Britain and Islam
IT is a commonplace nowadays to say that Great Britain is the greatest Mohammedan country in the world. There are over one hundred million Musulmans in the British Empire, whereas Turkey and Persia between them probably cannot muster twenty millions.
For long the Musulman element in the Empire was a harmonious color in the wonderful mosaic of might, majesty, dominion, and glory that commerce, arms, and destiny contrived in the name of Britain and flung across earth’s seven seas. The English carried respect for religion and custom with them, but, with this quality to lighten their hand, they ruled and the old Islam bowed to rule. Fortune also favored Britain in its foreign relations with Islam, for twice in the nineteenth century she stood forth as the armed champion of the Sultan of Turkey, himself greatest of Musulman rulers and reverenced by the great majority of Sunni Mohammedans everywhere as the Caliph of Islam, the vicegerent of the Prophet, the Protector of the Holy Places of pilgrimage — Mecca and Medina.
When the War came the bond held well. The Musulmans of the Empire everywhere regarded King George V as their lawful sovereign to whom they owed allegiance. That he was at war with the Kaiser was sufficient stimulus to their warlike patriotism. Their response in men and money was spontaneous and magnificent. The entry of Turkey on the German side was regretted, but made no difference. Turks and Germans suffered disillusionment when even the proclamation of a Holy War against Britain and the Allies failed to shake the loyalty of British Musulmans to the British throne and polity.
Four weary years of arduous war followed. The Indian Musulman saw the world. He went to France, to Saloniki, to Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Africa, and from these strange places he sent letters to the parched villages of the Indian plains and the green valleys folded in the hills. Many strange sights he saw, the telling of which he perforce put off till the longed-for day of his return. ‘Arms and the man’ were founding a new epic of East and West, of which only the stormy opening has yet been seen. The bond held. The War ended, leaving it strained but proven.
Four years of a peace that is no peace have followed, and have been more disastrous to the Islamic aspect of the Empire than the four years of war. The loyalty of the Musulmans of the Empire has been seriously shaken, and the Musulmans outside the Empire have come to regard Great Britain as a restless, scheming Power, whose word is not her bond and whose colonial ambitions are a menace to the weakness of Islam. In this situation lies grave danger. There is a danger for India and the British Empire, and there is also a danger for Europe and for America and for the world. Americans feel in their bones the coming of a great struggle between East and West. Englishmen do not, for they have hitherto often played the rôle of mediators between East and West. But the East shares the feeling of America. Orientals everywhere are tuning their minds to a note of struggle. The East is awake. Actively and definitely it is resentful of the West. The Western business brain; Western ‘ push ’; Western capital; Western military superiority and skill in invention; above all, Western patronage and unspoken assumption of an essential difference between European and Asiatic humanity — all these have at last turned Asia’s blood to gall, and produced a solidarity of venom that can unite even Musulman and Hindu in a prayer of hate. Can this hate lead anywhere? Is the East strong enough to challenge the West?
This is not the place to ponder the future of China or the secret that she holds nor to speculate upon the aerial navies that may some day be launched into the central blue above the Pacific. But it is clear that, if ever the East challenges the West, the British Empire will be a central factor. And for the British Empire two issues of supreme importance are covered by the words India and Islam. India stands for over four hundred millions of Orientals, and for the vast permanence of Hinduism, a living and moving creed. Islam stands for a powerful and warlike minority in India, and for the heart of Central Asia. From China and from Bokhara and Samarkand the secret thread of the Prophet runs through many a restless tribe, across Afghanistan, the Persian plateau, and the Arabian sands, to Africa and Europe. In Africa it is probably the most vital creed, and its missionaries make black converts at a pace which turns some Christians green.
Before the War Turkey had long been a decaying Empire. Wide lands had been lost in the nineteenth century, and the West regarded the Ottoman Empire as a ramshackle and crumbling concern. Sympathy was stirred in 1908 when the Young Turk movement, long hidden underground, came out into the open and from Saloniki and Monastir successfully challenged the despotism of Abdul Hamid. But the Young Turks came too late, and their enemies were too numerous and too powerful. The dread of their success brought into the field against them those who had hoped to profit by Turkey’s decay and disruption. First Italy and then the Balkan Confederacy engaged them in successive wars, and wrested from them Tripoli in Africa and all their lands in Europe, save a foothold in Thrace.
