Epstein at war, 1917. Silent Pathé clip. He served briefly in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, aka the Jewish Legion. Did he fight in Palestine? Where is his reputation now? It seems uncertain.
A city can [...] become holy through having been the scene of a transcendent spiritual experience, whether authentic or legendary. For instance, Jerusalem is a holy city for Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad believed that this was the place where, on “the Night of Power”, he had ascended into Heaven and re-descended to Earth. The most tragic of all possible events in a prophet’s life is martyrdom, and the holiness of the scene of a martyrdom is enhanced if the martyr has been buried in the same place. The crucifixion and burial of Jesus in Jerusalem are the two events in Jesus’s history that have made Jerusalem a holy city for Christians.
Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Muslims today? Because it was a holy city for the Prophet Muhammad; and it was holy for him because of its long-established holiness for Christians and Jews – “the People of the Book” who enjoyed religious prestige in Muhammad’s eyes in virtue of their having been previous recipients of divine revelation. This is why Muhammad originally instructed his followers to face towards Jerusalem when they were saying their prayers, and it is also why, in his mind, Jerusalem was the place from which he ascended to Heaven and to which he re-descended on “the Night of Power”.
Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Christians today? Because it was a holy city for Jesus. It was holy for him because he was an orthodox Jew, and he was observing the Jewish Law, as this stood in his day, when he went from his native Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there in the year in which he was crucified and was buried outside Jerusalem’s city-wall.
Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Jews? Because King Josiah of Judah (circa 640-610 B.C.) [meaning reigned] centralized in Jerusalem all acts of worship in his kingdom and put all other places of worship there out of commission.
Moses and Joshua conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. The Hebrews were often subject to the coastal Philistines and were ruled by Judges until c 1000 B.C.
The prophet Samuel, florebat from c 1050 BC, was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. His judgeship was dominated by war with the Philistines, who captured Moses’ Ark of the Covenant. In his old age he agreed, at divine request, to the establishment of a king; he thus anointed Saul and remained chief prophet during Saul’s reign. In this role he also anointed David, a shepherd, who was from the Jewish tribe of Judah.
Saul was succeeded by David and then by Solomon. After the expansionist reign of Solomon (c 970-928 BC), the kingdom broke up into two states: Israel in the north, established by Jeroboam, with its capital at Shechem, then Tirzah, then Samaria, and Judah in the south, under the house of David, with its capital at Jerusalem. Josiah was of the house of David.
When the “eternal” Davidic dynasty failed after four centuries, it formed the basis for the Jewish belief in the Messiah.
Why did Josiah carry out this act of cultural synoecism (to use an Hellenic term of constitutional art)? Because Jerusalem was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah in Josiah’s day. Why was Jerusalem the capital of Judah? Because, at an early date in the tenth century B.C., David [of the united Israelite kingdom] had conquered and annexed the Canaanite city-state of Jerusalem and had made this city the capital of his kingdom, which included not only Judah but Israel. After the irruption of the Israelites and Judahites into Palestine circa 1200 B.C., this Canaanite city-state had maintained its independence for about two hundred years in between the Israelite invaders to the north of it and the Judahite invaders to the south.
The Judahites were one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: he must be referring to the split that led to the formation of the two states. How did each of the twelve tribes align themselves in this?
It will be seen that the holiness of Jerusalem is paradoxical. It was the last piece of Canaanite territory to be acquired by the Judahite worshippers of Yahweh, yet it became the only place in Judah where the worship of Yahweh was allowed, and it acquired this cultural monopoly because, after its annexation to Judah, it had been made the capital of the Judahite state.
The two kingdoms were later conquered by expanding Mesopotamian states, Israel by Assyria (c 720 BC) and Judah by Babylonia (586 BC). The Babylonians destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem and held the Jews captive in Babylon.
Why is modern Israel called Israel, not Judah (House of David), when Jerusalem gained so much more prestige than Samaria?
The history of the City of Jerusalem since the liquidation of the Kingdom of Judah has been as kaleidoscopic as the history of Rome since the disintegration of the Roman Empire. When, in 538 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was liquidated in its turn by the Persians, Jerusalem became a non-sovereign temple-state [the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity and the temple was rebuilt], and it retained this status under the successive Persian, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid regimes till the second quarter of the second century B.C. A Hellenizing party among the Judaean Jews then attempted to transform the Jerusalem temple-state into a city-state on the Hellenic pattern. This led to a domestic Judaean Jewish conflict between Hellenizers and conservatives, and to a consequent collision between conservative Jewish religious and political nationalists and the Seleucid Imperial Government. The break-up of the Seleucid Empire enabled the [anti-Greek] Hasmonaean leaders of the Jewish nationalist movement to turn the Jerusalem temple-state into a Palestinian Jewish miniature empire of the kind that Pope Martin V and his successors carved out in Central Italy in and after the fifteenth century of the Christian Era. The Hasmonaean Empire was cut back to the dimensions of its nucleus, the Jerusalem temple-state, by the intervention of the Roman war-lord Pompey in 63 B.C. The sequel was a head-on collision between the Palestinian Jewish community and the Roman Empire; the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; the foundation, on the vacant site, of a Graeco-Roman city, Aelia Capitolina; and the eviction of the Jews from all parts of Palestine except Galilee.
Pompey conquered Palestine in 63 BC, but the state survived until 37 BC with a loss of autonomy. From 37 BC to AD 92 the Roman province of Judaea (Judea) was ruled by puppet kings of the Romans, the Herodian Dynasty, a Jewish dynasty from Idumea.
When the Jews revolted in AD 66, the Romans destroyed the Temple (AD 70). The foundation of Aelia Capitolina led to another revolt between AD 132 and 135, led by Bar Kokhba, which was also suppressed. Jericho and Bethlehem were destroyed, and the Jews were barred from most of Palestine.
At the moment of writing, in October 1969, a new Jerusalem, outside Aelia Capitolina’s western wall, was the capital of the post-Second-World-War state of Israel, while the Old City which contains the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy places was a piece of Jordanian territory under the Israelis’ military occupation. Since 1929 it has looked as if the relations between the Vatican City, the rest of the City of Rome, and the Italian national state have become stabilized; but in 1969 the future of the two parts of the City of Jerusalem was still unpredictable.
The Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, territory which Israel re-occupied in 1967; it is the site where any Third Temple would be built
Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970
I have referred to a US edition.
