More on foreign affairs from The Atlantic Monthly.
From the archives:
"The Crescent and the Tricolor" (November 2000)
France today has more Muslims than practicing Catholics, and couscous has arguably become the country's national food. By Christopher Caldwell
"The Intellectual Mission of the Saracens" (December 1886)
The author argues that Islamic culture saved the wisdom of the ancients from extinction during the middle ages. By Edward Hungerford
From Atlantic Unbound:
Flashbacks: "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Islam" (December 12, 2001)
What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalist rage against the U.S.? How did Afghanistan become a hotbed of international terrorists? Four Atlantic articles look at the origins and consequences of jihad.
Flashbacks: "Coming to Grips with Jihad" (September 12, 2001)
What are the roots of Islamic fundamentalist rage against the U.S.? How did Afghanistan become a hotbed of international terrorists? Four Atlantic articles look at the origins and consequences of jihad.
Interviews: "Islam Rising" (November 1995)
A conversation with Mary Anne Weaver, whose new book shows that there is much more to Islamic activism than guns and bombs.
"The East lives by its senses, the West attempts to follow its ideals; in the one world, matter is more dominant than spirit; in the other, climate, religion, light, and sanitation have reversed this position"
by Albert Kinross
Io millions of men and women the war has been as a book of Revelation. What did so many of us, coming out of the West, know about our dusky brethren of the East? Less than nothing; for were we not cursed with that 'little knowledge' which is far more dangerous than a perfect ignorance? We had, perhaps, read Burton, and even Burckhardt, and Marmaduke Pickthall, and Kipling. Pickthall, by the way, is easily first, where it comes to English-written fiction dealing with Mohammedans. Then there is Doughty, whose Wanderings, however, are confined to Arabia. I, like so many others, had read all these, and I dare say more to the same effect: Moltlke's Reisebriefe, for instance, Loti, Vambéry, Russian and Polish stories of the Turk and Tartar. One was chock-full of this shadow-show, which revealed so little; which awaited the fertilizing stroke of actual contact and a practical experience. Well, I have had four years of it, and six months of leisure for digestive purposes. Now Islam, to me, is a living thing, instead of a mystery concocted of forlorn warfare, domes and minarets, veiled women, and sacks of gold, and prayers, ablutions, and prostrations.
I would like the reader at this juncture to attempt a serious definition of Christianity and its exemplars. At only one point, so far as I can discover, is the normal Christian in complete accord with other Christians. He attempts to practise monogamy. He does not always succeed in this attempt; in fact, his failures are a constant source of mirth and comfort to the Unbeliever. But monogamy and all that it implies in the way of home and children is his ideal, and more often than not he achieves it. In most other respects the Christians of this world achieve variety. In the Levant, for instance, the typical Christian is an accomplished liar, an abject coward, and a noxious parasite, pimp, and pander. One may explain and, perhaps, pardon these aberrations, and even admit that there are numerous exceptions to a general rule. In Great Britain, I am thankful to say, the Christian is, generally speaking, a brave and honest man, who respects women and children and whose ruling passion is a desire for fair play. The North American Christian, I believe, is not dissimilar. In France the Christian displays a more sanguine and, at the same time, a less reflective temperament; in Prussia he becomes a braggart or a servile knave; in Russia he is rather a simpleton; in Serbia he is a lion for courage and endurance; in Australia his exterior is rough and his heart is that of a little child.
One might go on for a week, enumerating the varied species that inhabit this particular field of natural history; but in the main one must agree with Buckle and that noble torso which enriches and adorns our vast heritage of British thought.
As with the Christian, so with our Moslem brother. Climate, environment, and heredity have conspired to make him a person of infinite variety. Courageous, simple, and brave in a state of innocence,—I allude, say, to the Turkish peasant or the fellaheen of the Sudan,—in Egypt he becomes a coward and a prevaricator; in Palestine and Syria a weakling; in the Desert a sportsman and a gentleman; in Afghanistan a bloody-minded fanatic; in Northern India a soldier or a peaceful cultivator; in the Malayan islands a secretive and remote survival. And as the Christians of the world are united by a common impulse toward monogamy and the family, so the Moslems of the world achieve at one point a unity by subjecting their women to polygamy and a system wherein the tribe or clan replaces our smaller and more intimate unit. The Moslem civilization is, beyond all other things, masculine; the Christian civilization is of both sexes and has in the main, I believe, been preserved and guarded by its women.
