Revolt of Islam or Revolting Islamicists?
December 13, 2001
Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 433
 Sykes-Picot Agreement, May 15 and 16, 1916 (map showing spheres of influence attached separately in png and adobe format as Ref 5).
 Balfour Declaration, November 2, 1917.
 Letter to Ali ibn Hussain from Sir Henry McMahon (excerpt), October 24, 1915.
 President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points (Delivered in Joint Session, January 8, 1918).
 Map of Sykes-Picot Agreement in JPG Format (34 KB)
The movie A Dangerous Man and Bernard Lewis's essay "The Revolt of Islam," [Comment #433] have two things in common: Both depart from a backdrop associated with the demise of the Ottoman Empire over eighty years ago, and neither mentions the Sykes-Picot Agreement [Ref 1] or the Balfour Declaration [Ref 2]. In the case of the movie, the omission is part of a deliberately understated dramatic tapestry that highlights the effects of these two agreements. The omission in Mr. Lewis's essay, on the other hand, has a darker hue: it simply consigns Sykes-Picot and Balfour to the dustbin of history: they are inconsequential or irrelevant events, unworthy of even mention or cursory explanation.
Why would Lewis, an esteemed historian, do such a thing?
After all, Sykes-Picot (1916) and Balfour (1917) as well as their collateral effects at Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 are incontestable facts.
A Dangerous Man, starring Ralph Fiennes, portrays these effects by dramatizing the humiliation of Col. T. E. Lawrence and Prince Faisal at Versailles. It portrays the utter futility of their struggle for an independent Arab state. The cast of villains opposing Lawrence is a memorable ménage of slime-ball bureaucrats in the British Foreign Office, the pompous Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, as well as the Big Three: the cynical Prime Ministers of Great Britain and France, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau, and the ineffectual albeit somewhat less cynical Woodrow Wilson.
What is truly remarkable about this movie is the degree of intellectual respect conferred upon the audience, which is unheard of in the age of sound bytes and CNN drivel. It assumes the audience does not need to be introduced to the historical events leading up to the dramatic confrontation at Versailles.
In 1915-16 Sherif Hussain, the Governor of Mecca, a descendent of the Prophet Mohammad, exchanged a series of ten letters with Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner of Egypt, making a deal of sorts: If the Arabs revolted against the Ottoman Empire, McMahon promised that Britain would support the creation of a great Arab Kingdom in the form of a confederation of three independent states, including Hejaz [western Arabia, including Mecca], parts of Syria, and Iraq [Ref 3 is a letter dated October 24, 1915; (note the sly caveat relating to the interests of France). The Arab Revolt began shortly thereafter, on June 5, 1916, with Hussain's sons Faisal and Abdallah leading the Arab armies. British military intelligence sent T.E. Lawrence to Mecca on a fact-finding mission and subsequently assigned him as a liaison officer to the Arabs. By force of example, dedication, courage, and intelligence, Lawrence eventually became the de facto leader of the revolt, and with Faisal, he entered Damascus on October 3, 1918, thereby ending the Ottoman presence in the Arab lands. Thus was born the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, one of the most amazing characters to emerge during World War I. During the course of events, Lawrence also became fanatically devoted to the cause of Arab independence, and he represented their interests as a member of the British delegation at the Paris peace conference, much to the annoyance of the foreign office.
The foreign office was upset with Lawrence because the government of Great Britain never had any intention of sponsoring an independent Arab state. On May 16, 1916, almost seven months after McMahon's letter of October 24, 1915 [Ref 3] and three weeks before the Arab Revolt commenced, Great Britain and France concluded the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement [Ref 1], a plan to carve the Arab lands in the Middle East into zones of British and French influence, once the Ottoman Empire had been dispensed with [Ref 5 is a map depicting the intended butchery of the Ottoman carcass]. The British government iced the cake a year and half later with the public Balfour Declaration on November 2nd, 1917, which promised to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine [Ref 2].
Whereas the motives of Sykes-Picot can be easily understood as straightforward, if duplicitous, colonialist machinations, the motives underpinning the Balfour Declaration remain more obscure—some believe it was intended to buy world-wide Zionist financial support to help a cash-strapped Britain pay its bills in WWI, but others argue it was a payoff for Lord Rothchild's assistance in notorious Zimmermann Telegram affair, an intel coup manipulated brilliantly by Admiral "Blinker" Hall, the super-spook of the Royal Navy's Room 40, as a means to shape the domestic politics of America in favor of entering World War I on Britain's side.
