In June 1941, during the festival of Shavuot, a mob of Arab soldiers and tribesmen led a pogrom in the Jewish quarter of Baghdad, murdering well over 180 men, women, and children. The pogrom, known locally as the Farhud (“looting”), was documented by the late Baghdadi Jew and Middle East specialist Elie Kedourie in his 1970 book The Chatham House Version and Other Middle-Eastern Studies. Kedourie blamed British authorities for failing to protect the Jews, despite having taken over responsibility for Mesopotamia from the Ottoman Empire more than two decades earlier. He explained that the Jews could “cheerfully acknowledge” the “right of conquest,” whether exercised by the Ottomans or by the British, because “their history had taught them that there lay safety.” But the British failure to enforce the law and provide imperial order was the kind of transgression that ethnic and religious minorities could ill afford: traditionally, imperialism itself, most notably that of the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans, had protected minorities from the tyranny of the majority. It wasn’t imperialism per se that Kedourie railed against, but weak, ineffectual imperialism.
To be sure, the British had their hands full in Mesopotamia in 1941: given the tendency of the Arab masses toward anti-Western and anti-Zionist ideologies (a tendency that was itself at least in part a reaction to British dominance), colonial authorities were desperate to keep Nazi influence out of the Middle East. As a result, the British ambassador opted for a lighter hand when at a certain point he ought to have used a heavier one. Be that as it may, what is not at issue, as Kedourie correctly stated, is the responsibility that conquest historically carried with it.