At this uneasy time in the world’s history I believe it is important for us all to endeavor to try to understand some of the reasons that have caused anger to increase among certain groups (not only Muslims) during the past century. It would take many books to detail all the reasons for anger. My article gives a personal glimpse into some of the reasons.
While outwardly supportive of our troops role in World War 1, former Australian Premier of New South Wales, Prime Minister of Australia and then first High Commissioner to London (for two terms) during World War 1, Sir George Houstoun Reid, my grandfather, held private reservations about the ANZAC deployment to the Dardanelles in 1915. He received a letter at the time from his friend, the First Sea Lord in the British War cabinet, Lord ‘Jackie’ Fisher, who resigned from his position in disgust at the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill’s (as Fisher saw it) misguided push for the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign.
Reid traveled to Egypt in early 1915 where he inspected the Australian troops and was highly impressed with their standard of training before they embarked for the Dardenelles. However my father told me that his father, George Reid, was extremely concerned about the concept of the Dardanelles because he believed it was a misguided attempt to fight the Germans through the back door and was not sufficiently thought through. Part of the basis of Reid and Fisher’s friendship was Reid’s agreement with Fisher that the war could have been shortened considerably if Fisher’s plan - to invade German soil from the Baltic and thus divide the enemy forces - had been put into action instead of the Dardanelles venture.
It is possibly not historically recorded but my father always said that his father had many worries about this and he certainly discussed his concerns confidentially with close friends including Lord Fisher. Fisher wrote to Reid when the tragedy of the Dardanelles was unfolding - (I found this letter in my parents’ attic in their Sydney home when my mother died in 1987 and I had it verified by the present Lord Fisher; it is now in the National Library in Canberra). Fisher stated in his letter: ‘The inexcusable criminal disaster of the Dardanelles and no punishment for the butcher politicians - Yours till hell freezes’ - (signed) Jackie Fisher. Fisher also wrote at the end of this letter ‘Please burn and destroy’. One would only write this kind of confidential letter to a close friend. George Reid, as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, would have been acutely aware of the growing number of casualties among the Australian forces on the peninsular. However I am certain that my grandfather would have been extremely proud of the positive symbolism of ANZAC mate-ship, galvanized under tragic circumstances, which has emerged as symbolic of our Australian way of life. I trust today all Australians will remember this and never seek to vilify their fellow-Australians who are Muslims or of ‘Middle Eastern appearance.’
I find it ionic that Lord Fisher resigned over the Dardanelles campaign when it hugely benefited the British navy in the long run. Was this because, as was possibly Churchill’s aim, to reduce the Turkish army as much as possible on the peninsular (after the failure of the British navy in the area) so that a British victory in the Middle East would be made easier, giving access to oil? Fisher had been involved earlier (as first Lord of the Admiralty) in arranging for the British fleet to change from coal to oil. This victory also prevented the Germans from having access to this oil.
After the 1918 Allied victory in World War 1, many Arabs to this day believe they were betrayed by the Treaty of Versailles, after which the French and British divided up their lands in order to control the area. Many Arabs fought alongside the British and French against the Turks, on the understanding that they would gain freedom from Ottoman oppression, but they found they were not free. As T.E. Lawrence said to Churchill’s private secretary in 1921, ‘All question of pledges and promises ... are set aside.’ The Kurds, who at first fought the Turks and then the British, to try to achieve independence, were gassed into submission by the British. Geoffrey Simons notes in ‘From Sumer to Sadddam’ that Churchill stated at the time, ‘I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison against uncivilized tribes.’ Colonel Boussett, a medical officer with the Royal Artillery, noted in his diary, ‘The burning of Arab villages makes a wonderful sight at night.’ Wing-Commander Gale (30 Squadron, RAF, Iraq) during an interview (Channel 4 – London,1992) titled ‘Secret History’, spoke of ‘the gutter rats who are Arabs and they were gutter rats.’ Wing-Commander Arthur Harris – head of Bombing Command stated, ‘The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage ... Within forty-five minutes a full sized village can be practically wiped out ... Iraq and Kudistan are also useful laboratories for new weapons; devices specially developed by the Air Ministry for use against tribal villages.’
Simons also writes, ‘Many discoveries of oil in the region ensured that the area would long be the focus of imperial ambitions. The oil bounty that should rightly have liberated the Arabs, was destined to lead to their subjugation and humiliation.’
