was active in launching the Committee Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq, and bringing the work of dissident Iraqi intellectuals to the attention of Western readers.
Marion touched our lives, and we have been privileged for that. She left us all too soon. To Peter, Marwan and Sha‘lan, our strongest heartfelt condolences for their loss and ours.