One thing is clear, however: taken together, Sykes-Picot and Balfour amounted to a premeditated betrayal of the promise to Hussain and the Arab Revolt. And that betrayal carried forward to Versailles, notwithstanding the outing of Sykes-Picot by Leon Trotsky on November 17, 1916, or the countervailing idealism enunciated by Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points [Ref 4, especially Points I, V, and XII especially].
The producers and actors of A Dangerous Man assume the audience has a working knowledge of the events leading up the final act of the betrayal at Versailles. As far as I can recall, the knife-like effects Sykes-Picot and Balfour remain unstated in the dramatic background, while Lawrence is sliced to pieces by his own government and that of France.
The movie ends with an understated suggestion that the results of oil surveys in the Persian Gulf justified the hatchet job. In this regard, the Sykes-Picot map [Ref 5] also reveals a pattern of British control over what we now know to be oil producing areas, which suggests, with the benefit of hindsight, the fascinating possibility that the Brits were also hosing the French.
But in Bernard Lewis's analysis of the Arab psyche [#433], none of this double dealing matters. In fact, these machinations do not merit a cursory explanatory dismissal
Ironically, it is Lewis who argues that an ignorance of history is one reason why Americans cannot appreciate or understand Osama bin Laden's allusions to humiliations flowing from an event that occurred eighty years ago. Those humiliations—the final defeat of the Moslem Ottoman Empire, the partitioning of its territory, and the demise of the last Moslem Caliphate—shape the current Arab psyche, according to Lewis. They manifest themselves in hatred for the west and America in particular. But Professor Lewis feels no need to explain why he holds this view, given the contradictory fact that it was the Arabs who revolted to throw out the Ottomans. Nor does he say anything about the broken promises behind the question of how the Ottoman territories were partitioned.
Is it not possible that the contemporary Arab psyche is colored somewhat by the memory of this betrayal?
Unlike the omissions of Sykes-Picot and Balfour in A Dangerous Man, the omissions of in Lewis's essay suggest he does not respect the intellect of his audience. Actually, this is a point implied at the outset when he said he does not think the American audience knows much about the history he is discussing.
I found it particularly galling when a movie treats its audience with more intellectual respect than one of America's most esteemed and important scholars. So, I asked my new-found friend Chris Sanders for his analysis of Lewis's argument. Sanders is an American Arabist, who lives and works near London. He has a bachelor degree in political science from Duke University and a masters degree in Arabic literature from the University of Michigan. Since 1979 Sanders has worked in international banking and investment management and has lived in and traveled extensively in the Middle East. He is also a visiting lecturer in international economics at the School of Public Administration of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and the principal of Sanders Research Associates, a consulting partnership located near London, engaged in the assessment of international political and economic risk. His website is http://www.sandersresarch.com
Sanders takes a very different view than Lewis. It turns out I just touched the tip of an iceberg, and as you will see, he goes far beyond the omissions discussed above.
Buckle your seat belts and enjoy the ride; I know I did. After all, isn't this what the free market of ideas is supposed to be about?
By Chris Sanders
The historian Bernard Lewis inspired a generation of young scholars with his book The Arabs in History. It made the early and medieval period of Islamic history accessible and exciting. Unfortunately Lewis's fine scholarship and loquacity has been turned to other, less worthy ends.
His article "The Revolt of Islam: When did the conflict with the West begin, and how could it end?" that appeared in the New Yorker magazine on November 19 is an example. To hear Lewis tell it, Islam has been on a thirteen century long war against the rest of the world and lest we be condemned to another thirteen centuries of the same we had better pay attention. In the process, he covers all the well-worn bases. Lewis helpfully defines the word "jihad" for us, accurately, as meaning literally "striving." Indeed, that is exactly what it means. To strive to do your best in the path of God, whether in commerce, human relations or, it must be said, in war. This startling word has inspired reams of commentary from breathless infidels over the years fearful of the wrath of the soldiers of Allah. In fact, we Christians have an equivalent word, crusade, i.e. to take up the cross—that is to say, the way of the Lord— and it applies to all manner of human endeavour, not just the warfare that first brought it to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. We would surely find it odd to find ourselves defined by it.
