Archive for the 'Palestine/Israel' Category

The jealous god

June 6 2011

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)

East and West

May 27 2011

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.

The Chinese nurse

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Greater Syria

May 18 2011

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)

Terror and hypocrisy

March 13 2011

Robin Yassin-Kassab on children in the Occupied Territories.

The Arab return

March 9 2011

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.

Tahrir Square 2

February 22 2011

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 [2009] 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.

Bernard-Henri Lévy

January 31 2011

Everything you wanted to say about him: Taki in The Spectator.

Israeli soldiers on the occupation

January 11 2011

Wiping Palestine off the map

December 28 2010

Susan Abulhawa, author of Mornings in Jenin, Bloomsbury, 2010, in The Huffington Post, attacking the French charlatan Bernard-Henri Lévy. Links in original. Via Qunfuz.

“Israel has been wiping Palestine off the map, expelling us and stealing everything we have. All that remains to us is less than 11 percent of our historic homeland, now in the form of isolated Bantustans, surrounded by menacing walls, snipers, checkpoints, settler-only roads and the ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements built on confiscated Palestinian property. We have no control over our own natural resources. The amount of water one receives is based on one’s religion, such that Palestinians must share bathing water, while their Jewish neighbors water their lawns and enjoy private swimming pools. According to Defence for Children International, in Jerusalem alone, Israel has imprisoned 1,200 Palestinian children this year [that is not what they say if you follow the link], who are routinely abused and forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, which they do not understand. Israel routinely targets Palestinian schools and has created a full generation of lost souls in Gaza, who are growing up knowing only fear, insecurity, and hunger. Documents pertaining to Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza and its merciless attacks on that civilian population show the cold mathematical formulas designed intentionally to produce food shortages and hunger in Gaza. Christian Palestinians have all but been wholly removed from the place of Jesus’ birth. And on goes the inhumanity – the constant expulsions, home demolitions, systematic theft, destruction of livelihoods, uprooting of trees – especially olive trees which are so precious to Palestinian culture – curfews, closures, institutional discrimination, and on and on.”


Also: “The people who today are being marginalized, humiliated, dispossessed, and oppressed for the sole reason of their religion are Palestinian Christians and Muslims. That is the real antisemitism of today.” Sole reason, when there is a physical occupation and racism?

Guardian on water resources in the occupied territories


West Bank wall

Israeli settlements

Water supply and sanitation in the Palestinian territories

Children and minors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Textbooks in the occupied territories

Blockade of Gaza

Palestinian Christians

Background of the Balfour Declaration

November 28 2010

The propaganda wars that led up to the Balfour Declaration. An old post.

The inheritors of the Ottoman Empire

November 24 2010

Though the discomfiture by British arms of a moribund Mughal Empire’s local viceroy in Bengal might do little to upset Islamic complacency, and might be regarded in the West mainly as an incident in a struggle over India between Great Britain and France, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Russia in the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 was taken everywhere as a portent; and, when in A.D. 1798 the French descended upon the Ottoman dominion of Egypt, and overcame all resistance there with ease, as a step towards reopening in India a contest with their British rivals which had been decided there against France in the Seven Years’ War, even shrewd observers took it for granted that they would live to see the Ottoman Empire partitioned between France, Russia, Great Britain, and the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy. Yet this expectation, natural though it was at the time, was not fulfilled in the event; for the only parts of the Ottoman Empire, within its frontiers of A.D. 1768, which were in the possession of any of those foreign Powers in A.D. 1952 were the territories adjoining the north and east coasts of the Black Sea, from Bessarabia to Batum inclusive, which had fallen to Russia; Cyprus, which had fallen to Great Britain; and Tunisia and Algeria, which had fallen to France. As for the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which had held Bosnia-Herzegovina from A.D. 1878 to A.D. 1918 and the sanjāq of Novipazār from A.D. 1879 to A.D. 1908, she had voluntarily evacuated Novipazār and had lost Bosnia-Herzegovina in the act of losing her own existence. [Footnote: The occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in and after A.D. 1878, and annexation of this occupied Ottoman territory in A.D. 1908, had, indeed, been nails driven into the Hapsburg Monarchy’s coffin by its own statesmen’s hands, since these Hapsburg acts of aggression against a moribund Ottoman Empire had had the effect of bringing the Monarchy into a head-on collision with a youthful Serb nationalism.] The lion’s share of the Ottoman Empire of A.D. 1768, from Bosnia to the Yaman and from Tripolitania [footnote: A “Libya” consisting of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fazzān, which had been conquered from the Ottoman Empire by Italy in A.D. 1911-12, and from Italy by Great Britain in the general war of A.D. 1939-45, had attained independence on the 24th December, 1951.] to Moldavia inclusive, had passed into the hands, not of alien Great Powers, but of Orthodox Christian and Muslim successor-states, of which the largest in area – apart from a mostly arid Sa‘ūdī Arabia – was a Turkish Republic stretching from Adrianople to Mount Ararat.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954

Five books on Palestine

August 10 2010

Recommendations by Robin Yassin-Kassab:

Moses and Aaron

August 4 2010

The Hellenic story of Odysseus’ return from Troy to Ithaca appears, in a variant form, in the Syriac story of the Chosen People’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The attraction which undermines the resolution [and retards the progress] of the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness is not the present delight of a Lotus Land or a Calypso’s Isle, but a hankering after the flesh pots of Egypt, [footnote: Egypt seems like an earthly paradise to the Israelites in retrospect, when the memory of their past sojourn there acts as a foil to the current experience of their present ordeal in the wilderness. Yet when they had been living and working in Egypt – making bricks without straw under the task-master’s lash – they had realized as clearly as the Egyptian peasants themselves that in Egypt, as in other lands, it is ever in the sweat of his face that Man eats bread.] which may perhaps be theirs again to-morrow (sic) if only they turn back now. They have no sooner crossed the sea dry-shod, and seen Pharaoh and his host perish in the returning waters, than they begin to murmur in the wilderness against Moses and Aaron:

“Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the Land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. [Footnote: Exodus xvi. 3.] …

“Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? [Footnote: Exodus xvii. 3.] …

“Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely – the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic – but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all beside this manna before our eyes.” [Footnote: Numbers xi. 4-6.]

Even when they have crossed the wilderness as safely as they had crossed the sea, and stand at last on the threshold of Canaan, their thoughts fly back to Egypt as they listen to the evil report of their spies – their sight of the Sons of Anak, the children of the giants, in whose presence the spies had seemed and felt like grasshoppers.

“And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said unto them: ‘Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?’ And they said one to another: ‘Let us make a captain and let us return into Egypt.’” [Footnote: Numbers xvi. 1-4.]

The Chosen People are unable to enter into their inheritance until this haunting and enervating recollection of the flesh pots has been effaced; and it is not effaced until forty years of purgatory – spent in wandering over the face of the wilderness which they have just put behind them in one straight and rapid trek – have brought the older generation to the grave and the younger generation to manhood. [Footnote: Numbers xiv. 26-35. […]]

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

Moses and Jesus

August 3 2010

Moses in the wilderness encounters a benevolent numen, and receives an assurance of the kind of supernatural aid that Odysseus obtains from Athena. On the other hand, Jesus in the wilderness is fortified through being tempted by the Devil, like Job or Faust.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

The Hellenist lobby

June 2 2010

Jacket blurb of Richard Clogg, Politics and the Academy, Arnold Toynbee and the Koraes Chair, Routledge, 2004. Buy here.

“During the First World War King’s College of the University of London became a leading centre for the study of Russia and Eastern Europe. Its principal, Ronald Burrows, a committed philhellene and devoted admirer of the Greek prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos, had a particular interest in the promotion of Byzantine and Modern Greek studies. It was Burrows’ enthusiasm, supported by Venizelos, that led to the establishment in 1919 of the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature. The endowment for the chair was raised by a group of wealthy Anglo-Greeks, while the Greek government provided an annual subsidy. The 29-year-old historian Arnold Toynbee was chosen as the first incumbent of the chair.

“In 1921 Toynbee, on leave of absence, covered the Greek-Turkish war in Asia Minor for the Manchester Guardian and reported on the atrocities committed by Greek troops. On his return he wrote The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, which appeared in the summer of 1922 shortly before the rout of the Greek forces by the Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). Toynbee’s writings and his growing sympathy for the Turkish cause enraged the Greek donors of the chair who, grouped in a Subscribers’ Committee, put strong pressure on the college and university authorities. Toynbee also came under fire from an influential group of colleagues. The cumulative furore forced Toynbee to resign from the chair in 1924 at the end of his first five-year term.

“Now the papers of the major protagonists have enabled a detailed reconstruction to be made of the interaction of international and academic politics. The controversy has some contemporary relevance as it touches on fundamental questions of academic freedom and on the problems inherent in the reliance of academic institutions on outside sources of funding.”

Toynbee, apparently, had not known of the existence of the Subscribers’ Committee when he took the chair. Modern parallel: denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, at DePaul University, Chicago, in 2007. Did Toynbee’s views on Israel eventually marginalise him in the US? When did the lobby tighten its grip?

The fifth chapter in McNeill’s biography is about Toynbee’s changing views of near-eastern politics and how events there in the ’20s confirmed him in positions he had taken in the Foreign Office towards the end of the First World War; and about his changing ideas on history before and during the King’s years, and how they were leading him towards the Study. It is hard not to feel some sympathy with the Greeks in the row in which it all culminated. Were they being so unreasonable?

Ancient Greece in the King’s entrance hall (Sophocles by Constantin Dausch, a copy of a Roman copy, the Lateran Sophocles at the Vatican; Sappho by Ferdinand Seeboeck, original; both commissioned by Frida Mond, wife of Ludwig, and passing to King’s on her death in 1923)


Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

October 25 2009

This was a Depression, not Crash, song, but it will do to mark the anniversary.

The market slid on Thursday October 24 1929, but the catastrophic collapse occurred on Monday and Tuesday, October 28 and 29.

The song was written in 1931. The lyrics were by Yip Harburg, the music by Jay Gorney.

Here sung by the little-known Charlie Palloy, with guitar and his orchestra, recorded in 1932. He gets the song’s grim tread better than its better-known exponent, Bing Crosby.

Bing Crosby. I’m not sure of the date.

Jason and Antiochus

July 2 2009

Jason – יסון

A deliberate breach with the present can be conducted on either archaistic or futuristic lines. Futuristic and perhaps also archaistic reforms are contagious and, unchecked, can advance from the “outworks” of dress and recreation to the “citadel of the soul”. The hellenising reforms of the Jewish High Priest Jason in the second century B.C. were futuristic.

In the Syriac World in the fourth [this should be third] decade of the second century B.C. the High Priest Joshua – who was the leader of a faction in Jewry which was eager at that time to repudiate at least the external trappings of the Jewish community’s native cultural heritage – was not content to advertise his programme by the verbal gesture of hellenizing his own name from Joshua into Jason. The “positive act” which provoked the demonic reaction of the Maccabees was the adoption by the younger priests of the Temple in Jerusalem, at Joshua’s instigation, of the broad-brimmed felt sun-hat which was the distinctive headgear of the pagan dominant minority in the Achaemenian Empire’s Hellenic “successor-states”. In the sight of the orthodox Palestinian Jews of the day this spectacle was as shocking as it would be to the eyes of our twentieth-century Palestinian Arab Muslims if the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem were to air himself in the Haram-ash-Sharīf with a sola topee on his head. And in the Jewish case in point the rapid progress of the futurist furore was soon to give the puritans reason; for the young priests of Yahweh did not confine their revolutionary cult of Hellenism to the wearing of the petasus. Their Hellenic headgear was not so shocking as the Hellenic nakedness with which they practised Hellenic sports in a Hellenic palaestra. Hellenic athletic competitions led on to Hellenic dramatic festivals; and, almost before the conservatively orthodox majority of the Palestinian Jewish community had realized what was happening, the “raging tearing campaign” [Joseph Chamberlain?] of Futurism had arrived at its sacrilegious culmination.