One should resist jumping on bandwagons, including the current anti-Israel one. But the five posts preceding this one have links to posts by Robin Yassin-Kassab that are worth reading and thinking about.
“Eighty percent of people in Gaza are descendants of refugees ethnically cleansed from their villages and towns by Zionist militias in 1947 and 1948.” Gaza is five miles wide and twenty-seven miles long and contains nearly two million people. “The settlers of southern Israel do not have the right to live without fear of attack while the original inhabitants of southern Israel are herded into refugee camps.” Source.
“Whatever the Western media calls them, the illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank are very far from being outposts. They are connected to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by fast, Jews-only motorways. Their villas have swimming pools and lawns (a settler is allocated eight times more water than a Palestinian). Even the most recent and far-flung of settlements are tooled-up enough to intimidate the Arabs on whose land they encroach.” Source.
Unless Jordan (or a lot more than Jordan) is redefined, the solution is one state. What an inspiring idea that is. All partitions are miserable failures. There is no realistically possible two-state solution in the occupied areas. And one state is impossible while religious fundamentalists rule in the US and in Israel. But there is hope, because Israel, now an ethnocracy, is a remarkable society. Y-K: “Jews and Arabs could be friends again, and more than friends.”
I know only two things about Palestinians from my personal experience. They are careful about distinguishing between the Zionist state and Jews. They are not natural haters. This is not Ireland or the Balkans. And they do not incline towards religious extremism. Hamas is committed to the destruction of the Zionist state, not to exterminating Jews. But all slogans can be forgotten when a situation normalises.
I say this despite the pictures we had of Palestinians joyfully celebrating 9/11 and despite some obvious political immaturity (see popularity in the middle east of conspiracy theories passim).
Israel needs to revise its propaganda manuals: the same words are used by every spokesman. They like to kill, we do not. Human shields. Etc.
Y-K hasn’t written much on Palestine recently. More on Syria and Iraq. He’s an Orwell. I once called his blog a university of the middle east. The best thing about it is that it often reminds us that Islam has sources of reform and renewal within its own past and in its present. (Jettisoning some of the dead weight of hadith might be a start.) It will not be hijacked forever, and isn’t being hijacked everywhere now, by barbarians who exploit the world’s ignorant and disoriented.
Reform and renewal not only of itself. It can offer the rest of us much too.
But this is a long way away. Why did I instinctively react against Simon Sebag Montefiore’s intermittently impressive Jerusalem, The Biography? The whole two-state camp loved it.
First, though I constantly praise (albeit with my slightly retro bias) intelligent popularising history, the book had a Time magazine feel. He is simply not qualified to write the whole story. Arnold Toynbee might have been. Few others. But good to have tried.
The problem was the readership. The readers were not qualified to read a book by a man not qualified to write it. The Clintons and Blairs, who took it as pretend, photo-op reading on their summer holidays, rejoiced to discover that the “region” had been the scene of massacres from the beginning.
Perhaps Y-K can recommend a better book. Montefiore seems not to notice, when quoting Stephen Graham, that Kyrie eleison does not mean Christ is risen.
Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?
Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.
Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.
In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.
The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.
It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.
Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.
Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.
Chinese laundries in North America.
Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons
Mystery religions – cults reserved to initiates – formed one of three types of Greco-Roman religion, the others being the imperial cult or ethnic religion particular to a nation or state, and the philosophic religions such as Neoplatonism. Mysteries supplemented rather than competed with civil religion. One could observe the rites of a state cult, be an initiate in one or several mysteries, and at the same time follow a philosophical school. In contrast to the compulsory public rituals of civil religion, initiation to a mystery was optional. The same gods could be worshipped inside and outside a mystery. Was Mithras mystery-only?
The Roman establishment objected to Christianity not on grounds of its tenets or practices, but because, unlike adherents of the mystery religions with which it was competing, Christians considered their faith as precluding their participation in the imperial cult.
Of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Dionysian Mysteries, Samothracian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries, the first three may have been influenced by Thracian or Phrygian cults, but lasted, with whatever gaps in the Dark Age or at other stages, from the Mycenaean period until the end of paganism.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were annual initiation ceremonies held at Eleusis in Attica for the cults of Demeter and Persephone (Proserpina). Of all the ancient mysteries, they were held to be the ones of greatest importance.
The Dionysian (Bacchic) Mysteries were not connected with a particular place.
The mysteries on Samothrace in the northern Aegean predate Greek colonisation in the seventh century BC. The pantheon there included the Cabeiri and a Great Mother who is often identified with Demeter. Both may have originally been Phrygian. Samothrace formed a Macedonian national sanctuary during the Hellenistic period and remained an important site under Rome.
The Greek Orphic Mysteries (Orpheus) go back at least to the fifth century BC. When did they die out?
Some of the gods that the Romans adopted from other cultures came to be worshipped in mysteries – the Phrygian Cybele, the Thracian/Phrygian Sabazius, the Egyptian Isis, the Zoroastrian Persian Mithras. So did Adonis, who is related to the Mesopotamian Tammuz and the Egyptian Osiris.
The originally Phrygian cult of Cybele reached mainland Greece in the sixth century BC and, as a cult of Magna Mater, was officially adopted during the Second Punic War and again by Augustus.
The Phrygian cult of Attis, the consort of Cybele, reached the Greek world in the fourth century BC, if not earlier, and Rome in the first century CE.
The Phrygian cult of Sabazius entered the classical Greek world at an early stage and survived into the Roman Empire.
The ancient pharaonic gods Isis and her consort Osiris joined the Greek pantheon when Egypt was hellenised. The cult of Isis spread through the Roman Empire during the formative centuries of Christianity.
The Persian cult of Mithras entered the Roman world in the first century and was popular in the army. Wikipedia, citing Clauss, M., The Roman Cult of Mithras: “Soldiers were strongly represented amongst Mithraists; and also merchants, customs officials and minor bureaucrats. Few, if any, initiates came from leading aristocratic or senatorial families until the pagan revival of the mid 4th century [Julian]; but there were always considerable numbers of freedmen and slaves.”
Were Serapis and Sol Invictus ever worshipped as mysteries by initiates? Serapis was a god invented by Ptolemy I as a means of unifying the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. Ptolemy failed in his objective, but Serapis grew in popularity throughout the Roman period and often replaced Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt.
