Malcolm H. Kerr

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Malcolm Kerr
Born Malcolm Hooper Kerr
(1931-10-08)October 8, 1931
Beirut, Lebanon
Died January 18, 1984(1984-01-18) (aged 52)
Beirut, Lebanon
Nationality American
Fields Middle Eastern studies
Institutions American University of Beirut
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
Princeton University

Malcolm Hooper Kerr (October 8, 1931 – January 18, 1984) was a university professor specializing in the Middle East and the Arab world. An American citizen, he was born, raised, and died in Beirut, Lebanon. He served as President of the American University of Beirut until he was killed by gunmen in 1984.


His youth was spent in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut, where his parents taught for forty years.[1] His parents, Elsa Reckman and Stanley Kerr, were married in Marash, where they met while they were rescuing Armenian women and orphans after the Armenian Genocide. After the Marash Affair they moved to Beirut. There his father became the chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at AUB and his mother was Dean of Women.[2] During World War II the family relocated to Princeton University in New Jersey. Following the war they returned to Beirut where Malcolm attended the American Community School at Beirut. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm went back alone to the USA, where he graduated from high school at the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

His undergraduate degree in 1953 came from Princeton University where he had studied with Professor Philip Hitti. An early onset of arthritis caused him to return to his family in Lebanon. He entered a masters program in Arabic studies,[3] completing it in 1955 at the American University of Beirut. Here he met his wife, Ann Zwicker Kerr, with whom he had four children. He commenced his doctorate work in Washington, D.C., at the School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, from where he received his Ph.D. in 1958. His dissertation was written under the guidance of Majid Khadduri and Sir Hamilton Gibb.[4]


Following his doctorate, Kerr returned to teach at the American University of Beirut for three years, becoming assistant professor at the Department of Political Science in 1962. The same year, he accepted a similar post, teaching at the University of California at Los Angeles.[5] There, he would become a full professor. He was appointed as chairman of the Department of Political Science and then Dean of the Division of Social Sciences (1973-1976).

In 1959, his first book was published, emerging from his master's thesis: Lebanon in the Last Years of Feudalism. Then, at Oxford University, he did post-doctorate work for a year with Professor Albert Hourani. While he was at Oxford, Professor Gustave von Grunebaum recruited Kerr for a teaching post at the University of California at Los Angeles; his career matured over the course of twenty years of teaching in Los Angeles, from 1962 to 1982.

PKerr and his family returned often to Beirut, during vacations and breaks from UCLA. In 1964-1965, an academic grant, however, sent him to Cairo, where he worked on his most well-known book, The Arab Cold War, published in 1965. The next year he published Islamic Reform, a reworking of his doctorate dissertation. Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, PKerr sensed a drastic change for the worse in the tone of Arab politics, which became harsh and bitter. In 1970-1971, he accepted an academic grant to France and North Africa and worked on a third edition of The Arab Cold War. Kerr served as president of the Middle East Studies Association in 1972. Subsequently, an award of the Middle East Studies Association was named in his honor.[6]

His own scholarship was forthright and honest to the point of sometimes getting him into trouble. While he was often thought of as 'pro-Arab' in writing about the Israeli-Arab conflict, he could be as critical of the Arabs as he was of the Israelis. He spoke the truth as he saw it and was committed to the cause of Arab-Israeli peace and to building understanding between the Arab World and the West."[7]

The Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), which often severely disrupted all life in Beirut, also interrupted the Kerr family's yearly travels. Accordingly, in 1976-1977, Kerr was again in Egypt, serving as 'visiting distinguished professor' at the American University in Cairo. Eventually, he marshalled a Ford Foundation grant to fund a joint project of the Von Grunebaum Center at UCLA (which he then headed) and the Strategic Studies of the Al-Ahram Foundation in Egypt. He returned to Cairo in 1979, where he edited the results of this joint Egyptian-American academic effort, the book Rich and Poor States in the Middle East.

President of AUB[edit]

The Presidency of the American University of Beirut was offered to Kerr in 1982.[citation needed] Although the civil war was still being fiercely battled on occasion, with the recent exit of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Lebanese civil struggle for domestic change had been a more focused effort, which encouraged hope for resolution. "Betting on these chances and feeling a sense of calling to the job, the Kerrs decided to go to Beirut." He accepted the position, serving as President for seventeen months. Appointed presideny in March, effective July 1, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut made him work first from the New York office. He arrived at his College Hall office at the University in September 1982.[8]


On January 18, 1984, Kerr was shot and killed by two gunmen outside his office; he was 52. Years later, information regarding Kerr's assassins and their motives still remain uncertain, but an Islamic Jihadist took credit for the murder[9] [10] Yet some doubt remains as to the perpetrator.[citation needed]

News of his sudden death, which was yet another tragic event in the civil war, appeared in the media worldwide.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Malcolm was the oldest son of Elsa and Stanley Kerr, who settled in Beirut after rescuing Armenian women and orphans with the Near East Relief in Aleppo and Marash after the Armenian Genocide.[2]

Malcolm had four children - Susan, John, Steve, and Andrew. Steve Kerr is a former NBA player and the current head coach of the Golden State Warriors [12] His son-in-law, Hans van de Ven, is an expert on Chinese history at the University of Cambridge.[citation needed]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Malcolm H. Kerr, Lebanon in the Last Years of Feudalism 1840-1868. A contemporary account by Antun Dahir Al-Aqiqi (American University of Beirut 1959)
  • Malcolm H. Kerr, The Arab Cold War. Gamel Abd al-Nasr and his Rivals, 1958-1970 (Oxford University 1965, 3d ed. 1975)
  • Malcolm H. Kerr, Islamic Reform. The political and legal theories of Muhammad 'Abduh and Rashid Ridā (Princeton University 1966)
  • Malcolm H. Kerr, The Elusive Peace in the Middle East (SUNY 1975)
  • Abraham S. Becker, Bent Hudson, & Malcolm H. Kerr, editors, Economics and Politics of the Middle East (New York: Elsevier 1975)
  • Malcolm H. Kerr and al-Sayyid Yasin, editors, Rich and Poor States in the Middle East. Egypt and the New Arab Order (Westview 1982)
  • Samir Seikaly and Ramzi Ba'labakki, editors, Quest for Understanding. Arabic and Islamic studies in honor of Malcolm H. Kerr (American University of Beirut 1991)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ His father taught as Professor of Biochemistry at the University; his mother served as Dean of Women for a term. "Malcolm H. Kerr" at American University of Beirut
  2. ^ a b "The Inside Story Of Steve Kerr And His Family's Little-Known History Of Altruism In The Middle East". UPROXX. 2016-05-25. Retrieved 2016-06-03. 
  3. ^ Office of President AUB
  4. ^ Kerr, "Preface" to his Islamic Reform (1966).
  5. ^ UCLA
  6. ^ MESA's Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Awards
  7. ^ At MESA: "Malcolm H. Kerr biography" by Ann Z. Kerr
  8. ^ "Malcolm H. Kerr" at American University of Beirut
  9. ^ Winslow, Charles (1996). Lebanon: War and Politics in a fragmented Society. London and New York: Routledge. p. 246. 
  10. ^ At MESA: "Malcolm H. Kerr biography" by Ann Z. Kerr Text and Beirut quotation.
  11. ^ American University of Beirut: newsletter 1999 "Malcolm H. Kerr Biography" [cached at Google]. Condolences and remembrance came from many respected sources.
  12. ^ Farid, Farid (June 16, 2016). "STEVE KERR AND HIS MOTHER TALK ABOUT THE LEGACY OF HIS FATHER'S ASSASSINATION". The New Yorker. The New Yorker. Retrieved June 17, 2016.