Europe and Islam
The Problems of The Califate and of The Devolution Of Mohammedan Lands
By Herbert Adams Gibbons
[The Century Magazine, May 1917]
During the thousand years between the Battle of Tours and the Battle of Vienna, which marked the extreme advance of Islam in western and eastern Europe, Mohammedan states and Mohammedan races were a constant menace to the security and prosperity of Europe because of their military strength, their control of the Mediterranean, and the temptation alliance with them afforded to European states to strike at one another to the detriment of Christianity and civilization. In the decadence of Islam, Mohammedan states have remained a menace to the development of European civilization and to international harmony and understanding. Their flags no longer float on the Mediterranean, their military power is broken; but their very impotence makes them more dangerous than ever before. They are more susceptible to diplomatic intrigues. Their defenselessness has kept whetted the territorial appetite of the European powers. Some choice morsels have already been devoured: Russia was eating steadily until she reached Armenia across the Caucasus in 1878; France and England did not stop for. Half a century until Tunis was consumed in 1881 and Egypt in 1882; Austria revived the European traditions of the generation before in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908; Italy and France in Tripoli and Morocco in 1911.
And after the present war, what more? Russia already has her hands on the rest of Armenia, and has publicly stated that her allies have "awarded" to her Constantinople in the future treaty; French public opinion claims Syria; Great Britain, ensconced in Mesopotamia, is making desperate efforts to reach Bagdad; Persia is the scene of bitter struggles between the belligerents, none of whom has paid the slightest attention to Persian protests against the violation of her neutrality; Italy makes no secret of her intentions in regard to Albania and Asia Minor; Austria-Hungary holds most of Albania, and is credited with ambitions in Macedonia to the detriment of Bulgaria and Greece; and Germany, with one foot on Belgium and the other on Serbia, declares her own territorial disinterestedness, and claims to be the protector of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, and the sole friend left to Islam.
When one is writing on a special phase of a complex problem there is danger of over-emphasis, of exaggerating the importance of the particular phase under consideration. Perhaps it would be as naive and as oblivious to a multitude of issues to say that the present war arose in the near East as to say that Great Britain came into the war to defend the principle of Belgium's neutrality. And yet the history of international relations during the last hundred years shows in almost every decade the decisive influence of the question of the devolution of Mohammedan lands in the foreign policy of the great powers. Who can deny that the Eastern Question, created by the decadence of Islam and kept in the foreground of diplomatic preoccupations by the fear of each power that every other power was trying to "get in on the ground floor" in Mohammedan countries, has been the principal factor in European alliances and European conflicts since the Congress of Vienna?
Napoleon's lack of success in holding Alexander after the Tilsit interview; the impairment of the Holy Alliance over the questions raised by the War of Greek Independence; the policy of England toward France in regard to Mohammed Ali; the Crimean War and the Treaty of Paris; French intervention in Syria; Bismarck's bribe to Russia in 1870; the attitude of England and Austria toward Russia in the Turkish war of 1877 and the Congress of Berlin; Italy's entrance into the Triple Alliance after France took Tunis; the Anglo-French Agreement of 1904, with Egypt and Morocco as the principal "compensations;" the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, for which Persia paid the piper; Russia's use of her opportunity in Serbia after Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina; the effect of maritime considerations upon Italy's international relations when she found herself in Tripoli and Rhodes; the change in the attitude of the Balkan States toward one another when the powers imposed the Albanian embargo—had all these events no part in preparing and precipitating the Great War? Are they not exercising a potent influence upon the course of the war? Shall we not have to go back to them, and take them into account, in the reconstruction of Europe? To put Prussian militarism in the place of devolution of Mohammedan territories as the summum malum from which Europe is suffering does not augur well for the world's hope of a durable peace.
The bearing of the Islamic problem upon the Eastern Question has an importance all its own. Here we have the aspirations of Mohammedan races, independent and under European control, and the sufferings and hopes of Christian races still in subjection to Mohammedans. The difficulties that will arise in connection with acting justly and wisely toward these races of the near East when their claims come before the peace conference, and the adoption of a pan-European policy toward the problem of the califate, are questions of vital importance in the reconstruction of Europe.
