Sowing the Wind by John Keay (available in Folio Edition) is a balanced and luminous account of how the West imperially but brutally dismembered almost every part of the Middle East. The result is that, as the Bible said, we are now reaping the whirlwind. The lessons of this book are vital, but those who would like to concentrate on the West to the Exclusion of the East would want to have nothing to do with this book. It shows, among other things, why the isolationist response is so fallacious and dangerous.
Robert Fisk raises the issue squarely in his Foreword.
Why does the West think it can lecture the Arabs on their history, their beliefs, their way of life, their ‘culture’? How can this fundamental imbalance between ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’ – themselves weirdly Western creations – be corrected or even understood?
And here we touch the essence of the difference between Christianity and Islam in its present tragic stage. I do not think that we in the West believe in God these days. American evangelists, no doubt. Yet their refusal to accept evolutionism is oddly similar to that of ISIS, whose own concept of God refuses to countenance any Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest.’ The ‘fittest’ were those who followed God’s word, to the very letter, and that is an end to it. Judaism offers a more nuanced response to God’s role and purpose in the creation of life. Increasingly, however, Muslims find that God the ‘all-creator’ presided over evolution; hence the extraordinary – and to Westerners surprising – Islamist fascination with science.
But in the ‘West’ our gods tend to be human rights and the United Nations, Amnesty International and international law. That is why our history books no longer speak of Islam and Christendom, but of Islam and the ‘West’. So how is it……that a people who still believe in God, who still believe that the Quran is the word of God himself, for whom religion lies at the centre of the family and all that life holds, should find itself in submission – militarily, economically, socially, culturally – to a people who have largely forsaken their God?
What is the answer?
Keay tells us that in negotiating the Sykes-Picot agreement, Georges-Picot was ‘the scion of a colonialist dynasty’ and a firm believer in France’s mission historique et civilisatrice. He therefore demanded and got all of Syria and Cilicia. The agreement was of course the one in which France and England casually carved up the Middle East between them so as to betray almost everyone involved.
Even when he knew the Arabs had been betrayed, Lawrence hoped for a new world order ‘in which the dominant races will forget their brute achievements, and white and red and yellow and brown and black will stand up together without side-glances in the service of the world.’ He said: ‘Unless we or our allies make an efficient Arab empire there will never be more than a discordant mosaic of provincial administrations.’ Keay says:
For all the fine words about building a new Arab nation, Lawrence was as intent as Brémond on creating a post-war Middle East that would be easily manageable in his own nation’s interest. Syria, in Lawrence’s reckoning, was no more a suitable subject for sovereign independence than Arabia. It was by nature a vassal country…..Mesopotamia/Iraq would be ‘our first brown dominion’
Lawrence said he was involved in ‘fraud.’
But there was neither sense nor virtue in identifying with the Arabs to the extent of condoning their political presumption. The Bedouin, even in Lawrence’s piercing blue eyes, were uncouth and unmanageable; settled Arabs he was loth to consider as Arabs at all; and as for the educated, Westernised classes, they were the worst of all….’Europeanised youth’, ‘native Christians’…and ‘nationalised hot-heads’ were abominations who offended British conceits about both class distinction and racial privilege. Their manners were appalling, yet they were precisely the people who, who, given a chance, would be running the ‘dream-palace’ [Lawrence’s term]. It was unthinkable.
After the armistice Clemenceau asked Lloyd George what he wanted. ‘I wanted Mosul attached to Iraq and Palestine from Beersheba to Dan’. ‘You shall have it.’ Why Mosul? The oil, stupid.
The English bombed Iraq in a 1920 revolt. The War Office said that they should not use the word ‘rebel’. That may have entailed something like ‘sovereignty’ in Iraq. They tried ‘insurgent’ and then ‘revolution.’ The same contortions and lies took place this century in Iraq.
In the Great Revolt in Iraq in 1920, the British lost 400 mostly Indian troops and Arab losses probably topped 8500. (The Arabs now endure similar ratios against Israel.)