Islam, I sometimes think, is being destroyed by its men. The downfall of the Turkish Empire may certainly be ascribed to such an exclusively masculine and emasculated domination.
Life, and even religious life, is a perpetual warfare. We may disguise this fact and cover it up with catchwords, as Progress and Reform, Evolution and Revolution. But warfare it remains. Islam was all these things. It was a better faith than the 'Christianity' which it supplanted in the East, a 'Christianity' chiefly notable for feud, faction, greed, persecution, sectarianism; for anything and everything but the application of the Christian doctrine. It was a better faith than the image-worship which it destroyed and supplanted. It even made the attempt—vitiated by its own puerilities and inherent animalism—to combine in one faith the beauties and the truths revealed by Moses and by Christ. If the world had stood still, moving neither forward nor backward from, say, 1000 A.D., and had remained so standing forever, Islam would have been as good a religion as any other. But the world has not stood still. The Christian faith, energized by its dynamics and the temperate climates wherein it found expansion and gathered forces at once magnificent and irresistible, has moved the world; has transformed it beyond any vision or dream permitted to the Prophet of the Arabian God.
Had Islam conquered the world, there would have been no printing press, no Renaissance, and no Americas. The Western Hemisphere would still be undiscovered. It is an almost incredible supposition, but, envisage it as one may, it is indisputable. All the mechanical and adventurous aspects of the human Saga are primarily of Greece and Rome and the Christian heirs of these two civilizations. Arabian culture died an early death, sterilized by too great a reverence for the letter of the Koran and the savage irruptions of those Central Asiatic hordes whom, to-day, we call the Turk. Never a very vigorous plant, the culture of the Arabic theologians, mathematicians, astronomers, architects, historians, craftsmen, poets, had run its appointed course, and had, moreover, received the wound from which it has only recently, thanks to Allenby, Lawrence, and Feisal, made some sort of a recovery. The Turk took charge of the religion of his victim, and with more or less success imposed his will upon Islam. And, incidentally, he also enslaved such Christian communities as came under his hand—Greeks, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians, to name the but most familiar, and to omit those liberated by Pole and Russian, Austrian and Spaniard, Venetian, French and British, in the more recent centuries.
From the archives:
"Tales of the Alhambra" (September 2001)
The lost Islamic world of Southern Spain—and its modern echoes. By Cullen Murphy Truly one plunges into a strange and dramatic stratum of history when one surveys the rise, decline, and downfall of Islamic power. And even now I have omitted, and must perforce omit, the Western chapters of that epic; must leave the Alhambra unvisited, the deeds of Moor and Frank and proud Castilian to the reader's own passion or research. Persia and India too, free-thinking Omar and the anonymous painters who defied the Prophet, must be taken for granted, together with a score of heaven-ascending monuments, a host of kings and conquerors, and that devout lover who raised the Taj Mahal.
IIy own first contact with Islam occurred in Macedonia. The Turk had ruled here and had made a wilderness. At every step one took, one thanked the Lord that he had been kicked out. The Greek could not be worse and might be better. All that remained now of Islam was cemetery after cemetery falling to ruin, falling back into the wildness and the savagery of those deserted moors. There had been forests here; the Turk had destroyed them. There had been aqueducts and water and good roads; the Turk had let them fall to ruin. His business was war; in the pursuits of peace he had proved contemptible. He could neither govern nor administer, nor organize, nor do anything but suck the blood of this fair province. Greek, Jew, and Bulgar did their best under his exactions, till at last Greek and Bulgar, grown tired of fighting with one another, turned on the common enemy and kicked him out. A furtive remnant lingers on in the city of Salonica, but it is moribund and powerless. You and me it despises, as it has been taught to do in its mosques and in its schools; but it is extremely glad to take our money. We are still unclean and we are still the Infidel; but at the same time we are the Conquerors, and must therefore be obeyed, until Allah, in his own good time, decrees our overthrow. Doubtless he has some good reason for our present elevation, temporary and disgusting though it be.