The cult of Sol Invictus from Aurelian to Constantine and beyond was perhaps a revival of the emperor Elagabalus’s cult of the Syrian sun-god from whom he took his name. What were the “oriental” and what were the “indigenous” elements in the Sol Invictus cult?
If the formidable authority conferred on the priests by their custody of tradition is to be challenged, the challenge can be delivered only by the word of God Himself as revealed in His prophet’s message; for, if that message is once recognized to be authentic, it must override the rulings of priests who are not God’s spokesmen but merely His ministers; and, though the winged words of God’s living human spokesman will be likely to have both a greater virtue and a greater effect than any written testament, dumb scripture has one decisive posthumous advantage over the living voice. Scripture can attain a longevity which, at second hand, will multiply a hundredfold the brief life-span of the prophet whose message this frozen echo perpetuates. Holy Writ that purports to enshrine prophetic revelation is thus a malleus presbyterorum that is a literal godsend to rebels against sacerdotal authority. The followers of the Prophets of Israel and Judah and of Zarathustra made effective use of this weapon against the priests of their day; the Scribes and Pharisees used it against the Sadducees; the Protestant Reformers used it against the Papal Church.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
Anglican and partly-Anglican cemeteries in non-English-speaking countries:
Bornova Anglican Cemetery, Izmir
British Cemetery, Callao
British Cemetery, Madrid
Cementerio Británico, Buenos Aires
Cheras Christian Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur
Christian Cemetery, Dhaka
English Cemetery, Florence
English Cemetery, Malaga
English Cemetery, Naples
Gora Kabristan, Lahore
Feriköy Protestant Cemetery, Istanbul
Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem
Old English Cemetery, Livorno
Old Protestant Cemetery, George Town
Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Protestant Cemetery, Rome
Protestant Cemetery, São Paulo
Yarborough Cemetery, Belize City
This, of course not complete, is everything relevant in a Wikipedia list of Anglican cemeteries generally. Apart from Lahore and Dhaka, it has nothing from British India, but it mentions the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia.
The rather user-unfriendly BACSA site says: “People sometimes think that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [my link] cares for all graves in Britain’s former Empire, but in fact the Commission only deals with the graves of soldiers [of all Commonwealth countries] killed in World War One and World War Two. The graves of European civilians, and soldiers who died before World War One, and between the two World Wars, generally have no-one to protect them, or to record their inscriptions, which is where BACSA comes in.
“BACSA – the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia – was set up in 1977 to bring together people with a concern for the many thousands of British and other European cemeteries, isolated graves and monuments in South Asia. There is no one body or agency responsible for looking after these last resting places in the area from the Red Sea to the China Coast – wherever the East India Company and its rivals from France, the Netherlands and Denmark set foot. An estimated two million Europeans and Anglo-Indians – mainly British administrators, soldiers, merchants and their families – are buried in the Indian sub-continent alone. Without our support many of their graves and monuments – witnesses to centuries of European residence in the area – would disappear.
“We record the locations of cemeteries and monuments, and the inscriptions on headstones. We publish cemetery and church records containing names, inscriptions and biographical notes on individual tombs and gravestones. We support local people active in the restoration and conservation of European graveyards.”
It is run by volunteers and has a membership of 1,400 in the UK and elsewhere.
Another site, indian-cemeteries.org, “is attempting to preserve the images of graves and monuments before they disappear. It covers the area which used to be British India and includes present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Entries are not limited to British citizens. Monuments cover many nationalities. All information comes ad hoc from volunteers, therefore it is not an exhaustive and accurate survey.
“When I [John, site owner] started looking around cemeteries, I was shocked by the state of neglect of most of them. Monuments of British men, women and children, who had sometimes died in the most tragic ways, were crumbling into the dust. Some of the local people had a genuine interest in these cemeteries and were trying to get something done, but much of the money which is awarded for renovation work does not reach the people doing the work.
“The British Government, I was told, contributes nothing. [It does only in so far as it is a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.] If this is true, then it is indeed a disgrace.
“This site is a photographic record of those cemeteries and churches which I visited, along with transcriptions of the memorials and gravestones. They are not an exhaustive survey, as time did not permit. Since this site started it has continued to grow as contributions are sent in by other people.”
The overgrown Old English Cemetery at Livorno
The Russian Pale, the hearth and hell of modern Jewry.
Isaac Watts, A Fair Enquiry and Debate Concerning Space, Whether It Be Something or Nothing, God or a Creature: “It has a being like God, in heaven, hearth and hell, diffused through all [...].”
Presumably there are etymological links between hearth, earth and hard.
Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917
On the morrow of the decisive Russian victory in the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74, [...] the sincerity of the Russian peasantry’s devotion to the Holy Land was attested by the volume of an annual pilgrimage-stream that used to roll through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles till it broke on the coast of Palestine after sweeping over the promontory of Athos. The aspiration to make the pilgrimage to their holy places came to play as dominant a part in the Russians’ life as in the Muslims’; and in the World War of A.D. 1914-18 an Imperial Russian Government at its last gasp obstinately vetoed all Western suggestions for establishing a Jewish National Home in Palestine on the ground that this would create an intolerable eye-sore for Russian pilgrims to Orthodox Christendom’s Holy Land. In A.D. 1917 the Tsardom had to fall on the 12th March before the Balfour Declaration could be published on the 2nd November.
And General Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot, through the Jaffa Gate, on December 11.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
“Welcome to Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team.
The Colonial Film project united universities (Birkbeck and University College London) and archives (British Film Institute, Imperial War Museum and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum) to create a new catalogue of films relating to the British Empire. The ambition of this website is to allow both colonizers and colonized to understand better the truths of Empire.”
Newish Granta-format quarterly published by the UK-based Muslim Institute.
I worried about the title at first, but I suppose the implication is fair.
Issue 4: forthcoming on Pakistan
May 19. Arab village: ʿAsira al-Qibliya. Settlement: Yitzhar. Was the Palestinian killed in the second clip? There are three videos in the BBC report.
Bertrand Russell’s last public statement was dated January 31 1970. He died, aged 97, on February 2. The statement was read out at, and perhaps written for, an International Conference of Parliamentarians in Cairo on February 3. It was published in The Washington Post on March 2. (Nasser died in the following September.)