Of the importance of examining history, Lewis sonorously tells us that the "Muslim peoples, like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it." Well, it is true that Henry Ford said that history is bunk, but I doubt if this view warrants such a generalization. Somehow, in Lewis's anthropology of the Middle East, the "Muslim peoples" are more sensitive and knowledgeable of historical allusion. He refers to Iranian and Iraqi propaganda during the Gulf War (their Gulf War).
"Both sides waged massive propaganda campaigns that frequently evoked events and personalities dating as far back as the seventh century. These were not detailed narratives but rapid, incomplete allusions, and yet both sides employed them in the secure knowledge that they would be understood by their target audiences—even by the large proportion of that audience that was illiterate. Middle Easterners' perception of history is nourished from the pulpit, by the schools, and by the media, and although it may be—indeed, often is, slanted and inaccurate, it is nevertheless vivid and powerfully resonant."
Frankly, this passage could equally well be applied to the modern United States, where the president tells us he is born again, where a Baptist preacher with a commission in the reserves preaches holy war in his fatigues from the pulpit of the local church, and where the most lucrative tax exemption of all is reserved for religious organizations.
Lewis tells us that the "basic unit" of human organization is the nation. This is a piece of pure nineteenth century balderdash.
The "nation" is a political and legal abstraction. It is certainly not the basic unit of human organization, a title to which the family or the clan surely has better claim. This is undoubtedly why "nation builders" have focused on eradicating these ties, either through forced resettlement, and education (or re-education depending on which side of it you happen to be) or even, in our country, tax preferences, narcotics trafficking and imprisonment. The "nation" is a legitimizing fiction for a system designed to consolidate the mechanisms of finance, coercion and control. Europe's eternal political legacy for good or ill to mankind is the great leap that it made in this development beginning in the late Middle Ages and accelerating in the 16th and 17th century in the dawn of the modern era. The concentration of capital made possible by first the Italian banking houses and most spectacularly the Bank of England and later the Federal Reserve has made possible the advances in the technology of war, transportation and communication that, in turn, made possible the establishment and consolidation of European empire.
For Lewis though, the artificiality of Middle Eastern attempts at nationhood is evidence of something absent, some sort of self-knowledge or awareness that just isn't there. There is "no word in the Arabic language for Arabia" he says portentously.
But Lewis is dead wrong about his facts, which he would know if he had bothered to consult page 1993 of Lane's Lexicon before making such a ridiculous statement. Al-Arabaat was the general name for the Arabian Peninsula, and Al Araba was the name given to the area around Medina where Ishmael, son of Abraham and father of the Arabs is said to have settled. Indeed, a reading of the ever-fascinating Lane reveals a sophisticated and detailed ethnic and place-based self awareness.
How Lewis can conceivably think that Arabs today (or other Middle Easterners for that matter) are lacking in "national" self-consciousness is beyond me. The very idea of this is such a breath taking generality that it defies analysis.
To suppose that Egyptians, for example, lack a national consciousness is simply absurd. Egypt to the Egyptians is the Mother of the World. Governments come and governments go, but Umm Al-Dunya remains. In fact, of course, the region is both ethnically and linguistically diverse. The eastern Mediterranean littoral itself still betrays its Greek heritage, just as it shows the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural consequences of centuries of trade, conquest, and migration. Indeed, in this it resembles nothing so much as Europe, where ethnic and regional consciousness has combined to create the basis for "national" consciousness. One sees too the results of this in Europe, where ethnic cleansing has been used for years to eradicate pockets of cultural and ethnic diversity that have been troublesome for the nation builders.
Mr. Lewis doesn't dwell for very long on Egypt, which is odd considering its importance to the region. Indeed, he mentions it once, in a negative comparison with Israeli per capita GDP. It is not too surprising that he doesn't, really. A country the size of Israel, with a population less than 10% of Egypt's, which has received per capita some $100 per citizen per year for thirty years from American taxpayers and enjoys other direct and indirect subsidies, as well as financial support from the Jewish Diaspora not to mention generous import preferences from the European Common Market, surely ought to compare favorably with Egypt.
