Nation and Colony

The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “PASSION AND POLITICS: The Turbulent World of the Arabs” by Sandra Mackey from Chapter 4 “Nation and Colony” on page 90 and I quote: “The twentieth century was breaking over ancient Palestine. From the west and from the east, roads of dirt and rock climbed up toward eternal Jerusalem. Depending on who gazed upon its thick stone ramparts, the sacred city stood on the hill of God, of Yahweh, of Allah.
The city’s gray outer walls, laid in the sixteenth century by the Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent, defined Jerusalem territorially and Palestine epochally. For four hundred years, time in Palestine had been measured by little more than the slow, twisted growth of the olive trees. Seasons turned into years and then generations as the enduring peasants, wrapped in Biblical-vintage robes, patiently harvested their wheat and herded their sheep. But as the twentieth century began, the rhythm of life altered perceptible. Knots of aliens, Jews primarily from eastern Europe, settled in increasing numbers on Palestine’s coastal plain. Their presence caused disquiet but no exaggerated alarm among their Arab neighbors. What transformed Palestine toward the end of the second decade of the twentieth century was the arrival of the British.
On December 11, 1917, Khaki-clad British soldiers escorting Field Marshal Edmund Allenby covered the last mile before Jerusalem As they approached, the city’s population, shrunken to half its size by hunger, exile, and deportation inflicted by the desperate Ottoman governor Izzet Bey, opened the long-closed Jaffa Gate to the liberator. For the first time since the brief restoration of Crusader rule in the early thirteenth century, Western boots marched across the ancient cobblestone streets of what the Muslims call al-Quds. Allenby, intelligent, sensitive to the ways of the Arabs, perhaps grasped the moment. He came on foot, his head bared. Standing at the citadel below the Tower of David, he uttered the prophetic words “Lest any of you be afraid.” But for the Arabs, there was much to fear.
As British military forces moved through Palestine at the end of World War I, they were greeted as liberators by a people tyrannized by Ottoman rule. Around them hovered the vague promises of Arab independence that had fueled the Arab Revolt. And in them the Arabs for a moment saw their deliverance. But British imperial interests joined by those of France destroyed this promise, not just in Palestine but across the Fertile Crescent.
At the end of World War I, the Arabs moved from the control of one empire, that of the Ottomans, to the empires of the West. But the change involved more than switching colonial masters. The Ottoman Empire, no matter how flawed, carried with it the aura of Islam on which Arab culture rested. The Arabs’ new colonial masters bore with them the abhorrent label of the West. Like new Napoleons, they arrived as occupiers to fuel again the Arabs’ sense of technological inferiority and to prick anew their defensive pride. The West’s rank as master energized the Arabs’ ongoing search for a definition of nationalism that could move the Arab nation from the philosophical to the functional plane. But before the Arabs answered the question of how to find and express their nationalism, they would achieve their unity in anger. In Palestine, Arab nationalism faced both British imperialism and Zionism. In the years before World war II, it was this competition between the nationalism of the Arabs and the nationalism of the Jews that began to switch the great offending banner around which all Arabs circle—Israel. To comprehend the emotion and the rage of Arab unity is to understand from the Arab perspective what happened in Palestine between 1920 and 1948. For it was events in Palestine and the imagery of Western power and Arab impotence that they projected that have fed the passion of Arab unity ever since.
When the Ottoman Empire surrendered in 1918, three forces controlled the Fertile Crescent. The guerrilla army of the Sharif Hussein commanded by his son Faisal held sway from the Hijaz to Damascus. France through influence extending back to the mid-nineteenth century controlled Beirut and the Christian area to the north known as the mountain. With an army stretched from Mosul, in what is now northern Iraq, to the Persian Gulf, Britain was master of Mesopotamia. Allenby’s military forces to the West held Egypt, what is now southern Lebanon, and Palestine.
Each army represented a political interest. For the Sharif Hussein, it was an independent Arab state ruled by his own Hashemite family. For France, it was the pursuit of Middle East territory that rose as much from French chauvinism as French economic interests. For Britain, it was empire. Mesopotamia. promised oil to fuel the British fleet and a transportation and communications link to India. Egypt formed the right flank of the Suez Canal, Palestine the left flank.
In April 1920, the San Remo Conference ratified the secret territorial bargains struck during World War I in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Under the guise of mandates from the League of Nations, Britain took charge of the new entity of Iraq and Palestine, including what is now Jordan. {FOOTNOTE: The mandate system of the League of Nations placed former colonies of the Ottoman Empire and Germany under the supervision of a politically developed country. That country was to prepare the mandated territory politically and economically for independence. Because of the deathblow dealt to the League by the United States’ refusal to join, the mandate system became what Britain and France always envisioned it to be—a screen for traditional colonialism.] With Egypt under British domination as a result of the debt crisis of 1882 and the sheikhdoms along the western side of the Persian Gulf locked in alliances dating back to the nineteenth century, Britain controlled both ends of the Arab world.