The area known as Iraq (for example), was formerly an Ottoman province and was made into a country by a line being drawn by the British on a map of the area. This not only meant that oil would be available but also the British would secure the gateway to the East which they required to maintain their hugely lucrative trade in India and the far East. By 1904 India had become the largest consumer of British goods. Only a limited amount of Iraq’s oil revenue was given to Iraq by the controlling powers for the benefit of the Iraqi people until the latter part of the 20th century. Do the insurgents in Iraq believe that there will be further exploitation of Iraq’s oil because the Americans may not permit Iraqis to run their own oil industry?
Simons notes, ‘The oil rich nations of the Middle East have not yet escaped from the predatory designs of the powerful Western nations in an energy-hungry world.’ He also points out that ‘what had originally been the Ottoman province of Syria was divided up into four separate political entities – Palestine, Lebanon, Transjordan and a much reduced Syria, for the advantage of Britain and France. Major Arthur Charles Olden commander of the Australian 10th Light Horse Regimen, accepted a surrender of the Turks in Damascus from Emir Said. I believe that many of the Arab notables were already in charge of much of the city but the Australians were made hugely welcome by the continuous shooting into the air. It was Australian, Lt-General H.E.Chauvel, who eventually brought to a stop the ferment of looting and lawlessness by an impressive parade of his battle-stained mounted troops along the streets of the city.
In 1915 the Australian government was promised by the British that it would be involved ‘most fully’ in discussions of any future peace treaty. But when the time came to discuss the points contained in the Treaty of Versailles, the Australians were not even informed, so the pledge was broken. Several of my forebears and my friends’ forebears served in Light Horse regiments in the Middle East during World War 1. These soldiers believed they were fighting to help liberate the Arabs so what actually transpired deeply concerned and puzzled them.
Western occupation of lands in the area continues to anger many people including Muslims, Christians and secular Arabs world-wide.
However, I believe it is important to stress, that many of my Iraqi-Australian friends realized that there would be a high price to pay in blood for the liberation of their country, but they believe that freedom and democracy are certainly what they hope for and stress that they will be grateful to the West if this is finally achieved.
There remain reservations about certain aspects of the hoped for fair and free democracy. Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi writer, expresses his concerns in his article, ‘Fiddling while Baghdad Burns’ (The Guardian Weekly 8.9.05) stating, ‘the constitution may get through the required process of votes and referendums but Iraqis will not have the democratic constitution they hoped for after years of tyranny and oppression.’ He blames this on the fact that there is an attempt to impose deadlines on Iraqis ‘merely to suit what is convenient for the Bush administration. Six months delay? No that would be bad for America’s image. It is not possible for the most important questions facing Iraq’s future to be solved with a few days.’
Tom Switzer, Editor of The Opinion Page - The Australian, in his skeptical, perhaps anger-provoking, article, ‘Mugged by Reality Again’ (Quadrant, June 2005), also sounds a very different warning bell, ‘There is a very real possibility that the more democratic the Middle East becomes, the more Islamic, authoritarian and anti-American it will be.’ Earlier in his article he writes, ‘In 2003, President George W. Bush said, “For too long many people in the region have been victims, they deserve to be active citizens.” But what if active citizens in Palestine elect a Hamas leader? What if active citizens in Saudi Arabic prefer an Islamic Zealot like Osama Bun Laden to a moderate reformer like Crown Prince Abdullah? What if active citizens in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon bring into power jihadists and terrorist groups like The Muslim Brotherhood or Herzbollah? And what if the dominant Shi’ite political figure in the new Iraq government, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafar, seeks guidance from Iran’s Mullahs?’
I find it extremely moving that when the tragic stampede among a large Shi’ite procession near the Khadimiya Mosque was claiming so many lives in Baghdad recently, Othman al-Obeydi, a nineteen year old Sunni student, rescued a number of people who had fallen into the Tigris River, and then, exhausted by his heroic efforts, was drowned himself. Ibrahim al Jaafari paid tribute to this young man, saying, ‘by his unselfish actions this man showed that we are all brothers.’ In the view of many Iraqis, al-Ubaydi has become a martyr to national unity.
George Reid received a hand-written letter from Lord Balfour in 1917 (also in the attic box) stating ‘the British government is considering with favor the idea of a homeland for Jews in Palestine providing the rights of the Palestinians are never, ever infringed.’ The last words under-lined three times in ink.
I sensed there could be trouble ahead over this issue when I first visited the Middle East with my husband in the 1970s. For example, Palestinians (Christian and Muslim) would say emphatically ‘our rights are continually infringed.’ There is on-going intense anger about this issue. I was in Lebanon a few days after the 1982 Sabra – Shatila Palestinian refugee camp massacres in Lebanon. I have never seen such agony and despair as was etched on the faces of those who survived, many of whom I visited in hospital.
