Friday, February 17, 2006

Winston Churchill on Islam

In a book called UK at War with Islam (pdf, 743k), the whackos of Al Ghurabaa use the following quotation from Winston Churchill (The River War, 1899):

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property - either as a child, a wife, or a concubine - must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytising faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science - the science against which it had vainly struggled - the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

This is a well know quotation and it has been widely repeated, both approvingly and disapprovingly. It bears examination for several reasons, not least that it is always good to read any prose, however tactless, that derives from a time when people felt able to say what they actually thought about cultures different to their own.

Churchill distinguished, rightly, between the Islamic religion and its followers. He castigated the former and praised the good among the latter.

He was correct in discerning the connection between Islam and slavery, which still exists more than a century after he wrote and longer after the abolition of slavery in the West. One of the rarely remarked on problems of Islamic migration to the West has been the reintroduction of slavery that has accompanied it. It is to the lasting shame of Western liberals that they have preferred to see this reintroduction than to abandon multiculturalism.

But then in Britain, they have also been prepared to see the death of the universal electoral franchise, less than a century after it was won. In the 2005 British General Election, postal voting enabled Muslim "community leaders" to take people's voting papers and fill them in as they wished. This of course affected women disproportionately severely.

Churchill was also correct to point out the connection between the strength of the West (which he characterises as Christianity, though today widespread secularism makes "the West" a better term) and science. It is worth emphasising that he pointed out that science had needed to defend itself from Christianity in the past. Followers of the campaign to legitimise the two hundred year old fallacy now known as Intelligent Design will be aware that this battle is not yet over.

But in the main, the West has remained within "the strong arms of science". Despite its role, centuries ago, of conserving Classical learning and conveying and enhancing Hindu mathematics, the Islamic world today is poorly educated and economically moribund, producing almost nothing except oil. Creationism has won there, with evolutionary theory taught in none of the Universities or schools in the Gulf states. This theocratic infantilism bodes ill for them, you might think, in what has been touted as the century of the life sciences, with genetics the new silicon. And so it does, with one big "but": the technology that is produced by the West spreads.

Think of bin Laden, that creature of the West, in his flak jacket, with Kalashnikov rifle and satellite phone... even his wealth derived from western oil consumption. As the technology gap narrows, the relative strengths of the two cultures level out.True, the present Iranian nuclear controversy is about the attempted acquisition of decades-old technology, but it is very powerful technology. There have been no qualitative leaps for half a century (missile defense will be the next) and until the next technological shift, we are increasingly vulnerable.

But what Churchill did not foresee, and probably would never, from the fastness of his Victorian certitude, have dreamed could happen, is the loss of confidence in the West, and especially in Europe, combined with the post-colonial mindset of much of the rest of the world.

Here is Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, speaking to the National Aseembly of Sudan in January 2005:
You were the first among the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from colonialism, opening the way towards the total liquidation of colonialism and apartheid on our continent. We were the last to achieve liberation from white minority rule and apartheid, marking the conclusion of the work you had started, of the final abolition of colonialism in Africa.
we should step backwards briefly to look into our shared colonial past, once again to make the point that there are many factors that should propel us towards common action.

I would like to mention is Winston Churchill, who served under Lord Kitchener, and wrote the famous account of the colonising exploits of Kitchener in Sudan in the book entitled “The River War”.

Let me quote a short paragraph from this book, which quotation tells the whole story about what our colonial masters thought of us. Churchill wrote:

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism...(here follows the quotation I began with)"
What Churchill said about Mohammedans was of course precisely what our colonisers thought about all Africans, whether Muslim or not. And this attitude conditioned what they did as part of their colonial project, including what their soldiers, such as Gordon, Wolseley and Kitchener did to those they sought to colonise.
our shared colonial past left both of us with a common and terrible legacy of countries deeply divided on the basis of race, colour, culture and religion.
As of yesterday, Sudan has a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The protracted and destructive war in the South has come to an end, never to return. It is also our firm view that that Peace Agreement and the new Sudan that will be born as a result of its implementation, provide a firm basis for the solution of other conflicts in Sudan, including the conflict in Darfur.

Today, I visited El Fasher in the Darfur region and have witnessed the challenges facing the government and people of Sudan in the area. I am confident that working together with the AU the leadership of this country will fully resolve the situation.

Of course, the situation in Darfur is not resolved, more than a year later. And, although the problem there and in other parts of Sudan, for two decades now, has been that of a Muslim regime attacking animists and Christians, killing some two million of them in the process, Mbeki can blame it on a colonial legacy.

Al Ghurabaa are, by their own lights, honest. They see any opposition to the complete domination of Islam and the imposition of Sharia law as a a vicious attack on Muslims and, within this supremacist philosophy, they are entirely consistent.

Mbeki is another matter. He prefers post-colonial solidarity with regimes in Sudan and Zimbabwe to ethical politics and effective humanitarian action. He will praise the murderers of millions while castigating those who brought life expectancies of up to half again those of the present day to African countries. And he falls back on the comfortable bigotry that can suggest that Churchill was using Muslims as a proxy for all Africans in his writings, instead of examining Islam and holding Islamic regimes accountable for their faults.

Churchill, in fact, wrote extensively about Africans. If Mbeki cared to be more honest, he would find plenty to criticise there. From the same book as quoted above:
The indigenous inhabitants of the country were negroes as black as coal. Strong, virile, and simple-minded savages, they lived as we may imagine prehistoric men--hunting, fighting, marrying, and dying, with no ideas beyond the gratification of their physical desires, and no fears save those engendered by ghosts, witchcraft, the worship of ancestors, and other forms of superstition common among peoples of low development. They displayed the virtues of barbarism. They were brave and honest. The smallness of their intelligence excused the degradation of their habits. Their ignorance secured their innocence. Yet their eulogy must be short, for though their customs, language, and appearance vary with the districts they inhabit and the subdivisions to which they belong, the history of all is a confused legend of strife and misery, their natures are uniformly cruel and thriftless, and their condition is one of equal squalor and want.

Far from using Muslims as a proxy for all Africans, in the very same book that Mbeki was quoting from, Churchill was careful to distinguish Arab Muslims from black Africans:
Although the negroes are the more numerous, the Arabs exceed in power. The bravery of the aboriginals is outweighed by the intelligence of the invaders and their superior force of character.

and to disctinguish both from people of mixed race:
The qualities of mongrels are rarely admirable, and the mixture of the Arab and negro types has produced a debased and cruel breed, more shocking because they are more intelligent than the primitive savages. The stronger race soon began to prey upon the simple aboriginals; some of the Arab tribes were camel-breeders; some were goat-herds; some were Baggaras or cow-herds. But all, without exception, were hunters of men. To the great slave-market at Jedda a continual stream of negro captives has flowed for hundreds of years. The invention of gunpowder and the adoption by the Arabs of firearms facilitated the traffic by placing the ignorant negroes at a further disadvantage. Thus the situation in the Soudan for several centuries may be summed up as follows: The dominant race of Arab invaders was unceasingly spreading its blood, religion, customs, and language among the black aboriginal population, and at the same time it harried and enslaved them.

Churchill was at best patronising about black Africans, at worst he was by contemporary standards staggeringly racist. This is, of course, no more than to say that he was a man of his time, as are we all. However, the picture he described, of the Arab Sudanese preying on and enslaving the black population, is exactly that of today.

In passing, it means that Mbeki was either deliberately lying when he made his speech in Sudan or, more likely, he had not bothered to look at the book he was quoting, perhaps lest it disturbed his comfortable prejudices. There was plenty in this book to fuel a sense of grievance against the attitudes of past European colonists, but it did not include a conflation of the black and the Muslim Sudanese. One day, a powerful African nation will have a leader who is capable of remembering historical prejudices and injustices and of taking action against present horrors. But this is not that day.

Churchill's writings give us, seen through the prism of his racial prejudices, an accurate reflection of the situation in Sudan in the last years of the nineteenth century. A century later, life is basically the same for the black Sudanese. Mbeki is doing nothing to help. Students of the South African President will find nothing surprising there.

But there has been change elsewhere. We now have in Britain, in Al Ghurabaa and other Islamist organisations, the same kind of Islamic supremacists as have faced the people of Darfur, and they are seeking to change British society into an analogue of that of the Sudan.

Yet, far from showing the same kind of bullish confidence in their own culture as Churchill displayed consistently throughout his life, our present ruling classes seem to be unable to do anything except accommodate, apologise and capitulate. They are the flip side of the Mbeki coin, paralysed by post-colonial guilt to the point where they are unable to take effective action against anyone from that part of the human diaspora which found itself colonised by Europeans in the past, even when the people in question are violent supremacists and fascists.

I am glad that the racial prejudice has diminished (it has not disappeared completely, of course). Long may it wither. But I long for another Churchill in this, our time of need.


Arizona said...

Nice piece. I had not seen this Churchill quote before, nor the Mbeki speech referring to it. You've made a neat connection here and a clear analysis. Pity there is not more of this kind of analysis in our mainstream newspapers. Thank God for blogs!

I'll follow yours and link across.

Anonymous said...

Clear analysis, utter nonsense more like it, i think we should probably debate on this as well Peter.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece. I wish more people would take the time to find websites like this. Too many get their news and perspectives from CNN or their local paper only. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Risdon,

It is a bit late to comment on this your post of Feb 06 but as a Muslim I would also like to draw your attenion to Shaw's opposite comment about Islam being the best religion and Muslims being the worst followers !

Anonymous said...

Inasmuch as a religion is as its follower does
distinction between the practise and the practitioner is simply an attempt to evade accountability of the practise.

We live in a flat world.
Either Islam accepts public scrutiny - or it has no place in the public realm.

Anonymous said...

What has religion to do with politics, although this is still the case in islamic countries? The liberals of this country do not live next to a mosque, nor would they ever accept one in their neighbourhoods. These liberals, brothers-in-arms to the fundamentalist, unwittingly give up their freedoms to accept the dogma of a foreign idiology. A welcoming immigration policy will only accelerate this porcess.
Since when do political refugees accrue money to board planes for G8 nations, wouldn't one simply flee to a nation's border?