Jordan was set up as a place to park a loose cannon. ‘Its political viability, even its value to the British, had yet to be proven; its international status had yet to be determined; and its frontiers had yet to be demarcated. A child of political expedience, it had neither an economic or geographical rationale’. The same went for Lebanon, but the French wanted to look after Maronite Christians.
Churchill thought of chemically bombing the Kurds, ahead of Hussein. The Sunni Shia split made things worse. Do you not see how all these things come back to haunt us?
The Great Revolt in Syria in 1925 saw France bomb Damascus.
That what was reputedly the world’s oldest city could be indiscriminately bombed and shelled in the name of one of the world’s most civilised peoples simply beggared belief. In the heat of the First World War, Baghdad, Jerusalem and Damascus itself had all changed hands with no more than occasional rifle fire within their revered precincts. Yet here, without the sanction of war, the champions of religion, equality and fraternity were delivering death to the innocent and destruction to the hallowed while supposedly discharging a sacred trust on behalf of the League of Nations and operating within the consensual constraints of one of its mandates.
Look at what is left of Damascus now and ask yourself who is really responsible.
The Balfour Declaration implied that the ninety per cent of people in Palestine who were not Jewish possessed no national identity and no political rights. Neither alone nor as part of some other existing entity were the local Arabs reckoned to be a putative nation. The mandate had no time limit. For Christians, Palestine was predominantly a Land (capital L) so Holy (capital H) that in respect of its inhabitants, the norms of nationality and government need not apply. The indigenous Arabs may well have thought that the British treated them in the same way that they had treated our indigenous people – by the simple expedient of saying that their presence did not stop the occupying power doing what they liked.
There were massacres on both sides in Jerusalem in 1921. This religious or race war is now nearly a century old. Zionists would not tolerate a representative body since they were a minority and such a government would be prejudicial to the establishment of the national home.
Orde Wingate was involved in training Jewish fighters. His family was Plymouth Brethren. He and other Englishmen trained Jewish Night Squads to counter Arab terrorists. They – people like Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan – became terrorists. Wingate told them ‘You are the first soldiers if the Jewish army. This provoked Arab responses. The Jewish terrorists had the same motivation as the Arabs – they had God on their side – the only right God.
In one of the more signal failures of the West, the Vichy French fought the British in Palestine. (One of my neighbours, who is no longer with us, was in the AIF in Syria where he was shot at by the French. He joined the Air Force in disgust.)
Militant Jewish groups resembled those of the Nazis. Keay says that ‘Buoyed by prophecy and desperate for sanctuary, the Zionists of the European ghettoes disdained legal restraint…’Churchill referred to ‘a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany.’ The most senior British politician to be killed in the Second World War was assassinated in the name of Zion.
Keay says that after the first war:
The ruling elites of all the Arab states who had failed to prevent this disaster found themselves fully discredited in the eyes of their own people….Revolution, long in the air, had now entered the bloodstream.
The author goes on to say how MI6 and the CIA installed the Shah; how the British and French were humiliated at Suez; and he mentions the massacres at Shatila and Sabra.
That is where he stops. The disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria still go on. The assault on the twin towers looks nigh on inevitable in the face of the inane cruelty and provocation of the Arabs by Europe and the U S. The world may have been much better off if Europe and the U S had kept their hunger for power and oil to themselves. The whirlwind has a very long way to go, and the conflict between Israel and its Arab and Persian neighbours looks to be soluble only by obliteration of the lines drawn during the death throes of the imperialism of Europe. Just try to imagine what your reaction may have been if it was Europe that was Muslim and the Middle East that was Christian and that the Christians had carved up and insulted Europe in reverse and without asking dumped a group of the fold in Europe. How well do you think the Europeans would take all that? Would you not expect to see at least the level of terror that the Americans, Irish and Zionists used against Britain? Was it not inevitable that each of those three nations was to be born in terror?