Ali Kazak, Head of the Palestinian Delegation to Australia, argues in his article ‘Israel’s Threat to Achieving Real Peace’ (The Age, Melbourne 5.9.05}: ‘While the world keeps talking about the new opportunity presented by the Gaza evacuation, Israel is unilaterally imposing its own agenda. As Israel was completing its evacuation of 8000 settlers in the Gaza Strip, and parts of the Northern West Bank, it embarked on plans to make room for 25,000 more settlers in Maale Adumim, a settlement East of Jerusalem. If enacted, this plan will mean an end to the Two State Solution.’ Ali Kazak states at the close of his article:’the Palestinian leadership is committed to returning immediately to the road map for peace which includes a freeze on all settlement construction.’
It is also important to remember that the United States in order to fight the influence of the former USSR, had supported the conservative regimes in the Middle East over the second half of the last century, and, indirectly, paved the way for some religious movements to become more dominating.
Turning to Egypt: The West led by the USA did not support liberation movements particularly in Egypt under Nasser. The various actions and reactions which occurred during this period, resulted in frustrating Nasser and thus he was pushed to the Soviet camp which was happy to use him as ammunition against Western propaganda.
Two incidents were of paramount importance and had wider implications on the international political scene.
1. The refusal of the West to supply Egypt with modern weapons so as to modernize the Egyptian forces. This explains why Nasser turned to the Eastern block, lead by the Soviet Union, to fulfill his dream of a modern army.
2. The withdrawal by the West of the promised financial and technical aid required to build the Aswan Dam, a project which became a national symbol of identity with the then support of the Soviet Union.
Hence the resentment towards the West has increased, with what appeared to be Western disregard for the aspirations of the people of the whole area and the occupation of their lands. Have these frustrations and anger created a world-wide alliance? Have what are perceived by many (rightly or wrongly) to be the decadent horrors of Abu Ghraib and the possible injustice metered out to some of those detained at Guantanamo Bay, exacerbating this anger?
Has, what appears to be the case, the apparent interference in the curriculum in Muslim teaching institutions, also increased the anger? I agree with the political theorist, Chandran Kukathus who argues in his book, ‘The Liberal Archipelago’: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom’, ‘a society is free to the extent that it is prepared to tolerate in its midst associations which differ or dissent from its standards or practices.’ Is our fair and free society now being put to the test here in Australia and also in other ‘free’ nations?
Now the new Australian counter-terrorism laws have been agreed to by the Prime Minister John Howard and the State Premiers (27.9.05), it is difficult to judge to what degree they may undermine our civil liberties. As Carlyle. A Thayer, Professor of Politics and Director of the UNSW Defense Studies Forum at University College, Defense Force Academy, in Canberra, points out (Canberra Times 14.9.05) , ‘Judicial checks are imperative to stop terror laws being misused.’ He adds, ‘All the Prime Minister’s proposals must carefully balance the liberty of the individual with the need to protect the community. This can only be done by ensuring there are appropriate independent judicial checks on the misuse of power and the right of aggrieved citizens to seek redress and compensation when these checks fail.’
At the Anti-Terrorism Summit held in Sydney (11.8.05) which included Muslim leaders, other Muslims and non-Muslims, everybody expressed their commitment to the shared vales of Australia and terrorism was condemned.
Geoffrey, my husband, was a Professor in the Department of History at the Australian National University and an expert on counter-insurgency. During my many visits with him to world trouble-spots, I often observed signs of anger and, as some people described it, disappointment with the West and a concern that (in their view) the West often appears to display self-serving double standards. This was also apparent when talking with some academics and others in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Africa. Western countries are still seen by many to have sought to divide and rule and then exploit their (former) colonies. Many see Westerners to this day as behaving in a self-important, ‘superior’ and over-bearing manner. However in many of these countries, including Iraq, and other Arab countries, as well as former colonies, many are grateful to the West for a number of things including unproved educational institutions, medical standards, and also the introduction of public service and judicial systems. My father’s friend, Sir Robert Drew, (an Australian) was head of the British Army Medical Service when he was seconded by the Foreign Office to set up the modern school of surgery in Iraq.
When I first visited Iraq in the early 1980s, he gave me letters of introduction to some of his former students who were then among Iraq’s leading doctors. They were full of praise for the considerable help received for medical instruction and facilities. Sir Robert was full of praise for his many Iraqi friends and colleagues. He and Lady Drew always told me of how much they enjoyed their Iraqi friends and how wonderfully generous, wise and creative they found them to be.