“They shall pollute the sanctuary of strength and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” [Footnote: Dan. xi. 31. […]]

Jason’s futuristic campaign had started as a voluntary movement; and, for all its radicalism, it had not trespassed beyond the limits of a secular field of action in which it might give offence to Jewish taste without driving Jewish consciences to desperation. But the Jewish High Priest Jason had been working under the patronage of the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes; and the patron held in the hollow of his hand a client who was merely the prelate of one of those diminutive temple-states which were embedded here and there in the vast body politic of the Seleucid Empire. When it suited Antiochus’s convenience he sold Jason’s office over Jason’s head to a rival aspirant [footnote: We have no record of the Jewish name which was hellenized into Menelaus by Joshua-Jason’s supplanter (Bevan, Edwyn: Jerusalem under the High Priests (London 1904, Arnold), p. 80).] who was not only a higher bidder for the Jewish High Priesthood but was also a more violent futurist; and, when the evicted Jason descended upon Jerusalem from his asylum in Transjordan and expelled his supplanter by a coup de main, Antiochus promptly took advantage of the opening given him by this act of Jewish rebellion in order to intervene personally with a high hand. He marched on Jerusalem; crushed the revolt; installed a Macedonian garrison; confiscated the treasure of the Temple for the benefit of his own insatiable exchequer; and put (as he supposed) the finishing touch to the work of Hellenization, in which Jason had played his part as pioneer, by courteously identifying “the Heaven-God of Jerusalem” [Yahweh] with the Olympian Zeus and graciously providing the necessary statue of the god – portrayed in the Emperor’s own image – to fill the void in a hitherto bleakly vacant Holy of Holies. [Footnote: For the measures taken by Antiochus Epiphanes at Jerusalem see Bevan, op. cit., pp. 81-2.] “The Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, standing where it ought not,” [footnote: Mark xiii. 14; cf. Matt. xxiv. 15.] was the swift and fearful nemesis of Joshua-Jason’s futuristic escapade. [Footnote: The swiftness of the nemesis is impressive if it is true that Antiochus’s devastating act of introducing the Hellenic idol into the Jewish Holy of Holies followed within eight years of Jason’s apparently innocuous act of putting his young priests into Hellenic hats.]

The ultimate outcome of this Jewish essay in Futurism in the second century B.C. was not a triumph like Peter the Great’s but a fiasco like Amānallāh’s; for the Seleucid Power’s frontal attack upon the Jewish religion evoked a Jewish reaction of a violence with which Epiphanes and his successors found themselves unable to cope. Yet the fact that this particular essay in Futurism happens to have been abortive does not make it any the less instructive; and one of the points which it illustrates is the impossibility of indulging in Futurism within fore-appointed limits. The essence of Futurism is a breach with the present; and, when once there has been a lesion at any point in the fabric of social life, the rent will extend itself and the threads will continue to unravel – even if the original rift was minute and even if the point at which it was made lay on the outermost fringe of the web. The êthos of Futurism is intrinsically “totalitarian”; and the evidence which points to this conclusion is by no means confined to the single instance which has led us up to it. Just as the Jew who takes to wearing the petasus soon learns to frequent the palaestra and the amphitheatre, so the Muscovite who has been dragooned into wearing a Western wig goes on to dance the fashionable Western dances and play the fashionable Western card-games, while in a later generation the Turk in a Homburg hat and the Persian in a Pehlevī cap cannot be kept off the football field or out of the cinema hall. In these cases, as in that, the abandonment of a traditional style of dress leads on to a general revolution in manners; and this is not the end of the futurist rake’s progress. For, while in the Islamic World to-day the post-war fever of Futurism is still in the innocuous preliminary external stage of the Jewish movement under Jason’s brief régime, Japan, who anticipated Turkey by three-quarters of a century in discarding her traditional male costume, is already being haunted by the spectre of “dangerous thought” [socialism and communism], while in Russia where the change of costume occurred about a century and three-quarters earlier than in Japan the process has culminated in our day in a campaign against the ancestral religion of the land which is being conducted with a far more powerful “drive” than Antiochus was able to put into his casual assault upon the traditional worship of Yahweh.

On this showing, we may expect to see Futurism invade the sanctuary of Religion sooner or later in any society in which this contagious way of life has once asserted itself in the trivial and frivolous spheres of dress and recreation; but in its victorious advance from the outworks to the citadel of the Soul a futuristic movement has to traverse the intermediate zones of Politics and Secular Culture […].

A further long footnote in this passage suggests that in treating the Jews heavy-handedly Antiochus was compensating for humiliations which he was suffering at the hands of Rome:

[…] The Seleucid Empire was already labouring under the shock of its collision with Rome by the time when Antiochus Epiphanes (no doubt unwittingly) challenged Jewry to a fight to the death with the Emperor’s Hellenism. Within ten years of the conquest of Coele Syria [a region of southern Syria, essentially Beqaa Valley, which the Seleucids had disputed with the Ptolemies] by Antiochus the Great in 198 B.C. the Seleucid conqueror of the Ptolemy had been routed by Scipio Asiagenus at Magnesia and had been compelled, as part of a peace settlement which was dictated to him by the Roman Government, to consent to a drastic limitation of Seleucid armaments. And Antiochus Epiphanes himself had been publicly humiliated by a Roman Commissioner before the walls of Pelusium […] only a few months before he stormed the walls of Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple. The main lines of Epiphanes’ ill-starred policy can all be traced back to the effects of Roman pressure. His abortive campaign of forcible Hellenization was an ill-judged effort to reinvigorate his empire by consolidating it. His abortive invasion of Egypt was a hazardous attempt to take advantage of the Romans’ preoccupation with Perseus in order to secure a belated territorial compensation for the loss [to the Romans] of the former possessions of the Seleucid Monarchy north-west of Taurus. The financial straits which tempted Antiochus to resort to the fatal expedient of robbing his Jewish subjects of their temple-treasures were the price of his own costly military adventure in Egypt following upon the payment of the heavy war-indemnity which had been exacted by the Romans from his predecessor Antiochus the Great. Before the Seleucid Government was pushed or led into these fatal courses in consequence of its encounter with Rome, its yoke had weighed lightly, by comparison with the rival Ptolemaic Government’s yoke, upon its Oriental subjects’ necks […].

Another footnote:

The pace of Futurism in Russia has, of course, been much slower than the pace at which it moved in Palestine in the second century B.C.; for while, as we have seen, the installation of “the Abomination of Desolation” in the Holy of Holies may have followed within eight years of the adoption of the petasus by Joshua-Jason’s young men, there it an interval of no less than 228 years between the date of Peter the Great’s effective accession to power in A.D. 1689 and the date of the Bolshevik Revolution of A.D. 1917. This difference of pace is evidently due to one signal difference in the course of events. The hand which placed the statue of Zeus Olympius in the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem was the hand of an alien intruder; and the fact that Antiochus was not a Jew but a Greek accounts both for the swiftness with which the Palestinian drama reached its culmination and for the fierceness of the reaction which eventually rendered the whole movement abortive. If Joshua-Jason’s Seleucid patron and master had had the wisdom to refrain from intervening in person, and had left the Jewish futurist movement to work itself out at its own natural pace under exclusively Jewish auspices, it is conceivable that the first century of the Christian Era might have witnessed an eradication of the worship of Yahweh by Jewish hands instead of witnessing, as it did, the outburst of Jewish Zealotism [in the Maccabean Revolt] which culminated in the great Romano-Jewish War of A.D. 66-70 […].

Insistence on the hijab, burqa, chador and other garments by some Muslims today who live in predominantly non-Muslim countries is based, in part, on a fear that “one thing will lead to another” if they are abandoned. Conversely, if they are tolerated or encouraged the “citadels” of the dominant culture will be threatened. Are strict Moslems archaists?

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Jason – יסון

June 30 2009

Jason, a High Priest at the Jewish temple in the 170s BC, was especially pro-Greek. The Seleucids had tried to Hellenise the Jews. The Maccabean Revolt began a decade later and resulted in the establishment of an independent Jewish Hasmonean kingdom in 140 BC, the last Jewish state before 1948. The Hasmoneans survived Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem in 63 BC, but gave way to an Idumean Jewish Roman client kingdom in 37 BC, the Herodian Kingdom of Judea, which lasted until AD 92.

Second Book of Maccabees, I presume translated by Toynbee.

“After the passing of Seleucus [IV] [bracket in original] and the accession of Antiochus the God Manifest (so called), Jason the brother of Onias wormed his way into the High Priesthood. He achieved this by petitioning the King and promising him 360 talents of silver per annum, besides 80 talents from other sources of revenue. In addition he undertook to levy another 150 talents if he were also empowered by royal authority to establish a physical training centre (γυμνάσιον) and a youth club (ἐφήβεῖον) and to register the inhabitants of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. The King gave his assent; and the new High Priest had no sooner taken up the reins of office than he set himself to transform his countrymen into Hellenes. He brushed aside the royal charter that had been secured to the Jews by the efforts of John the father of Eupolemus, and he made havoc of their lawful institutions in order to make room for impious innovations. He took a peculiar pleasure in installing his physical training centre [why doesn’t he call it a gymnasium?] under the very shadow of the citadel, enrolling the pick of the youth, and putting them into slouch hats (ἀσμένωςτοὺς κρατίστους τῶν ἐφήβωνὑπὸ πέτασον ἦγαγεν). Indeed, the unparalleled profanity of Jason, who behaved more like an enemy of religion than like a High Priest, gave Hellenism such a vogue and Renegadism such an impetus that the priests lost interest in the Liturgy, looked down upon the Temple, neglected the sacrifices and cared for nothing but to enter themselves for competitions in discus-throwing and to take their part in all the impious performances in the ring. They despised what their forefathers had honoured, and regarded Hellenic notions as the best in the world. In retribution for this they were overtaken by serious misfortunes and received their punishment at the hands of the very nation whose ways they had admired and wanted to ape in every particular. The laws of Heaven cannot be defied with impunity, as the sequel will show” (2 Macc. iv. 7-17).

Jason’s tomb in Jerusalem


Saul, Jonathan and David

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Entering Palestine

June 20 2009

Robin Yassin-Kassab: “I love it when Arab Christians have names like Omar. It shows, on their fathers’ part, a rejection of the sectarianism which cripples us. I know of a Christian family in Beirut which named its eldest son Jihad, and Muslim families with sons called Fidel and Guevara. Omar is not merely a specifically Muslim name; it’s more particularly a Sunni name, disliked by some Shia for theological-historical reasons. Omar is not a good name to have written on your ID card while driving through a Shia-militia-controlled area of Baghdad. But I know an Iraqi Shia woman whose brother is called Omar, because her father rejected the whole sorry sectarian business.

“By and large, the Palestinians have avoided the curse. It’s still the case that if you ask a Palestinian whether he’s Muslim or Christian he responds, ‘Palestinian!’ I mention this because our guide from Amman to the Allenby Bridge was a Palestinian Christian called Omar, and because the Palestinians, unlike their enemies, are proud of their diversity and pluralism.

“Swaying in the bus aisle, Omar explained that Jordanian officers would check our passports but would not stamp them. ‘The Jordanian government has recognised Israel, but not Israeli control over the West Bank. Why are there Israeli police on the border and not Palestinians? Jordan recognises this as a crossing, but not a border.’”

Rest here.

Moral equivalency

June 18 2009

Meet the Press, NBC, June 14, six months after Gaza.

David Gregory: Is there moral equivalency in the fight between Israelis and Palestininans in your view?

Joe Biden: No, no, there’s not moral equivalency.

Gregory: Did the President suggest there was in his [Cairo] speech?

Biden: I don’t believe the President did suggest that.

South Africa before the Portuguese

June 12 2009

The so-called Bushman culture of hunter-gatherers formed between perhaps 40,000 and 25,000 years ago. The Bushmen have lighter skins than most Africans.

Beginning c 500 BC, some Bushman groups acquired livestock from further north. Hunting and gathering gave way to herding cattle and oxen. The arrival of livestock introduced concepts of personal wealth and property-ownership into Bushman society.

The pastoralist Bushmen became known as Khoikhoi (“men of men”). The still hunter-gatherer Bushmen became known as San. Hunting and gathering had all but died out by 2000.

The two groups intermarried, and the term Khoisan arose. Over time the Khoikhoi established themselves along the coast, while small groups of San continued to inhabit the interior.

