A brief colorful history of the modern state of Syria (and its neighbors) 2

Until the end of World War I, the states of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan did not exist. The territory they now cover had been part of the Empire of the Ottoman Turks for some 400 years. The names Syria and Mesopotamia designated Middle Eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire, roughly where Syria and Iraq are now.

In World War I the Turks were allies of Germany. The Arabs were loyal to their Ottoman overlords, and were also on Germany’s side.

But the British incited sedition among some of them, bribing a man in high religious office to head a rebellion. The inducement they offered him was power and glory: rule of an Arab independency of undefined dimensions.

The man was Hussein Ibn Ali, of the clan of the Hashemites and the tribe of the Quraish, Sharif of the Holy City of Mecca, putatively a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

The British gave him arms, supplies, subsidies and advisers. When he asked also for a firm definition of his dream-kingdom, the British High Commissioner in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, sent him a “clarification” in a letter dated 24 October 1915, in which he made it clear that he could not make it clear. The British, he explained, could not promise territory to Hussein which the French might claim, and they did not know what the French might claim.

In 1916 the British and French agreed, in a secret document known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, on how they would divide up the territory between them once they had conquered it from the Turks. It was against the spirit of the times, when high principles were asserted against the old ideas of empire; principles which President Wilson of the United States set out in 14 points and became enshrined on the Covenant of the League of Nations. The new ideal was that never again would great powers impose their will on smaller nations.

In 1918, the British made another promise to the Arabs. It is known as The Declaration to the Seven. The “Seven” were from the Syrian region. They went to Cairo to ask the British what their intentions were in the Middle East. They were given a pledge that Britain would recognize “the complete and sovereign independence of any Arab area emancipated from Turkish control by the Arabs themselves”. It was an uncharacteristically precise promise.

It prompted the self-dramatizing Englishman, Colonel T.E.Lawrence, who had a highly romantic view of the Arabs (a view that has polluted the atmosphere of the  British Foreign Office ever since), to exert himself to lead Hussein’s forces to a decisive victory. He marched them to Damascus, but the Australian Light Horse Brigade got there first, and took the city from the Turks. Lawrence persuaded the British to pretend that his Arabs had conquered the city. So the British ordered the Australians to drift out and let the Arabs march in. This set a really bad precedent by which the Arabs expected always to have a fictional version of reality replace any facts on the ground which inconvenienced them. It also gave the Arabs as a whole a false understanding of their own military power and achievements. (If they had beaten the mighty Turks at Damascus, how could they not be victorious against the new little Jewish state of Israel in 1948?)

When the British, French, and Americans won the Second World War, the British set about fulfilling – more or less –  their promise to Hussein.

Hussein himself already ruled the Hejaz. His son Ali was his heir to that kingdom. (They were, however, to lose it in 1924,when Abdul Aziz al Saud conquered it. Saud was to join the Hejaz and the Nejd together and found a new state, Saudi Arabia, named after himself, in 1932.) But new kingdoms were created by the British for Hussein’s other sons, Abdullah and Faisal. They were to be called Syria and Iraq.

They made Faisal King of of the new state of Syria, and proposed to put Abdullah on the throne of a new state of Iraq. 

Faisal ruled Syria only from March to April, 1920. The French knocked him off his throne and threw him out of the country, whose destiny they claimed was rightfully in their hands. (The French were granted mandates over Syria and Lebanon.)

The British had to find another throne for Faisal, so they made him King of Iraq instead of his brother, and then considered what they could for Abdullah.

What remained in their power to give away – or so they made out – was an area of the Ottoman Empire to which the ancient Romans had given the name Palestine when it was still part of their empire. In July 1922, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate (also agreed on at the San Remo peace conference in 1920) over the Palestine region. The British pleaded that they needed it in order to carry out a promise they had made, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, to let the region become a National Home for the Jews. According to the terms of the Mandate they were  to “settle Jews closely on the land”. But when they were confronted by the problem of Abdullah being kingdom-less, they found that there was no need to let Jews settle closely on all the land. So they presented three-quarters of it, stretching eastward from the River Jordan to a chosen line in the desert, to Abdullah and called it the Emirate of Transjordan.

