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The Stephanie Chase Conversations - Moorhead Kennedy On Being a Hostage, On Islam and On Non-Involvement

By Stephanie Chase
Guest Columnist
New York, NY, USA

Stephanie Chase

It has been my privilege to know Moorhead Kennedy for a number of years, starting when he and his late wife, Louisa, hosted me for the first of many times when I have been a guest artist at the Mt. Desert Festival of Chamber Music in Maine. 

Moorhead, whom I know as Mike, has enjoyed a distinguished career working on behalf of the United States government in several capacities but especially in the Foreign Service, in the arena of the Middle East. In 1979, he was one of 53 United States Embassy personnel held hostage by Iranian militants and was imprisoned for 444 days until his release. Louisa was the spokesperson for the hostage families and kept their plight before the American public; in fact, the television program Nightline, hosted for many years by Ted Koppel, developed as a result of the nightly hostage crisis coverage by ABC News.

Moorhead Kennedy's background, experience and nuanced expertise combine to offer a compelling viewpoint on the Middle East. In view of today's world situation, in which many nations are suffering attacks from what is perceived as Islamic terrorism, these lessons from the past seem extraordinarily important. In 1986 he wrote a book about his experiences, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral: Reflections of a Hostage, which was published by Hill and Wang and is still available through several sources. It has been described as "a careful, reasoned analysis of the U.S. Foreign Service, the philosophies that frame our foreign policies, and the forces that animate our career diplomats…and (is) an absolute requirement for any serious study of modern foreign policy and international relations" (Library Journal).

Born in New York, Kennedy is a graduate of Groton School, where he excelled in history and developed a keen interest in the politics and cultures of the Middle East. He went to Princeton, in part to study Arabic and continue his education on the Middle East, and graduated magna cum laude in 1952. Following a stint in the Army he entered Harvard Law School, where he wrote a much-praised essay on Islamic law in which he compared it with the inheritance laws of Massachusetts. While in law school, Kennedy spent a year in Lebanon in order to further study Arabic. Following his graduation, he joined the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research as a researcher.

He subsequently entered the Foreign Service and was sent to Yemen, then Athens (Greece was still considered part of the Middle East) – first as a consular, then a politico-military officer – and then returned to Beirut as an Economic Officer.

Although he does not allude to it in this interview, Kennedy and the other hostages were regularly subjected to psychological torture that included mock executions, which he details in his book.


STEPHANIE CHASE: In 1979, you were the acting head of the United States Embassy's economic section in Iran. How did you come by this appointment and what were your duties?

Moorhead Kennedy and Family (Jan. 27, 1981)
Moorhead Kennedy and Family (Jan. 27, 1981)

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: I had recently been Economic Counselor, which means I was an embassy section head, in Santiago, Chile. That assignment had followed my year at the National War College in Washington. Before that, I had a position in Beirut, then I was Director of the Office of Investment Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Commercial Affairs in the Department of State – I founded the office, which, at last report, continues. Upon my return from Santiago, I didn't see anything I wanted to do professionally. Then l was told that the Economic Counselor in Tehran was due home for family visitation leave, and needed to be replaced temporarily. Would I volunteer? I did, arriving in Tehran in September.

Besides running the section, which included a commercial officer to handle business relations, my principal job was economic reporting. Washington wanted to know how the Iranian economy was responding to the Revolution. It was the best stuff I ever wrote, and I was told that it was read "all over Washington." Some of my reporting was to correct the dream world that the regular economic counselor had been trying to convey. Our captors were amazed when they read his stuff.


STEPHANIE CHASE: What was the principal difference between the reality and the spin on the Iranian economy at that time?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: The spin was that the Iranian Revolution welcomed the Americans, wishing for more investment and stronger relations with the US. The spinners – the Economic Counselor and the Country Director back at the Department of State – hoped and therefore believed that the Iranian economy was strengthening itself, but they greatly misled the US government. The political section, and I, understood better the realities. Following our capture, the captors read our files and their leader said to me, referring to the economic counselor, "He can't be for real."