An apparently complete version, as read in Cairo, is here. This, on a quick glance, is identical to what is published at the end of Ray Perkins Jr, editor, Yours Faithfully, Bertrand Russell: Letters to the Editor, 1904-69 [various publications], Chicago, Carus Publishing Company, 2002.
A summary of Russell’s views on the Israel-Palestine conflict is here.
The bombing of Egypt to which he is referring was during the War of Attrition from 1967 to ’70, which ended with the frontiers unchanged. Israel did not withdraw from Sinai until 1982.
“Look, I’m a little confused. Do the math for me. You are wearing an Islamic head covering, you are obviously a religious person, but you were educated in an American university and now you are bringing the Internet to Kuwait. I don’t quite see how it all adds up.”
“A Russian journalist, circling the Coke machine, under the CNN screen, speaking Russian into a cell phone, in NATO headquarters, while Kosovo burned – my mind couldn’t contain all the contradictions.”
“The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been – but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.”
Risibly inane. Friedman is never deep, and he is prejudiced against Arabs even if he believes in their decency as potential Americans. But he is not always as bad as this. He is right about some things, like America’s obsession with al-Qaeda.
Other titles in Verso’s Counterblasts series: Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, The Imposter – BHL in Wonderland, and Derrick O’Keefe, Michael Ignatieff – The Lesser Evil?
Earlier post here.
In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the West; and that is why, in the title of this book, the world has been put first.
The World and the West, OUP, 1953
John F Guilmartin, review of David Abulafia, The Great Sea, A Human History of the Mediterranean, OUP, 2011, in The American Interest, March/April 2012. How it differs from Braudel.
The bay of Carthage
Braudel’s main works:
La Méditerranée et le monde Méditerranéen a l’époque de Philippe II, 3 volumes, 1949 (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; there is also a one-volume abridgement)
Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe-XVIIIe siècle, 3 volumes, 1967, 1979, 1979 (Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century)
L’identité de la France, 2 volumes, 1986 (unfinished, posthumous) (The Identity of France)
Grammaire des civilisations, 1987 (a world history, posthumous) (A History of Civilizations)
Les mémoires de la Méditerranée, 1998 (posthumous) (The Mediterranean in the Ancient World)
“[W]hen I think of the individual, I am always inclined to see him imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself has little hand, fixed in a landscape in which the infinite perspectives of the long term stretch into the distance both behind him and before.” (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World)
In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.
Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.
This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.
That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.
1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.
British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.
The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.
In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west [...], has had the significant experience
is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.
I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.
The lectures were published in book form as
The World and the West, OUP, 1953
The Missourian politician-philanthropist’s eagerness to combine expediency with charity by assisting the wronged and suffering Jews would appear to have been untempered by any sensitive awareness that he was thereby abetting the infliction of wrongs and sufferings on the Arabs; and his excursions into the stricken field in Palestine reminded a reader of the Fioretti di San Francesco of the tragi-comic exploit there attributed to the impetuously tender-hearted Brother Juniper, who, according to the revealing tale, was so effectively moved by a report of the alimentary needs of an invalid that he rushed, knife in hand, into a wood full of unoffending pigs, and straightway cut off a live pig’s trotter to provide his ailing fellow human being with the dish that his soul desired, without noticing that he was leaving the mutilated animal writhing in agony and without pausing to reflect that his innocent victim was not either the invalid’s property or his own. [Footnote: Fioretti di San Francesco d’Assisi: “Vita di Frate Ginepro”, cap. 1: “Come Frate Ginepro tagliò il Piede ad uno Porco solo per darlo a uno Infermo”.] It must be added that the American repetition of this story included a sequel that was not to be found in the Italian original. In the Fioretti there is no indication that the sufferings of a victim of a holy man’s impulsive charity excited any human pity – for, when the owner of the unfortunate animal did eventually slaughter it, he was concerned, not to put a suffering creature out of its misery, but to atone, by making a feast for Brother Juniper and his brethren, for his own ungodly indignation at the damage done to his property – whereas, in the annals of the United Nations Organization, it is recorded that the United States Government took the initiative in relieving the plight of some 684,000 Palestinian Arab “displaced persons” by providing half the total sum that was estimated to be necessary for the purposes of first aid to these human victims of “Anglo-Saxon attitudes” [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass].
A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954
Which is an excuse for an unearned digression into Verdi. Lamberto Gardelli, Wiener Staatsoperorchester.
According to the Bible, there were three deportations of Jews of Judah to Babylon: in 597 BC, involving King Jeconiah and his court and others; in 587-6 BC, of his successor King Zedekiah and others, when Jerusalem was burned; and a possible deportation after the assassination of Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of what had become Yehud Province, possibly in 582 BC. The forced exile ended in 538-7 BC after the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who gave the Jews permission to return and to rebuild the Temple. The second deportation is the one we usually remember.
Eduard Meyer [post here] estimates the numbers deported in 586 B.C. at something between 30,000 and 50,000 (Geschichte des Altertums, vol. iii (Stuttgart 1901, Cotta), p. 175). This estimate appears to be based on the record, preserved in the Book of Nehemiah, chap, vii, of the numbers that returned from Babylonia to Judaea in 538 B.C. after Nebuchadnezzar’s sentence of deportation had been rescinded by Cyrus. The total given in this document amounts to no less than 42,360 free persons and 7,337 slaves, and the figures are convincing, since they are the sum total of thirty-nine precise items, while there is also a note of one group that was of doubtful legitimacy and of another that was definitely rejected. All the same, Eduard Meyer’s estimate for the deportation of 586 B.C. seems hazardously high in the light of the information (fragmentary and ambiguous though it is) in the second Book of Kings and in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. Even in 586 B.C. Nebuzar-adan, Nebuchadnezzar’s captain of the guard, “left [...] the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time” (Jer. xxxix. 10; cf. 2 Kings xxv. 12); and this statement means, on the face of it, that the agricultural population of Judah was not only left undisturbed, even in 586 B.C., but was given possession of the former property of the executed or deported notables. Even the deportation of 586 B.C. may have been confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot be certain that the urban population was deported en masse even on this second occasion. “Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the King of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzar-adan … carry away” (2 Kings xxv. 11; cf. Jer. xxxix. 9) has to be taken with a grain of salt considering that the same authority declares that Nebuchadnezzar had “carried away all Jerusalem” in 597 B.C. (2 Kings xxiv. 14). Moreover, a quite incompatible set of figures, on a far smaller scale, is given from some different source in Jer. lii. 28-30: 3,023 persons deported by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C.; 832 deported by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.; 745 deported by Nebuzar-adan in 581 B.C.; making only 4,600 souls in all.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
The French National Assembly, probably with the Armenian vote in mind for the presidential elections next year, has voted in favour of a bill that would make it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in Anatolia, during the First World War was genocide. The bill goes to the Senate next year. There was an earlier attempt, starting in 2006, which failed.