Soon afterwards Bantu peoples – a linguistic, not racial definition – reached South Africa. Nearly all the languages of sub-Saharan Africa today belong to the Niger-Congo family. The Khoisan languages are the main exception. Niger-Congo A languages cover West Africa. Niger-Congo B are the Bantu languages. The Bantu migrations originated near the Niger delta in southern Nigeria, near the border with Cameroon.

The Bantu-speakers had an advanced Iron Age culture, keeping domestic animals and practising agriculture, farming sorghum and other crops. They lived in small settled villages. The Bantu-speakers arrived in small waves rather than in one large migration.

There were various Bantu lingustic subgroups in southern Africa: Venda, Lemba and Shangaan-Tsonga (the Lemba speak Bantu languages, but have racial and cultural connections with the Jews); Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele; the British wrote Ndebele as Matabele); Sotho-Tswana (Tswana, Pedi, Basotho).

The more I look into this, the more I realise the richness and complexity of the picture, the folly of dividing anthropology from history, and the idiocy of Hugh Trevor-Roper’s “Perhaps in the future there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none: there is only the history of Europeans in Africa.” Trevor-Roper mocked Toynbee, who may have known little of African history, but was ready in spirit to know more. (He did write a small book about Africa.)

The Bushmen of southern Africa and the Bantu-speakers lived mostly peacefully together. Neither had any method of writing. Archaeologists have found numerous Khoisan artefacts at the sites of Bantu settlements.

Several Southern Bantu languages (notably Xhosa and Zulu) incorporated many click consonants of earlier Khoisan languages. The coastal inhabitants of southern Africa sold gold and ivory to Muslims, who sailed the Indian Ocean as far south as Mozambique. There were indirect trade links with China: porcelain reached Africa.

Khoisan 1Khoisan 2

The Arabian Passion

April 10 2009


The image is a link. More at On an Overgrown Path.

My last Good Friday post contained two images from the Middle East. Why was my explanation, in a Comment, of where I had found them so elaborate? Because many war photographs are fakes. I am tempted to say that all war photographs should be looked at sceptically, but that would give too much room to the conspiracy theorists. The Middle East has enough of them already.

Wells’s Outline – A thronging, amazing Paris

March 26 2009

“In 1919, Paris was the capital of the world.” Margaret MacMillan’s Peacemakers, The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War, John Murray, 2001.

Below, HG Wells’s Outline of History on Paris in 1919.

Wells, as an older contemporary of Toynbee, wanders into this blog occasionally. But why was the Outline, large parts of which were, as he admitted, cobbled together from the Encyclopædia Britannica, taken so seriously in its time?

It was published as a serial in soft covers in 1919, with colour plates and black-and-white photographs, and drawings and maps by JF Horrabin. The first hard cover book edition appeared in two volumes in 1920, reproducing or imitating the large-page format. The book one sees more often, which endured, was a monochrome single-volume blockbuster with no photographs, but with Horrabin’s drawings and maps.

Wells revised and updated the book more than once. After his death, Raymond Postgate and HG’s son GP Wells took the story up to 1963. The last print edition was in 1971.

What value does the Outline have now? None really, though some passages, including those on Versailles, are vintage Wells (I have quoted another on Versailles here). It’s an otherwise intellectually unsatisfying work, a thousand times superseded. Some saw its limitations at the time, but nearly all agreed that it was a wonderful achievement.

Wells had prestige. There was a hunger for a “synoptic view of world affairs” after the war. But, as I have suggested, it impressed partly because the idea of a world history, strange as this now sounds, was new. There had been ancient and medieval precedents, and a few recent multi-volume syndicated encyclopædic efforts (such as The Historians’ History of the World) in a format which the original, serialised Outline itself partly followed, but nothing by a serious modern figure, pace Ranke and Burckhardt.

Soon, there were imitators. Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind was particularly popular, not only with children. Spengler’s Decline of the West, very different, had appeared in Germany in 1918.

Edward Shanks’s review of the Outline in The London Mercury is reprinted in Patrick Parrinder, editor, HG Wells, The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.

Forster wrote at least three critical articles about it (they are reprinted in The Prince’s Tale and Other Uncollected Writings, André Deutsch, 1998).

Catholics objected. Chesterton wrote a book, The Everlasting Man, to refute its world view. “I do not believe that the past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades away into nature, or civilization merely fades away into barbarism, or religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into the religions of the world. In short, I do not believe that the best way to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines.”

Belloc wrote A Companion to Mr Wells’s “Outline of History”. Wells replied with Mr Belloc Objects. Belloc replied with Mr Belloc Still Objects.

Toynbee referred to it in the Study.

Nehru’s Glimpses of World History (I mentioned it here) was a kind of Asian riposte to it. This is an enchanting book, even though, or because, written for a child, his daughter Indira (Gandhi). Somebody offered it in a Sunday newspaper list recently as among the unjustly forgotten books. I’ll second that. I’d rather have it on a desert island than the Wells. Its maps were done by Wells’s illustrator, JF Horrabin.

Virginia Woolf referred to the Wells in Between the Acts.

There was more.


Wells on Versailles and Paris in 1919, mainly relying on a quotation:

“As the heads of the principal Governments implicitly claimed to be the authorized spokesmen of the human race, and endowed with unlimited powers, it is worth noting that this claim was boldly challenged by the people’s organs in the Press. Nearly all the journals read by the masses objected from the first to the dictatorship of the group of Premiers, Mr. Wilson being excepted. … [Footnote: Dillon. And see his The Peace Conference, chapter iii, for instances of the amazing ignorance of various delegates.]

“The restriction upon our space in this Outline will not allow us to tell here how the Peace Conference shrank from a Council of Ten to a Council of Four (Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando), and how it became a conference less and less like a frank and open discussion of the future of mankind, and more and more like some old-fashioned diplomatic conspiracy. Great and wonderful had been the hopes that had gathered to Paris. ‘The Paris of the Conference,’ says Dr. Dillon, ‘ceased to be the capital of France. It became a vast cosmopolitan caravanserai teeming with unwonted aspects of life and turmoil, filled with curious samples of the races, tribes, and tongues of four continents who came to watch and wait for the mysterious to-morrow.

‘An Arabian Nights’ touch was imparted to the dissolving panorama by strange visitants from Tartary and Kurdistan, Korea and Aderbeijan (sic), Armenia, Persia, and the Hedjaz – men with patriarchal beards and scimitar-shaped noses, and others from desert and oasis, from Samarkand and Bokhara. Turbans and fezes, sugar-loaf hats and head-gear resembling episcopal mitres, old military uniforms devised for the embryonic armies of new states on the eve of perpetual peace, snowywhite burnouses, flowing mantles, and graceful garments like the Roman toga, contributed to create an atmosphere of dreamy unreality in the city where the grimmest of realities were being faced and coped with.

‘Then came the men of wealth, of intellect, of industrial enterprise, and the seed-bearers of the ethical new ordering, members of economic committees from the United States, Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, India, and Japan, representatives of naphtha industries and far-off coal mines, pilgrims, fanatics and charlatans from all climes, priests of all religions, preachers of every doctrine, who mingled with princes, field-marshals, statesmen, anarchists, builders-up and pullers-down. All of them burned with desire to be near to the crucible in which the political and social systems of the world were to be melted and recast. Every day, in my walks, in my apartment, or at restaurants, I met emissaries from lands and peoples whose very names had seldom been heard of before in the West. A delegation from the Pont-Euxine Greeks called on me, and discoursed of their ancient cities of Trebizond, Samsoun, Tripoli, Kerassund, in which I resided many years ago, and informed me that they, too, desired to become welded into an independent Greek Republic, and had come to have their claims allowed. The Albanians were represented by my old friend Turkhan Pasha, on the one hand, and by my friend Essad Pasha on the other – the former desirous of Italy’s protection, the latter demanding complete independence. Chinamen, Japanese, Koreans, Hindus, Kirghizes, Lesghiens, Circassians, Mingrelians, Buryats, Malays, and Negroes and Negroids from Africa and America were among the tribes and tongues foregathered in Paris to watch the rebuilding of the political world system and to see where they “came in.” …’

“To this thronging, amazing Paris, agape for a new world, came President Wilson, and found its gathering forces dominated by a personality narrower, in every way more limited and beyond comparison more forcible than himself: the French Premier, M. Clemenceau. At, the instance of President Wilson, M. Clemenceau was elected President of the Conference. ‘It was,’ said President Wilson, ‘a special tribute to the sufferings and sacrifices of France.’ And that, unhappily, sounded the keynote of the Conference, whose sole business should have been with the future of mankind.”


The “Council of Ten” contained the heads of government and foreign ministers of Britain, France, Italy, the United States and Japan.

The months of the conference were those of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, of the foundation of the Fascist party in Italy, of the Bavarian and Hungarian Socialist Republics, of the Amritsar massacre in India, of convulsions in Ireland, Egypt, eastern Europe and Russia, Turkey, Korea and China.

Arrival of jazz in France. In painting and a vein of “classical” music, the eve of a return to form and order.

Paris would remain the centre of the Western art world for another twenty years. Then its decline would be as steep as that of Vienna’s in music.

Parisian throngs not embroiled in war or revolution: La comédie humaineLes enfants du paradisLa bohème, Act II … Louise, Act II …

Versailles 1919 (post here)


William Orpen, The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, London, Imperial War Museum

Lloyd George in Versailles

March 25 2009

One day I had to hand some papers to Lloyd George after the close of some meeting on Middle Eastern affairs. I had frequently seen Lloyd George and heard him speak, but this was the only occasion on which I had ever met him, and this encounter of mine with him had lasted for no longer than a minute or two; but it had been unexpectedly revealing; for, when he had taken the papers and started to scan them, Lloyd George, to my delight, had forgotten my presence and had begun to think aloud. “Mesopotamia … yes … oil … irrigation … we must have Mesopotamia; Palestine … yes … the Holy Land … Zionism … we must have Palestine; Syria … h’m … what is there in Syria? Let the French have that.”

Lloyd George was probably showing off to the young aide. His remarks were as insolent as Churchill’s in 1936 to the House of Commons: “The Emir Abdullah is in Transjordania, where I put him one Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem.” That was in 1921.

What would a post-Ottoman middle eastern settlement have been if there had been no mandates?

A critic of Toynbee’s style might ask: “Did the whole of that second sentence need to be in the pluperfect tense?”

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

and reported by Margaret MacMillan in Peacemakers, The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War, John Murray, 2001

Gaza, gender, Galileo

January 24 2009

My heart sank on Christmas Day when I read the BBC headline “Pope appeals for Mid-East peace”. Why didn’t he appeal for mid-east justice?

Last year Daniel Barenboim, citizen of Argentina, Spain and Israel, who had co-founded the West-Eastern Divan orchestra with Edward Said in 1999, caused a minor scandal in Israel by accepting honorary Palestinian citizenship. On January 1 he said to a worldwide audience at the end of the New Year Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, before the toast: “We hope the year 2009 will be a year of peace in the world and of human justice in the Middle East.”

The Pope had made his appeal two days after offending Vladimir Luxuria by declaring that “mankind needed to be saved from a destructive blurring of gender” (BBC).

Two days before that (December 21), he had found it necessary to praise Galileo. In 1990, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he had seemed to condone the charge of heresy against him. On October 31 1992, after the matter had been studied by the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair had been handled and conceded that the Earth was not stationary.

Today, Pope Benedict offended Israel by rehabilitating a bishop who had been appointed by the rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the ’80s. The bishop had been excommunicated because his appointment had been a schismatic act, separating both him and the appointor from Rome, but what is causing the offence now is that he had allegedly said that there had been no Nazi gas chambers.

On January 8, the Pope’s justice (that word again) minister, Cardinal Martino, did a little better than the Pope had managed on Christmas Day, by likening the besieged Gaza Strip to a “big concentration camp”. The Catholic Church has tended to be sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Pius XII had been scandalously silent in the ’30s and ’40s on the fate of the Jews. Last October, Pope Benedict said that he was considering halting the process of canonising him, which he had previously supported, until more historical archives could be opened.

The feeblest surrender to the Israeli lobby on Gaza in recent days has been that of the BBC.

I went to Gaza for a day in September 1973, shortly before the Yom Kippur War. I was on holiday in Israel. Some Catholic friends in England had introduced me to two ladies who worked for the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, Miss Breen and Miss Hunnybun.