STEPHANIE CHASE: The former Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, fled early that year due to the Iranian Revolution, which ended some 2,500 years of a continuous monarchy. He had been reigning since 1967. What were some of the factors that led to his overthrow?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Although the Shah boasted of a continuous monarchy, it is really a fallacy. He had come to the throne in 1941, when the occupying British exiled his father, Reza Shah. He was chased out by the liberal Prime Minister Mossadeq in 1953, but restored following a coup by the Army in which the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] was deeply involved.


STEPHANIE CHASE: What was the purpose of the CIA – and American – involvement?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Prime Minister Mossadeq had nationalized the British-owned and exploitative Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which today is called British Petroleum. The British government then broke relations, and closing their embassy deprived their secret intelligence of a needed station. They had been planning an Iranian army coup to overthrow Mossadeq, and they therefore decided to hand the project over to the American CIA, meanwhile playing a lead role in persuading Eisenhower that Mossadeq was a communist. (He was of the former royal dynasty.) The first attempt faltered and the Shah fled. The second succeeded, and he returned. In the following years he turned into a vicious tyrant.

Had the Shah followed Harry Truman's advice to focus on the welfare of his people, all this might have been forgotten. But he squandered money on the armaments that were his passion, in which he was egged on by the US Department of Defense. He also oppressed his people and was arguably the world's worst violator of human rights.


Iranian Students storm US Embassy (Tehran, 1979)
Iranian Students storm US Embassy (Tehran, 1979)

STEPHANIE CHASE: My first concert trip to the Philippines was cancelled because Benigno Aquino, who had formed an opposition party to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was murdered on the tarmac of the airport as he returned to the country. Marcos was also backed by the US and impoverished the Philippines while enriching himself and his cronies.

So the Shah of Iran was closely allied with the United States – is this why the US embassy was targeted? There was an attempt to overtake it earlier in the year; were you and your colleagues taking extra security precautions and was there any plan in the works to close the embassy or change the scope of its activities?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Because the new CIA had publically claimed credit for restoring the Shah, his evil ways were ascribed to the US. The taking of our embassy had an element of punishing the US. Our captors considered the Shah the US puppet, and therefore the US was responsible for his iniquities – at least that was their excuse. The real reason for the takeover was to give a radical group the political leverage that holding the embassy provided. But you put your finger unerringly on a key issue not widely understood. We were not taking precautions of any kind. There was no plan to boil the staff down to essentials. And while the Political and Economic Sections were trying the improve relations with the revolutionary government, our captors uncovered CIA plans to help overthrow it.


STEPHANIE CHASE: So your section was at odds with CIA plans – who was really in charge there? Was there just a lack of communications between agencies or was it something more sinister?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: That's a good question. The chargé d'affaires was very weak; he listened to the spinners and refused to heed obvious threats. We learned about the CIA machinations from our captors, who managed to get hold of most of its files. It was not sinister, just incompetence on the part of the CIA.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Who were the hostage takers and what were their demands?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: A young radical group at or graduated from universities, hence they were known as "Students in the Path of the Imam." By thus embarrassing the Provisional Government, they hoped to replace it. The senior captor that we saw, Hossein Sheikholislam, had a Master of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Their formal demand that the Shah, who then was undergoing medical treatment in New York, be returned to Iran "to be tried for his great crimes" was just public relations.


STEPHANIE CHASE: I find it a bit ironic that the leader was educated in the States – but would imagine that a lot of radicalism was then taking place at UC Berkeley. Could you describe an "average day" as a hostage?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Lunch was the principal meal, and I spent my time reading. We were always led blindfolded to use the toilets. When, after the failure of the rescue attempt in April 1980, we were scattered all over the country, a bookmobile used to bring us books in Isfahan.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Did you have contact with the other hostages?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Our guards allowed us contact but initially with no talking. As cellmates we all got along fine, but when at last we were allowed to talk to one another, some tensions developed. And after our return, there was a phenomenon we called "roommate avoidance." We had gotten to know each other too well.