Egypt has struggled for decades now with a fecund population, fearsome natural limits to the expansion of its arable land pool, and the reality of a heavily armed, aggressive and subsidized opponent in the form of Israel on its eastern flank. In spite of this, Egypt is the cultural and strategic locus of the "Arab" world. It is the one country in the region that can credibly claim to have bested Israel on the battlefield. It has produced a vibrant film and television industry that is the entertainment standard for the Arab world. It produces a remarkably high per capita proportion of university graduates, and educates young people in its universities from across the Middle East and Africa. Its middle and upper classes are nothing if not sophisticated. Nevertheless, it is not just Lewis who ignores Egypt in regional analyses. This is curious, because Egypt has been in the vanguard of every major social and political development in modern Middle Eastern history. Whither Egypt, goes the Arab world, you might say. Indeed, the 20th century idea of Arab nationalism began in Egypt, where Gamal Abdel Nasser's advocacy of regional unity (in a not dissimilar way to 19th century Germany) inspired the Algerian war of independence and other movements of "national liberation" in the area, not excepting the Palestinians.
To hear Lewis tell it in the New Yorker, you could be forgiven for supposing that militant Islam sprang upon the throat of the world with its mission of conquest by fire and sword. The rest of the world, he tells us, is to Islam "the House of War." The history of the twentieth century certainly does not gainsay this interpretation as the West has made war on and in the Middle East since Napoleon invaded Egypt. But the Islamic conquest was not the sudden affair that many imagine it to be. True enough, the Islamic armies overran Byzantium's richest provinces of Syria and Egypt in the 8th century, but the assimilation of the local populations was a longer, more drawn out affair lasting centuries.
Lewis himself in his other writing, as does the overwhelming consensus of modern scholarship, attributes the success of Muslim rule to more than armed might. The Byzantine imperial system of the 8th century was by all accounts a highly organized system of extortion with a voracious need for greater and greater levies of wealth and human beings to feed its voracious military machine. Neither the populations of Syria nor especially Egypt were content under Byzantine rule. The Muslim conquerors by all accounts retained much of the existing administrative apparatus, allowing the locals a voice in political life, and crucially regularized and lowered the tax burden. Islam was not imposed, though incentives were clearly there favoring conversion.
But the truth of the matter is that none of this is really relevant to events today in Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. True enough, clarity about the past may help to produce a more balanced point of view. But it is annoying to find a scholar of Mr. Lewis's stature lending his prestige to the service of what we can only imagine is a very contemporary political agenda. On the other hand, that is politics.
Since it is politics, we can understand why not once in his New Yorker article does he mention the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promising a Jewish State in Palestine, preferring instead to identify Osama bin Laden's historical allusions with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. This is simply specious and deliberately misleading.
No Arab was sorry to see the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Has Lewis forgotten the British role in inspiring the Arab Revolt immortalized by the legend of T. E. Lawrence or the double-dealing between Britain and France at Versailles Peace Conference?
In fact, the Ottoman collapse offered the opportunity for self-rule, promised by the British and betrayed long before in secret with the Sykes Picot Agreement of 1916 to partition Syria and Palestine between Britain and France. The Arabs of Palestine revolted against the British during the 1920s precisely because of the Balfour Declaration and British tolerance of Jewish immigration. This revolt was so successful that the British granted Arab demands, prompting a truce, and just as promptly betrayed them. Of course, realities such as this conflict with the image of the Zionist enterprise, which at all costs requires the suppression of any facts that might actually lend legitimacy to the Palestinian struggle.
The identification of Arab leaders with Hitler and the Nazis is now done so casually that it merits little comment. Mr. Lewis treads this well-worn path with the assurance of the frequent traveler. It is true of course that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem visited Berlin, and that Arab nationalists, as were nationalists in many countries, were attracted by National Socialism. On the other hand, the inhabitants of Palestine had ample reason to seek aid against the British whom they regarded as an occupier and enemy. What Mr. Lewis has never, to my knowledge, explored, and almost certainly never will are the covert pre-war links between the Haganah and the SS, documented in Christopher Simpson's landmark book, Blowback. Zionists, who were getting nowhere politically in Europe before World War Two, were happy to accept SS funding and support, reckoning this a sensible expedient for boosting Jewish immigration to Palestine. The SS, on the other hand, were just as happy to finance a thorn in the side of the British as they were to find a place to send the Jews to. The war interrupted this relationship, presumably, but politics does make strange bedfellows.
It is, however, when Lewis steps into the modern arena that he really goes off the rails.
He tells us that the terrorists hold Americans in contempt, that they think that we Americans just don't have what it takes to be a great power. He quotes Bin Laden's scornful remarks about the Somalia intervention as proof of this. Furthermore, he quotes a possibly apocryphal memoir of an Iranian hostage taker to the effect that they only returned the hostages because they were afraid of Reagan. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Iran Contra affair might find this hard to believe.