At San Remo, France got Syria. On July 14, 1920, General Gouraud, backed by French regulars and Senegalese reinforcements, gave the Emir Faisal four days to vacate Damascus. Deprived of British support, he had no choice but to surrender. French machine guns, tanks, and airplanes rolled over an unorganized Arab resistance to occupy all of Syria and to claim France’s prize from World War I. Intent on strengthening its Christian allies on the Mediterranean, France sliced off western Syria from Tripoli south to the border of Palestine, and attached it to the mountain to create Lebanon. The new map of the Fertile Crescent was now complete. The possessive hand of the West held the Arab world from the Nile to the Euphrates.
As British and French administration snapped into place in the mandated territories and renewed themselves in the West’s existing territories, the Arabs took stock of just what the nascent Arab nationalism that struggled toward life in the nineteenth century actually meant. Discontented with centuries of stagnation, humiliated at being forced to adopt the ways of their conquerors, frustrated by their inability to direct their own affairs, the Arabs reacted with a combination of wounded pride and self-condemnation. At first, the Arabs resisted and then most grudgingly submitted to imperial domination, transferring to their new Western masters the habit of acquiescence and obedience nurtured by centuries of Ottoman rule. At the same time, imprecise and ill-defined Arab nationalism labored to birth some viable framework in which the cultural and ethnic unity of the Arabs could find a political focus. Flailed both by the Arabs’ own traditionalism and the West’s model of modernization, Arabs faced their own confusion. As a result, Arab nationalism swung between the simple—a total rejection of the West—and the complex—a well-devised philosophy in which the Arabs could embrace aspects of the West without debasing themselves either personally or culturally. Through the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the debate raged as the Arabs tried to release themselves from Western colonialism. And it followed them into independence. The Arabs have yet to find either the philosophy or the formula to answer the emotional demands of Arabism.
Ironically, the Arabs, who have yet to develop strong political institutions, breathe politics. In the days before the American University of Beirut was forced to exist on a battlefield, political groups ranging from Islamic fundamentalists to Marxists chased their political destinies across the tree-shaded campus and into the coffee shops that populated the streets on its landward perimeters. There was no better way to spend an evening than to sit and listen as the political rhetoric flowed. Fact, perception, and fantasy swirled through rooms choked with cigarette smoke exhaled by the products of a culture that celebrates verbal prowess. The Islamic fundamentalists stayed hidden in tightly controlled cells, but everyone else competed for an audience. Over my time in the Arab world, I have heard Maronite Christians carefully explain how they belong with the West, how they came out of the moutnains to meet the first Crusaders and led them to Jerusalem, and how their nationalism can only be expressed in terms of separation from the Arabs. I have listened as Nasserites search for a philosophy that can take the place of the dead Nasser’s personal charisma. I have followed discussions of Arab socialism and the Arab version of Marxism. And over and over, I have watched as the emotional appeal of Arab nationalism grips men and women trying to find Arabism’s response to the West.
The period between World War I and World War II called for an Arab awakening and provided a fertile proving ground for the ideas of Arab nationalism. It was Arab writers and thinkers rather than statesman who developed these theories of Arab nationalism. They came from different perspectives and took different paths of thought, yet all propagated a vision of an Arab renaissance. Out of this river of Arab thought, several main currents formed. Two still play a role in Arab political thought.
Between the two great world wars, the Islamic fundamentalists continued to hold that the Arabs’ salvation lay in Islam. In 1928, a charismatic Egyptian schoolteacher named Hasan al-Banna founded the Ikhwan al-Muslimin, or Muslim Brotherhood. Burning with the fire of a reformer, al-Banna challenged his followers to reject the secularism of Islamic society and return to the original teachings of Islam. Al-Banna moved beyond rhetoric to build a militant, highly organized movement dedicated to sweeping away secular government and Western influence. Initiation into the brotherhood was a solemn ritual in which the neophyte was taken into a darkened room to confront the Koran and a revolver. Plugged into networks of cells, new members were indoctrinated about the degeneration of Arab society and turned into cadres of idealists girded to do battle with corruption and oppression. Exactly what that new order was in social, economic, and political terms remained vague. When Hasan al-Banna was asked about the Muslim Brotherhood’s explicit policies, he would reply with such statements as “Our program is the Koran” or “Our program is Islamic government. When the secular government is overthrown we will consider what to do in the light of existing circumstances. Until then, we are not going to be pinned down by details.”
In the 1940s, the Brotherhood turned its paramilitary units to terrorism against Egyptian government officials and foreigners. In the period of its greatest power, membership reached half a million activists with unknown numbers of members and sympathizers in other Arab countries. Most were unskilled and semiskilled workers or the poorer class of students, those most exploited by Egypt’s haute bourgeoisie and their European allies.