We do not know how many Moslems there are in the world. It is impossible to arrive at even approximate figures. Missionaries and travelers speak "in round numbers," sparing or generous with millions to such an extent that the student, astounded and bewildered by the discrepancies in estimates, becomes skeptical of statistics. In many parts of Asia and Africa, the absence of data upon which to compute population, much less the religions professed by the people, puts estimates of Mohammedan totals into the field of speculation. But where the population of states or regions has been compiled by government officials who have facts to go upon, and where that population is preponderantly Moslem, fairly reliable estimates are possible. Such is the case along the Mediterranean littoral of Africa, in a few African protectorates, in Russia and portions of Asiatic Russia, in India, and in the Dutch East Indies.
A conservative estimate of Moslems under European rule or effective European protection is as follows:
There are also Moslems in colonies owing allegiance to German, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the United States, and to Austria-Hungary and the Balkan States directly as citizens. But their number is not large enough to call for a definite Mohammedan colonial policy.
From an international point of view the Mohammedan question is not a complicated one for Holland. Her Moslems are on islands, and their relations with Mohammedans of independent states and the colonies and protectorates of other European powers can easily be controlled. Great Britain, Russia, and France, on the other hand, cannot, divorce the problem of Islam from their general colonial and foreign policy. Their unique position in the Mohammedan world was one of the compelling forces that gave birth to the Triple Entente. The necessity, perhaps unconsciously divined, of standing together to protect their Mohammedan interests led them to compound colonial rivalries. Thus "the next European war" showed a grouping of powers very different from that which the observer of European affairs might reasonably have prophesied at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1900, Great Britain was not yet ready to abandon to Germany the title of defender of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, and British statesmen were in a frame of mind to look upon France and Russia rather than upon Germany and Austria as the disturbers of world's peace who had to be fought and cured of unhealthy ambitions. The new orientation of British foreign policy began in 1902, and was determined by the French Agreement of 1904 and the Russian Agreement of 1907.
Most Russian Moslems are Russian subjects. They form compact masses in southern and southeastern Russia, the Caucasus, the trans-Caspian district, central Asia (with Turkestan), and the protectorates of Khiva and Bokhara. Although Russian Moslems are in contact with their coreligionnaires in Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and India, they have no pronounced separatist tendencies, and have not been a source of anxiety to Russia except in the Caucasus and on the Persian frontier. On the other hand, Russia has used her Moslems to make trouble for Great Britain and Turkey. During the first decade of the twentieth century Turkey conducted an agitation against France from Tripoli and Egypt. But the Italian and Senussi wars have shut off French Moslems from Cairo and Constantinople for the last five years. Only upon Great Britain is the necessity imposed, as it has been since the beginning of her imperial policy, of watching Islam in every place where Islam is indigenous. Great Britain cannot afford to be ignorant of any question, of any movement, that affects Islam. Eastern Africa and Zanzibar and Somaliland come into contact with Arabia, western Africa with the Sudan and Tripoli, Tripoli and the Sudan with Egypt. Egypt is adjacent to Arabia and Turkey. The Malay states and Ceylon are in communication with Java and Sumatra and India. India comes into contact with central Asia and by way of Afghanistan with Persia. Aden, the Persian Gulf states, and Baluchistan are invariably affected by events in Turkey and Arabia and Mesopotamia. Moslem penetration into central Africa has become a subject of study and reports on the part of Nyasaland and Rhodesian officials. It is not beyond the province of British prudence to watch Islam in Siam and to wonder how many Moslems there are in China.
The establishment of the French protectorate over Morocco in 1912 left very little of the Moslem world outside of European control or "protection." The five remaining Mohammedan countries, all of them except Afghanistan struggling at the present moment to prevent being subjugated by Europe, have an approximate Mohammedan population as follows:
Ottoman Empire (including Arabia)
Albania is occupied militarily by Austro-Hungarian, Italian, and Bulgarian armies. The Italians have a foothold at several places on the coast of Tripoli, and had secured European acknowledgment of "annexation" before the Great War broke out. Russians, British, and Turks are fighting in Persia, where the two former have not been able to maintain the cynically established "spheres of influence" of 1907. Turkey is a belligerent, allied to the Central powers and Bulgaria. European states have come into conflict with Islam and with one another through commercial and political expansion into Mohammedan countries.