Helen Breen and Carol Hunnybun. I even remember their first names. They had to deliver some medical supplies to occupied Gaza and I drove with them. Distances in Israel are always so much less than you expect. From Jerusalem to Gaza is not even fifty miles. I am guessing now that we drove as far as Jabaliya Camp.

What happened to the Misses Breen and Hunnybun? The web has the answer, at least for Helen Breen. A Bethlehem University web page quotes a letter on the matter:

“The Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP) was founded in April 1949 as a temporary agency to deal with the problems of the Palestinian refugees by coordinating the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to deal with the results of the U.N. partition of  Palestine. [Though not much of the UN plan remained in 1949!] […] Carol [Hunnybun] [brackets in original] arrived in Jerusalem in 1966 and Helen [Breen] [ditto] followed in 1967, coming from the PMP office in Beirut. In 1964 Carol spent time in Jerusalem working with the press for the visit of Paul VI. We [PMP] [ditto] did not have an office at that time. They both retired from PMP in 1982. Both were members of the Grail working out of England. Helen died in July 1992.”

I learned that the war had broken out when, on the Mount of Olives on October 6, I heard the sirens. I walked back into Jerusalem. I was staying in a hostel offered by the Armenian Catholic church not far from the Damascus Gate in the Old City. The priest – I think his name was Michael – huddled over his radio in the kitchen that evening to try to hear the news. I drove to the airport near Tel Aviv through a blacked-out landscape a day or two afterwards.

The feeblest website of any public figure involved with the Middle East (apart, I assume, from that of Amr Moussa if he has one) must be that of Tony Blair. He has two sites, in fact: here and here.

The siege of Gaza

December 28 2008

Before I come back on January 6, Robin Yassin-Kassab on Gaza.

Arab anglophiles

December 8 2008

All over the Middle East are people, middle managers, who are almost sick with love of England, not because they know it well: they may not have been there since their youth, and certainly have never shopped in Harrods, but because of the weeks they spent with that family in Bromley or Streatham in 1977. [Comments below.]

The King’s Highway

October 22 2008

The passage below is part of a survey of imperial communications.

A footnote refers us to maps 11 (South-West Asia, Egypt, and the Aegean in the 18th cent. B.C.: Successor-States of the Third Dynasty of Ur at the Beginning of Hammurabi’s Reign at Babylon, 1792 or 1728 B.C.), 14 (The New Empire and its Neighbours after Thothmes III’s Campaign in the Thirty-third Year of his Reign, ? 1458 B.C.), 20 (The Achaemenian Empire: Communications and Taxation Districts on the Eve of Xerxes’ Invasion of Continental European Greece in 480 B.C.) and 21A (The Syrian “Roundabout”) in the eleventh volume.

This Wikimedia Commons map shows the King’s Highway c 1300 BC in red. The Via Maris is shown in purple, other routes in brown.

There was [a] famous road, “the King’s Highway”, [footnote: Num. xx. 17 and xxi. 22. See Wright, V. E., and Filson, F. V.: The Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible (London 1946, Student Christian Movement Press), p. 40, fig. 25, for an aerial photograph of a section of this road in Transjordan.] which […] played an historic part in the life of one empire after another. This thoroughfare ran north and south, along the border between Syria and the Syrian Desert, from the crossings of the Euphrates, at the point where the river bends nearest to the Mediterranean [the Wikimedia map has it starting south of this point], through Damascus and Transjordan to the head of the Gulf of ’Aqabah, where the road branched westwards across the Desert of Sinai towards Egypt and south-eastwards into Arabia. This King’s Highway had served successively the Empire of Sumer and Akkad, “the New Empire” of Egypt, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the Achaemenian Empire. After the shattering of the Achaemenian Peace by Alexander, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, holding opposite ends of the thoroughfare, had contended with one another for possession of the whole of it, and the Seleucids had won the contest only to give place to Rome – till the King’s Highway had changed hands again from the Roman Empire to the Arab Caliphate and thereafter, in its southern sector, from the ‘Abbasids’ Fātimid successor-state to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

In the course of its long and chequered history the King’s Highway has been used, not only by its official masters of the moment, but by rebels, raiders, and rival Powers. The Elamite and Babylonian warlords who had twice taken this road in the eighteenth century B.C. in order to reimpose the long dormant authority of an Empire of Sumer and Akkad on the princelings of Syria had been pursued along their own highway on their return march, and been relieved of their booty, by an untamed band of Hebrew Nomads. [Footnote: See Gen. xiv. The historical events which here loom through a mist of tradition may perhaps be dated some time between the annexation of the Sumerian Empire of lsin by the Elamite State of Larsa circa 1799-1793 or 1735-1729 B.C. and the annexation of Larsa by the Amorite State of Babylon in 1762 or 1698 B.C. […]. The account in Gen. xiv. 13-24 of Abraham’s audacious but successful surprise attack on the plunder-laden army of the retreating [Elamite] imperialists is reminiscent of the attack by the [Thracian] Brygi on an Achaemenian army marching along the coast road from the Hellespont to European Greece circa 492 B.C. (Herodotus, Book VI, chap. 45) and of the similar attack by Thracians on a Roman army following the same route in 188 B.C. (Livy, Book XXXVIII, chap. 40).] In the eighteenth or seventeenth century B.C. the King’s Highway had carried a Palestinian barbarian Hyksos war-band to the north-eastern corner of Egypt, and perhaps also an advance guard of the Eurasian Nomad Mitanni to the northwestern corner of Arabia, on the last stage of their long trek from the south-western shore of the great Eurasian Steppe. In the fourteenth or thirteenth century B.C. the Children of Israel had been refused a passage along the southernmost section of the King’s Highway by the Edomite successor-state of “the New Empire” of Egypt, [footnote: Num. xx. 14-22 and xxi. 4.] and had forced a passage along another section in the teeth of opposition from an Amorite successor-state in the Peraea, [footnote: Num. xxi. 21-32.] on their way to carve out a domain for themselves on the western side of Jordan. In the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries B.C. the independent principalities of Syria that had emerged from a dark age following the collapse of “the New Empire” of Egypt and the overthrow of “the thalassocracy of Minos” had fallen victims to Assyrian aggressors following on Chedorlaomer’s track [Chedorlaomer was the Elamite whom Abraham attacked]; and when the downfall of Assyria had seemed to promise them relief they had been cheated of it by the immediate substitution of Babylonian for Assyrian rule. On the eve of the overthrow of the Neo-Babylonian Empire by Cyrus the Achaemenid, the King’s Highway had once again come to the fore in the play of international politics, and a would-be leader of an anti-Babylonian movement among the remnant of Judah had exhorted his countrymen to recondition this historic route in order to expedite the passage of Cyrus’s liberating armies.

“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” [Footnote: Isa. xl. 3-4. […]]


At the break-up of the Achaemenian Empire’s Seleucid successor-state, Nabataean intruders from Arabia, treading in the footsteps of the Children of Israel, had followed the King’s Highway, without turning off it to pass over Jordan, till they had reached and occupied Damascus; and at the break-up of the Roman Empire the Primitive Muslim Arabs – taking the same war-path, and avenging, in a decisive victory at the passage of the Yarmuk, their discomfiture at Mu’tah in their first encounter with the Roman veterans of the last and greatest Romano-Persian War – had not only captured Damascus but had established there the capital of an empire whose boundaries they had pushed out, within the next hundred years, to Farghānah on the one side and to the Atlantic coasts of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula on the other. At the break-up of the Arab Caliphate the Crusaders, bursting into Syria through the Cilician Gates and by sea, had forced the passage of the Jordan in the reverse direction to that of the Israelites’ trek, and had pushed their way southwards, down the southernmost stretch of the King’s Highway, till they had reached the head of the Gulf of ‘Aqabah and had thereby momentarily cut the land communications between the African and Asiatic domains of Dār-al-Islām.

This history of the King’s Highway over a period of some three thousand years might look like a monotonous repetition of contests between successive universal states claiming legitimate sovereignty over the thoroughfare and outsiders disputing their title by force of arms. Yet the historic importance of the King’s Highway lay in none of these episodes. This long-fought-over thoroughfare was to find its destiny at last as an Islamic Pilgrims’ Way on which, year by year, a peaceful multitude of Muslims – converging from the far-flung outposts of Dār-al-Islām in Fez and Sarayevo and Vilna and Qāzān and Kāshghar – would make the Hajj, at first on foot or camel-back and latterly by train, [footnote: The building of the Hijāz railway southwards from Damascus along the route of the King’s Highway was begun in A.D. 1900 and was completed as far as Medina in A.D. 1908. Put out of action in the war of 1914-18, the Hijāz Railway remained derelict thereafter from Ma’ān southwards.] to the Holy Cities of the Hijāz.

I’ll post a synopsis of the history of all the ancient near-eastern empires in due course.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Gaza gets a museum

July 28 2008


New York Times preview.


Gaza has usually been a stop on the trading route between Egypt and Syria.

At different times it has been under Egyptian, Phoenician, Philistine, Israelite, Chaldean, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Crusader, Turkish, British rule. I’ll look at its history properly another time. (I went there in 1973.)

What Hadrian can teach Obama

July 23 2008

Martin Kettle, The Guardian, via Davos Newbies.

Archaeological Museum, Athens

The shot heard round the world 2

July 5 2008

The shot heard round the world 1

The latter part of Toynbee’s public lecture at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961.

In the first part he looked at the impact of America’s revolution in other countries. But how direct was its influence? How did it affect the French revolution, which would have happened anyway? The American revolution’s roots were equally in the Enlightenment.

It was an inspiration, an exemplar for overturning a régime, like the Dutch Revolt and the English revolution.

The Marquis de Lafayette helped the Americans in the war of 1775-83 and was in America from 1777 to ’82, with a break in France in 1779. He returned as a hero in 1824-5, visiting every state. The Declaration of Independence influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was adopted by the National Constituent Assembly in 1789.

In the first extract, Toynbee, who was so aware of the temptations of nationalism, fails, like many nineteenth-century liberals, to distinguish carefully between nationalist and social revolutions, as if freedom from foreign oppression were itself Liberty. He speaks like an old-fashioned man of that century.

The American revolution was social first, national second. The Americans were overthrowing an oppressor, but it was their government and society that these colonies professed to be seeking to reform. What kinds of societies would the peoples who had heard the American “shot” produce?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Once America had separated itself, it became clear that the fragment continued to oppress many of its members.

Toynbee is romantically unrealistic when he recalls the America of 1961, that “leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests”, to its revolutionary traditions in its foreign policy. At one point he seems to defend revolutionary violence. He was especially provocative in implying a sympathy for Castro.

This lecture was, perhaps, a turning-point in his relationship with America, the country that had welcomed him with something like adulation in the late ’40s and the ’50s. His Study of History had seemed to have important things to say to America during its “rise to globalism”. He supported the civil rights movement, and opposed the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s, and his later and bleak view of American foreign policy is reflected here in posts called Neo-colonialism: The view from 1969 and The frontier spirit.

What we are hearing now, above the echoing sound of that American shot, is the answering voice of the mass of mankind. This two-thirds – or is it three-quarters? – of the World’s population is still living only just above the starvation line and is still frequently falling below even that wretched line into death-dealing famine. Since the time when our pre-human ancestors became human, this majority of the human race has never dreamed, before today, that there would ever be any change for the better in its hard lot. Since the dawn of civilization, about 5000 years ago, the World’s peasantry has carried the load of civilization on its back without receiving any appreciable share in civilization’s benefits. These benefits have been monopolized by a tiny privileged minority, and, until yesterday, this injustice was inevitable. Till the modern industrial revolution began to get up steam, technology was not capable of producing more than a tiny surplus after meeting the requirements of bare subsistence. In our time, technology is coming within sight of being able to produce enough of civilization’s material benefits to provide for the whole human race. If technology does make it possible to get rid of the odious ancient difference in fortune between the few rich and the innumerable poor, future generations will perhaps bless the Industrial Revolution in retrospect, and will think kindly of its British, American and German pioneers.