The Brotherhood planted cells everywhere—factories, schools, and trade unions. It owned business enterprises, including textile and insurance companies. It ran a publishing house that papered the country with tracts and pamphlets. It operated paramilitary camps and provided a wide array of social services. It was therefore a significant threat to the government of King Farouk. At 9:00 P.M. On February 12, 1949, Hasan al-Banna was killed on Queen Nazli Street by two policemen in civilian clothes. The leader was dead but the movement went on.
In the name of Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954 and a radical offshoot succeeded in killing Anwar Sadat in 1981. In 1982, Muslim Brothers in Syria came close to overthrowing Hafiz Assad. In 1990, they won a sizable block of seats in Jordan’s parliamentary elections. The strong currents of fundamentalism that run through the Arab world in the 1990s continue to be agitated by the ideas of Hasan al-Banna. Whether the Brotherhood exists as a single organization operating in different countries or whether groups outside Egypt seeking to replace secular government with the rule of Islam simply adopt the Ikhwan’s name is unclear. Yet whether connected organizationally, all Muslim Brothers are linked ideologically. Austere, puritanical, xenophobic, the Muslim Brothers envision the Islamic ummah encompassing all believers. Only in a nation transcending politics can Muslims build the community decreed by Muhammed and escape the satanic tools which they perceive the West manipulates the Islamic world.
If the Islamic fundamentalists were on one end of the religious spectrum, the Arab Christians were at the other. Arab Christians have always felt awash in the sea of Islam. For this reason, much of the intellectual vigor of Arab nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s came from Christians, primarily the Greek Orthodox. [FOOTNOTE: The Maranites of Lebanon and to a lesser extent the Catholic Melkites rejected Arab nationalism, finding their protection from the overwhelming numbers of Muslims in their strong ties to France.] They, after all, held a vested interest in turning Arab nationalism away from Islam in the direction of the Arabs’ common language and culture. Therefore Christian intellectuals often argued that the Arabs, made up of Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and other Semitic races, were united more by a common history, language, and culture than by religion. And it was these commonalities that muted the distinction between Christian and Muslim, between Druze, Sunni, and Shiite. In 1938, the Lebanese writer Amin al-Rihani summed up this Christian viewpoint: “The Arabs existed before Islam and before Christianity. Let the Christians realize this, and let the Muslims realize it. Arabism before and above everything.”
Christian intellectuals spawned the two dominant ideologies in Arab nationalism to emerge before the end of World War II. The first, the Parti Populaire Syrien (PPS), or Syrian National Party, was founded in the 1930s by Antoun Sasdeh, a thirty-year-old Greek Orthodox teacher from Syria. A secularist who demanded the separation of church and state, Saadeh’s political theory revolved around the concept of Syrian national identity that encompassed the original inhabitants of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, part of Turkey, and the island of Cyprus, the “star within the Crescent.” To escape the threat of Islam’s numbers, PPS’s Greek Orthodox ideologues postulated that the people living in this geographical area of “Syria” constituted a unique ethnic unity. Saadeh reasoned that the Syrians were not Arabs but an ethnic fusion of the Canaanites, Akkadians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Arabaeans, Hittites, and Mitannis that was well formed by the time the Arabs arrived in the seventh century A.D. It was in this context that PPS ideology called for a single Syrian state rather than a state embracing all Arab people as the Arab nationalists envisioned.
The PPS commanded more notoriety than its numbers warranted. And by the end of World War II, its ritualistic greeting “Long Live Syria” had waned. In 1949, Antoun Saadeh was executed for masterminding an attempted coup against another coup in 1961 before fading into political insignificance. In 1982, the PPS claimed another moment when it was implicated in the assassination of Lebanon’s newly elected president, Bashir Gemayel. Today it is little more than one of the minor players in the political chaos in Lebanon.”


LaVern Isely, Progressive, Independent, Overtaxed Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members


About tim074

I'm a retired dairy farmer that was a member of the National Farmer's Organization (NFO). Before going farming, I spent 4 years in the United States Air Force where I saved up enough money to get my down payment to go farming. I also enjoy writing and reading biographies and I write about myself as well as articles and excerpts I find interesting. I'm specifically interested in finances, particularly in the banking industry because if it wasn't for help from my local Community Bank, I never could have started farming which I was successful at. So, I'm real interested in the Small Business Administration and I know they are the ones creating jobs. I have been a member of Common Cause and am now a member of Public Citizen as well as AARP. I have, in the past, written over 150 articles on the Obama Blog ( and I'd like to tie these two sites together. I'm also on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and find these outlets terrifically interesting particularly what many of these people did concerning the uprising in the Arab world. I believe this is a smaller world than we think it is and my goal is to try to bring people together to live in peace because management needs labor like labor needs management. Up to now, that hasn't been so easy to find.
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