However, the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the First Gulf War have had tragic consequences for so many and has therefore certainly increased anger.
The Iraqi Health Minister Umeed Mubarak made it clear in 1993 that more than 300.000 people had died because of the sanctions and with 4000 children under five dying each month. This has amounted to a human tragedy.
Professor Clive Williams, an expert on Counter-Terrorism at the Australian National University, wisely states in his review of (University of Chicago) Associate Professor Robert’s Pape’s book ‘Dying to Win – The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism’— ‘Many of the those involved in terrorist cells do not necessarily hate Western values or Western society but are angered by Western strategic policies.’ Williams stresses that Pape’s thesis is that Bush’s America has misread the primary motivation of suicide bombers. The faulty premise being that suicide terrorism, and Al Qaeda terrorism in particular, is mainly driven by an evil ideology based in Islamic fundamentalism. Williams points out that Pape makes it clear that since 1980 more than half the suicide attacks have been secular and that nearly all have not been about religion but about a specific strategic purpose, namely to compel modern democracies (including Israel) to withdraw their military forces from territory and territories the terrorists consider to be their homeland or lands they prize greatly. Such groups are much weaker than those occupying their lands, so they assess how acts of terror might punish the stronger party and influence its policy.
Martin Bryant (The Guardian Weekly 8.9.05) writes that Tony Blair has constantly said that the London bombers were motivated not by a sense of injustice but by ‘a perverted and poisonous representation of Islam’.
Although Iraq was clearly used as a pretext by extremists, Blair said that he believed it was ideology that drove them to kill. Downing Street issued a list of atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq to reinforce his point. This claim was later undermined by MI5, which stated that ‘Iraq was the dominant issue for extremists.
Professor Williams also points out that Pape stresses that we need to find a long-term solution that does not involve military occupation and will not compromise our core strategic interest in Middle East oil. Pape sees the best US solution as one of returning to a policy of ‘offshore balancing’ while the US works towards energy independence. He argues that a return to that policy would secure US interests without spawning a new generation of suicide terrorists.
I am a descendant of Scottish Highlanders so I am well aware of the tragic situation the Highlanders faced during the Highland Clearances in the 18th century. They endured slaughter and dispossession of their lands by the English so the Highlands could be used by the English to extend their flocks of sheep. Many of those Scots who survived and came to Australia as early settlers, toiled under extremely challenging conditions in the outback. Their dedicated work contributed immensely to our now prosperous Australia. The present generation still sometimes feels anger about what happened but continues to contribute positively.
However as an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and a believer in non-violence, I am totally against terrorism. I decided more than twenty-five years ago, after becoming aware of growing anger in the places I have visited, to endeavor to build bridges of understanding, particularly with the Arab world (and also in other areas) through poetry, which, I believe transcends racial, religious and political differences and brings people closer together in harmony and understanding.
I was inspired by Salma Khadra al Jayyusi – Palistinian poet and academic - who I met in Syria in the 1980s, when she affirmed something in which I firmly believe, that the misunderstanding of Arabs by the West would be remedied by scholarly translations of Arabic literature. This is one reason I worked so hard to produce ‘Feathers and the Horizon’, an anthology of Arabic poetry (Leros Press, Canberra 1987). I came to understand, during my many visits to the Middle East to speak at universities about Australian literature, that Arabic poetry, stretching back to pre-Islamic times, is immensely rich but is not readily available in the West.
I agree with Salma that poetry humanizes the ‘other’ and thus brings people closer together in understanding. I believe it is immensely important for the West to learn more about the creative spirit of the Arabs through their poetry.
When invited to speak at a university in Tunisia a few years ago, I asked a very wise senior academic, ‘What is your definition of a truly civilized person?’ He answered without hesitation, ‘The one who makes the leap to the other mind’ then he wisely added ‘this includes making the leap to the minds of those who one may consider to be one’s enemies.’
I consider it would be an excellent idea for those who are angry or representatives of those who are angry, plus those who understand the reasons for the anger and those who are endeavoring to understand the reasons for the anger and also the leaders of countries now feeling threatened by this anger, to meet and discuss these problems at an International Forum. Australia has a Constitution (which George Reid, Australia’s first Scottish Prime Minister helped draw up) that gives us a truly free and fair society. Perhaps Australia could take the initiative and consider convening such a Forum.
Australian poet and bridge-builder glimpses behind the anger
Anne Fairbairn AM