We already have the means for making a start in improving the lot of the great depressed majority of our fellow human beings. But, in the last resort, we human beings have to do things for ourselves. The World’s peasantry cannot hope to improve its lot substantially unless it can awake from its age-old lethargy. It is being awakened at this moment by the sound of that American shot as that sound circles the globe for the third time. That sound has now been heard by the World’s whole depressed majority, and we, the affluent minority, are now hearing the majority’s reply. At last, the majority is shaking off the fatalism that has been paralysing it since the beginning of time. It is becoming alive to the truth that an improvement in its lot is now possible. More than that, it is realizing that it can do something towards this by its own efforts. Go to India; visit some of the thousands of villages there in which the Community Development Plan is already in operation; and you will see, with your own eyes, this new hope and purposefulness and energy breaking into flower. This is, to my mind, the most wonderful sight that there is to be seen in the present-day world. And this world-revolution of the peasantry is the most glorious revolution that there has been in the World’s history so far.

Well, perhaps I ought to have said “the most glorious secular revolution”; for the religious revolutions may have been more glorious; and these may also, in the long run, prove to have had still greater and more beneficent effects. By the religious revolutions I mean the advent of the World’s missionary religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the others. The new world revolution of the peasantry perhaps cannot properly be called a religious revolution. At the same time it is unquestionably a spiritual one. It is true that the objectives that are its first aim are of a material kind. These material objectives are as elementary as they are indispensable for making a start. They are such fundamental things as a concrete lining and lip for the village well, to protect the water from being contaminated; a concrete surface for the village lanes, to redeem them from being wallows of pestilent filth; a dirt-road to link the village up with the nearest main road; and, after that, a village school. When a village reaches the stage of building a school and finding the means to provide a living for a schoolmaster, it is already beginning to raise a spiritual mansion on the preliminary material foundations. Without the foundations, the building could not go up. But the material foundations are a means to a spiritual end. And what could be more obviously spiritual than the awakening of hope and purposefulness and energy that is the driving force behind the whole of this glorious revolution? This driving force is the last and greatest of the revolutionary forces that have been released, all round the World, by the sound of a shot that was fired, on an April day, by embattled American farmers.

This exhilarating sound has not only roused the peoples of the World to action in their own homelands; it has also drawn them, like a magnet, to the land in which the shot was fired and from which the sound has gone forth. For a century, European farmers flocked to the United States in order to become American farmers, and, as the Industrial Revolution got up steam on both sides of the Atlantic, European industrial workers were soon crossing the Atlantic westward in the farmers’ wake. The tide of immigration into the United States began to flow mightily within a few years of the end of the Napoleonic Wars [when there was a severe depression in Europe]. It went on flowing till the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. And, as it flowed, it gathered volume. Before it was abruptly checked in 1914 by the action of the belligerent European governments that were concerned to conserve their cannon-fodder, the annual total of immigrants had risen to about two million in more than one year after the turn of the century.

When I think of this century of massive immigration from Europe into Europe’s American promised land, my mind focuses on my memory’s picture of an old farmer, Bavarian-born, whom I met on my first visit to this country, now nearly thirty-six years ago. His farm was in East Central Kentucky, where I was staying with a college friend of mine. At home in Bavaria, this farmer had had no farm of his own and no prospect of ever acquiring one there. It had been the hope of winning one in the New World that had lured him across the Atlantic. Though he had emigrated while he was still a young man, he had not arrived till some year in the eighteen-nineties, and by that time, of course, all the best land in the state had been taken up long ago. In Kentucky by the eighteen-nineties, settlement had been going on for more than a hundred years. All the same, this Bavarian farmer had come in time still to be a pioneer. In the western foothills of the Appalachians – “the Knobs” is their local name – he had hit upon a valley that was still unreclaimed because no predecessor of his had found it sufficiently inviting. The Bavarian had seized on that valley and had made it fruitful. To transform it had been his life-work. He had not only made it yield him enough for raising a family. By the time his sons were grown up – and there were several of them – the father had also saved enough to be able to buy for each son a better farm than the father’s own. But the old man would never buy a better farm for himself. The valley-farm had been his life-work, and, more than that, it had been his European dream translated into an American reality. As a boy in Bavaria he had dreamed of one day having a farm of his own if he could screw up his courage to pull up his roots and cross the Ocean. In this unpromising valley in Kentucky he had made his farm and his farm had made him. Nothing this side of death would part him from it.

Multiply this Bavarian-American farmer by some millions and you have a revolution inside America to match those revolutions all round the World of which I have given you a breathless catalogue. America’s revolution on her own ground and her revolutions abroad have been like each other in everything that is important in them. They have both been set going by the shot fired in April 1775; they have both been triumphs over social injustice, poverty, and hopelessness. These revolutions are true daughters of the American Revolution, and to have fathered this mighty brood is indeed an achievement to be proud of. And now come the paradox, and, I should also say, the tragedy. At the moment when the sound of that historic American shot was circling this planet for the third time, at the moment when the American revolutionary spirit had come within sight of inspiring the whole human race, America herself disowned paternity, at least for the younger and less decorous batches of her offspring.

It has been suggested recently by at least one American student of American history that America did not wait till the twentieth century to dissociate herself from the World’s response to the resounding American shot’s reverberations. The founding fathers of the United States lived to witness the French Revolution, and at least one of the most eminent of them, John Adams, put on record his repudiation and rejection of the American Revolution’s French eldest daughter after she had jilted Lafayette and had plunged into Jacobinism. I owe my knowledge of the following passage to an article by William Henry Chamberlin in The Wall Street Journal of 31 March 1961. John Adams is quoted by Mr Chamberlin as having said that “Helvetius and Rousseau preached to the French nation liberty till they made them the most mechanical slaves; equality, till they destroyed all equity; humanity, until they became weasels and African panthers; and fraternity, till they cut one another’s throats like Roman gladiators”.

This bitter verdict on the Jacobin revolution gives us some notion of how John Adams and like-minded American contemporaries of his would have reacted to the Communist revolution, if they could have lived to witness this still more violent subsequent response to the echoes of the revolution which the founding fathers themselves had launched. The founding fathers had, no doubt, carried their own revolution just as far as they had intended, and evidently some of them were unwilling to see revolution, either at home or abroad, go even one inch farther. This is indicated by the bitterness of those words of John Adams’s that I have just quoted. But his words are not only bitter; they are also ironic. They bring out the irony of the contrast between intentions and results; and this is one of the perennial ironies of human life. It is seldom indeed that the consequences of human action work out according to plan; and one might venture on the generalization that they never work out as intended when the action is of the violent kind represented by revolution and war. The more violent the initial act, the more likely it will be that its consequences will escape control. Has there ever been a revolution or a war that has produced the results, and none other than the results, that its authors intended and expected? The American revolutionaries, like their French counterparts, and unlike at least one celebrated batch of Roman gladiators [to what is he referring?], were not “too proud to fight”; and they could not fire their shot without its being heard by other ears, and without its being taken as a signal for non-American, and perhaps un-American, action. In illustrating the vanity of human wishes by the example of the Jacobins, John Adams was unconsciously passing judgement on himself as well. Fabula de te narratur is the comment that he invites in retrospect. But Adams’s anti-Jacobin invective, which thus recoils like a boomerang on Adams himself, leaves his co-founding father Jefferson unscathed. Jefferson recognized that the price of political liberty would be “turbulence”, and he was not distressed by this prospect. “I hold,” he wrote to Madison, “that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“Too proud to fight” was a phrase used by Woodrow Wilson to defend American neutrality in the First World War. It was immediately used against him.

Thus Adams’s conservatism was not shared by all the founding fathers; and Emerson was not the first American to acclaim the World Revolution and to recognize it as being the American Revolution’s offspring. America had already given a blessing to the late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century revolutions in Europe which it would be difficult for her ever to revoke, since it has been written into the map of American place-names. The names of the Corsican, Greek, Polish, and Hungarian revolutionary leaders Paoli, Ypsilandi, Kosciusko, and Kossuth have been thus immortalized. On the other hand, no Leninburg or Trotskyville has ever jumped out of the map of the United States to catch my eye. Of course there is less room for putting new names on this map nowadays than there used to be. Yet, if tomorrow a new territory of the United States were to be staked out on the face of the Moon, I do not think that any of the mushroom cities there would be likely to be called Fidel, though Fidel is really rather a beautiful name if American lips could pronounce it dispassionately.

Today America is no longer the inspirer and leader of the World Revolution, and I have an impression that she is embarrassed and annoyed when she is reminded that this was her original mission. No one else laid this mission upon America. She chose it for herself, and for one hundred and forty-two years, reckoning from the year 1775, she pursued this revolutionary mission with an enthusiasm which has proved deservedly infectious. By contrast, America is today the leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests. She now stands for what Rome stood for. Rome consistently supported the rich against the poor in all foreign communities that fell under her sway; and, since the poor, so far, have always and everywhere been far more numerous than the rich, Rome’s policy made for inequality, for injustice, and for the least happiness of the greatest number. America’s decision to adopt Rome’s role has been deliberate, if I have gauged it right. It has been deliberate, yet, in the spirit that animates this recent American movement in reverse, I miss the enthusiasm and the confidence that made the old revolutionary America irresistible. Lafayette pays a high psychological price when he transforms himself into Metternich. Playing Metternich is not a happy role. It is not a hero’s role, and not a winner’s, and the player knows it. But, in those early nineteenth-century years when the real Metternich was fighting his losing battle to shore up the rickety edifice of restored “legitimacy”, who in the World would have guessed that America, of all countries, would one day cast herself for Metternich’s dreary part?

What has happened? The simplest account of it is, I suppose, that America has joined the minority. In 1775 she was in the ranks of the majority, and this is one reason why the American Revolution has evoked a world-wide response. For the non-American majority of the majority, the American revolutionary appeal has been as attractive as it was for eighteenth-century America herself. Eighteenth-century America was still appreciably poorer than the richest of the eighteenth-century West European countries: Britain, Holland, the Austrian Netherlands, France. No doubt America was, even then, already considerably richer than Asia or Africa; yet, even measured by this standard, her wealth at that time was not enormous. What has happened? While the sound of the shot fired beside the bridge at Concord has been three times circling the globe, and has each time been inciting all people outside America to redouble their revolutionary efforts, America herself has been engaged on another job than the one that she finished on her own soil in 1783. She has been winning the West and has been mastering the technique of industrial productivity. In consequence, she has become rich beyond all precedent. And, when the American sputnik’s third round raised the temperature of the World Revolution to a height that was also unprecedented, America felt herself impelled to defend the wealth that she had now gained against the mounting revolutionary forces that she herself had first called into existence.

What was the date at which America boxed the compass in steering her political course? As I see it, this date is pin-pointed by three events: the reaction in the United States to the second Russian revolution of 1917 and the two United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924.

The American reaction to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was not, of course, peculiar to the American people. It was the same as the reaction of the rich people in all countries. Only, in the United States, it was a nation-wide reaction, because, in the United States, the well-to-do section of the population had become, by that time, a large majority, not the small minority that the rich have been and still are in most other parts of the World so far.

Rich people, not only in the United States but everywhere, have, I think, taken Communism in a very personal way. They have seen in Communism a threat to their pocket-books. So Communism, even when it has raised its head in some far-away country, has not felt to the rich like a foreign affair; the threat has seemed close and immediate, like the threat from gangsters in the streets of one’s home town. I think this explains the fact – and I am sure this is the fact – that Russian Communist aggression has got under the skins of the well-to-do in the Western World, while German nationalist aggression has not angered them to the same degree. This relative complacency towards German aggressiveness, as contrasted with the violence of the reaction to Russian aggressiveness, has made an impression on me because, I confess, it makes me bristle. I have noticed it among the rich minority in my own country, and I have noticed it still more among a wider circle of people in the United States. It is a rather startling piece of self-exposure. It is startling because, among the various dangers with which we have been threatened in our time, the danger to our personal property is not the one that we ought really to take most tragically. As a matter of fact, the well-to-do Western middle class would have been fleeced economically by the Germans, as thoroughly as this could be done by any Communists, if Germany had happened to win either the first or the second world war – and Germany came within an ace of winning each of these wars in turn. But the tragic loss that would have been inflicted on the Western World by a German victory would have been the loss of our political and our spiritual liberty. In two fearful wars that have been brought upon us by Germany within the span of a single life-time, we have saved our liberty at an immense loss in infinitely precious human lives. We have had no war with Russia in our life-time, and the Western and the Communist camp are not doomed to go to war with each other, though at present the common threat of self-annihilation in an atomic third world war hangs over us all.