The history, of international diplomacy in the Islamic world is an unbroken record of bullying and blundering on the part of all the powers. In governmental policies one searches in vain for more than an occasional ray of chivalry, uprightness, altruism, for a consistent line of action in attempting to solve the problems that were leading Europe from one war to another, for constructive statesmanship. European cabinets used the aspirations of Christian subject races to promote their own ends against one another and to threaten Turkey. Then, for fear of sacrificing what they thought they had gained, foreign offices and ambassadors allowed the wretched Christians to be massacred for having dared to respond to European overtures and to put faith in promises of protection. European diplomacy inspired Abdul-Hamid to make Panislamism a political propaganda, thus denaturing one of the most promising and beautiful religious revivals of Islam. When the diplomats saw their mistake, they tried to wrest away the weapon they had put in the sultan's hands and to use it against one another. In their eagerness to thwart one another and to win concessions and colonies for their own countries, there was alternate bullying and fawning ad nauseam. The idea of the "universal califate" is wholly foreign to Mohammedan genius and traditions. It emanated from the brains of European statesmen whose knowledge of Mohammedan laws and history was, to say the least, vague.
The indictment of European diplomacy in the near East is terrible; one might even say that it seems incredible. But there are a dozen thoroughly documented treatises on the Eastern Question available in all large libraries to which the reader of independent judgment who wishes corroboration of my assertions may go. And do not the facts as set forth in compact text-books of nineteenth-century European history speak for themselves? From Vienna, 1815, to Bukharest, 1913, has the concert of European powers, or any one power, maintained a consistent, or shown an altruistic, policy in dealing with the emancipation and devolution of Mohammedan territories? Has there been a traditional grouping of the powers, some as champions, others as oppressors, of small nationalities? What power has not played the game of encouraging Christians under the Mohammedan yoke, and then abandoned them to their fate in order not to offend Mohammedan sentiment? The evolution of Serbia, of Rumania, of Bulgaria, of Greece, of Crete; the sufferings of Armenia and Syria;, the anarchy of Arabia; the vacillating policy in Egypt and northern Africa; the intrigues at Constantinople; the handling of Persia and Afghanistan—all these give us the formula of European diplomacy. It is this: selfish national interest endeavoring to thwart other selfish national interests. Frequently events have proved that the distrust which led to wars and to threats of wars was unfounded. In France and Great Britain public opinion, when enlightened, has sometimes called for a policy dictated by justice and inspired by humanity; but such a policy has not been adopted.
One might remonstrate that it is ungracious and profitless to recall the regrettable past now that we are in the midst of a war of glorious idealism, when the sins of the ancestors are being dearly paid for in human blood, and when the world is moving irresistibly toward a peace that will rectify the injustices of nineteenth-century diplomacy. But this is precisely why we need to set forth clearly the issues that are at stake, and to study the means of avoiding the old pitfalls and of securing the triumph of the principles for which millions are giving their lives. Since we hope that this war will bring about a general liquidation of the political ills from which mankind is suffering, the fate of Mohammedan races and of Christian races calling for emancipation from Mohammedan rule must perforce interest us as much as the fate of Belgium and Serbia. In response to President Wilson's note, both groups of belligerents, while declaring that there is no necessity for American mediation, make an official bid for American sympathy and support in establishing a post-bellum world status upon principles of justice and liberty for all nations, especially for small and weak nations. If we want to get a world vision, then, of a world peace, it is incumbent upon us to acquaint ourselves with extra-European as well as with European problems. The relations of Europe with Islam, the future of the califate, the devolution of Mohammedan territories, the status of emancipated Christian races—we want to know what the belligerents have in mind as a solution of these questions. For these questions affect vitally the bases of a durable world peace.