When some of us were moved to Isfahan, we passed notes to other rooms but were caught and had to stop. I was transferred to Komiteh prison in August, 1980, where I was kept until that December and where the toilets had no seats.


Two American Hostages (1979)
Two American Hostages (1979)

STEPHANIE CHASE: I have read that the Komiteh prison was used to house political prisoners of the Shah while they underwent interrogation by his secret police, known as SAVAK, and was a notorious place.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: SAVAK was formed by the Shah with the aid of the CIA.


STEPHANIE CHASE: I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I do find that alarming.

While you were held hostage, were you aware that your wife, Louisa, was working assiduously on your behalf to keep your and the other hostages' plight before the public? Did you have access to any news from the outside, and were you able to communicate with your families?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: A guard told me, towards the end, that '"your wife is doing so much to effect your release." After January 1, 1980, I got mail, and had an idea what Louisa was doing. They got letters from me and I had one telephone call; otherwise, we had little news from the outside. At the beginning, they wanted us to think we had been abandoned.


STEPHANIE CHASE: What events or actions led to your finally being released?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Our release was brought on by a number of factors. The Khomeini regime probably saw that they were getting nowhere. Saddam Hussein's September attack on a militarily weak revolutionary Iran made the Iranians realize how isolated they were. This was driven home at the same time when their delegation at the United Nations General Assembly was not exactly treated as heroes. Other delegations were diplomats not sympathetic to the hostage-holding of other diplomats.

When negotiations began, a major obstacle apparently was financial. Our banks behaved extremely well, and the Algerians served as intermediaries. Although I was not informed of any details at the time, I believe that American creditors and banks sued Iran in International Court in The Hague, and generally won, and that the funds were funds in US banks released for this purpose. I really don't know all of the specifics.


STEPHANIE CHASE: That your release coincided exactly with Ronald Reagan taking office as President seems significant; what message was being sent to the Americans?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Giving the incoming Reagan regime any credit would be a mistake. Representing the families, Louisa found Al Haig, later Secretary of State, and other members of the transition team utterly unprepared for dealing with the hostage matter. Jimmy Carter's team, in the waning days of his presidency, did it all. Our captors, however, would not release our Algerian rescue flight until Reagan was inaugurated, so he would get the credit. Our captors really hated Carter.


52 American Hostages after their release (1981)
52 American Hostages after their release (1981)

STEPHANIE CHASE: Did they hate Carter due to his involvement in normalizing relations between Israel and Egypt?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: They hated "The Carter" as in "The Shah," from the way this exponent of human rights had betrayed them. Activists came out of hiding relying on Carter's support. The Shah's government, believing that Carter's support of human rights was serious, played it nice. When they realized the Carter would always support the Shah, and he did, they cracked down on the activists with torture, execution, and the like.


STEPHANIE CHASE: From what I have read, it appears that the Iraqi invasion of Iran was enabled in part due to the change of relations between Iran and the United States, and the United States became a supporter of the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein. By 1991, following a number of atrocities, he was declared our enemy and American forces captured him in 2003, leading to his execution in 2006. This would appear to be a pretty extreme case of foreign intervention.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY:  Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, which made the Iranians ready to begin negotiations towards our release. Iran became our enemy as well, and we supported Saddam Hussein. Later in the eight-year war we gave him false information, so that he would not do too well. In any event, the second Iraq war, launched in 2003 by George W. Bush [along with forces from the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland], was a disaster for the US.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Do you view these events as "tipping points" in terms of the eventual destabilization of the Middle East and Central Asia and the rise of insurgency, such as the Taliban and Islamic State militants?



STEPHANIE CHASE: Is there any realistic solution?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Our constant failures should teach us the virtues of non-involvement!