Lewis attacks "American spokesmen (who) refuse to implicate - and sometimes exculpate - parties that most Middle Easterners believe to be deeply involved in the attacks on America. A good example of this is the repeated official denial of any Iraqi involvement in the events of September 11th."
If by Middle Easterners he has in mind the region outside the narrow confines of the Jewish population of Israel he is certainly mistaken, and I daresay that a majority of Middle Easterners probably believe that Israel did it. After all, Israel has made the violation of international law into a national virtue, and the rest of the Middle East has paid the price. General Hameed Gul, ex-director of Pakistan's ISI, for example, flatly asserted that 911 was "an Israeli-engineered attempt at a coup against the government of the United States" in an interview for Newsweek with Arnaud de Borchgrave on September 26. As of this writing, there is no evidence that proves either Israel or Iraq was involved in the events of September 11. If not for these troublesome Arabs, Lewis implies risibly, there would have been no IRA, no ETA or others. Nowhere in his essay does he endeavor to explain the Arab perspective on the political, economic, and colonialist roots of the crisis in the Middle East.
A strategic case can be made for war, but it has little to do with Arab terrorism. The US may not be paper tiger, but decades of financing a military capable of fighting a world war with debt rather than savings have left America heavily dependent on foreign credit, effectively subsidized petroleum (70% of it imported), and unable to compete for export markets in basic industries. There is no "solution" on the table, only propaganda about a "productivity miracle" and a resort by the Treasury and central bank to the printing press. The military, for its part, has shown reluctance to demobilize in the wake of the Cold War, and has taken up such odd jobs as the War on Drugs and "homeland defense," which reads to the layman more like a blueprint for war against our own civilian population than anything else.
Against this backdrop, there is the depletion of the world's petroleum reserves, the output from which will begin to drop at some point in the next few years, if it has not done so already. In the Middle East, the strategic coalition built by America in the late Cold War is coming apart.
America brokered a strategic partnership with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia essentially by drawing them in to the US military-industrial-political structure, using the flow of petrodollars to justify weapons exports as an offset to oil. This "solved" the Palestinian problem for a time, just as it cemented a de facto tri-partite alliance of the region's key military, social and natural resource centers. It also built a bi-partisan political consensus at home by propping up jobs and profits in a defense industry that cannot compete in competitive commercial markets. The rationale for this entire strategy evolved out of the Cold War, but it cannot survive when the proximate reasons for its creation have disappeared.
Most threatening in the short term has been the fact of Israeli policy within the occupied territories, where year after year, negotiations or no negotiations, Labor or Likud, the process of settlement building and water expropriation has proceeded relentlessly. It is hard to look at a series of maps covering the period of the last thirty years without thinking of Ariel Sharon's comment to the effect that there already is a Palestinian state, and its capital is Amman. Israel has a reputation to protect after all, and ethnic cleansing there cannot be done so quickly or so brutally as in Bosnia Herzegovina, but done it will be.
The Second Gulf War exposed all this. Forgotten in the opprobrium heaped on Saddam Hussein over the last ten years is the fact that he was allied with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Yemen, and the PLO. The idea was to dismember Saudi Arabia, with Jordan getting the Hijaz with its holy places, Iraq the oil-producing center of the northeast, the Yemen a satisfactory settlement of its territorial dispute with the Saudis, and the Palestinians a more powerful ally to replace the Soviet Union. It didn't work, but the plan had certain attractions.
Ironically, these may well have occurred to the Israelis and those allied to them in the US. Intentionally or not, it is noteworthy that every "rogue" state is either an oil producer or astride a key existing or potential transportation route for oil. Although Saudi Arabia is not officially on that list, it is hard to avoid the reality that most of those named in connection to 911 were, or are, Saudis. It is also a fact that the Kingdom is more and more deeply involved with the Intifada, providing money, medical care, and increasingly vocal support. In this, the government is most certainly in alignment with public opinion.
With all this in mind, and a map of the Middle East at hand, the outlines of a "solution" are fairly obvious. Saudi Arabia is defensible against all but an American attacker, for the simple reason that the US built the entire security structure there from soup to nuts, and mans a good deal of it. America's (and NATO's) interest is in the oil, worth some $50 billion per annum in sales, and its transport. It is not in the ideological and religious baggage of the holy places in the West [of the country.] If NATO under American leadership garrisons the Gulf, the Hijaz could be placed under the control of the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, a safe pair of hands. This is not so far fetched. The Hashemites did after all control them until the aftermath of World War I. Most of the Palestinians could be relocated to Transjordan [modern Jordan], a la Sharon. Iraq? No problem there. All that is required is the time to mobilize and position the forces to do the job. Turkey, a loyal NATO ally, would be happy with the oil fields around Mosul, although it might complicate Turkey's Kurdish question. All this could be placed under the umbrella of a UN "sponsored" NATO protectorate, lubricated with substantial doses of foreign aide, like Kosovo.