Of course someone might reply to what I have just been saying by admitting the whole of my indictment of Germany but pointing out, at the same time, that Russia, too, threatens our political and spiritual freedom, besides threatening just our pockets. This is true. Yet, if I had to make the terrible choice between being conquered by a nationalist Germany and being conquered by a Communist Russia, I myself would opt for Russian Communism as against German nationalism. I would opt for it as being the less odious of the two régimes to live under. Nationalism, German or other, has no aim beyond the narrow-hearted aim of pursuing one’s own national self-interest at the expense of the rest of the human race. By contrast, Communism has in it an element of universalism. It does stand in principle for winning social justice for that great majority of mankind that has hitherto received less than its fair share of the benefits of civilization. I know very well that, in politics, principle is never more than partially translated into practice; I know that the generous-minded vein in Communism is marred by the violent and intolerant-minded vein in it. I also recognize that Communism in both Russia and China has been partly harnessed to a Russian and a Chinese nationalism that is no more estimable than German nationalism or any other nationalism is. Yet, when all this has been said, I still find myself feeling that the reaction of rich individuals and rich nations in the West to Communism since 1917 has been an “acid test”, to use President Wilson’s memorable words [the phrase is used in his Fourteen Points]. Anyway, it is, I think, indisputable that the reaction in the United States to Communism in and since the year 1917 has been a symptom of a reversal of America’s political course. It is a sign, I think, that the American people is now feeling and acting as a champion of an affluent minority’s vested interests, in dramatic contrast to America’s historic role as the revolutionary leader of the depressed majority of mankind.

The United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 are, I believe, pointers to the same change in the American people’s attitude during and immediately after the First World War. Naturally I realize the urgent practical considerations that moved the Administration and the Congress to enact this legislation. The First World War had just brought to light a disturbing feature in this country’s domestic life: I mean, the persistence of the hyphen. [He means in phrases such as Italian-American and Irish-American.] An appreciable number of United States citizens, and of immigrants who were on their way to becoming citizens, had proved still to have divided loyalties. The American melting-pot had not yet purged out of their hearts the last residue of their hereditary attachment to their countries of origin on the European side of the Atlantic. There was evidently a long road still to travel before the process of assimilation would be completed, and this race between assimilation and immigration might never be won for Americanism unless the annual intake of immigrants were drastically reduced. Moreover, the pre-war immigrants were under criticism not only for still being pulled two ways by divided loyalties; they were also under suspicion of perhaps not being representative samples of the best European human material. The introduction of an annual quota would enable the United States Bureau of Immigration to sift the candidates for admission and to select those who promised to make the best future American citizens, and the policy of restriction was thus recommended by a eugenic motive as well as by a political one.

These considerations, by themselves, would have made some measure of restriction and selection desirable after the First World War anyway. But the main motive for the enactment of the acts of 1921 and 1924 was, I believe, a different one. Europe had just been ravaged by a war of unprecedented magnitude and severity. European belligerent governments had stopped their subjects from emigrating in order to conserve their supplies of cannon-fodder. And, now that the war was over, it was feared in the United States that the flow of immigration would start again, and this time in an unprecedented volume. A flood of penniless Europeans might pour into the United States in quest of fortunes in the New World to compensate for ruin in the Old World, and this probable rush of millions of European paupers to win a share in America’s prosperity was felt to be a menace to the economic interests of the existing inhabitants of the United States, who had a monopoly of America’s wealth at present.

If I am right in this diagnosis of the main motive for the United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924, the American people went on the defensive at this time against the impact of European immigration for the same reason that made America react so strongly against Communism. Both these reactions were those of a rich man who is concerned to defend his private property against the importunity of a mass of poorer people who are surging all round him and are loudly demanding a share in the rich man’s wealth.

What would have been the effects on America’s economic life if immigration into the United States had been left, down to this day, as free as it was during the century ending in 1921? Presumably the present population of the United States would have been much larger than it actually is, but it does not necessarily follow that the average income per head would have been lower. Experience tells us that a country’s total annual product is not a fixed amount. It may be increased by various factors. One of these stimuli to production may be a steep rise in the volume of population through a reinforcement of the natural increase by immigration. For example, the massive and unrestricted immigration into West Germany from East Germany since the end of the Second World War has been one, at least, of the causes of West Germany’s unexpected and surprising post-war economic prosperity. On this analogy it is conceivable that the economic effects of the United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 was contrary to the legislators’ intentions and expectations. While conserving the previous income per head of the existing population of the United States, the immigration restriction acts may have prevented the income per head from rising so fast and so high as it might have done if immigration had been left unrestricted. A continuance of unrestricted immigration might also perhaps have saved the United States from the great depression of the nineteen-thirties. These are hypothetical questions which even an economist might find it hard to answer, and I am not an economist. But I would suggest to you that, whatever the economic consequences of those immigration restriction acts may have been, these economic consequences have not been the most important. The political and psychological consequences have, I should say, counted for more, and these non-economic consequences have, I should also say, been unfortunate for America as well as for Europe.

So long as immigration into the United States from Europe was unrestricted, America’s ever open door kept America in touch with the common lot of the human race. The human race, as a whole, was poor, as it still is; and America was then still a poor man’s country. She was a poor man’s country in the stimulating sense of being the country that was the poor man’s hope. She was the country, of all countries, in which a poor immigrant could look forward to improving his economic position by his own efforts. America did not, of course, even then, offer this opportunity to immigrants from the whole of the Old World. The opportunity was always restricted to immigrants from one small corner of the Old World, namely Europe. All the same, so long as America still offered herself as even just the European poor man’s hope, she retained her footing as part of the majority of the human race. In so far as she has closed her doors since 1921, she has cut herself off from the majority. This self-insulation is the inevitable penalty of finding that one has become rich and then taking steps to protect one’s new-found well-being. The impulse to protect wealth, if one has it, is one of the natural human impulses. It is not particularly sinful, but it automatically brings a penalty with it that is out of proportion to its sinfulness. This penalty is isolation. It is a fearful thing to be isolated from the majority of one’s fellow-creatures, and this will continue to be the social and moral price of wealth so long as poverty continues to be the normal condition of the World’s ordinary men and women.

I will close this first lecture in the present series by trying to drive this point home in a piece of fantasy. Let us imagine a transmigration of souls in reverse. Let us slip our own generation’s souls into the bodies of the generation of 1775, and then set the reel of history unwinding with this change in its make-up. The result that we shall obtain by this sleight of hand will be startlingly different from the actual course of events in 1775 and thereafter. The Declaration of Independence will now be made, not in Philadelphia, but at Westminster. King George III will raise his standard, not at the Court of St. James’s, but at Independence Hall (of course that building will not bear its historic revolutionary name; it will be called “Royal Hall” or “Legitimacy Hall” or some other respectable conservative name of the kind). The other George, George Washington, will take command of his royal namesake’s army. There will be no Continental Congress here in Philadelphia for George Washington to serve. The revolutionary parliament will be on the other side of the Ocean. It will be at Westminster. And the revolutionary leader will not be a George, but a Charles, namely Charles James Fox. The bridge beside which the embattled farmers will fire their shot will not be the bridge at Concord. The flood that it spans will be the Thames. The shot will be heard round the World, but it will be an Old-World shot, not a New-World one.

This nonsense that I have just been talking will have had its use if it has illustrated my thesis. I am maintaining that, since 1917, America has reversed her role in the World. She has become the arch-conservative power instead of the arch-revolutionary one. Stranger still, she has made a present of her glorious discarded role to the country which was the arch-conservative power in the nineteenth century, the country which, since 1946, has been regarded by America as being America’s Enemy Number One. America has presented her historic revolutionary role to Russia.

Is this reversal of roles America’s irrevocable choice? Is it a choice that she can afford to make? And, if she were to change her mind once again, would it now still be possible for America to rejoin her own revolution after having parted company with it forty-four years ago? I shall be taking up these questions in the second and third lectures in this series.

The second and third lectures were called The Handicap of Affluence and Can America Re-Join Her Own Revolution? The first, of which I have quoted all but the opening in these two posts, was called The Shot Heard round the World.

For the first post, I referred to the extract in EWF Tomlin, editor, Arnold Toynbee, A Selection from His Works, with an introduction by Tomlin, OUP, 1978, posthumous.

For this post, ie the remainder of the lecture, I referred to Questia’s online version of America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962, which prints three sets of lectures given in different places in the New World in 1961 and ’62. The quotation from Jefferson is garbled here. I have corrected it. I have presumptively corrected one or two other mistakes: texts on Questia are not page-images and are not reliable. The Pennsylvania lectures were printed in the UK on their own as America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962.

America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962

The shot heard round the world 1

July 4 2008

In public lectures delivered at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961, Toynbee reminded his audience of “the revolutionary tradition which the United States had inaugurated and which she needed to re-join if she were to continue to play a positive role in the world” (EWF Tomlin).

I am just old enough to remember the time when Britain was still rich and strong enough to be the principal target for poorer and weaker peoples’ malice. Baiting is one of mankind’s oldest games, but the victim has to be a substantial one if the game is to be fun. Twisting the lion’s tail ceases to be rewarding if the lion shrinks to the size of a cat; but if a buzzard swells to the size of an eagle, it then becomes worthwhile to pull out the bird’s tail-feathers. It is not easy to adjust oneself to a rapid decrease in one’s wealth and power, but the transition is eased by one consoling form of relief. In being relieved of power and wealth, one is automatically relieved from odium. Experto crede. I am speaking from my own country’s experience in my own lifetime. We have been released from the odium that used to hang round Britain’s neck like the Ancient Mariner’s murdered albatross. The neck that is now adorned by the corpse of that albatross is America’s. When we British look at America nowadays, our feelings are mixed. We feel consoled for the recent change in our position in the world; at the same time we sympathize with you for the change in your position. I do hope that the second of these two feelings will make itself obvious to you in this present course of lectures by a British speaker. In examining America’s situation in the World today, I can say, with my hand on my heart, that my feelings are sympathetic, not malicious. After all, mere regard for self-interest, apart from any more estimable considerations, would deter America’s allies from wishing America ill. If, absit omen, America were to be worsted by her present ordeal, this would be as great a misfortune for her friends and associates as it would be for America herself.

I suppose many of us in this room have stood, more than once in our lives, on the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, and have then crossed the bridge to read, engraved on a bronze plaque, a poem that we already knew by heart. As far as I remember, I first got to know this poem of Emerson’s through being given it, at school, to translate into Greek verse. The school was in England, not in America. The date must have been about 1905. That would be one hundred and thirty years after the day on which the historic shot had been fired by embattled American farmers. That was time enough to have made it possible for English schoolmasters and English schoolboys to look back at what had happened in April 1775 without having our vision blurred by irrelevant national sore feelings. What thrilled us, in England in 1905, at the sound of that shot, was the point that has been put inimitably by Emerson in the eight monosyllabic words of his immortal line. We forgot that the shot had been aimed at red-coats. We remembered that it had been heard round the world. That shot now meant for us, too, what it had meant for your ancestors. I myself, for instance, made my pilgrimage to the bridge at Concord the first time I visited the United States, which was in 1925.