When the Great War broke out in 1914, six years of Young Turk effort appeared to have but diminished and impoverished the Empire. The great era of reforms promised in 1908 had been checked at its opening, and the stress of struggle against foreign foes had prevented the experiment of Parliamentary government from bringing popular liberty or greatly freeing the expression of public opinion. There is no doubt that Islam throughout the world was struck by the spectacle of the Young Turks battling against fearful odds at this period. During the Balkan War, in 1912 and 1913, collections for the Red Crescent became popular in India, and I well remember the expression of dismay on the face of an old peasant in a Persian village near Persepolis, when I told him that Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro had declared war on Turkey, ‘Ai Khoda! Hamah rikhtand ru-yi-Rum?’ (O God! Have they all fallen upon Turkey?) was his cry. And in the last stages of the second Balkan War, Enver Pasha forever secured his fame throughout Islamic Asia, when, in defiance of European diplomacy, he marched a Turkish army back into Adrianople.
Then came the Great War, and Turkey, panting and buffeted, plunged within three months into a new struggle, compared with which all that had gone before scarce counted. Why did she abandon neutrality, and why did she side with Germany against her old allies, France and Britain?
The short answer lies in a word— Russia. There were contributory causes of which some shall be mentioned, but Russia’s presence among the Allies was the main reason why Turkey ranged herself with Germany. That Imperial Russia desired Constantinople and meant some day to possess it, was not doubted by the Turks. Russia was the enemy. It was in vain that the Allies offered assurances that, if Turkey would but be neutral, the Ottoman Empire as it existed in 1914 would remain undisturbed. And in fact what were such assurances worth, though given in all good faith? The Young Turks felt that, if there were an Allied victory, Imperial Russia emerging victorious would bestride the East, a greater colossus than ever. France and Britain might restrain her Oriental appetite for a time. But the break-up of Central Europe could bring her little territory that she could profitably assimilate, and the promised liberties of Poland would leave the war without much obvious recompense for victory. Inevitably Russia would swing to the south and the east, seeking warm water and the less developed peoples whom her Emperor could reconcile to his sway more easily than the politically impassioned artisans and peasants of modern Christian Europe. When that day came, the guaranties of France and Britain would be worth little or nothing. Since the Balkan wars of 1913 the Serb and Bulgar had come striding forward. The Slav was already on the Ægean; his net was tightening round Stamboul.
It was in truth the fear of Russia that had driven the Young Turks slowly away from Russia’s friends, France and England, whom in their revolutionary days they ardently admired, and forced them to the embrace of Germany, whom they had at first disliked and distrusted as the friend of Abdul Hamid and of the despotism they had overthrown. When the Young Turk Revolution broke out from Saloniki, in July, 1908, and won swift success, its leaders were all Germanophobe. Their enthusiasm for France as the mother of the Revolution and for England as the mother of Parliament was unbounded. Baron Marschall von Biberstein, the German Ambassador in Constantinople, fell overnight from the position of being the most powerful envoy at Abdul Hamid’s court to the bottom of the diplomatic ladder. Izzet Pasha, a favorite instrument of the Sultan, and popularly supposed to have ill gotten a fortune from the German-Turk finance of the Hedjaz railway, fled from the wrath of the Young Turks to the shelter of the German embassy. Thence he w as smuggled aboard a British boat conveniently sailing from the Golden Horn to a Western port.
‘That is a German trick — to try to throw the odium on the British,’ said Enver Bey, as he then was, to me in Saloniki. ‘But we are not deceived. We recognize the parting kick.’
Sir Nicholas O’Conor, the British Ambassador, died and at the critical moment of the Revolution there was no British envoy. When Mr. (afterwards Sir) George Barclay arrived as chargé d’affaires this was the occasion of a great demonstration of enthusiasm for England. When the new Ambassador, the late Sir Gerald Lowther, reached his post in the autumn, the Young Turks dragged his carriage from the station to the Embassy and crowds serenaded his windows. The opening of the Turkish Parliament brought Anglophile enthusiasm to its height.
Unfortunately for Britain, Baron Marschall von Biberstein was a far abler man than Sir Gerald Lowther. He had the advantage of understanding and liking the Turks, whereas Sir Gerald Lowther made no concealment of his dislike of political progress in the East and of Young Turks in particular. He was a fine type of English squire to whom a stationary, stagnant, and ' picturesque’ East made a strong appeal, and he genuinely disbelieved that any good could come of democratic and revolutionary catchwords in the air of the Bosporus. To him the serenades and the enthusiasm of which he was the object as British Ambassador — he was, moreover, brother of the Speaker of the House of Commons and therefore doubly commended to Young Turk hearts — were but a bore, and he soon made it clear that he asked nothing better than to be left in peace.
In time his wishes were gratified. A succession of snubs convinced the Young Turks that the British Ambassador was not their friend. When the counter-revolution came, in March, 1909, he was misguided enough to show it open favor. He actually sent a member of his staff to San Stefano to meet the Young Turk Committee’s troops, hurried from Saloniki, and to attempt to dissuade them from entering Constantinople. That act finished Sir Gerald Lowther’s reputation in twentieth-century Turkey. Thereafter his usefulness had ceased, and he was a danger to his country. But the British Foreign Office, unfortunately, had never understood the Young Turk movement. It began by regarding Young Turks as sound Liberals, the local equivalent of the Eighty Club, and it ended by concluding that they were only a parcel of corrupt adventurers— a view which still prevails. So Sir Gerald Lowther was not recalled.
Since Turkey entered the War against the Allies, it has been a natural fashion to belittle Enver Pasha. He has been represented as a vain swashbuckler, a would-be Napoleon, and a greedy and corrupt adventurer. In his youthful revolutionary days I knew him well, and, though I have not heard from him since 1911, I find it hard to accept this harsh portrait of him. Ardent and disinterested he undoubtedly was in the great days at Saloniki, in 1908, when the Committee of Union and Progress came into its own and directed the fortunes of the Turkish Empire. Enver was the idol of the mob, the eponymous hero of street and square; but for all the adulation he received this beau sabreur remained a simple, modest soldier, content to do the spade work of the cause in a bare and cheerless committee-room up a back street of Saloniki. He might have been a candidate for any post in the Empire; but he was keen on his own profession and asked only to be sent to Berlin, retaining his rank of Major, as military attaché. I asked him why he selected Berlin, and he replied that it was not because he loved Germans but because he believed that their army would best repay his study. Turkish and French were the only languages he knew at this period, but in Berlin he at once set himself to study English, and in two years’ time he was writing me admirably expressed letters in English.
When the counter-revolution broke out, at Abdul Hamid’s instigation, in March, 1909, Enver Bey took the first train from Berlin to Saloniki, put himself at the head of the troops there, marched to Constantinople, deposed Abdul Hamid, and quietly returned to his unostentatious post as military attaché in Germany. There he remained, remote from politics and working hard, till Italy plunged his country into war for Tripoli in 1911, when once again he answered the call. Since then he has known no rest. He has ever been a ‘ last ditcher,’ to whom compromise is unknown and whose spirit cannot be broken. It was he who organized the final guerrilla of the Senussi and played hide-and-seek with the Italians in Africa. It was he again who shot Nazim Pasha with his own hand, in 1913, rather than accept the terms the Powers wished to impose on the vanquished in the Balkan War; and by his boldness he won back Adrianople and held it till the débâcle of October, 1918. And today, in far Bokhara, he plays a lone hand in the Eastern Highlands. He has broken even with Angora, apparently for its alliance with Soviet Russia, which has proved more than Enver could accommodate himself to; and now in the ancient home of his race in the heart of Central Asia, surrounded by dwindling bands of Turkomans who have never seen Stamboul, he flies the forlorn flag of the Crescent in the face of Communist Russia.
In the spring of 1910 Enver Bey came from Berlin to pay his first visit to London. It was clear to me that the orientation of the Young Turk policy was changing. Enver spoke with frankness of the coldness of the British Embassy, and of the clearness with which Marschall von Biberstein had pressed upon the Committee the view that though Abdul Hamid might have been a disastrous despot at home, he was a master of foreign policy. Even as Abdul Hamid had seen that Germany was his only real support and that Russia was always his enemy, so would the Young Turks be forced to see the truth. Enver spoke of this as a disagreeable necessity, declaring that all Turks would prefer a fast friendship with Britain.
At that time we had no substantial entente with Russia, and the AngloRussian agreement over the corpus vile of Persia was the subject of much hostile criticism in England. Enver Bey said roundly that in his view it was in the nature of things that Russia under the Tsars should be the enemy both of Turkey and of the Power that held India. These two should be in accord, and he emphatically affirmed that the Young Turks were prepared at any moment to conclude a defensive alliance, whereby Turkey would undertake to fight Russia in the Caucasus if Russia went to war with Britain.
Fear of Germany’s aggressive designs, however, dominated the policy of Sir Edward Grey (such was then his title), and rightly so. He might have insisted on a totally different atmosphere at the Embassy in Constantinople, and he gained nothing but wonder and contempt for his country when he made the British National Bank of Turkey withdraw from an arranged loan to the Young Turk Government because the Bank was competing with his French friends, and thereby allowed the German bank to obtain the loan transaction. It is possible that with better fortune and greater sympathy Turkey might have been kept neutral in the War. But it cannot be said that it was open to Great Britain to accept Turkey instead of Russia as an insurance against Germany.
Good fortune was certainly not ours. When the War broke out one of the first acts of the British Government was to requisition the two dreadnoughts almost completed for Turkey in British yards, and to hand Turkey in exchange a huge check which could not be cashed.
In the light of the wisdom that comes too late we can see now that it would have been far simpler to keep the ships in dock till Turkey’s attitude had been decided, and make the urgency of war a reason for not putting the finishing touches to vessels in building for a neutral country. It was more important to keep Turkey neutral than to gain a ‘windfall’ of two dreadnoughts for the Admiralty. But alas! there was no one to impress upon the Admiralty that these ships were a very special case, and not just a Turkish Government order, as they were paid for by public subscription in Turkey and were a subject of tremendous enthusiasm. An intensive Navy League campaign had been carried out to secure them. The country had been roused by the Italian and Balkan wars to a sense that its fleet was antiquated and unserviceable, and, as Treasury funds were not available, money was contributed to secure modern battleships. Their importance was greatly accentuated by the fact that Greece had purchased two cruisers from the United States, and with these she would outclass Turkey. As luck would have it the Greek ships were delivered at the very moment when war broke out. They got through the Straits of Gibraltar in the critical hours of the end of July. The eyes of Turkey were, therefore, turned eagerly toward the English shipyard where lay the great battleships that would enable her to speak with her rival in the Ægean.
The abrupt announcement that the British Admiralty had requisitioned the vessels was an unexpected blow, and a fierce storm of indignation followed. It was raging in Constantinople when news came that the Goeben and the Breslau, racing hard from the unhealthy waters of the Mediterranean, were making for the Dardanelles. In this passionate moment the decision was taken to let pass the German ships, and when they steamed into the Bosporus, leaving the baffled British Admiral in the Ægean, they were regarded as a miraculous compensation sent by Allah to console Turkey for the loss of its own dreadnoughts. The German ships definitely turned the balance against us. It was soon seen that if they were not to be friends, they might be dangerous enemies. The Sultan’s palace and Constantinople’s treasures lay at the mercy of the Goeben’s guns.