Thus, more or less, argue the learned Mussulmans of Macedonia. The unlearned and the simple, however, are not so severe. I am quite unrepentant where, perhaps, I ought to be ashamed. To me, as to most other Englishmen, the unlearned Turk is infinitely preferable to the Levantine, be he Jew or Gentile, Zionist or Greek. I put the Cretan in the place of honor; the Cretan Christian is the finest thing in the near East. But after him I would place the Christians of places like Bethlehem and Ramallah, and, after these, the unlearned Turk.
Though I spent two years in Macedonia, never a Greek or Jew came near me but to sell me, at three times its value, something I did not want; or he might have been a pimp, or a vendor of damnable liquor, adulterated from dregs to label. There are numerous exceptions to this general rule—of that I have no doubt; but such was my own experience, and that of practically every Frenchman, Canadian, Serb, or British private and officer of the Salonica army.
The Moslem, however, won often our respect and even our affection. For the educated of that faith I had little use. Those I met, and they were fairly representative, were mainly political refugees and assassins who had fallen out with Enver and the Committee of Union and Progress. Ridiculous title of a more than ridiculous society! And yet for several years this group of adventurers, murderers, and dupes won the support and confidence of all 'liberals' and 'humanitarians' of enlightened West!
O—— Bey was quite a good sample of the educated Turk. He had been in diplomatic service, but had lost his job through a characteristic and typical misfortune. Appointed to a position of some consequence in a Protestant country, he had failed to respect the sexual prejudices of the Infidel. In Sodom or Gomorrah, or even in Cairo or Teheran, he might have served his country with distinction; but in the less imaginative North he was de trop. I used to talk politics and play chess with him.
The bey's politics amounted to this: why did British diplomacy allow German diplomacy to lead poor Turkey by the nose? He presupposed, firstly, that the Turk could do no wrong, and, secondly, that the Turk was an irresponible and charming child whom it was duty of the Great Powers to pet and spoil. To my unregenerate mind, a good hiding would have been more salutary. As a chess-player, the bey was equally unconvincing. He would begin well, and then lose patience and make an ass of himself. At first I thought these wild moves had some deep and hidden significance; but after a game or two it was plain that my friend had lost his self-control and was heading straight away for ruin.
The same psychology applied to politics will explain a deal that puzzles us about the conduct of the Turk, be it the massacre of Armenians or his pathetic attempts at government, beginning with himself. O—— Bey died suddenly. My own impression is that he was poisoned; for of such is the kingdom of politics in the Near East.
Our illiterate and untraveled Turkish friends were of quite a different stamp. Every time I came into Salonica from the wilderness, Achmet the barber would welcome me as if he were the hound of Ulysses. He did not care a button for my money; he would have paid me to enter his shop; he would have fed me and sheltered me and found me a bride. I am not deluding myself; I am stating a fact. And in the Turkish villages up-country were men of the same stamp—simple, loyal, industrious, and clean. I lay peculiar stress upon their cleanliness. The Greek Christians, who likewise had their villages, were the reverse of clean. My friend Adossides, who governed this country under direction of his friend, Venizelos, was wise enough to see that the Turkish peasant was, more or less, its greatest asset.
These simple men, enjoying for the first time in their lives a stable and honest administration, and free from incubus of perpetual and futile wars, were citizens of whom any country might be proud. The more I saw of them, the more I admired them. They had dignity and a perfect courtesy, added to these were honesty, truthfulness, sobriety, and an interest in their work which made them independent of the merchants and middle-men. They made one understand those travelers who report that the Turk is the only gentleman in the Near East.
Once only—and that by accident—did I have the opportunity of holding converse with a maiden of this simpler class. It is rather a ridiculous story, as any story of the kind must be in the East, where a man is permitted to see the faces of only his wife or wives and such near relatives as the law allows.
One summer afternoon I came to a walled garden, the door of which stood wide open. In the centre was a flagged space, with a stone well and a tree bearing some strange fruit. I have grown many kinds of fruit, but this kind I could not recognize; so in I stepped to investigate. A young girl, unveiled and dressed in black, came up and joined me. She must have been about sixteen, and she was quite the most charming thing I had seen for months. I asked her about the tree that had so puzzled me. It was a pomegranate, heavy with fruit, and the first I had ever seen. The girl spoke French,—France has long supported a very noble series of schools in the Near East,—and soon we were the best of friends. We sat in the stone circle that ringed the well, and talked away for quite a while. It was just like talking to a very bright and questioning school-girl at home; and so we sat, chatting and laughing together, till an old woman—I suppose she was old—came out to us, all veils and fury, and chased my little friend indoors. What happened to her afterward I was never able to discover; but I can assure the reader that she was no young woman out of a Pierre Loti novel, but just a happy, healthy kid such as you may find by the dozen in Europe, and, for all I know, in America as well.