Countries which officially recognise the killings as genocide already include France (1998), Italy (2000) and Germany (2005), but not the UK, US or Israel. In the US, there have been resolutions in the House of Representatives and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and many at state level, but nothing signed by a president. As far as I know, no country before France has attempted to make denial a crime, unless it is a crime in Armenia.
Turkey’s reactions to all this usually have a third-world ring to them, though I avoid using the word genocide too glibly myself. Erdoğan, meanwhile, has counter-accused France of genocide in Algeria. There may well be justification for that, in relation to the settlers’ behaviour there from 1830 onwards: see this recent FT review of books on Algeria.
Toynbee was one of the people responsible for documenting the Armenian massacres in 1915 and brought them to the attention of the UK Parliament. There is a category here on them. Here is a post from last year.
Occasionally (not necessarily here) there’s an old-fashioned Trotskyist sound to Robin Yassin-Kassab’s posts on the middle east (stock phrases from 1970s polemic, “Zionist” sometimes replacing “capitalist”) which might stop some people reading.
Here are links to a few recent entries on his blog. Links are mainly his. Headings are mine.
Syria update, July 27:
“Hizbullah used to be wildly popular in Syria because it was perceived as an organisation dedicated to fighting for the oppressed. Now that it’s taken to supporting the Syrian oppressors against the Syrian oppressed, Hizbullah is widely despised in Syria. Its own stupidity achieved what decades of Wahhabi-Saudi, Zionist and Western propaganda could not. Here’s an article by Hamid Dabashi on that.”
“There is no danger for the Palestinian cause in the shadow of a democratic Syrian system. The Syrian people are closest to the Palestinian people, and they are more protective of the Palestinian cause, the Golan Heights, and Arab solidarity than the current regime whose leaders have made the country feudal and do not care for anything except for protecting their own interests and existence.” (Ghalyoun)
Syria update, August 6:
“Despite my disappointment with Hizbullah’s leadership, I still of course respect and admire their victories against Zionism. Look at this organisation, the first Arab organisation to confront and defeat the occupier: it succeeds because it is of its people, it fights for justice for its people, it arms its people. None of these things can be said for the Syrian regime, which arms against the people, and fears the people – which is why the Syrian regime will never confront and defeat the occupier.”
Hizbullah’s victory in 2006 was limited. He would like Muslims and Jews to live together with equal rights in a single secular state. In the meantime, the occupier is the Zionist regime.
“Iran banks all on Assad’s survival [...] It is entirely conceivable that any diminution of Alawite political power in Syria (let alone the downfall of Assad and the ruling clique) will re-orient Syria towards the Sunni Arab political order at the expense of Iran. Under this scenario, even if the Iranian-Syrian alliance endures in one form or another, the Islamic Republic’s position on the eastern banks of the Mediterranean Sea will become increasingly vulnerable.” (Abedin)
The Israeli flag falls in Cairo, August 21:
Attack on the Israeli embassy.
“I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureaucracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘resistance regime’ will note this well.”
More, same day:
“On the radio I said that the Syrian regime isn’t trying to be popular at present. Escalating its attacks on Syrian cities in Ramadan, increasing the gunfire at the dawn prayer and at the break of fast: these are not moves calculated to win popularity. Likewise, when regime torturers force the detained to pray to a picture of the dictator, and to repeat ‘There is no god but Bashaar’, they are not seeking approval. It’s much more basic than that. The message is: We can do whatever the hell we like. We can outrage you as much as we choose. We can shock you with our barbarity and then shock you again, because we are unimaginably strong.
“But they aren’t strong. They are very weak indeed, as we will all soon – insha’allah – discover.”
Passive tools, August 30:
“Somebody said to me recently, ‘The Libyans will soon be doing business with Israel, whether they like it or not.’ Here we go again: the assumption that the Libyans have no agency of their own, even after they’ve so dramatically taken the initiative to change the course of their own history.”
Sufis, September 19:
“I love [Sufism] for its symbolic, illogical, individualist challenge to literalism and the obsession with rules, and because it smiles, and for its openness and tolerance, and its music and poetry [...]. [...] But when Westerners assume the Sufis are automatically cuddly or, alternatively, progressive, they make a blanket mistake. The ‘Sufi’ Barelvis in Pakistan cheered the murder of Salman Taseer as much as the purist Deobandis. And there’s nothing progressive about hereditary holy men, backward superstition, or the false structures of authority that have adhered to some schools like rust to polished metal. There’s nothing good about the Islamo-hippies who wish for peace at any cost with Zionism [...].”
Sectarianism in Syria, September 29:
“Alawis have a complex, esoteric religion that throughout history has been savagely denounced, and its adherents savagely oppressed. Ultimately it’s a matter of political interpretation whether or not Alawis are to be considered Muslims. The Ottoman Empire didn’t even consider them ‘People of the Book,’ which meant that unlike Christians, Jews, and mainstream Shiites, Alawis didn’t enjoy any legal rights. The ravings of the influential medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya (who thought Alawis were ‘greater disbelievers than the Jews, Christians, and Indian idol-worshipping Brahmans’) contributed to their oppression and justified the theft of their lands around Aleppo and their forced retreat into the mountains. Until the 1920s, the Alawis were stuck in those mountains. Antakya (Antioch) was the only city where Alawis lived with Sunnis, and Antakya was gifted by France to Turkey before the independence of the modern Syrian state.” On which last point see my post about some recent Syrian history.
Malta, October 7:
“The language is Malta’s idiosyncracy: half Arabic in vocabulary, more than half in structure. The verbs, prepositions and pronouns are Arabic. The rest is mainly Italian. The air hostess asked us to store our bags ‘fowq raasikum’. When we landed she said ‘saha wa grazia!’”