In this wise Turkey entered the War against us. Opportunism there must always be in war, and it is inevitable that a certain cynicism should now be apparent in the Allied attitude toward her. We were prepared to guarantee her security in Constantinople as the price of her neutrality. When she went to war with us, our Allied diplomats divided the bear’s skin and allotted Constantinople formally to Russia. In January, 1917, the Allies publicly pledged themselves to drive Turkey from Europe, and, without reference to the future ownership of Constantinople, declared Turkey unfit for human society in Europe. In January, 1918,the British Prime Minister threw a fly toward the Sweet Waters, and suggested that if Turkey would seek peace the Allies would treat her kindly and secure her adequate territories. Turkey, however, though bleeding and buffeted, stumbled along by Germany’s side, till Bulgaria’s defection at the end of September. This, combined with Allenby’s new advance in Palestine and the German retreat in France, forced her to ask for terms. She found no mercy.
Turkey’s day in Europe is, of course, done; and the present writer has no sympathy with the suggestion weakly put forward as a sop to Indian Moslem opinion — which on this point much exaggerates the sentimental value of Adrianople to the Turks — that Adrianople and a section of Thrace should be restored to her. Nor again need we attempt to palliate the inhuman crimes committed upon the Armenians. But we must recognize that the Allies made two glaring errors in their Armisticeperiod attitude toward Turkey. The first was that they cynically used Armenia’s sufferings as a stick wherewith to beat the Turks, without themselves being able to do anything whatever to secure the Armenians better treatment. They talked much of creating an Armenia, but have done nothing save to exasperate the Turk still further against the Armenian. No one, in fact, has in a political sense stirred a finger for Armenia except Soviet Russia, which has saved a little Armenian Republic in the Caucasus, whither at least Armenians can betake themselves and feel that they have a country. The Allies left it to its fate, which would have been obliteration by the Turkish Nationalist Army in 1921 but for the determined intervention of Russia.
The second error was that they fundamentally misunderstood and underrated the Turkish Nationalist movement, which has its centre at Angora. For nearly three years they mistook the Kemalists for mere brigands, the desperadoes outstanding from defeat who must in time be tidied out of the way, but were meantime no more than a tiresome, half-laughable complication. The deep roots of despair and the hold of the Kemalists on the heart of Anatolia, the home of the best and bravest Turkish peasants whose military virtues we have ourselves so often recognized, escaped comprehension. For long Venizelos, a man too great for the Greek political stage, hypnotized the Allied statesmen. But he did his own country no service when he smiled away the permission of Clemenceau and Lloyd George to land Greek troops in Smyrna and make of Greece the Allied sword of punishment in Asia Minor. The laurels King Constantine sought to snatch from Venizelos have withered. Greece is faced with the bill for folly.
Up to this point Britain had acted only with her Allies and Islam had little opportunity of singling her out for reproach. Until the summer of 1919 France had taken up a sterner attitude in Constantinople than Britain, and the French in Northern Syria and Cilicia were vigorously championing the Armenians and punishing the Turks. But thenceforward the situation altered to Britain’s disadvantage. The British Prime Minister became a pronounced champion of the Greek cause, the French disentangled themselves from Cilicia, and their difficulties in Syria with the Arabs and the English drove them more and more to seek an understanding with the Kemalists. When King Constantine returned to Greece the transformation was made definite. The French publicly advocated ‘ sanctions ’ for ‘Tino’ and his country. The British, though refusing to recognize the king, continued to find kind words for the Greeks, and the British Government did its best to enable Constantine’s Cabinet to raise money in London. The City would not follow Mr. Lloyd George on this point, and the Greeks got nothing; but the French supplied munitions to Angora and both Italians and French gave practical recognition to the Angora Government. Italy has always been anti-Greek where Asia Minor is concerned.
Thus the Allies went their several ways in the Near East. Beyond question the Musulmans of Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and — most important of all — India, are convinced that France and Italy have shown themselves more friendly to Islam than Great Britain, and that the London Cabinet has impeded the efforts of the Latin countries. In all these countries I have received the clearest testimony on this point, but so remote are Eastern questions from the more exciting clashes of domestic politics that the British public at home is as yet without realization of the alteration in Britain’s position.