It all sounds so simple. All one has to do to do it is break laws, foreign and domestic, and lie a little. And of course, one needs a pretext. Conveniently, there is one. In the course of America's imperial wars, like the Mexican and Spanish American Wars, there always is.
End Sanders Critique
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15 & 16 May, 1916:
The Sykes-Picot Agreement
1. Sir Edward Grey to Paul Cambon, 15 May 1916
I shall have the honour to reply fully in a further note to your Excellency's note of the 9th instant, relative to the creation of an Arab State, but I should meanwhile be grateful if your Excellency could assure me that in those regions which, under the conditions recorded in that communication, become entirely French, or in which French interests are recognised as predominant, any existing British concessions, rights of navigation or development, and the rights and privileges of any British religious, scholastic, or medical institutions will be maintained.
His Majesty's Government are, of course, ready to give a reciprocal assurance in regard to the British area.
2. Sir Edward Grey to Paul Cambon, 16 May 1916
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's note of the 9th instant, stating that the French Government accept the limits of a future Arab State, or Confederation of States, and of those parts of Syria where French interests predominate, together with certain conditions attached thereto, such as they result from recent discussions in London and Petrograd on the subject.
I have the honour to inform your Excellency in reply that the acceptance of the whole project, as it now stands, will involve the abdication of considerable British interests, but, since His Majesty's Government recognise the advantage to the general cause of the Allies entailed in producing a more favourable internal political situation in Turkey, they are ready to accept the arrangement now arrived at, provided that the co-operation of the Arabs is secured, and that the Arabs fulfil the conditions and obtain the towns of Homs, Hama, Damascus, and Aleppo.
It is accordingly understood between the French and British Governments---
1. That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognize and protect an independent Arab State or a Confederation of Arab States in the areas (A) and (B) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief. That in area (A) France, and in area (B) Great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (A) France, and in area (B) Great Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States.
2. That in the blue area France, and in the red area Great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States. 3. That in the brown area there shall be established an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other Allies, and the representatives of the Shereef of Mecca.
4. That Great Britain be accorded (1) the ports of Haifa and Acre, (2) guarantee of a given supply of water from the Tigris and Euphrates in area (A) for area (B). His Majesty's Government, on their part, undertake that they will at no time enter into negotiations for the cession of Cyprus to any third Power without the previous consent of the French Government.
5. That Alexandretta shall be a free port as regards the trade of the British Empire, and that there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards British shipping and British goods; that there shall be freedom of transit for British goods through Alexandretta and by railway through the blue area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the red area, or (B) area, or area (A); and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect against British goods on any railway or against British goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
That Haifa shall be a free port as regards the trade of France, her dominions and protectorates, and there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards French shipping and French goods. There shall be freedom of transit for French goods through Haifa and by the British railway through the brown area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the blue area, area (A), or area (B), and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against French goods on any railway, or against French goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
6. That in area (A) the Baghdad Railway shall not be extended southwards beyond Mosul, and in area (B) northwards beyond Samarra, until a railway connecting Baghdad with Aleppo via the Euphrates Valley has been completed, and then only with the concurrence of the two Governments.
7. That Great Britain has the right to build, administer, and be sole owner of a railway connecting Haifa with area (B), and shall have a perpetual right to transport troops along such a line at all times.
It is to be understood by both Governments that this railway is to facilitate the connexion of Baghdad with Haifa by rail, and it is further understood that, if the engineering difficulties and expense entailed by keeping this connecting line in the brown area only make the project unfeasible, that the French Government shall be prepared to consider that the line in question may also traverse the polygon Banias-Keis Marib-Salkhab Tell Otsda-Mesmie before reaching area (B).
8. For a period of twenty years the existing Turkish customs tariff shall remain in force throughout the whole of the blue and red areas, as well as in areas (A) and (B), and no increase in the rates of duty or conversion from ad valorem to specific rates shall be made except by agreement between the two Powers.