A poet knows how to sum up in one line what it takes an historian at least several pages to recite. Within these last one hundred and eighty-six years the sound of that American shot has been travelling round and round the globe like a Russian sputnik. It had been heard in France before the eighteenth century was over. It was heard in Spanish America and in Greece while the nineteenth century was still young. In 1848, when the nineteenth century was not yet quite half spent, the sound reverberated, like a thunderclap, over the whole of Continental Europe. It was heard in Italy, and Italy arose from the dead. The Italian Risorgimento was evoked by that American shot. The sound was heard in Paris again in 1871; this time the Commune was Paris’s response to it. Travelling on eastward, the sound touched off the Russian revolution of 1905, the Persian revolution of 1906, and the Turkish revolution of 1908. By that date it had already roused the Founding Fathers of the Indian National Congress. I believe, by the way, that the original instigator of the Indian Congress Movement was an Englishman [he is thinking of Allan Octavian Hume or William Wedderburn]. If I am right about this, that Englishman launched a far bigger movement than he can have realized at the time. The Indian Congress Movement has been the mother of all the independence movements in all the Asian and African countries that, till recently, have been under the rule of West European colonial powers. But, anyway, whoever may deserve the credit for having started the Indian Congress Movement, the inspiration of it came from the sound of that American shot as this sound travelled over the Indian sub-continent on its eastward course. By this time it had gathered a speed that must have been greater than the speed of light. By 1911, the year in which the sound was heard in China, it had already been heard on the far side of the pacific, in Mexico. It had already touched off the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

By 1910, the eastward-travelling American sputnik had come round, full circle, to re-visit the New World. But it did not stop at that point. Its momentum was still unexhausted. It sped forward for the second time over the Atlantic to re-awaken the Old World’s seven sleepers with still more thunderous reverberations than it had detonated at its first visitation. In 1917 Russia heard that American sound for the second time, and this time she heard it with a vengeance. Turkey heard it for the second time after the end of the First World War, and this time the sound touched off the radical Westernizing Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Compared with this second Turkish revolution of 1919-’28, the Turkish revolution of 1908 had been half-hearted. In April 1923, just one hundred and forty-eight years after the firing of that shot, far away, at the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, I heard the sound reach Ankara, Turkey’s new capital, where I happened, at that moment, to find myself. There and then, I was given an inkling of what it must have felt like to be in the streets of Paris in 1789 or beside the bridge at Concord in 1775.

The sound did not flag or falter. It went on making its second circuit of the globe. In China, in 1948, its second visitation produced the same enormously enhanced effects as its previous second visitations in Russia and in Turkey. Speeding across the Pacific for the second time, the indefatigable sound called the Bolivian miners to arms and roused the Guatemalan peasants to demand a re-distribution of the land. In 1960 it roused the peasants of Cuba. Fidel Castro must have been surprised and gratified by the attention that he has won for himself in the United States. He has had the advantage of standing so close to the American people’s ear that, by shouting into it, he has been able to make it tingle. He wanted to annoy America, and he succeeded. But, if he had not had the luck to be so close to you, his oratory would have been drowned; for, before the end of 1960, the sound of the embattled American farmers’ shot had crossed the Atlantic for the third time and had roused up the whole of Africa from Sharpeville to Algiers.

At this moment at which I am speaking to you here in this room, I am surprised that I have succeeded, like Fidel Castro, in making my annoying words heard above that other sound’s roar. For, by now, the sound of the embattled farmers’ shot “is gone out through all the Earth”, to quote the Psalmist’s words. The noise has become world-wide and it has become deafening. Jefferson hit the mark when he said that “the disease of liberty is catching”.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.”

Emerson wrote Concord Hymn in 1836 for the dedication of the Obelisk, a battle monument in Concord, Massachusetts that commemorated the contributions of area citizens at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19 1775, the first battle of the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4 1776. Emerson’s grandfather was at the bridge on the day of the battle; their family home, The Old Manse, was next to the bridge; and Emerson is known to have written the hymn while living there. And in 1837, the hymn was sung during Concord’s Fourth of July celebration to one of the greatest tunes ever composed: the Old Hundredth.

America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962

Flying past Sodom

June 25 2008

On March 17 I flew from Kuwait City to Sharm El Sheikh. The plane was tiny, only a few passengers, but it had the usual inflight map screens showing location, time remaining etc.

In an earlier post I had written:

“The problem with […] inflight map software is that you can’t have a long topographical reverie, alternating between the window of the plane and the screen, and test yourself by it, because the screen keeps changing. Mine went through eight or nine different views, most of which told me nothing of interest. So the spell kept being broken. At the moment I needed the detailed screen it was no longer there. It doesn’t allow you to select different screens.

“The displayed information is crude, random and inaccurate. The company which supplies this primitive software could do a serious deal with Google Earth and Google Maps.”

Apparently some airlines do now allow you to track your journey on Google Maps.

Towards the end of the flight to Sharm El Sheikh, the map showed the town of Sodom prominently some way to the north.

It didn’t show much else. For a moment, I thought I was imagining it, but there the word stayed.

Perhaps the map-maker was having some fun. Sodom is not a modern city. It was a town in the most ancient phase of Palestine, possibly on the plain of the Jordan River, possibly south of the Dead Sea, which, together with Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim and Bela (also called Zoar), was destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. The cities have also been called the Pentapolis, and the Cities of the Plain.

The Jordan flows north to south. It starts north of Galilee, on the slopes of Mount Hermon in Lebanon, and forms the entire western border of the occupied Golan Heights. It enters and exits the Sea Galilee and flows down to the Dead Sea. The west bank after Galilee is first Israel and then the occupied West Bank. Most of the Dead Sea (not the southern tip) is aligned with the occupied territories. The east bank is Jordan.

In Genesis 18, God informs Abraham that he plans to destroy Sodom because of its wickedness. Abraham pleads with God not to destroy it, and God agrees that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people in it, then 45, then 30, then 20, or even ten righteous people. The Lord’s two angels only found one righteous person living in Sodom, Abraham’s nephew Lot. Consequently, God destroyed the city.

As Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone, Lot’s wife looked back longingly at them, and she was transformed into a pillar of salt. In Ezekiel 16:48-50 God accuses Jerusalem of being worse than Sodom.

The flight map was probably referring – strangely – to an industrial operation called the Dead Sea Works, which operates in the southern basin of the Sea in Israel: a series of evaporation ponds producing potash. The site is called Sdom (סדום in Hebrew). Nearby is Mount Sdom (הר סדום), Jabal Usdum in Arabic, which consists mainly of salt. In the Plain of Sdom (מישור סדום) to the south there are a few springs and two small agricultural villages.

The picture above shows the destruction of Sodom in the hands of the illustrator, for whom no obvious images of vice came to mind, of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Who are the other figures?

A bank of the Jordan near the Baptism Complex

L’italiano in Turchia

June 9 2008

This post is a really a continuation of yesterday’s.

A few weeks ago a friend asked:

“Are you also blogging as Murat Iyigün?”

Murat Iyigün’s May 13 post, under the heading Donizetti Pașa, read:

“Gaetano Donizetti is the well-known, early-19th century Italian opera composer. His older brother, Giuseppe Donizetti might have established a lesser reputation in the Occident, but he surely made his mark in the Orient.

“How he did is an interesting parable on the Ottoman Empire’s efforts to westernize, at a time when the European economic takeoff was becoming undeniable and the decaying empire was at the grip of an ecclesiastical [ecclesiastical?] identity crisis.

“While the European Industrial Revolution did not begin in full swing until the mid-[surely late-]18th century, the relative decline of the Ottomans and the rise of its western neighbors had begun to yield ubiquitous signs as early as the late-16th century. There is no doubt that the economic awakening of the West and the relative stagnation of the once-mighty Ottomans was a source of cognitive dissonance for the Ottomans. This explains why the prototype reformist Ottoman sultans, such as Osman II and Murad IV, primarily acted upon the premise of western inferiority and their instincts typically involved a stronger emphasis on the Muslim-Ottoman fundamentals.

“As western advances continued unabated and the Ottoman stagnation became undeniable, the distinction between ‘modernization’ and ‘westernization’ started to blur for Ottoman rulers. This is the setting in which Mahmud II begun his ambitious reform plan in the early-19th century, covering all facets of Ottoman life, but primarily focused on the military, political and economic spheres. With the belief in the superiority of all things Ottoman and Islamic long gone, Mahmud’s reform attempts now reflected the ‘dominance of all things western.’ Thus, when his attention turned to revamping the Ottoman military, Mahmud decided that western style military uniforms and a military band would help. This is when the empire tapped a Sicilian named Giuseppe Donizetti.

“Giuseppe Donizetti played a significant role in the introduction of European music to the Ottoman military. Apart from overseeing the training of the European-style military bands of Mahmud’s army, he taught music at the palace to the members of the Ottoman royal family, the princes and the ladies of the harem, is believed to have composed the first national anthem of the Ottoman Empire, supported the annual Italian opera season in Pera (a quaint district of Istanbul), organized concerts and operatic performances at court, and played host to a number of eminent virtuosi who visited Istanbul at the time, such as Franz Liszt, Parish Alvars and Leopold de Meyer.

“By the time he passed away in 1856, Donizetti had attained the Ottoman rank of paşa and he is now buried in the vaults of the St. Esprit Cathedral, near Beyoğlu, Istanbul.”


The friend who sent me this should have said that it sounds like Toynbee. Toynbee would have written it more precisely. (He was probably referring to my ability to drag composers at will into strange contexts.)

Toynbee was interested in the fact that non-Western societies “modernised” themselves along quasi-Western lines in response to the challenge of the “West”. But Murat Iyigün’s post reminded me of Bernard Lewis. I got home and picked up What Went Wrong? There, over three not very dense or piquant pages, was that story of Donizetti frère.

Lewis doesn’t mention that the first opera ever staged in Turkey was Gaetano Donizetti’s Belisario, in 1840.

Or that, later, Paul Hindemith was enlisted by the Turks in the cause of modernisation. He made several visits to Ankara in the 1930s, in the service of Atatürk, to advise on musical education at the State Conservatory.

Giuseppe Donizetti’s presence in Constantinople is presented as evidence of a decline. “When a foreign influence appears in something as central to a culture as an imperial foundation and a cathedral-mosque, there is clearly some faltering of cultural self-confidence.”

Why is Bernard Lewis’s lucidly-written book troubling? What is the dreariness that hangs over it? Something feels not right even before one disagrees in detail. Is it only that one has absorbed the propaganda of the anti-Lewisites? It was patronisingly and provocatively titled. It was published in 2002, post-9/11, but pre-Iraq. It was written pre-9/11, but not “long” before, as Said claims.

Lewis was originally British, and Jewish, but lives in the US. He is the Cleveland E Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. At 92, he may be the world’s oldest somewhat active historian. Toynbee’s biographer William McNeill is 90. So is Robert Conquest. Eric Hobsbawm is 91 today.

No doubt Lewis’s essentially Ottoman, rather than Arab, specialisation made him into more of a historian of decline than he would have been if he had been a true Arabist. He has been called “the neocon’s historian”. Who was his most eloquent critic? Edward Said. Said was attacking Lewis as early as 1978, in Orientalism. At a roundtable in Egypt in 2003 reported by Al Ahram Weekly, the English weekly edition of Al Ahram, a few months before he died, Said said: “Bernard Lewis hasn’t set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I’m told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world.” Though he does speak Turkish and Arabic.

Lewis has attacked the ideas in Orientalism. A grand attack came only last year, with Ibn Warraq’s Defending the West, which I mentioned in the last post. This is, in the end, polemic. Said and Scruton also offer polemic. So does Lewis. But Scruton is at least a trained philosopher, unlike Warraq. The problem with Warraq is that, learned as he sometimes appears to be, he gets carried away. It is beyond ridiculous to call Gérôme – the man who, with Bouguereau, brought French academic painting to a climax in the nineteenth century – as he does in the final paragraph, one of “the great Western artists”: anyone who reads that first would be immediately excused for reading no further. (There is a website – Art Renewal – which tries to make points like this. One of so many US sites and foundations which hijack old European things to make them serve narrow agendas.)

Here is an article by Warraq in the journal I called slightly-suspect in the last post, when linking to something by Scruton in it. And here is an attack by Bernard Lewis on Saidian Orientalism in The New York Review of Books (but you need to buy it).

If you want a sense of Said versus Lewis and don’t want to struggle with Orientalism, have a look at his review of What Went Wrong? in Harper’s, July 2002. It also reviews, with faint praise, Karen Armstrong’s Islam, A Short History. Unlike Lewis, Armstrong has quite a good reputation in the Arab world. Her book had appeared in 2000. It was reprinted in 2002, to cash in on post-9/11.

Said touches on music.

“When Lewis’s book was reviewed in the New York Times by no less an intellectual luminary than Yale’s Paul Kennedy, there was only uncritical praise, as if to suggest that the canons of historical evidence should be suspended where ‘Islam’ is the subject. Kennedy was particularly impressed with Lewis’s assertion, in an almost totally irrelevant chapter on ‘Aspects of Cultural Change,’ [that’s the one that mentions Donizetti frère] that alone of all the cultures of the world Islam has taken no interest in Western music. Quite without any justification at all, Kennedy then lurched on to lament the fact that Middle Easterners had deprived themselves even of Mozart! For that indeed is what Lewis suggests (though he doesn’t mention Mozart). Except for Turkey and Israel, ‘Western art music,’ he categorically states, ‘falls on deaf ears’ in the Islamic world.