The handling of Arab questions has been equally disastrous to our popularity. There was nothing to choose between France’s eagerness to obtain the exploitation of Syria and British determination to have the mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia. Until 1920 Britain had the advantage of comparative popularity with the Arabs, whereas the French had no friends but the Maronites of the Lebanon and some Syrian Christians. The British movement to obtain a PanArab leadership for Feisal, and the intrigues of the Sharifian family, forced the French to expel Feisal from Damascus, and when the British then shipped Feisal round to Mesopotamia, nothing was left for the French except to seek the friendship of Angora as a measure of insurance. The British have put in Feisal’s brother, Abdulla, in the new principality of Trans-Jordania and have told him that from there he may one day move to Damascus if he can bury the hatchet with the French. That the French will be forced to recognize the impossibility of their Syrian mandate, and will finally rid themselves of an adventure in which there is neither honor nor profit but only loss, is highly probable. That when they leave they will hand over not to Abdulla but to the Angora Government—perhaps it will by that time be the Constantinople Government — is also probable.
The Sharifian family which has successfully enlisted British sympathy and support is almost universally hated throughout Islam. The Sharifs of Mecca have long been known to the pilgrim world as harpies who use the advantage of position to extort money from the devout thousands who annually visit Mecca. Three members of the family have been enthroned by England for war services. The Sharif of Mecca is now King Hussein of the Hedjaz, and the fact that he has unfortunately become intermittently insane has complicated the issue with a difficult question of regency and succession. Two of his sons, Feisal and Abdulla, have been set up in Irak (Mesopotamia) and Trans-Jordania respectively. This has stirred the resentment of Ibn Saud, the greatest chieftain of Central Arabia and head of the Wahabite sect, who finds his desert home now surrounded on all sides by his hereditary enemies, the Sharifian family. The heart of the Palestine and Jordan Arab has been turned cold by the discovery that there is some reality behind British support of Zionism, and that a Jewish High Commissioner rules in Jerusalem. Mesopotamia turned against us in 1920, and is now against both us and the alien ruler, Feisal, whom we have put over her. The High Commissioner of Irak, Sir Percy Cox, finds that Feisal is a mauvais coucheur. For a year negotiations have dragged on between Irak and Britain for the conclusion of a treaty, which should make a mandatory instrument unnecessary, but wherein Britain has vainly insisted that her mandatory position should be recognized. The negotiations have now broken down hopelessly: King Feisal has become ill. The Irak Cabinet has resigned. The British High Commissioner has been insulted, and has retorted by deporting one of the resigning Cabinet Ministers, and suppressing political parties and newspapers. When the smoke has cleared away it will be seen that all hope of concluding a treaty has been lost, and that a popular mandate cannot be obtained. Great Britain has cut down her military force in Irak far below the safety point, yet at the present moment she can rely only on naked force. The moral position has frittered itself away, and no longer exists. Whether there is sufficient reality in the League of Nations for it to insist on a frank facing of the facts is now a most important question for the future. The average British citizen asks nothing better, as he lives in dread lest he find himself some day soon committed by his government to wading once more into a morass of expenditure, on the ground that the Mesopotamians and the Kurds have insulted him, or have attacked his provocatively weak military positions.
The Anglo-Persian agreement was another nail in the coffin of our popularity. It has been torn up with contumely by the Persians, who could not be got to see in it anything but a cover for British peaceful penetration into their diseased body politic.
The tragedy is that in the victorious flush of the Armistice period we were too intoxicated with success to grasp the import for the Near and Middle East of the disappearance of Tsarist Russia. Nations know in their bones the elements of their great dangers. The world of Islam has known, since Turkey began the long retreat that led her through centuries from the gates of Vienna to the Maritza, that the Cross was too strong for the Crescent. To Turkey, to Persia, and to Afghanistan the problem of self-preservation presented itself always in its crudest form as a balance between Russia and the Power that held India. If left to deal with one of these alone, or with the two united, they knew themselves lost. Germany was to the Turks a newcomer who might be a factor in the game, as of old the French had been; but in neither Persia nor Afghanistan had Germany obtained a single solid interest of any kind. Russia was the near danger. The English held India, the ultimate wonderful prize, and as beati possidentes were the more sated and contented and the less to be feared. To cultivate British friendship as an insurance against Russian aggression was simple sense, and if ever a despot in any of the three countries was so far beguiled by personal bribes and flattery as to show favor to Russia against Britain, the sentiment of the people made itself felt in hostility to its ruler. To the people, Russia was the friend only of despots — a ruthless advancing Power, inimical everywhere to popular liberty; Britain, on the other hand, was the champion of constitutions and the friend of progress.