Such were the first Moslem ladies I had the luck to encounter: the duenna, obviously of the orthodox old school; the young one, less concerned with the properties, and trustful as a terrier pup that has never met unkindness. In a higher class—the class of my defunct companion, O—— Bey—I encountered absurd young women who raved about Enver. These were hopeless. Neither European nor Moslem, they seemed purely a destructive species; and it is to be hoped that by now they are safely under lock and key and thrice guarded by officers of the harem.
The next time I met the Turk, it was in Palestine, and he an open enemy and very much mixed up and muddled with his friend the Hun. Almost one felt sorry for the Hun. And one felt quite sorry for the common Turkish soldier. The common Turkish soldier had been lied to more than any of us. In war and peace the Moslem has one sure advantage over the Christian. He can always raise the devils of religious fanaticism and hate, which we of the West have long since outgrown. As a Turk said to me one day, over a meal we shared in Jerusalem, 'You Protestants seem to have no religion.' In his sense of the word, we have none; for we had neither murdered nor enslaved our beaten foe, nor had we dishonored his women. Nor had Allenby, like his Turkish opposite, Djemal, established a harem of two hundred selected ladies of the country; nor had he robbed his soldiers of their pay, sold their rations and equipment, and let them starve and go naked.
Saladin, by the way, was a finer gentleman than any of his Crusading opposites. By so much has Islam degenerated and Christianity ascended since the twelfth century; though the great majority of our politicians, so I am told, can still give points and a beating to any knight or bishop who wore the Cross.
Another Moslem country with which I am familiar is Egypt, truly the most mirth-provoking land on this planet. Macedonia is sinister and tragic; Syria and Palestine and Sinai and Libya are charged with drama and the tears of things; but modern Egypt is pure classic comedy from end to end. As my friend Judge X—— once said to me, and he had known the place with a judicial thoroughness for twenty years, 'Everybody out here is a bit magnoon.' Magnoon means 'touched,' or agreeably insane. Hamlet, for instance, was magnoon; and so, I fancy, are many of the home-keeping Irish. The tedium engendered by great heats and a monotony of sunlight may account for this perversity. Whenever I think of Egypt and the Egyptian, I have to laugh. Otherwise, one might weep over him. England has given him two great men, Cromer and Kitchener. The rest have been nonentities, though Allenby may prove to be a third.
It is interesting to talk with an Egyptian about Cromer and Kitchener. The first he respects, the second he loves. Cromer was a great English gentleman, without much Arabic, immersed in difficult affairs, and something of a scholar and a recluse, as any study of his writings will more than testify. Kitchener was more Egyptian than the Egyptians, a rare speaker of their tongue, a man who had read other men more than books; and he was power—which means devoted service—incarnate. Ardent Nationalists have spoken to me about Kitchener as Verlaine speaks of that imaginary mistress who 'm'aime et me comprend,' and whose 'regard est pareil au regard des statues.' When there was riot and murder in Egypt during the first half of 1919, similar Nationalists repeated, 'If only Kitchener had lived!' And they meant it, too! The Oriental adores a master who says, 'Yes,' or who says 'No'; and Kitchener not only was such a master, but he had the means and strength to enforce his decisions. With that, he ever treated the Egyptian as a man and a brother. In his heart, no doubt, he preferred the brave and devoted Sudanese, unspoiled by the contact with the West, who had fought his battles, and whose battles he too had fought; but he never showed this preference, and to all men and women, and especially to the poor, the learned, and the unfortunate, he was alike. Allenby has this same perfection of courtesy combined with firmness, a similar prestige and aura of great deeds and and famous victories; but as yet he lacks his precursor's intimacy with the people and their language, and years of makeshift government have made his task no easier.