Limits of space prevent a magazine article from being more than suggestive. The writer can deal with subjects only in outline, trusting that the reader will be moved to seek the catalogue of his library or, better still, to consult his librarian. In America the library catalogue is a treasure-house that needs no key, and the librarian is the able and indispensable ally of the school-master and the publicist. Since this is so, I do not hesitate to attempt to trace in a few paragraphs several factors in the reconstruction of Europe that are unfortunately too little in the public mind.
A recent manifesto of American educationalists and clergymen that was quoted widely in the French and British press condemned the action of Kaiser Wilhelm in trying to arouse Islam against his enemies. The condemnation is just, for Kaiser Wilhelm, as a Christian monarch, is faithless in this action as in many others to the true interests of Christianity and European civilization. But, unfortunately, he has only followed the traditional policy of Christian monarchs from Francis the First of France to his own grandmother, Queen Victoria. Ever since the Turks set foot in Europe the Ottoman sultans have been solicited to give their aid to Christians against Christians, and have been brothers-in-arms of French against Spanish and Germans, French against English, English against French, French and English against Russians, French against Austrians, Austrians against French, Italians against one another, and of each Balkan race in internecine strife. In Asiatic and African expansion, during the last half-century, Germany has been the latest comer in the dangerous and treacherous game of European powers trying to use Mohammedan fanaticism to menace one another. The most striking examples are Russian intrigue against Great Britain in Afghanistan and French intrigue against Great Britain in Egypt. Who does not remember, only a decade ago, the agitation of the British press over Russia's policy in regard to India and the Persian Gulf, and the powerful support the young Egyptian agitation received in France?
The movement for a Mohammedan renaissance took form during the period between the Crimean and Russo-Turkish wars. Its leaders, Al Afghani, Al Kawakebi, Sheik Mohammed Abdu, and Ahmed Khan, were inspired by religious, and not by political, ideals. They saw that the decadence of Islam could be checked only by a spiritual awakening that followed and was nourished by an intellectual awakening. They wanted to revive the old glory of Mohammedan learning, and to create a spirit of solidarity among Moslems such as they believed existed among Christians. Ahmed Khan, in India, laid emphasis upon education, spread not only by schools, but by books and reviews; Sheik Mohammed Abdu, in Egypt, worked for the casting aside of uncanonical doctrines and traditions and customs with which Islam had become incrusted, and which, he declared, would prevent the regeneration of Islam; Al Afghani traveled far and wide, preaching Mohammedan unity and solidarity, and founding societies and newspapers to promulgate his ideas; and Al Kawakebi gave his life to denouncing the evils from which Islam was suffering and to pointing out the remedies.
It would be idle to speculate upon the influence Panislamism would have had, and the development it would have taken, had it come fifty years earlier. But arising when if did, the movement was a cause of uneasiness and alarm to the European powers who had been and were still seizing Mohammedan countries, and also to Sultan Abdul-Hamid, the beginning of whose reign was marked by the humiliating defeat at the hands of Russia and the imposition of the Treaty of Berlin. European diplomacy looked upon Panislamism as a menace to the success of the plans of extension of sovereignty over Moslem countries. Hamidian diplomacy feared that Panislamism, taken up by the Arabs and centered in Mecca, might be used by the European powers to foment a separatist movement in the distant parts of the Ottoman Empire. There was, then, a common opposition on the part of the Turkish calif as well as of Christian statesmen to the spread of the Panislamic movement. But the fear of guilty European consciences gave Abdul-Hamid an idea. He put himself, as calif, at the head of the Panislamic movement, and saw in it the means of carrying on a political propaganda throughout the whole Mohammedan world. Panislamism was to bring about the revival of the Ottoman Empire in all its ancient glory and power. Abdul-Hamid's agents penetrated everywhere. The sultan began work on a railway from Damascus to the holy cities of Islam which would transport pilgrims to and from Mecca through Turkey.