Then almost overnight the terrible spectre disappeared. Russia was rent with civil war, and her formidable armies seemed to degenerate into mobs. Imperialism had no advocates, and the most powerful party in Russia publicly washed its hands of all privileges and prerogatives in the East.
Those who directed British policy unfortunately saw in this no more than a happy event in Eastern politics. Their rival and enemy had disappeared. Now, they argued, was the golden moment to consolidate their influence. Had not they always had the popular sympathy? Bolshevism was a new danger to replace Tsarism. England, armed and victorious, must make the Eastern mind see that Bolshevism, though not yet a military danger, was a social one. England must, in short, be extremely active.
Few people stopped to consider how the Oriental regarded the disappearance of Russia. Yet his point of view was quite different and would have repaid consideration. His affection and love for England had been entirely due to his fear of Russia. With the disappearance of Tsarist Russia, he saw himself alone with England and knew himself utterly unable to cope with her if she should display activity. At this unpropitious moment England displayed prodigious activity. Not content with occupying Palestine and Mesopotamia and becoming the sole arbiter of Arab politics, she poured political officers into Kurdistan and Persia, and meddled actively in tribal affairs; aeroplanes and soldiers went with the politicals, and, until the English taxpayer rebelled, England had troops right through the Musulman Caucasus, by Batoum, Tiflis, and Baku, and across the Caspian in Russian Merv and Persian Meshed, and with them a web of secretservice men. Northwest Persia was likewise occupied, and considerable tracts of Turkish Kurdistan. There was much talk of protecting the East from Bolshevism, but, when the Bolsheviki came south, the British withdrew from contact, and they seemed solely concerned with the semicolonization of the tracts they occupied. For the Oriental the situation was completely reversed. To him, Russia now appeared the most advanced and liberal Power on earth, a country in fact ruined by a parcel of idealists whom Islam had no desire to imitate but through whom she might reap profit. Britain, on the other hand, was the greedy, grasping ‘capitalist’ colonial Power. And, as if to assure him that he was right, Great Britain transferred the affairs of Mesopotamia and Palestine to the Colonial Office!
All this post-Armistice madness is passing. Hard financial facts and our failure to obtain a popular vote will force us from Mesopotamia as they forced us from Persia. In Palestine, also, the Zionists will have to pay their own piper. In the British Empire we have a marvelous and mysterious garden and the possibility of one of the widest and most wonderful fraternities for which the world can yet hope. Il faut le cultiver. ‘Back to the Empire’ is the only possible motto for us in these troubled days. When Islam realizes that we have forsworn new adventures in Asia, and when the good fruit of the new high statesmanship at last displayed in India, Egypt, and Ireland has had time to grow, the old confidence in Britain may return. But above all we must withdraw our protecting hand from Arabia. What Islam does not forgive is that, at present, we have committed the folly of which the Kaiser vainly dreamed. It is idle for us to pay lip service to the Sultan and for Lord Curzon to call him Caliph. The Caliph is the Protector of the Holy Places, and Islam knows that the Sultan is no longer Caliph because we have abolished Turkish suzerainty over Mecca and Medina and made the mad Hussein a puppet-king of whom we ourselves are the overlords. We have given the Sharifian family its chance. It must now make good or fall without us. Britain must withdraw from the Arab lands, and leave Islam to settle the question of who shall be Caliph.
As for the oil of Mesopotamia, I hazard a prophecy that it will remain in the earth till Mesopotamia has hammered out or thrown up after our departure some indigenous or Eastern government. It will then be possible for an international combination to convince that native government that it has the means of enriching the government, the country, and the combination, if it be allowed to develop the oil. The present argument between England and America is a waste of breath. So long as Britain occupies Mesopotamia, it is impossible for her to obtain a constitutional mandate or concession for herself, or to allow it to another.