There shall be no interior customs barriers between any of the above-mentioned areas. The customs duties leviable on goods destined for the interior shall be collected at the port of entry and handed over to the administration of the area of destination.
9. It shall be agreed that the French Government will at no time enter into any negotiations for the cession of their rights and will not cede such rights in the blue area to any third Power, except the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States without the previous agreement of His Majesty's Government, who, on their part, will give a similar undertaking to the French Government regarding the red area.
10. The British and French Governments, as the protectors of the Arab State, shall agree that they will not themselves acquire and will not consent to a third Power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian peninsula, nor consent to a third Power installing a naval base either on the east coast, or on the islands, of the Red Sea. This, however, shall not prevent such adjustment of the Aden frontier as may be necessary in consequence of recent Turkish aggression.
11. The negotiations with the Arabs as to the boundaries of the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States shall be continued through the same channel as heretofore on behalf of the two Powers.
12. It is agreed that measures to control the importation of arms into the Arab territories will be considered by the two Governments.
I have further the honour to state that, in order to make the agreement complete, His Majesty's Government are proposing to the Russian Government to exchange notes analogous to those exchanged by the latter and your Excellency's Government on the 26th April last. Copies of these notes will be communicated to your Excellency as soon as exchanged.
I would also venture to remind your Excellency that the conclusion of the present agreement raises, for practical consideration, the question of the claims of Italy to a share in any partition or rearrangement of Turkey in Asia, as formulated in article 9 of the agreement of the 26th April, 1915, between Italy and the Allies.
His Majesty's Government further consider that the Japanese Government should be informed of the arrangement now concluded.
2 November, 1917:
The Balfour Declaration
[At the time, Balfour was foreign secretary under Prime Minister David George]
November 2nd, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
Sir Henry McMahon:
Letter to Ali ibn Husain,
[McMahon was British High Commissioner in Egypt and Ali Ibn Husain was the Sherif of Mecca during the First World War. In a series of ten letters from 1915 to 1916 McMahon tried to attract Arab support against the Ottoman Empire. The following excerpt is from a letter from October 24, 1915. The implied promise is of British support of an independent Arab state.]
As for those regions lying within those frontiers wherein Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France, I am empowered in the name of the Government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter:
(1) Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca.
(2) Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognise their inviolability.
(3) When the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government in those various territories.
(4) On the other hand, it is understood that the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European advisers and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound form of administration will be British.
(5) With regard to the vilayets of Bagdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognise that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.
I am convinced that this declaration will assure you beyond all possible doubt of the sympathy of Great Britain towards the aspirations of her friends the Arabs and will result in a firm and lasting alliance, the immediate results of which will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the freeing of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke, which for so many years has pressed heavily upon them.
From Great Britain. Parliamentary Papers, 1939, Misc. No. 3, Cmd. 5957.
8 January, 1918:
President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points
(Delivered in Joint Session, January 8, 1918)
Gentlemen of the Congress:
Once more, as repeatedly before, the spokesmen of the Central Empires have indicated their desire to discuss the objects of the war and the possible basis of a general peace. Parleys have been in progress at Brest-Litovsk between Russian representatives and representatives of the Central Powers to which the attention of all the belligerents have been invited for the purpose of ascertaining whether it may be possible to extend these parleys into a general conference with regard to terms of peace and settlement.
The Russian representatives presented not only a perfectly definite statement of the principles upon which they would be willing to conclude peace but also an equally definite program of the concrete application of those principles. The representatives of the Central Powers, on their part, presented an outline of settlement which, if much less definite, seemed susceptible of liberal interpretation until their specific program of practical terms was added. That program proposed no concessions at all either to the sovereignty of Russia or to the preferences of the populations with whose fortunes it dealt, but meant, in a word, that the Central Empires were to keep every foot of territory their armed forces had occupied -- every province, every city, every point of vantage -- as a permanent addition to their territories and their power.
It is a reasonable conjecture that the general principles of settlement which they at first suggested originated with the more liberal statesmen of Germany and Austria, the men who have begun to feel the force of their own people's thought and purpose, while the concrete terms of actual settlement came from the military leaders who have no thought but to keep what they have got. The negotiations have been broken off. The Russian representatives were sincere and in earnest. They cannot entertain such proposals of conquest and domination.