Abdul-Hamid would not have succeeded in gaining power and prestige from his Panislamic propaganda had the policy and intentions of European powers toward Mohammedan states and Mohammedan races been honorable and just. For then they need have feared no dissatisfaction where their control was already established, and need have had no anxiety about the regeneration of Islam in independent states. They would have welcomed any movement working for reform and for democracy. They would have seen in Panislamism, if generously aided by them to keep its original spirit, a force that might rehabilitate Islam, and enable Mohammedan races to follow in the path of European races to self-government, independence, and vigorous national life. But that is precisely what the men who guided the foreign and colonial policy of European states did not want, precisely what they have always been willing to precipitate wars to prevent. To prepare Mohammedan colonies and protectorates for self-government, to strengthen and help to rehabilitate weak Asiatic and African states, would be sheer madness. Not only would commercial and political advantages be lost, but if the hold already acquired on Mohammedan countries was lessened or released, and if opportunities of getting a hold on the remaining independent Mohammedan countries were allowed to pass, some other power would not be so squeamish. No power, not one, was squeamish. The result is that virtually every Mohammedan country in the world has been treated by European nations as Belgium and Serbia and Poland have been treated. Their wrongs cry out to Heaven to be redressed, their aspirations cry out to the sense of fairness and justice of all mankind to be heard. In a similar position are the Christian races still waiting to be emancipated from the Ottoman yoke. If the wrongs are not known, it is because the world is ignorant of and indifferent to things that happen "far away;" if we are less familiar with the aspirations of Asiatic and African Mohammedan and Christian nations than we are with the aspirations of certain subject races in Europe, it is because selfish political interest, and not humanitarianism, is to-day the motive power behind championship of small nationalities in every single belligerent country of Europe.
Panislamism was neither fanatical nor political in its inception. It need not have become so in its development. It did not have in it the danger the European statesmen feared, and as a powerful influence throughout, the Mohammedan world, which could be wielded as he chose by the Turkish sultan. Panislamism was a chimera, an absurd unreality. The disillusionment of Germany in the present war has proved that European statesmen have long been slaves of a mythical Frankenstein, the creation of their own intrigues and imaginations. Aside from the radical divisions of Sunnites and Shiahs, there are numerous other sects in Islam. The followers of Mohammed are no more united in religious belief and ecclesiastical affiliation than are the followers of Christ. In fact, the bonds in Islam are so loose, the ideals so democratic, the foundations so lacking in hierarchical tradition and possibilities, that Islam does not enjoy the spirit of unity, does not possess the elements of solidarity.
It is undoubtedly true, on the other hand, that we must guard against interpreting the failure of Islam to march with Turkey in a holy war as a proof of love and loyalty of Moslems to their European masters, and also against denying the existence of a Panislamic sentiment in regard to Europeans. In densely ignorant and remote and savage countries that have no national history the sectators of Mohammed bear no grudge against the foreigners who rule them. The loyalty and evident good-will of the Sudanese to the British, of which I have written recently in THE CENTURY MAGAZINE, is striking proof of this. Senegalese loyalty to France is another proof. But in Egypt, Arabia, Turkey, Persia, and Albania, Frangi (the Arabic word includes all Europeans) are anathema. The dislike and distrust of Europeans is general, and no distinction is made by the mass of the people between Europeans of this or that particular power. They are all Frangi. The dislike and distrust has come to include native Christians, who lived for centuries in comparative peace under Mohammedan rule. The reason of the xenophobia is the belief that European political and commercial activity, manifested by the presence of foreigners in Mohammedan countries, is actuated solely by the desire to exploit the natives; and the reason of fanaticism toward indigenous Christian elements is the belief that their fellow-Christians are conspiring with European governments to dispossess them. I am not holding a brief for the reasonableness of the Mohammedan attitude. I am stating the fact.