American Hostages at the hospital (1981)
American Hostages at the hospital (1981)

STEPHANIE CHASE: You and the other hostage families have finally been awarded compensation for your ordeal, despite the fact that part of the conditions of your release stipulated that Iran could not be sued. Is it correct that these monies are coming from penalties paid by institutions, such as Banque Nationale Paribas, for doing business with Iran despite sanctions? Why has it taken 35 years?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: The Algiers Accord specified that the United States government would "bar and preclude" lawsuits by hostages. On our way home from Iran, some of us were told by former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that a commission was being formed to compensate us for our imprisonment, but there was no official assurance. The Department of State was opposed to this and blocked our efforts.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Why was this?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Probably for a number of reasons, but principally that it didn't want to set a precedent for future victims of terrorist happenings. But there was also a feeling that Foreign Service Officers should live and retire in genteel poverty, and perhaps even that the Department should not enable some officers to become richer than others. Furthermore, we were getting a lot of publicity and there may have been some jealousy.

Vance later asked the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I was then working, to stop my campaigning for compensation. He was following what the Department of State wanted, and they continued to block our efforts until they realized that popular opinion had turned against them, plus some influential senators such as [Johnny] Isakson of Georgia and [Richard] Blumenthal of Connecticut.

You are correct about payment from fines. They don't want the US taxpayer to pay, and they don't want to levy on Iranian funds. Still, now as matter of law, we have to be paid in full, within three years.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Have you seen the 2012 film Argo, which deals with the six hostages who were able to escape through a joint effort between the US and Canada, and did it play a role in reviving efforts on your behalf to receive compensation?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Yes, I saw the film and found that it captured much of the atmosphere of revolutionary Tehran, although it gave short shrift to the Canadians. It certainly played a role in generating interest in compensation.


STEPHANIE CHASE: The $400 million dollars that was recently [August, 2016] paid by the US to Iran – which might appear to be in exchange for the concomitant release of five American hostages – was actually a return of assets that were seized by the US following your and the other hostages' imprisonment. It follows on the heels of a nuclear pact between the US and Iran that curtails Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Do you find that relations with Iran are normalizing, and has the US gradually become more sensitive to Middle Eastern culture?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: You are absolutely correct about the $400 million, and the nuclear pact. Relations with Iran are far better than before, but the mullahs still distrust us. Blind support of Israel and religious prejudice among the American public inhibit any growth of understanding of the Middle East.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Despite your ordeal, you have remained empathetic to Middle Eastern culture – in fact, you have taught a very popular course on Islam at a local college on Mt. Desert Island. But how can you reconcile the valid resentment of Western intervention with the terror attacks that have occurred, now on a regular basis, in the US, Europe, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: From its beginnings, terrorist activity has used violence against rulers and civilian populations to achieve certain goals, in the recent past generally political. Jewish settlers in Palestine, during and immediately after WWII, used terror against the British mandatory authority to hasten its departure, and then against the native Arab population to hasten theirs, both in order to establish a Jewish state. They were entirely successful in the first instance, aided by a Britain exhausted by the war and unwilling any longer to play a police role, and by the extraordinary courage and determination of Jewish settlers, soon to be called Israelis.

Against the native Palestinians, the new State of Israel was only quite successful, with many but not all Palestinians taking refuge in neighboring countries. Palestinians in turn used terrorist tactics against Israel and Israelis, Israel has not succeeded in gaining acceptance in much of its Middle Eastern "neighborhood," and Palestinians have not gained independence even for the part of Palestine internationally recognized as theirs.

Still, terrorism helped establish the thriving State of Israel, while, without the terrorism of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and popular intifada, Palestinian nationalism would not have gained recognition internationally and, among the Palestinian people, have been as firmly established.