The whole incident is full of significances. It is also full of perplexity. With whom are the Russian representatives dealing? For whom are the representatives of the Central Empires speaking? Are they speaking for the majorities of their respective parliaments or for the minority parties, that military and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole policy and controlled the affairs of Turkey and of the Balkan states which have felt obliged to become their associates in this war?
The Russian representatives have insisted, very justly, very wisely, and in the true spirit of modern democracy, that the conferences they have been holding with the Teutonic and Turkish statesmen should be held within open not closed, doors, and all the world has been audience, as was desired. To whom have we been listening, then? To those who speak the spirit and intention of the resolutions of the German Reichstag of the 9th of July last, the spirit and intention of the Liberal leaders and parties of Germany, or to those who resist and defy that spirit and intention and insist upon conquest and subjugation? Or are we listening, in fact, to both, unreconciled and in open and hopeless contradiction? These are very serious and pregnant questions. Upon the answer to them depends the peace of the world.
But, whatever the results of the parleys at Brest-Litovsk, whatever the confusions of counsel and of purpose in the utterances of the spokesmen of the Central Empires, they have again attempted to acquaint the world with their objects in the war and have again challenged their adversaries to say what their objects are and what sort of settlement they would deem just and satisfactory. There is no good reason why that challenge should not be responded to, and responded to with the utmost candor. We did not wait for it. Not once, but again and again, we have laid our whole thought and purpose before the world, not in general terms only, but each time with sufficient definition to make it clear what sort of definite terms of settlement must necessarily spring out of them. Within the last week Mr. Lloyd George has spoken with admirable candor and in admirable spirit for the people and Government of Great Britain.
There is no confusion of counsel among the adversaries of the Central Powers, no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail. The only secrecy of counsel, the only lack of fearless frankness, the only failure to make definite statement of the objects of the war, lies with Germany and her allies. The issues of life and death hang upon these definitions. No statesman who has the least conception of his responsibility ought for a moment to permit himself to continue this tragical and appalling outpouring of blood and treasure unless he is sure beyond a peradventure that the objects of the vital sacrifice are part and parcel of the very life of Society and that the people for whom he speaks think them right and imperative as he does.
There is, moreover, a voice calling for these definitions of principle and of purpose which is, it seems to me, more thrilling and more compelling than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is filled. It is the voice of the Russian people. They are prostrate and all but hopeless, it would seem, before the grim power of Germany, which has hitherto known no relenting and no pity. Their power, apparently, is shattered. And yet their soul is not subservient. They will not yield either in principle or in action. Their conception of what is right, of what is humane and honorable for them to accept, has been stated with a frankness, a largeness of view, a generosity of spirit, and a universal human sympathy which must challenge the admiration of every friend of mankind; and they have refused to compound their ideals or desert others that they themselves may be safe.
They call to us to say what it is that we desire, in what, if in anything, our purpose and our spirit differ from theirs; and I believe that the people of the United States would wish me to respond, with utter simplicity and frankness. Whether their present leaders believe it or not, it is our heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be opened whereby we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered peace.
It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when they are begun, shall be absolutely open and that they shall involve and permit henceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world. It is this happy fact, now clear to the view of every public man whose thoughts do not still linger in an age that is dead and gone, which makes it possible for every nation whose purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow nor or at any other time the objects it has in view.
We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. The program of the world's peace, therefore, is our program; and that program, the only possible program, as we see it, is this:
I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.
VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.
VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
XI. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.
XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions of right we feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the governments and peoples associated together against the Imperialists. We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end. For such arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to continue to fight until they are achieved; but only because we wish the right to prevail and desire a just and stable peace such as can be secured only by removing the chief provocations to war, which this program does remove. We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this program that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace- loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world, -- the new world in which we now live, -- instead of a place of mastery.
Neither do we presume to suggest to her any alteration or modification of her institutions. But it is necessary, we must frankly say, and necessary as a preliminary to any intelligent dealings with her on our part, that we should know whom her spokesmen speak for when they speak to us, whether for the Reichstag majority or for the military party and the men whose creed is imperial domination.
We have spoken now, surely, in terms too concrete to admit of any further doubt or question. An evident principle runs through the whole program I have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak.
Unless this principle be made its foundation no part of the structure of international justice can stand. The people of the United States could act upon no other principle; and to the vindication of this principle they are ready to devote their lives, their honor, and everything they possess. The moral climax of this the culminating and final war for human liberty has come, and they are ready to put their own strength, their own highest purpose, their own integrity and devotion to the test.