It does no good to utter disclaimers and to argue that the Mohammedans are laboring under a misapprehension. If this war is to solve the question of the Orient, the peace conference must prove to the Mohammedan world by acts, and not by high-sounding phrases, the intention of Europe to put local Mohammedan interests ahead of European interests in Mohammedan countries by: (1) abstaining from partitioning or bringing under direct European sovereignty those countries of the Moslem world which have so far succeeded in escaping the territorial greed of the great powers; and (2) taking upon themselves the mutual solemn obligation to prepare for self-government and eventual separate national existence Mohammedan countries now held as colonies or protectorates. For is not the only justification of "eminent European domain" the happiness and well-being of extra-European peoples in subjection? If so, the complete control, especially in internal affairs, of the European benefactors must be exercised in such a way that the people may be prepared for self-government as rapidly as possible; and the people need to be convinced by acts—words no longer count for anything—that the officials imposed upon them place the interests of the occupied country and its inhabitants before the interests of the occupying country. Let no reader exclaim that I am a dreamer, setting forth an absurd and unrealizable and impractical policy. It was the American policy in Cuba. It is the American policy in the Philippine Islands.
The relations of Europe with Africa and Asia have been allowed during the last thirty years to be troubled and upset by a curious and wholly unfounded supposition upon the part of European statesmen that Islam had to have a universal califate. As different powers aspired to be predominant in Constantinople and Arabia, it was believed by each of these powers that the califate could be captured and used for the greater glory of the successful power and the confusion of the rival powers. Hence we read constantly in the newspapers and magazines of Europe and America the statement that the Sultan of Turkey is calif of the entire Islamic world, a sort of pope whose religious authority is everywhere acknowledged, and articles are frequently written about "the revival of the Arabian califate."
The erroneous conception of the universal califate was born of European intrigues and rivalries. Abdul-Hamid was quick to seize upon it, however, and to use it as the means of making himself the center of Panislamism. In their eagerness to thwart one another's schemes of expansion and upset one another's already acquired hold in Mohammedan countries, the statesmen of the powers acknowledged Abdul-Hamid's possession of an office that had disappeared with the immediate successors of Mohammed—an office which the ancestors of Abdul-Hamid, in the heyday of their prestige three centuries before, had been unable to revive to their profit. Austria-Hungary and Italy were so anxious to get away with their loot that in the treaties of 1908 and 1912 with Turkey the sultan was recognized as the spiritual suzerain of subjects lost to the Ottoman Empire by the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Tripoli grabs. The same blunder was planned for Albania. The action was as foolish as it was meaningless; it created a dangerous precedent. Since Islam is organically theocratic, a Mohammedan ruler cannot be calif of people who are not under his political jurisdiction. It is possible to conceive of a universal califate only if all Mohammedan countries are united in a single Mohammedan empire. That is what Selim I had in mind when, after the conquest of Egypt, he assumed the title of calif and turned against Persia.
German scholars know all this, but their kaiser evidently did not. Else he would have been prepared for the failure of a repercussion in the Mohammedan world when his Ottoman ally unfurled the green flag and solemnly declared a djehad (holy war) of "the faithful" against the enemies of Germany.
The idea of reviving the Arabian califate as a means of hastening the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire has long been gravely discussed. From the British point of view there have been pros and cons; also from the French point of view. The British have opposed the idea when they felt friendly to Turkey and when they feared that an Arabian califate might lead to a free Arabia, which would endanger their position in Egypt; they have encouraged the idea when they wanted to threaten Turkey and when they hoped that Mesopotamia and the holy places might fall under their political control. France has viewed the Arabian califate in the light of its advantages and disadvantages in furthering her ambitions to acquire Syria and to consolidate her Mohammedan northern African empire. Before the Agreement of 1904 many Frenchmen interested in the near East looked favorably upon the Arabian califate as a means of ousting the British from Egypt. During the present war the agitation for an Arabian califate has come to the front again as a war measure against Turkey.