Vice President George H. W. Bush arrives to greet returning Hostages (Jan. 27, 1981)
Vice President George H. W. Bush arrives to greet
returning Hostages (Jan. 27, 1981)

STEPHANIE CHASE: I have to say, my husband and I sometimes remark on the fact that the Al-Aqsa Mosque sits on top of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, and each is one of the holiest sites for Islam and Judaism. And following the extermination of Jews during that period, along with many other ethnic groups in Europe, I can understand the fervent desire to establish a homeland, especially one with historic ties – but not at the suppression of others. What an intensely complicated history for that small region, with so many countries and interests involved. What are the goals of today's terrorists?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Remember the catastrophic defeat of the Arab armies by Israel in 1967? Many Arabs argued that they had failed because they had been trying to be what they were not, and never would be; that is, Westerners. Only if they regained their basic identity would they be able to stand up against the western State of Israel. Islamic terrorism is a statement of identity, a dramatic violent expression by a very few – repeat, very few – of rejection of the West which threatens that identity.


STEPHANIE CHASE: I'm a bit too young to remember the '67 war, but I do recall the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the huge escalation of tensions including those between the US and Soviet Union. Under the circumstances, the Camp David agreement in 1978 seems almost miraculous – although apparently it was without the participation of a Palestinian representative, who was excluded.

Would you speak a bit on Shari'a law, which is now often brought up in connection with Muslim immigration to the United States? I think most Americans, I among them, are woefully ignorant of it and what it represents.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Shari'a means "path," as in path to man's salvation. It is derived from the Qu'ran, which is the revealed writings of the Prophet Muhammad and traditions associated with him, and is at the very heart of Islam. If Western law deals with man's rights, Shari'a deals with his duties, not only to his fellow man but also to his God. This is the principal distinction between Shari'a and Western jurisprudence.


STEPHANIE CHASE: So if Westerners have their religious laws, as in commandments of the Bible, and then their secular laws, Shari'a embodies both?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Yes, and it is a very sophisticated body of law that embraces constitutional law, jurisprudence, contracts, evidence, criminal law, inheritance, and much more. Some of the elements of Shari'a that are criticized by Westerners – such as stoning, which is a customary law that predates Muhammad – are also to be found in the New Testament. Shari'a is still the basis of law in Saudi Arabia, applied in part in other parts of the Middle East, and not in Turkey. Today its application is generally limited to what we would call family law, as in marriage and divorce, as well as inheritance and charitable foundations. By the way, the Muslim charitable foundation, or waqf, has much in common with the American charitable remainder trust that is beloved by tax lawyers.

For Muslims, the Qu'ran is infallible. But because it is hortatory, there is a need for interpretation, which is where the Fiqh comes in; this is the science of legal interpretation and is one of the glories of Islamic civilization.

Muslim judges may not depart from the twin sources of Qu'ran and traditions of the Prophet. Among the four principal schools of legal interpretation, there are differences of interpretation. One basic difference among them is how much room each school gives to authority and how much to human reason.


STEPHANIE CHASE: Thank you for this eloquent explanation. You have spoken about the long-lasting emotional effects of your captivity, and that you suffered from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] before it was a classified mental disorder. I would think that only those who have shared your kind of experience can actually comprehend it, and your family must have suffered enormously as well. After your release, what steps did you take to try to normalize your lives?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: A number of my colleagues in captivity have never recovered from our experience; one has never slept a full night since. I was just fine, or thought so for 18 months following my release. Then, I just stopped making sense and people told me I needed help. I did, so I called the Department of State's psychiatrist and soon was under the care of an eminent psychiatrist at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. So began 18 months of psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy, which was a great experience. Eventually I realized that captivity – where, among other indignities, we were led blindfolded to the bathroom – only reopened wounds from a very unhappy and conflicted childhood; in fact, I had a sister who committed suicide.


American Hostages returning to the US (Jan. 27, 1981)
American Hostages returning to the US (Jan. 27, 1981)

STEPHANIE CHASE: My previous conversation for Stay Thirsty was with the psychoanalyst Martin Nass, who spoke about the frightening aspects of examining what is deep within oneself, such as repressed memories, and that it is especially so for creative people.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: I have compared my psychic ailment to tea leaves; bad stuff from my childhood that had settled to the bottom of my psyche, then got stirred up by the circumstances of captivity. I could no longer disregard them.