The thousand lives and the one life, October 20:
Release of Gilad Shalit. “The Israelis are the ethnic cleansers and the occupiers. The Palestinians are the refugees and the occupied. Zionist propaganda constantly obfuscates these simple facts. The Palestinians are the first victims of the propaganda, but Israeli Jews are also its victims, as the future will demonstrate.”
Syria resources, October 29:
Links, including to a fully-annotated historical piece by Michael Provence and Jamal Wakim at al-akhbar.com, Colonial Origins of the Syrian Security State. Wonderful photograph at the beginning of that. But much more too.
After 42 Years, October 30:
The Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa reads After 42 Years – his reflection on the fall of Gaddafi.
Ahmz, November 1:
British-Syrian rap in both languages from Ahmz.
Marina Warner, November 12:
Review (positive) of Marina Warner, Stranger Magic, Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, about the Arabian Nights and its contexts, and its impact in the west.
“Warner quotes Jorge Luis Borges (a guiding spirit in her book) approving the belle infidele approach to translation. ‘I think that the reader should enrich what he is reading. He should misunderstand the text; he should change it into something else.’”
Fadwa Sulaiman, November 15:
Translation by Laila al-Attar of an interview on Jazeera with the Syrian actress Fadwa Sulaiman. Since then the Arab League has come out, belatedly, against the Assad regime.
In the Old Testament the classic portrayal of the militarist’s self-contrived discomfiture is given in the story of Ben-Hadad and Ahab. [Footnote: The story is told in I Kings xx.] When King Ben-Hadad of Damascus is besieging King Ahab of Israel in his city of Samaria [reigned c 869-850 BC; his wife was Jezebel], the aggressor sends messengers into the beleaguered city to demand of his victim the surrender of everything that he possesses, and Ahab returns the soft answer: “My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine and all that I have.” But Ben-Hadad will not forbear from humiliating his humble adversary still further; so he sends a second message to inform Ahab that the conqueror’s servants will now come to search his house, and that, “whatsoever is pleasant in” Ahab’s “eyes, they shall put it in their hand and take it away”. Thereupon Ahab replies that he still accepts the first demand but rejects the second; and, when Ben-Hadad proceeds to breathe fire and slaughter, Ahab says to the bearers of this third message: “Tell him: ‘Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.’” Thereafter, according to Ben-Hadad’s will, and against the wishes of Ahab, the issue between the two kings is decided in a pitched battle; and in this battle the aggressor brings upon himself an overwhelming defeat. The story ends with a tableau in which the servants of Ben-Hadad come out – from the city in which they and their master are now being besieged in their turn – with sackcloth on their loins and ropes on their heads [round their necks], and plead with the victorious Ahab for mercy. And Ahab is not betrayed into making Ben-Hadad’s mistake by the giddiness of the περιπέτεια that has so swiftly inverted the two kings’ respective positions. To the message “Thy servant Ben-Hadad saith: ‘I pray thee, let me live’,” Ahab answers: “Is he yet alive? He is my brother.” And, when, on his instructions, Ben-Hadad is brought with honour into his presence, Ahab makes a treaty with his penitent opponent – on the extremely favourable terms which Ben-Hadad is in haste to offer him – and then straightway lets him go free.
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
“I’m not in the least put out that my chariot wheel broke]
and I lost that silly race.
I’ll drink great wines the whole night long,
lying among lovely roses. Antioch is all mine.
I’m the most celebrated young man in town –
Valas’ weakness, he simply adores me.
You’ll see, tomorrow they’ll say the race wasn’t fair
(though if I’d been crude enough to insist on it secretly,
the flatterers would have given first place even to my limping chariot).]”
The Favour of Alexander Valas, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com. Spelling anglicised.
Alexander Balas was a humble-born native of Smyrna, but pretended to be the son of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Laodice IV and heir to the Seleucid throne. His claims were recognised by the Roman Senate and Ptolemy Philometor of Egypt. He married Cleopatra Thea, Ptolemy’s daughter. In 150 BC he defeated Demetrius I (Demetrius Soter, ie saviour).
As king, he is said to have abandoned himself to debauchery. In 145 his Egyptian protector and father-in-law betrayed him and, with Demetrius I’s son Demetrius II, defeated him near Antioch. Alexander Balas fled for refuge to a Nabataean prince, who murdered him and sent his head to Ptolemy, who had been mortally wounded in the battle.
Lying among roses. Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:
“There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle”
Elagabalus’s attempt to drown his guests in rose petals.
Painting in the National Galleries of Scotland by Botticelli of Christ sleeping by a rose bush adored by the Virgin.
Handel produced a quartet of patriotic or warlike oratorios after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion: the Occasional Oratorio in 1746, Judas Maccabaeus in 1747 and Joshua and Alexander Balus in 1748.
Alexander Balus is a condensation of chapters 10 and 11 of the first Book of Maccabees set in Egypt. It is thus partly concerned with the Greeks’ relationship with the Jews. Jonathan Maccabaeus (Jonathan Apphus, or the Wary) is the anti-Hellenic Hasmonean rebel leader after the death of Judas Maccabaeus. Alexander has courted him and the Jewish rebels. He is invited to Alexander’s wedding.
Ptolemy falsely claims that Jonathan is behind the plot to overthrow Alexander. At the end, Cleopatra receives news of both deaths, her husband’s and father’s. Jonathan winds up the story, reminding the living that those who trust in other than the true God will always meet their fate.
Demetrius II does not appear in the oratorio, but in the biblical story Jonathan makes his peace with him.
Hyperion CD notes: “Handel’s finale is, perhaps not so surprisingly in view of the calamities that have befallen Cleopatra, unusually muted in its minor treatment of the traditionally lively Amens and Halleluias.” Here are Jonathan’s final words and the finale; performers not stated.
Philip Walker, foreignpolicy.com, June 24.
According to Woolley, Sir L.: Abraham (London 1936, Faber), chap. 6, pp. 234-5 and 244, the “jealousy” which is one of the outstanding characteristics of Yahweh the God of Moses was already characteristic of the nameless God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob with whom Yahweh came to be identified by Abraham’s deescendants in the Mosaic Age. In Woolley’s view Abraham’s God was the Family God that had been worshipped in every household in Ur, and it was of the essence of this Family God that “he could admit no alien worshippers and have no outside interests”. In persisting in the worship of this Family God when he left the city gods of Ur behind him, Abraham became, not indeed a monotheist, but at least “monolatrous”. It will be seen that the God of Abraham (if Woolley is right) resembled the God of Moses in the point of exclusiveness, but differed from him in not being tied to any particular locality. While the worship of Yahweh was bound up with Yahweh’s successive local habitations on Sinai, at Bethel, and in Jerusalem, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob was worshipped by his Nomadic votaries wherever they happened to pitch their moving tents.