The Sherif of Mecca, encouraged by Great Britain and France, and now actively aided by contributions of munitions and the sending of native regiments from Mohammedan colonies of the Entente powers, is in rebellion against the Turks. He calls himself "King of Arabia," and is formally recognized by France and Great Britain as "King of the Hedjaz." But the poor sherif has not made good his right to the limited title the French and British authorities are willing to let him bear. To the south of Mecca, Said Idris and Imam Yahia, both of whom are "strictly neutral" in this war, are much more powerful Arab rulers than the Sherif of Mecca; and on the north, the new "king" (melek is not a Mohammedan title, by the way) is meeting with serious difficulty in conquering the second sacred city of his "kingdom." At this writing Medina is still held by the Turks. As cabinet ministers the former sherif has appointed three of his sons, and his army is led by the implacable foe of Italy in Tripoli, Aziz Ali Pasha. Before the assumption of sovereignty by the sherif, France sent to Mecca a delegation of distinguished African Moslems, a tentative step toward recognition of the sherif as "calif of the Mohammedan world." This mission, which cost the French budget over a million dollars, indicates that French statesmen are persisting in the old error of believing in the universal califate—a belief as contrary to the interests of France as it is contrary to reality. There ought to be no question of the califate for Europe. It took centuries for Europe to learn the folly of trying to use the Christian religion as a cloak for territorial ambitions and aggression against enemies and rivals, of working to control the head of the church for political ends, of setting up ecclesiastical establishments for reasons of diplomacy. Can we not apply to Asia and Africa the lesson learned? Califs and the Mohammedan religion ought to have no connection with European chancelleries. If European chancelleries believe that the connection should exist, it is because they have in mind schemes of conquest and exploitation of Mohammedan countries.
In discussing the devolution of Mohammedan countries, it is difficult to go back of the status quo—not only difficult, but unprofitable. Once started, there is no end to the labyrinth. One wanders in circles, and finds himself in culs-de-sac. In regard to Mohammedan territories already in possession of European powers, one can hope only for the strict application of twentieth-century principles of treatment of subject races—that the holder prepare the people for self-government and refrain from exploiting them.
But we have Egypt, whose status has not yet been determined by international agreement; the independent countries, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan; the country Italy is trying to conquer, Tripoli; the country Austria, Italy, and the Balkan States are eager to possess, Albania; and the quasi-independent Arabian sultanates and tribes.
From the material point of view Great Britain has governed Egypt justly, and there can be no question of the material benefit the Egyptians have gained from the British occupation. The sovereign of the country is content to be under British protection, and from my personal knowledge I feel sure that the Egyptians do not want to return to Turkey or to exchange their British masters for any other actual or formal European protection. From the point of view of the population, then, if the officials of the British Government, following out a policy definitely established by London, rule in such a way as to prepare the Egyptians for internal autonomy, Great Britain is welcome to remain in Egypt. From the European and world point of view, however, British control of Egypt is dependent upon the solution of the question of the world's waterways. Other nations control passages from ocean to ocean: the United States the Panama Canal, Germany the Kiel Canal, Turkey the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. It would be incumbent upon the British to give up the guardianship of the Suez Canal only if the Americans and Germans and Turks are willing, or are made, to accept the internationalization of the world's waterways. Unless arguments based on principle are applied to all parties alike, can we hope for the "durable peace?" And how else will right prime force than by the prevalence of arguments based on principle?
The peace conference, seeking an equitable and durable peace based upon the freedom of small nations, will guarantee the neutrality of Afghanistan and Persia. Such a measure is an act demanded not only by a sense of justice, but also by a sense of political wisdom. The independence and integrity of these two Mohammedan states, an independence and integrity assured by international sanction and not by alliance with or protection of one power or group of powers, are as essential for the equilibrium of western Asia as are the independence and integrity of Belgium, similarly assured, for the equilibrium of western Europe. We cannot presuppose a permanent alliance and a permanent common policy between Great Britain and Russia.