The Medical Director of the Department of State, which was paying for all this, would call my therapist and ask, "Isn't he cured yet?" Had he only known that we were discussing not only captivity, the Iranians, and torture, but my mother! Still, I suspect that among many cases of PTSD among veterans, it was not the combat itself that was afflicting them, but what the combat experience had stirred up in their past.


STEPHANIE CHASE: I do know someone, an Army veteran, who has been under treatment for PTSD, but I am also aware that there were several other longstanding issues that needed to be addressed. Following your release from Iran, you worked for two years as director of the Cathedral Peace Institute, at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. What was the purpose of this organization?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Briefly, I was to start a workshop for the role of religion in international affairs, and it was to be so titled. I still think back on how useful its findings might have been today! Why, for example, are you asking about Shari'a and religious terrorism?


STEPHANIE CHASE: Yes, exactly, and after you left this position you wrote a book called The Ayatollah in the Cathedral; what happened?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Again, in short – the Bishop and the Dean, with their untutored imaginations, stood by the nuclear freeze movement and changed the title to "Cathedral Peace Institute." The Episcopal Church adopted the freeze as its official position. My book details this experience.


STEPHANIE CHASE: In re-reading some of your book I was struck by the dichotomy between your beliefs – such as rejecting a nuclear freeze over keeping negotiations open between the parties, which was a major area of dissension between yourself and the Cathedral's policies – and the perceived need by many administrators to present ideas to the public in as simplistic a manner as possible. Calling the program a "peace institute" seems to be an example; it's appealing to the public but does not address the core matter of religion, and cultural and religious distinctions.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: And the freeze failed for several reasons. The best stated was, "The freeze could not define its agenda." Its proponents argued that first you froze, and then you negotiated. The problem with this is, once you froze you gave away your negotiating position. And so forth. The proof was that that it collapsed, and then [President Ronald] Reagan and [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, after one failure, worked out a deal which applies to this day.


Moorhead Kennedy (on right) with Mayor Ed Koch - New York Ticker Tape Parade (1981) (Courtesy of Moorhead Kennedy)
Moorhead Kennedy (on right) with Mayor Ed Koch
New York Ticker Tape Parade (1981)
(Courtesy of Moorhead Kennedy)

STEPHANIE CHASE: You have also stated that the US should use caution in supporting moderates in places like Iran, in that it only encourages their suppression by extremists.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: About moderates, my view is that the United States should not espouse them; in supporting them they would look like our puppets, thus ending their effectiveness.


STEPHANIE CHASE: This is a very important point, and seems to be especially proven by recent history in the Middle East.

To change the subject somewhat; I was impressed by the restoration last year of American diplomatic relations with Cuba, which had been severed in 1961 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In view of our rather precarious current situation with Russia, this achievement seems to have fallen under the radar.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: I suspect that Cuba had long since become a non-issue. It was kept alive by the older immigrant population in Florida, but, as with younger generations in other immigrant groups, they have more important issues than what happened in the "Old Country," and are doing well as Americans.


STEPHANIE CHASE: On that topic; we have a Presidential candidate who wants to ban immigrants from certain countries and who proposes "extreme Ideological" tests for applicants.  At an August, 2016 rally in Portland, Maine, he stated that "we are letting people come in from terrorist nations that shouldn't be allowed because you can't vet them," and then named Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen and the Philippines, also saying that "we're dealing with animals." After a lot of public indignation he then stepped back on including the Philippines in this group, apparently with the comment that campaign interns fed him faulty information that led him to believe that the Philippines is a Middle Eastern country and principally Muslim.

This is but one example among what are probably now hundreds that display a nearly complete ignorance of world politics and culture – yet he has many fanatical followers who believe every thoughtless comment. What does this indicate about the cultural divide that exists here and do you think he could be successful as President?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: The ignorance of non-college educated Americans about world affairs is frightening. I have asked high school students to point to Saudi Arabia on a map, and they couldn't. A former Speaker of the House said that he would not oppose admitting Muslim immigrants provided they gave up the Shari'a.

Trump's horrifying ignorance and bigotry do not put his large following off because they share it. These qualities are compounded by character defects, including very bad judgment. He could still be elected, if only because so many who do not like Trump like Hillary Clinton even less, but his presidency would be a disaster.


STEPHANIE CHASE: In an era of nuclear armaments and an intertwined world economy, how does the US rectify its cultural indifferences, which can so easily lead to major misunderstandings and possibly severe repercussions? Is it a matter of education and experience? In view of the coverage given by American news organizations to terrorist attacks, versus positive programs about those whose culture differs from ours, it's clear that ratings from tabloid-style reporting – dare l say? – "trump" a more balanced world view.

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: I don't see the American media as an instrument of education. Terrorism gets front page treatment the way "200 killed in train wreck in Bengal" or "bridge collapses in Oshkosh" get front page treatment. Media, such as newspapers and TV, are primarily commercial. They have to appeal to popular interest in order to sell.


Moorhead and Louisa Kennedy with family (Maine, 2006) (Courtesy of the Kennedy family)
Moorhead and Louisa Kennedy with family (Maine, 2006)
(Courtesy of the Kennedy family)

STEPHANIE CHASE: And by "sell," you probably mean the advertising dollars brought in that are based on viewership or readership. So what is featured on our news programs might appear to be driven by the sales of laundry detergent, auto insurance, and the like.

Once again, to change the subject: you and your late wife, Louisa Livingston Kennedy, lived in many countries throughout the world, such as Yemen, Greece, Lebanon and Chile, plus cities like Washington, D.C. and New York. What drew you to Maine as a place to retire?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: My family has been summering on Mount Desert since 1877. When I left the Foreign Service, we moved back to New York. Louisa did well with her real estate work, but was getting tired of it. Though I am not unproud of my educational ventures, they did not work out well, financially. We both loved Maine and we both found plenty to do.


STEPHANIE CHASE: That's quite a family history in Mount Desert – and I can only imagine what it was like to travel up there by carriage in 1877, because I find the travel by car from New York pretty lengthy!

You and I met because you are a supporter of the Mt. Desert Festival of Chamber Music, and your second wife, Ellen Kappes, is a painter. Mount Desert Island offers not only spectacular scenery and outdoor activities but also a thriving arts scene, including quite a lot of cultural things to do during the winter months. What are some of your favorite activities there?

MOORHEAD KENNEDY: Helping to develop not-for-profit organizations and gardening – my garden will be on the garden tour next summer. I have raised funds to rebuild a schoolhouse for the Mount Desert Island Historical Society and to rebuild the Northeast Harbor Library, of which I have been chairman. I have also been President of Acadia Senior College in Bar Harbor, where I developed a lecture series on Shari'a, and am a fundraiser for Acadia Family Center, which focuses on combating addiction.


STEPHANIE CHASE: As one who relies on not-for-profit organizations in my own concert work, I especially appreciate this. The library is a great facility. And my favorite place on your property is the children's playhouse in the woods behind your beautiful garden, which is where I often practice for my concerts there.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with us, and I strongly recommend that readers wanting to learn more read your book, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral: Reflections of a Hostage.



Stephanie Chase


Stephanie Chase is internationally recognized as "one of the violin greats of our era" (Newhouse Newspapers) through solo appearances with over 170 orchestras that include the New York and Hong Kong Philharmonics and the Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and London Symphony Orchestras. Her interpretations are acclaimed for their "elegance, dexterity, rhythmic vitality and great imagination" (Boston Globe), "stunning power" (Louisville Courier-Journal), "matchless technique" (BBC Music Magazine), and "virtuosity galore" (Gramophone), and she is a top medalist of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In addition to her concert activities, she teaches at New York University and Vassar College.

All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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