A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)
Though, in all persecutions, there are, no doubt, always many weaker vessels who [...] fail to stand the ordeal, the followers of the higher religions have been conspicuous, on the whole, for their steadfastness and courage when put to the test.
The Christian Church was put to this test by the Roman Empire; the Mahāyāna by the Chinese Empire in its avatar in the age of the T’ang Dynasty. Both churches responded by producing martyrs; but the Christians in the Roman Empire seem to have been more steadfast than the Mahayanian Buddhists in China in standing a more severe ordeal; and this apparent preeminence of the Christians in a common heroism is, indeed, what was to be expected. We should expect both the Mahāyāna and Christianity to shine in facing persecution, since the distinguishing mark of the higher religions is, as we have seen, their voluntary acceptance of Suffering as an opportunity for active service. At the same time we should expect the persecution itself to be sharper, and the endurance of it more heroic, in the western than in the eastern half of the Old World because the temper of life in South-West Asia and in the Graeco-Roman Society was more tragic and more intransigent than the temper in either India or China. In appraising both the comparative mildness of the T’ang imperial government and the comparative softness of its Buddhist victims, we must make the allowance for this general difference in psychological climate. It would be unwarrantable to assume that the T’ang régime was more virtuous than the Roman régime was, or that the Buddhist martyrs were less heroic than the Christian martyrs were.
The same difference in temper between the two halves of the Old World comes out in other historical parallels as well. For example, Christianity and Buddhism were, each, expelled from its homeland by a rival younger religion which had derived its inspiration from the older religion that it was opposing and evicting. Christianity was expelled from South-West Asia by Islam; Buddhism was expelled from India by a post-Buddhaic Hinduism whose philosophy bears indelible marks of its Buddhist origin. But the advance of Hinduism at Buddhism’s expense in India in the age of the Gupta Dynasty was accomplished as peacefully as the previous advance of Buddhism at the expense of a pre-Buddhist Indian paganism in the age of the Maurya Emperor Açoka. By contrast with this Indian record, the supplanting of Christianity by Islam in South-West Asia and Egypt in the age of the Arab Caliphate was a story of pressure and penalization – though, by contrast with the treatment of subject Jews and Muslims in Christendom, the treatment of subject “People of the Book” in Dār-al-Islām has been honourably distinguished by its comparative tolerance.
An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956
The succession of concentric waves in which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam spread over the face of the World, one after another, from an identical centre of dispersion in a “Greater Syria” embracing Palestine and the Hijāz [...].
Faisal, a man of the Hijaz, aspired to unite the whole of this Greater Syria after 1918.
A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”
There is a bigger picture here. After the Abbasid Caliphate, the Arab countries were to a great extent controlled by non-Arabs: Mongols, Mamluks, Persians, Ottoman Turks, Europeans and at the end by unrepresentative elites supported by the West. Libya has been a maverick, but the Berbers, too, had come under Ottoman and European control. This is, in a way, an attempt at a return.
When you know the faces and that emphatic, staccato, vehement Egyptian way of speaking, Egypt doesn’t feel like just another place in turmoil (clashes between supporters of X and anti-government protesters).
A friend who was in Tahrir Square emailed me on January 18:
“Things are boiling even more these days in Cairo. There will be some demonstrations on Jan 25 that people say will be a revolution, may be a civil war.”
Revolutionary years, not only in Egypt:
Egypt felt a reverberation from France. Napoleon invaded in person and was defeated by Nelson in person in the Battle of the Nile (1798). Afterwards, the reforming Ottoman viceroy Muhammad Ali (ruled 1805-48) had French military and scientific manuals and other works translated into Arabic. Much of the French infusion was managed by Rifa’a el-Tahtawi.
I have a post here (a sketchy passage by Toynbee) about French law and culture in Egypt. I can remember meeting a old Francophone Egyptian in Cairo.
1848 did not, as far as I know, have an impact on Egypt (though it happened to mark the end of the reign of Muhammad Ali), but it is a parallel to 2011 (and 1989) in the way revolution spread from place to place. The January trigger then was Palermo – not two hundred miles away from Tunis.
1919 had been a series of nationalist uprisings against the British, who had been in Egypt since 1882. In 1914 the British-occupied Khediviate became a British-protected Sultanate. Turkish influence was ended. In 1922, after the 1919 agitations, it became an “independent” kingdom. Even then, some British troops remained until 1936, and in the Canal Zone until 1954. It is hard, from these facts, to see how 1919 can have felt like a revolution, but it did to the Egyptians. I sketched the story of Egypt from Muhammad Ali to Nasser here.
The same year saw the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, the foundation of the Fascist party in Italy, the short-lived Bavarian and Hungarian Socialist Republics, the Amritsar massacre in India, police and other strikes in Britain, and convulsions in Ireland, eastern Europe and Russia, Turkey, Korea and China.
After the uprisings, the square, which had been called Midan Ismaileyya, after Khedive Ismail, who had commissioned the new downtown district’s plan, became popularly known as Midan al-Tahrir (Liberation Square). It was not officially renamed until the revolution of 1952. Other demonstrations have taken place there, including the bread riots in 1977 and the demonstrations against the Iraq War in 2003.
1952 was the revolution led by Nasser that removed King Farouk (seventeen years before Idris was removed in Libya) and installed the present military establishment.
(The first president was not Nasser but Muhammad Naguib. Farouk was not the last king: he was briefly succeeded by Fuad II.)
Between Nasser (died 1970) and Mubarak was only Sadat. Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel at Camp David and was assassinated.
Egyptian public morale collapsed in June 1967 (Six-Day War). It had been pumped up by Nasser and was high for good cultural reasons as well, and it was knocked back further in October 1973 (Yom Kippur War) and (though Egyptians are peaceful people) September 1978 (Camp David). Until January 25 2011 it had never quite recovered.
That’s what Americans fear, but no scowling demagogue got off a plane. Unless Yusuf al-Qaradawi is that.
Some educated Egyptians have a cultural fascination with Iran, the great or forbidden Other, and the only country in what Americans call “the region” which is similar to it in size of population. But Egypt has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979. Electronic alliances are being formed.
The sclerotic era of Mubarak began in October 1981.
From an old post:
“[People Power in the Philippines] was a T-shirted revolution before Twitter, a colour-coded revolution before mobile phones and email, a velvet revolution practically before fax. There had been peaceful protests and non-cooperation in India, but they were surely more manipulated and orchestrated.
“Since 1986, the Philippine example has been at the back of our minds wherever there have been large-scale, mainly peaceful popular protests. Václav Havel has said that it was in the minds of European demonstrators in 1989. The days leading up to the deposition of Ceauşescu in Romania reminded one very strongly of the Philippines. Was it in the minds of the Chinese students in the same year? It was in our minds this year  during the protests that began after the Iranian presidential elections.”
Before January 25 Egypt had lost its standing in the Arab world, which had been so high in the ’50s and ’60s. Qatar, as Robin Yassin-Kassab has said, counted for more.
Egyptians must be charmed now to think that at least a few young people all over the oppressed world, not only in the Middle East, are looking up to them.
The obvious, though very far from exact, precedent. The chain of revolutions got going in the second half. In Russia, two years later, a system collapsed with little pressure from below.
Egypt had transferred its loyalty from the USSR to the US before this, under Sadat.
Removal of Mubarak. Now the people are dealing with the military in uniform, face to face.
Nobody who witnessed this revolution at a distance will forget the moving words of Wael Abbas, Ahdaf Soueif, Khalid Abdalla, Wael Ghonim and many others, and nameless people.
Blair on February 2: Hosni Mubarak was “immensely courageous and a force for good”.
As always, there are those in the Middle East, the homeland of conspiracy theory, who are hinting at forces – America, Israel, other – controlling these events. Many others, especially the rich, are saying: “We are not ready for democracy, the West should stop lecturing us” and “Let the West dream”. They are right. But the revolution happened in spite of Obama’s ditherings and, thanks to them, Egyptians feel that Tahrir Square was their own achievement.
I had thought that the relevance of Facebook and Twitter to real politics had been exaggerated. I was wrong, but I was in no doubt from January 25 that it was over for Mubarak.
“The World Bank says escalating food prices have pushed 44 million more people into poverty since last June.”
The median age in Egypt is 24. More than a quarter of males under 30 with degrees are unemployed.
Egypt had been “growing” at 6% a year. It’s said that revolutions usually happen in countries which are growing economically. Energy which had been pent up is released and destroys the system which produced the growth. Russia in 1917? That kind of growth, in any case, can make things temporarily worse, and perhaps permanently less secure, for the masses.
Real revolutions aren’t gang warfare waged at state level. They are a return to truth. Will the energy produce a later wave of expansionist Islamism or be wholly dissipated in manoeuvring, compromises and renewed corruption?
Tahrir Square became a university in which different classes and types in Egyptian society met. That moment will not return.
Egyptians, such as Waseem Wagdi, not reporters, were the best exponents of their condition.
However it ends, Tahrir Square has changed the Middle East politically, geopolitically and psychologically. [Postscript 2013 11 28: Is that true?] The revolution was not Islamist or socialist or especially anti-American or even anti-Zionist. There was no utopianism, no desire for an absolute break with the past, except in one respect. No exaggeration. Not even a leader. No “nativist romanticism, sectarian distraction or religious obscurantism” (Robin Yassin-Kassab). These facts may, perhaps, offer some grounds for hope.
Egypt has minorities, but not deep sectarian divisions. Robin Yassin-Kassab: “The answer to sectarian hatred is democracy. The answer to Arab hatred of Israel is for Israel to change itself from a violent ethnocracy to a multicultural democracy.”
On the Muslim Brotherhood: “First, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is noted for its aversion to violence. Ayman Zawahri and the al-Qa’ida types broke away from the Brothers for precisely this reason. Second, the Brotherhood by its own admission has not led the revolution, no more than Muhammad al-Barade’i or any other leader. Third, the Brotherhood is part of the revolution like almost every other segment of Egyptian society, because it is part of society, a venerable institution and a mass movement. If the revolution has an ideology, it’s one of representation and dignity, of democracy in other words. The Brotherhood, like Barade’i, has called for an interim national government with no NDP presence, followed by elections. If the Brothers win elections, they will not be in a position to establish a new dictatorship. Fourth, the most retrograde elements of Islamism, those that lead to nihilistic terrorism and sectarian hatred, are nourished by the social stagnation of dictatorship. Finally, it is not for British or American chatterers to decide whether the Egyptians are ready for freedom. The Egyptians are demanding freedom, and are making the chatterers irrelevant.”
Few people outside Egypt even know the name of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader. It is Mohammed Badie.
Many Egyptians who before January 25 did not speak in political terms nevertheless showed a pre-revolutionary mood in the way they spoke about their personal lives. But nobody predicted the certainty which they found in themselves in Tahrir Square.
A comment on this blog on February 1: “Day after day people lost the value of their own lives and now they are willing to give these lives away [...].”
Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”
The best foreign reporting, aside from some blogs, was from CNN. Reporting, not analysis. The Egyptians will remember it. It was less naive than some about the role of the army. Al Jazeera was good, too. I am not an expert on Egypt, but many of the Western chatterers seemed to know nothing about it at all.
Egypt had been bursting for some kind of freshness in its politics for many years. Mubarak should have left in 2005. Cairo, too, in its planning. There is hardly a park or tree anywhere. There are little more than rough pavements by the Nile, next to noisy roads, along which people can stroll. Its physical charm has been squeezed out of it. This has happened in some degree in every old city on earth. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth, to judge from any account of the banks of the Nile, Cairo was a seductive place. But Egypt wasn’t a republic then.
Most of Tahrir Square has been a building site for as long as I can remember it and was not accessible by the demonstrators. You didn’t see it on the news. What you saw was a roundabout.
It isn’t clear what the work is intended to lead to. Paved area? Garden? The only thing that is clear is that the project has stalled because of corruption. Somebody, deserving or otherwise, has not been paid. Tahrir Square is a minor scandal of Mubarak’s Egypt.
Nearly all shots of the square show the giant Mogamma office building, a gift of the Soviet Union completed just before the 1952 revolution.
“[We] who were strong in love.”