“Now, as it happens, this is something I know quite a bit about, but it would take some direct experience or a moment or two of actual life in the Muslim world to realize that what Lewis says is a total falsehood, betraying the fact that he hasn’t set foot in or spent any significant time in Arab countries. Several major Arab capitals have very good conservatories of Western music: Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Tunis, Rabat, Amman – even Ramallah on the West Bank. These have produced literally thousands of excellent Western-style musicians who have staffed the numerous symphony orchestras and opera companies that play to sold-out auditoriums all over the Arab world. There are numerous festivals of Western music there, too, and in the case of Cairo (where I spent a great deal of my early life more than fifty years ago) they are excellent places to learn about, listen to, and see Western instrumental and vocal music performed at quite high levels of skill. The Cairo Opera House has pioneered the performance of opera in Arabic, and in fact I own a commercial CD of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro sung most competently in Arabic. I am a decent pianist and have played, studied, written about, and practiced that wonderful instrument all of my life; the significant part of my musical education was received in Cairo from Arab teachers, who first inspired a love and knowledge of Western music (and, yes, of Mozart) that has never left me. In addition, I should also mention that for the past three years I have been associated with Daniel Barenboim in sponsoring a group of young Arab and Israeli musicians to come together for three weeks in the summer to perform orchestral and chamber music under Barenboim (and in 1999 with Yo-Yo Ma) at an elevated, international level. All of the young Arabs received their training in Arab conservatories. How could Barenboim and I have staffed the West-Östlicher Diwan workshop, as it is called, if Western music had fallen on such deaf Muslim ears? Besides, why should Lewis and Kennedy use the supposed absence of Western music as a club to beat ‘Islam’ with anyway? Isn’t there an enormously rich panoply of Islamic musics to take account of instead of indulging in this ludicrous browbeating?”


I can vouch for the sold-out performances at the Cairo Opera House. That house (1988, Japanese architect) is the successor of the Khedivial Opera House, where Aida had its first performance in 1871 and which burned down in 1971. There are people in Cairo who never miss a chance to hear Western music. They are a very small minority, but are part of the scene, and often young.

Opera, and Western art generally, in the UAE is another subject. It now gets huge investment, far more than any subsidy in Europe, but it’s pretty hard to discern any underlying interest. It seems more a case of buying in, in a very UAE way, more Western luxury goods.

Warraq has a section on Mozart. He doesn’t mention (there would have been no point to be made in doing so) his unfinished opera buffa, L’oca del Cairo, The Goose of Cairo – which sounds like a kind of dry run for Figaro.

Edward Said had a commercial CD of Figaro sung in Arabic. I have a 3-CD box of Cosí fan tutte, also “most competently” sung – but I won’t claim that Arabic ideally suits the music. Opera in the Middle East tends to be in Italian.

In the ’80s I saw a Turkish opera at the Turkish State Opera at the Atatürk Cultural Centre in Istanbul: a nationalist affair. In the early ’90s, an American friend of mine spent several months conducting there.

On May 27 2006 I managed to attend the 250th-birthday concert of Mozart at the Cairo Opera House, played by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. 70% or more of the players were Egyptian.

The WEF “on” the Middle East

June 3 2008

The World Economic Forum’s regional meetings used to have names such as The Middle East Economic Summit. The one in Sharm El Sheikh last month, which I half-attended, used a formula which they first adopted a few years ago. It was “The World Economic Forum on the Middle East”.

Illogical name. The WEF isn’t an event, it’s a foundation. One wasn’t even supposed to call Davos “Davos” in the old days. It was the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. The institution was all. The WEF isn’t pronouncing on anything either, in case anyone took the “on” that way.

There are now three middle easts.

A) Iran, Syria, their non-state allies, Hamas and Hezbollah, and their ideological allies on the street.

B) Israel and the two countries that have made peace with it, Jordan and Egypt: non-oil economies.

C) The Sunni oil economies of the Gulf.

Iraq is poised between all three. Lebanon, a half-colony of A), is torn several ways. The WEF has always pitched its regional tent in B), though all sides are welcome at Davos. I wish it would move away from the second-class resort of Sharm El Sheikh (an Israeli creation, between 1967 and ’82) to a place where large numbers of people struggle and work, but the Egyptian government built a congress centre there for them and it looks set to alternate between there and the Jordanian Dead Sea. But it could go to one of the boom towns. Or into the eye of the storm. It’s in the wrong place. Or perhaps that middle ground is where it has to be.

The Sharm meeting was sometimes impressive. The programme was focussed, but one could wish for the return of some of the Forum’s homelier touches. Bush’s speech made no impression. The Iraqi cabinet did make an impression. Many of the participants reminded one why the Forum is still the non-pareil organiser of such meetings. One or two had one thinking viscerally, with EM Forster’s Maurice, “how unfit they were to set standards or control the future”.

Palestine Remembered

May 9 2008

Records of refugee camps, photographs from the nineteenth century to the present, and oral history at Use with care.

Nakba 60

May 9 2008

Global event calendar

Advice to Hamas

April 22 2008

qunfuzcreation on the turf wars in Iraq. And another offering advice to Hamas. Hamas should improve its “treatment of protesting Fatah supporters and of PLO-allied and other trade unions”, which “has not been ideal. Even if Fatah is the party unwilling to respect the people’s democratic choice, tactics of beatings and intimidation do not elevate Hamas to a much higher moral plane.”

It should drop reference(s) to, and the mindset of, that hoary old hoax the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has influenced the Hamas charter.

“Believing that all Jews are collaborators in a vast conspiracy does not enable us to make alliances with those Jews who have done more than most Arabs to expose the crimes of zionism. I refer to Jewish anti-zionists like the American Norman Finkelstein, who recently met the Hizbullah leadership, or the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, who has carefully documented the massacres and expulsions of 47 and 48. The anti-zionist Orthodox Jews of Neturei Karta believe that the state of Israel is a blasphemy against Judaism, and they campaign for Palestinian rights on this basis. And there were some early zionists, like Ahad Ha’am, who wanted Palestine to be a spiritual centre for the Jews rather than an ethno-state, and who condemned Jewish anti-Arab racism. [I added the links here.]

“Next, Hamas leaders and many other Arabs have used the term ‘holocaust’ too easily to refer to Palestinian suffering, and have at times, like Ahmadinejad, come dangerously close to [Jewish] holocaust denial. […] The holocaust is one of the best documented crimes in history. In every instance that I am aware of, researchers who question the holocaust have an antisemitic agenda.

“I have met ignorant Arabs (I’m not talking about Hamas now) who think that Hitler was a great leader because ‘he stood up to the Jews’ – as if Hitler was a leftist liberator of the Arab nation. Hitler was not a hero but a racist. He didn’t murder Jews because he was an anti-zionist but because he believed them to be members of a subhuman race. This repulsive ideology contradicts morality, specifically Islam’s anti-racist tenets, and potentially targets the Arabs, also Semites, as much the Jews. Fortunately Europe at the time of fascist rule did not have an Arab population. The political descendants of Hitler in Europe would certainly burn Arab babies if they had a chance, just as the Nazis burnt Jewish babies.”

I have met these Hitler-admirers, too. Many Arabs do think as lazily as that. Perhaps they are commoner among the older generation, who are closer to the Second World War, when there were sympathisers with Germany all over the Arab world not necessarily because Germans were anti-Jewish, but because they were fighting the British and French.

“Again, we can see many similarities between anti-Jewish and anti-Palestinian racism. One factor in Hitler’s antisemitism was Jewish prominence in the Communist Party and in the internationalist movement. One key factor in Arab and Western suspicion of the Palestinians is their justified reputation for involvement in politically subversive movements. Both the Palestinians and the Jews have (or had) good reason to be subversive.


“Of course, recognition by Arabs and Muslims of Jewish suffering in Europe is not as morally imperative as recognition by Israeli Jews of Palestinian dispossession, because the Arabs are not responsible for Jewish suffering. But this recognition would help the Arabs to understand why so many Jews support zionism, which was an extreme minority ideology amongst Jews before the rise of fascism. Most European Jews in the 1920s were socialists, not zionists. Most had no desire to leave the European lands of their fathers to settle in a dusty Ottoman province. Many European Jews did not even consider themselves Jews until the Nazis declared them so. Without fascism and the holocaust there would have been no Israel, no nakba [nabka is an Arab word applied to the disasters of 1948]. We should blame Hitler every bit as much as we blame Balfour or Herzl.

“Supporting, or seeming to support, European antisemitism makes the Arabs easy targets for those who claim that Arab opposition to zionism is racist. More than that, if the resistance cleans its language of racist generalisations and illogicalities it will be better able to fight the grotesque euphemisms of its opponents – such as the ‘peace process’ that is really a long version of what used to be called a ‘pacification campaign’, or Condoleezza Rice’s ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’, which were in fact the agonies of mass murder in Lebanon.

“As Nasrallah is wise enough to state, the Jews are not Israel, and Israel is not the Jews. Hamas should state this clearly too, again and again, and at the same time it should continue to build its capacity for resistance.”

He doesn’t seem to expect the Palestinians to produce a talent of the order of Mandela or Gandhi, who would be the focus of the world’s sympathy and solidarity with them and might help them to achieve lasting results.

“And finally, there is a gesture to be made which would reach towards a post-Zionist future: to offer Israeli Jews passports in the future Palestine, or to encourage Palestinians to apply for Israeli citizenship. But this gesture implies an acceptance that Palestine will never be an Islamic state, at least not as conventionally understood. It may be that Hamas will therefore be unable to take this step. We may need to wait for another movement, at a more positive stage of the struggle.”

Bringing a washing machine to Ghassan

April 16 2008

Good Friday

March 21 2008



Jerusalem 1971 and Ahad Ha’am

March 19 2008

Two letters to The Times.

East Jerusalem had been under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War.

March 15 1971


October 2 1971


Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927) – or Asher Hirsch Ginsberg – is sometimes contrasted with Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), whom I mentioned recently. Ha’am’s Zionism can be described as secular and as spiritual, but it wasn’t Kook’s “religious Zionism”. He was born near Kiev, in Russia, to Hasidic parents. Wikipedia: “Ahad Ha’am traveled frequently to Palestine and published reports about the progress of Jewish settlement there. They were generally glum. They reported on hunger, on Arab dissatisfaction and unrest, on unemployment, and on people leaving Palestine. In an essay soon after his 1891 journey to the area he warned against the ‘great error’, noticeable among Jewish settlers, of treating the fellahin with contempt, of regarding ‘all Arabs as savages of the desert, a people similar to a donkey’. He believed that rather than aspiring to establish a ‘Jewish National Home’ or state immediately, Zionism must bring Jews to Palestine gradually, while turning it into a cultural centre. At the same time, it was incumbent upon Zionism to inspire a revival of Jewish national life in the Diaspora. Then and only then, he said, would the Jewish people be strong enough to assume the mantle of building a nation state. Ahad Ha’am did not believe that the impoverished settlers of his day, labouring in Palestine far from the minds of most Jews, would ever build a Jewish homeland.”

He lived for many years from 1908 in London, but died in Tel Aviv. His gradualist and unpolitical approach to Zionism brought him into conflict with Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of modern political Zionism.

Information about the co-signatory of these letters: The Times, August 21 and 31 1984

Jerusalem 1968

March 18 2008

The Times, May 2 1968. Presumably the anniversary was the twenty-year anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, though that fell on May 14. The one-year anniversary of the end of the ’67 War would follow on June 10.


The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding had been founded in 1967 as a response to the Six-Day War.

Three years earlier, the Arab Information Centre in London had reprinted an article by Toynbee which had appeared in International Affairs for distribution as a pamphlet by the Arab League. I posted it here. It begins: “Today, Britain’s relations with the Arab world are worse than those of any other Western country.”

The parade met these protesting Palestinian women in East Jerusalem. They are dressed in a far more western way than one would expect today.