I shall treat of the Albanian question in my article next month on Italy and the Balkan balance of power. There remains the rock upon which peace conferences have always split—the Ottoman Empire. Here, as in Austria-Hungary and Russia, we have the problem of a dominant race ruling conquered races which have a historic past and which have preserved their separate language, customs and national consciousness. The problem is more complicated and aggravated in the Ottoman Empire, however, for several of the subject races are of a radically different religion, and all of them have been horribly treated, especially in recent years, by the dominant race. It is impossible to conceive of a peace that will leave to the Turks the power to finish the most atrocious crime of modern history, the systematic extermination of the Armenian nation by massacre, starvation, and forcible conversion. There are the Syrian Christians and the Jews of Palestine, also, to consider. A partition of the Ottoman Empire among the European conquerors is advocated by writers of repute in serious journals of France, Great Britain, Russia, and Italy. One is shocked at the lack of moral sense revealed in their arguments. One is amazed at the inconsistency of men who ask for sympathy and support of neutrals on the ground that they are fighting the battle of human freedom, specifically defined as "the defense and emancipation of small nationalities," and in the same breath declare their intention of keeping for themselves what they have rescued from the actual or potential grasp of "the empires of prey and their Balkan and Turkish accomplices." Where does the rightful owner come in? Have only a few favored nations and races, and not all nations and races, the right to dispose freely of themselves? Is there any difference between the right of the Belgian and the Serbian and the right of the Greek and Armenian and Syrian and Arab and Egyptian and Persian?
The Armenians are a nation, with a history of fifteen centuries, a language, a literature, and a church, who have resisted every effort of non-Christian barbarians to uproot them or assimilate them. We want to see them freed, not put under the yoke of Russia to suffer as the Finns, Poles, and Ruthenians are suffering. The Syrians of the Lebanon Mountains are Christians whose separate national existence is guaranteed by an international treaty, signed by the European powers. France cannot make Syria a colony without regarding this treaty as a chiffon de papier. And who dares to advocate with honest conscience that the Entente powers, whose program is the freedom of small nationalities, consent to putting the Greeks of the Aegean islands and the Asia Minor coast-line in political subjection to their traditional and worst enemies, the Italians?
The problem is a thorny one, and, I am told by my diplomatic friends, "exceedingly difficult." But that is only because European statesmen and politicians have made it so. Let every power in Europe proclaim its own disinterestedness, and state that it does not regard this war as a war of conquest, but as a war of emancipation, and, lo! the problem disappears. A Syrian state in Syria, an Armenian state in Armenia or Cilicia, under the collective guaranty of all Europe, and the union of the Greek islands and the middle portion of the Asia Minor Aegean littoral to Greece—this is the only program that will satisfy the aspirations of the subject Christian nationalities and assure a durable peace in the near East. As the Turks—including all Mohammedans who regard themselves as Turks—number nearly ten millions and are a virile nation, it is foolish to talk of dispossessing them and subjecting them. Desires do not make realities. The Greek and Armenian and Syrian frontiers will have to be drawn moderately. Beyond Cilicia and Syria there are no Turks, and we can assume from the lessons of history and from indications manifested everywhere in Syria and Mesopotamia and Arabia to-day that the Arabic-speaking Mohammedans will make no effort to conserve the tie that has bound them for centuries against their will to the Ottoman Empire. The political future of the Arabic-speaking Mohammedans, the relations of the rival emirs with one another, with the Syrian Christians, and with the Palestine Jews, is too complex a question to be broached here. I can only assert that the difficulties, however, are no more formidable if the principle of "eminent European domain" is waived than if it is maintained. Here, again, there is need of a declaration of territorial disinterestedness all around the table at the peace conference. The Sherif of Mecca, after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Arabia, stated this in no uncertain terms. "Al Kibla," the new king's official journal, reports him as saying, when he announced to the Arabic-speaking world that France and Great Britain were collaborating with him to establish Arabian independence:
If we have expelled the Turks from our territory, it is because we have considered them as foreigners, and they have no part in our historical and religious traditions. How, then, could we be willing to accept the supremacy of other foreigners? We have prepared our own rebellion against the Turks. No person not of our own race has taken part in it. We have begged the powers of the Entente not to mix up in our affairs. We have made them well understand that we are determined to preserve Mohammedan independence against all attacks.... The Entente powers are allies whom we respect and friends whom we love. But, I repeat, our alliance with them is based upon the most complete independence.
All the Mohammedans in the world are of the opinion of the King of Arabia, Islam wants friends, not masters.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald