The following eulogy of Dr. Reuven Paz was given by Prof. Assaf Moghadam on September 8, 2015 during the 15th Annual World Summit on Counter-Terrorism at the Sharon Hotel, Herzliya.
This event is held in the memory of Dr. Reuven Paz. Born in Haifa in 1950, Reuven served in the IDF, and in 1971 joined the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet. He helped establish the agency’s Research Division, which he eventually headed—a position he held until his retirement from the Shin Bet in 1994, after 23 years of dedicated service.
Reuven did not fit most people’s image of an intelligence analyst. He was soft-spoken, with teddybear-like features, and way too nice for someone in government. He was also extraordinarily humble. Early on in his life, he developed an insatiable passion for studying Islamic movements and the history of the Middle East. While working for the Shin Bet, he earned BA and MA degrees in these fields in 1974 and 1989, and after his retirement from government services earned a PhD in Middle Eastern History, all from the University of Haifa.
After the tragic attacks of September 11, people yearned for explanations about the nature of militant Islamism, the roots of Al Qaeda and Global Jihad. Many pundits became overnight experts appearing on CNN and Fox News. Not so Reuven, who had devoted three decades of his life before 9/11 to develop an expertise on militant Islamism that was unmatched in its range and depth, along with fluency in written and spoken Arabic. Reuven often used to say that he knew far more about Islam than about his own religion, Judaism.
In 1997, Reuven joined the ICT and for the next three years served as its first Academic Director. He continued to contribute to the mission of ICT in various capacities until his death. In fact, just weeks before Reuven passed away, he participated in a roundtable we organized to examine the media and communication strategy of the so-called “Islamic State.” Reuven seemed in top form. When one participant in that meeting made a slightly off-hand remark about Islam, Reuven immediately interjected in protest. Reuven was a nice guy, but with zero tolerance for BS.
After the 9/11 attacks, Reuven’s unique insights were in high demand and sought governments worldwide. He gave frequent briefings to various security and intelligence agencies in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere, and testified in at least 19 cases involving terrorism in the United States, Canada, and European courts. All of these bodies—all of us—relied on him because we knew that Reuven was not simply an expert. He was the experts’ expert.
One year after 9/11, he founded and directed the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM), which was part of the GLORIA Center at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC). Reuven’s establishment of the PRISM project at IDC was of immense value to the academic and counterterrorism community. His writings were deeply insightful and adhered to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and honesty. They were also prescient. Reuven was one of the first scholars to argue after 9/11 that Al Qaeda was turning into a global jihadi phenomenon. He was among the first to trace the online jihadi discourse, and he published on his website jihadi primary source materials, which he found on Jihadi forums. His PRISM website, in fact, became one of the first clearinghouses of raw data on jihadism. This, in addition to his writings, made Reuven a pioneer of modern jihadism study. And you don’t have to take my word for it. This is the consensus of scholars in the field, as reflected in many postings that were shared on social media in the wake of his death.
Reuven was beloved because he coupled deep expertise and passion with an equally deep sense of service, generosity, and willingness to help. He enjoyed sipping coffee (and smoking probably too many cigarettes) with other scholars. He seemed to particularly enjoy shaping the minds of young scholars, in whom he would imbue a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of radical Islam. And this may be Reuven’s most important legacy: his mentorship especially of younger scholars, whom he inspired deeply, and whom he taught that Islam is not black and white, but complex, full of dimensions, and yes, beauty.
Reuven the person, alas, was every bit as multi-dimensional as the topic to which he devoted his career. Most people will probably remember him for his scholarly contributions. But besides the kind, humble, brilliant scholar, he was a loving father to his children, Inbal and Tal. He maintained a life-long friendship with his first wife, Daniela, and along with her took a very active part in their children’s upbringing. He cherished his moments with his grandchildren, Yuval and Yarden. He was an art lover and a poet. He was “Lek,” the lover of ice-cream, as his life partner of 15 years, Linda, used to refer to him.
Reuven died on February 22, 2015 at the age of 64. In our hearts and minds, he will live on forever. May his memory be blessed.
For Dr. Reuven Paz’ biography, click here