IIIn dealing with the East, it is necessary to have the patience of fifty camels, and, furthermore, one must avoid being too censorious. One's own standards of truth, honesty, self-control, and especially of sexual morality, need not be laid aside; but one must accept the fact that the East views most of these matters in a totally different light. The East lives by its senses, the West attempts to follow its ideals; in the one world, matter is more dominant than spirit; in the other, climate, religion, light, and sanitation have reversed this position. Nor were we always the chastened heroes of to-day. Read, for instance, the story of the Oddi and the Baglioni of Perugia, as recovered by John Addington Symonds; read the Restoration dramatists or the minor Elizabethan playwrights; or Rabelais or Boccaccio; or the filth that was written and printed in Paris before the war, and read throughout Europe and America. We are very far from being immaculate, and it is only of recent years, as history goes, that the Highland clansman has ceased to murder and rob his neighbor, the French serf to lie and accept forced labor, the Virginian to own slaves, and the English Catholic or Protestant to burn his fellow Christian at the stake. I really dare not say that Islam is much worse than we have been; and, more than anybody, it is we who have set its present face toward revolt.
I am told that, if President Wilson's views upon self-determination were applied to the state of Florida or Mississippi, where the negro population exceeds the white by many thousands, there could be but one outcome to such an application, which I sincerely hope and trust will never be permitted. In some such light one is forced to view what is called the Egyptian Question, where a numerically inferior Christian population is asked to accept the rule of an Islamic or pseudo-Islamic majority, calling itself for political purposes the Egyptian Nation, but in reality being neither a nation nor markedly Egyptian.
In the light of historic truth, as well as in the light of factual experience, one has to admit that Egyptian nationality ceased to exist a good many years before the birth of Christ; that it has never recovered from this overthrow; and that there is neither Egyptian language, literature, nor art. Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, and Turk have held Egypt by the sword; Mameluke and Frenchman and Albanian have been its master; and to-day, failing the support of France and Italy, to whom a joint guardianship was offered, the British are in charge. No native-born Egyptian has governed in the Nile valley for well over two thousand years.
Nor is there any race of people in that country which may be regarded in the way one regards the Frenchman of France, the Englishman of England or, say, the Dane of Denmark. A native of Egypt may be anything, from a woolly-haired negro to an ivory-colored landowner or government official. The practice of polygamy has made a hotch-potch of the race and destroyed its identity. Patriotism, in the Western sense of that much-abused word, democracy, and those liberal institutions which are at once the glory and the stigmata of the Christian world, do not exist in Egypt or in any other Moslem province. The East is well content to do without them.
My soldier-servant, Ibrahim, put the whole political situation in a nutshell, when, before we were separated by order of the higher authorities, he asked me to get him a new job.
'Why don't you go to one of your own people?' I replied. 'I am only an Unbeliever and an Englishman.'
We were excellent friends and understood one another perfectly, and so I could permit myself these candors.
'If I go to an Egyptian, he say, "Bring me money, or bring me a girl, and then I find you a job." If you send me to an Englishman, he say, "What can you do?" and he give me so much pay.' Thus Ibrahim.
'Where would you find a girl?' I asked next.
Ibrahim shrugged his shoulders and said, 'My sister.'
The Egyptian Nationalist politician, invariably a lawyer, journalist, priest, or some other windy individual, wishes to get hold of Ibrahim's money and Ibrahim's little sister. In Europe and America, gullible Intellectuals and Labor people, of both sexes or none at all, applaud and sympathize with the noble periods and mendacities which come as easy to the Oriental as tumbling off a log. What, however, he is really after is Ibrahim's money and Ibrahim's little sister.
IVhe white man is in Egypt, India, and elsewhere, primarily to protect Ibrahim's money and Ibrahim's little sister.
We of the West have managed to set some bounds to the rascality of our priests and politicians; we have created a Public Opinion which they fear as the Devil fears the Cross. In the Moslem world it is different, just as in our own world it was different before the Reformation and the major revolutions.
Fundamentally, there is not much difference between the Islam and the Christian world of the Middle Ages. The trouble with Islam is that it is tied fast by the Koran and the intense individualism of the normal Mohammedan. In the modern world man must cooperate or go under. A religion that ignores the personal existence of an entire sex; that forbids the lending of money, and therefore places its followers outside that whole system of loans and credit upon which, for good or for evil, our modern civilization is based; a religion that is so full of exclusions as to make the murder or robbery of an Unbeliever a matter of little or no account, can hardly hope to survive outside the dark places of the earth. In its own way it is honest, and in that it is pathetic; but the world needs the cotton of the Egyptian, the barley of Palestine, the silks and spices, the oils and minerals, the fruits and tobacco, and all the other produce and raw material that God has placed in the countries which are at present occupied by the followers of the Prophet. And it seems to me that if the Mohammedan cannot irrigate and sow and dig and cultivate and mine and bore, under the direction of men of his own faith, then he will have to accept the direction and, with that, the political ascendancy of the despised Christian.
The French and Dutch, in their colonial administration, have accepted this point of view quite frankly and with a quite admirable logic. They are firm, but tolerant. They do not trouble to force their own national ideals on this unready soil, and they are spared, in Tunis and Algeria, in Java and Sumatra, all those ridiculous events and manifestations which must occur when an Oriental people is led, nolens volens, into a blind alley. The Anglo-Saxon, inevitably perhaps, has preached Milton and Mill, and at the same time denied an immediate practical application of their theories. In this, Great Britain and America are much alike. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, however, though fine words to write upon a banner, are the most misleading of symbols. Man has to be ready for these ultimate gifts before he is fit to be intrusted with their dangers and felicities. The Christian world has only in spots arrived at such a consummation; the Moslem world is quite unready.
During the four years that I lived among Mohammedans I never fell in with an original thinker or a mind that could be regarded as in any way important. And, indeed, Islam has contributed little or nothing to the sum of human knowledge. An English friend of mine, a well-known educationalist, once said to me, "I have given ten years to the study of Arabic; I read it and write it; but there is next to nothing to read, and there is no audience to which an original writer can appeal.'
This is perfectly true, as I discovered for myself when I looked for an Arabic version of Cromer's Modern Egypt. There is no such version. Let us assume that Cromwell or George Washington or Abraham Lincoln had been able to write a great book, giving a clear and convincing account of the events which he moulded, of the faith which upheld him, and of the people he led out of the wilderness. Such a book is Cromer's Modern Egypt; and yet so incurious and so illiterate is the Moslem world, that, for all it cares, this masterpiece might have remained unwritten.
Islam is a faith of inhibitions. It says, 'You must not,' a hundred times for every once that it says, 'You must.' A people cannot live by negation and denial. The West affirms, and in so doing saves itself. Every Mohammedan I have met who could stand up to and hold his own with the English or the French was a Mohammedan only by courtesy. S—— Pacha, for instance, had but a single wife, and was rather henpecked; he drank good wine and enjoyed it; and in religion he was agnostic, with a sentimental attachment to Islam. His social outlook was that of a feudal baron; he was hospitable and generous to a degree scarce known outside the East; and with that he was fat, self-indulgent, and the reverse of war-like. There are dozens like him in the East—capable men in their own way, honest, industrious, afraid of the major responsibilities, lacking in initiative, and full of a conversation which is pleasantly superficial, and, in its larger moments, inclined to platitude.
The Indian Moslem, being farther from Mecca and with a good many years of decent government behind him, rather resembles those Catholics who live a good many miles from Rome. My own information about Mecca, by the way, is mainly derived from Hurgronje, a Dutch Orientalist, who had the unique experience of a six-months' residence in the Holy City, and of whose work there is no English translation. Some enterprising publisher should remedy this omission. The Indian Moslem—some not very convincing specimens are at present touring the world in the Turkish interest, and for fine, confused thinking would be hard to beat—is about the finest of the lot. One can, however, easily exaggerate his importance. The total population of India is 317,000,000. Out of this immense reservoir, scarcely a million men could be found who were fit to serve in the late war; and of this million only a fraction were Mohammedans. The bulk of the 66,000,000 Moslems of India are peaceful merchants, lawyers, teachers, craftsmen, and peasants, with a sprinkling of fighting men on the frontier who have little respect for their brethren of the Plains. In thinking of these warlike tribes and the similarly constituted Afghan across the border, one recalls Sir Pertab Singh's convincing reply to the Indian Nationalist: 'If India were given self-government, there would not be a virgin or a gold-piece between Peshawur and Calcutta.'
Here one comes to the arch-difficulty about Islam—and all the semi-civilized peoples, be they professing Christians or professing Mohammedans. Islam, however, is almost entirely semi-civilized; which means that its leading notion of political action is to murder and mutilate the men of the opposing party and to violate their women. One cannot get round this fact. I have lived, revolver on hip, in the midst of it, and I have known less fortunate soldiers who were caught unarmed, clubbed to death by a mob of savages, their bodies divided and cast out to the elements. For obvious reasons the story of our women remains untold. Against such a factor no league of nations can prevail, unless it be backed by force, by the courage of its convictions, and by an undivided purpose. Islam then can accept its decisions or break itself against a wall of steel. Islam would accept such a league, and, in the long run, be spiritually by so much the richer and the wiser.
Vaving envisaged this problem as a general idea, rather than as one which very much concerns the British Empire, may I be permitted to approach it on the narrower basis? There are some 100,000,000 Moslems within the British Empire. Generally speaking, they are among the most loyal and contented of its subjects. We respect their religion and their code of law—the two are inextricably combined; they have been spared or reclaimed from the despotisms, the futile wars, massacres, fanaticisms, and savageries which are the constant and never-changing marks of the self-governed peoples of Islam.
Europe, down to the end of the Thirty Years' War, was similarly accursed; and it is with the European of an even earlier age than that that one may best compare our Moslem fellow citizens. Therefore the words Democracy, Parliamentary Government, and Constitutionalism have no real meaning to the ordinary Mohammedan, who regards all government as a thing outside himself, wherein he has no voice. It is the business of a government to govern; and it is his business to be led. That is his way of looking at it. He does not want to vote or waste his time attending meetings; he recognizes that Allah has made certain men whose destiny it is to be Masters, and myriads of other men whose destiny it is to work at their handicraft or to cultivate the soil. The whole thing rests with Allah. If he be ruled by Christians, he does not much mind; and if he be ruled by Moslems, so much the better. He is not a political animal; he has other excitements, spiritual and sensual, which, in his opinion, we Occidentals undervalue. He likes his rulers to be just, and, when injustice becomes unendurable, he rises in his wrath, if he be strong enough, and slays them. A good liar, in the shape of a priest or a political agitator, let us say, can usually convince him of anything, and therefore his own rulers have invariably lopped off the heads of such orators. This simple remedy is far-sighted, in that it usually saves the killing of a hundred, or even a thousand, dupes.
Our own methods of government, however, do not admit of these solutions. Our object is to get good men and send them to the East, there to maintain law and order and blaze a trail for Western knowledge. We have not always been wise in these appointments, and of late years they have been too much dictated by interest,—political interest and class interest,—and by the desire to find some 'nice young man an easy job. A cad in the East, or a tomfool, be he never so blue-blooded or meticulously intellectual, can do infinite harm. The Oriental is a student of men and not of books, and he is quick and unerring in his estimates. The war has handicapped us greatly; we have lost so many of our best men, and many others have been temporarily withdrawn, serving in the army, the navy, or wherever a place could be found for them.
Unless he be their superior in character and breeding, the white man has no earthly business to impose his will upon the less developed races. The difference between the two, as between our own masses and our own classes, is mainly one of self-control. Sheer intellectuality does not matter; indeed, more often than not it is a hindrance, leading to doubts and prevarications.
A wise Egyptian of the educated class once said to me, 'The English are fools; but they are honest fools. We do not want to be ruled by clever people; we are clever enough ourselves; we are far too clever. Where we fail is in honesty.'
He, at least, was honest; but the English administrator need not be a fool; far from it; and my Anglophile friend is not to be taken too literally.
An ideal solution for the recruitment of our Imperial Civil Service would be to employ a somewhat similar method to that employed in our navy. Our future Nelsons are caught young; they are the inheritors of a great tradition; the service is, in many of its aspects, a lay priesthood. Personal selection by a board of veteran officers is the main principle of this method; so that character and early training, a genuine vocation, are sought for, rather than any kind of special knowledge which answers to the limited tests of a written examination. The whole thing is more a dedication than a profession, and its rewards are paid in honor as much as in current coin. To-day the service has been reorganized on a basis which opens the higher ranks to whosoever is fit to enter them, and officers and men are often 'a band of brothers.' Sailoring, incidentally, once an art or craft, has now become one of the learned occupations. Our Imperial Civil Service might fitly be a rival to our Naval Service; and even, if a more or less general disarmament is to entail the reduction of the two senior services, then such a Civil Service might well replace and carry on the great traditions of our oldtime fleets and armies.
In the East, where money, and the prestige which goes with money, count for so much, the pay should be adequate, and more than adequate, to the responsibility. Nor should any young man be allowed to occupy a position of consequence—and the lowest position is one of consequence where the white man is the observed of all observers—unless he can write and speak one language of the country, and prove himself something of an expert in its psychology, religion, history, and ethnology. Nor is a man of much use in the East unless he become a lover of horses, dogs, and children. The rest will come to him easily enough if he can master these. The above conditions are only theoretically fulfilled under our present systems of administration.
In the war, the conclusions and inconclusions of which are still distressing the world's peace-makers, one was constantly finding food for merriment, and more often for disgust, in the official attitude toward such men as Lawrence, Firth, or Edmund Candler—I name but those whose names come most readily. There were a round dozen of such men on every Oriental front, and every effort that could be made to stultify or minimize their abilities was duly made. Lawrence, thanks largely to the enthusiasm of an American admirer, is now revealed to the whole world; but a system which cannot extend spontaneous welcome to such a man stands self-condemned. In addition to the regular imperial civil servant, a place ought to be left for the irregular whose undeniable qualifications can only enrich and broaden the none too remarkable reservoirs of human power now extant.
The old stagers will laugh at me when I make a yet more singular suggestion. Being bored and unoccupied in the depot at Kantara, I applied one day for a civil post in Palestine or Syria. By an early mail a form was sent me, asking me to state where and how I had been educated, the occupation and rank of my father, and a dozen other equally fatuous questions. Naturally, I tore this document across; for I have known men, educated at Harrow and Oxford, let us say, and the sons of impeccable fathers, who were totally unfit to be trusted with a five-pound note. And, absurd as it may appear to the official mind, I have found perhaps an even greater proportion of youngsters and grown men, with the qualities that make for courageous and honest administration, among those connected with the Boy Scout movement than in any such general reservoir as has been indicated. And I will even go so far as to say that from this particular source might be drawn a goodly number of potential administrators.
The undeniable mental and moral deterioration which is often induced by too long a sojourn under Eastern skies is a factor that no determined survey of the situation can overlook. Long leaves and plenty of outdoor sport and recreation are the surest preventives; but where these fail, there is only one alternative. The white official who has gone rotten must be removed. It has ceased to be a personal question; It is a matter that touches the honor, the worth or unworth, of a whole race.
And now, reviewing this whole subject in an English light, one must inevitably arrive at certain conclusions. If our domination over Islam, or over any other of the more primitive peoples, means one thing more than another, it means that we are trying to fit them for self-government. Success, for us, means, therefore, a renunciation. If we succeed and teach the Indian and Egyptian and the peoples of Palestine and Mesopotamia to 'run their own show,' then we will have done what we set out to do. There can be but one logical end to such a mission. It will mean that many white men will be cut off from pleasant and interesting jobs; it will mean that some of these will cry aloud and turn prophet. The air will be filled with evil tidings. We are, however, quite definitely committed to the Christian point of view; and, moreover, it is so deeply bitten into our nature that, try as we may, we cannot escape from it.
And, accepting this argument, the peoples who are so fitted for self-government in the modern world will no longer be the peoples of Islam. Call themselves what they may, they will have accepted our ideals, and with them our gods. A remnant may continue in the deserts of Arabia and Africa, or in the mountains of Central Asia; and their sport, their business, their politics, will still be war. Well, we were ever a sporting nation. But Islam of the plains, the valleys, and the cities will have ceased to be Islam; just as the Christianity of to-day has ceased to be the Christianity of the Crusades, the stake, the conquistadors, and the Inquisition.
On the other hand,—and there is a good deal of evidence in favor of this supposition,—it may be that the primitive races are incapable of responding to the demands and pressure of the modern world, and that it is the ungrateful destiny of the white race to function as a ruler. The late Mr. Roosevelt, admirably indiscreet, has said the last word on this subject.
Or one may contemplate a third solution, disgusting and abominable, and yet, under our present dispensations, not altogether impossible. The Christian world may destroy itself,—it has done, and is doing its uttermost in this direction,—and leave the more primitive peoples in possession. These—cheap, fertile, and nearer to the earth—may be our heirs; and amid these, Islam, patient, shrewd, observant, is watching our antics and hoping for best.
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Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1920; Islam; Volume 126, No. 5; page 669.
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