All the newly created Arab states fell short of Arab dreams. One was to flourish fairly well as a monarchy: the Emirate of Transjordan renamed itself the Kingdom of Jordan in 1949, when the Arab armies had failed to crush the new state of Israel, but the Transjordanian forces – known as the Arab Legion, under the able command of a British officer, John Bagot Glubb, better known as Glubb Pasha – had advanced across the River Jordan and taken control of what has ever since been called the “West Bank”. (Israel conquered it in its defensive war of 1968.)

The French held a mandate over Syria until July 1941. In September 1936,  a treaty of independence was  negotiated, but the French Legislature would not ratify it. Only when the British and Free French beat the forces of Vichy France in Syria and Lebanon in the Second World War, did Syria become an independent republic. But coups and attempted coups followed hot on each other, and the state was extremely unstable.

The Kingdom of Iraq also had a history of instability with numerous uprisings, massacres and assassinations. In 1958 the monarchy came to an end. The king, Faisal II, was eleven years old. His uncle, Abd al-Ilah, was  regent. He was an ambitious man. He had plans to dominate an Arab unity embracing Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait. In February 1958 he achieved a union between Iraq and Jordan, the two remaining Hashemite kingdoms. This was intolerable to the president of Egypt, Jamal Abd al-Nasser, who had just created a union of Egypt and Syria in the same  month. The union of Egypt and Syria under Nasser’s domination was intolerable to Abd al-Ilah.

Nasser had nationalized the Suez canal. Britain and France, who were joint shareholders in the Canal, lost their ownership of it. Nasser closed it to Israeli shipping. Israel saw this as a cause for war. Britain and France arranged with Israel that Israeli forces would strike into the Sinai on 29 October 1956, and they would invade Egypt on the pretext of restoring peace between the belligerents. President Eisenhower – unwisely – put a stop to the invasion when it had only just begun. America’s intervention allowed Nasser to pretend that he had won a victory, and felt encouraged to pursue his pan-Arab dream.

On February 1 1958, the union of Egypt and Syria as the United Arab Republic (UAR) came into being, with Cairo as its capital and Nasser as its president. Yemen was added a month later to form a confederation called the United Arab States.

Nasser’s agents and sympathizers went to work throughout the Middle East to spread his national socialist ideology. In Baghdad officers sympathetic to “Nasserism”  plotted the destruction of the Iraqi monarchy. In 1958, under pro-Nasserite leadership, a contingent of Iraqi troops despatched by the Regent  to quell a pro-Nasser uprising and civil war in Lebanon (actually put down by US forces) turned instead on their own ruling house. At dawn on 14 July 1958, the boy-king Faisal was murdered, along with his grandmother, his aunt, and others in the palace, including a helpless harmless orphan boy who lived with them.

Abd al-Ilah was dragged through the streets of Baghdad tied with ropes to the back of a truck, then – whether still alive or not when the tuck stopped – his body was dismembered with axes and his limbs and head tossed about by the hysterical mob. His trunk was hung from a balcony and chunks of its flesh were sliced off and thrown to the crowd below. The Prime Minister, Nuri al-Said, disguised himself as a woman and tried to escape, but he was caught and killed, and his body flung down on a busy street to be driven over, squashed and broken by the cars full of exulting motorists. His successor too was murdered after five years in power, and his body was fed to dogs.

In 1961, Syria revolted against Egypt’s domination and reasserted its independence. So the UAE was dissolved, and Yemen released. Hafez Assad became president of Syria in 1971. Under his dictatorship, and after him the dictatorship of his son Bashar Assad, rebellion has been put down with ruthless massacres.

Or not put down, as is the case now that civil war rages; or war waged by numerous militias and terrorist groups against the forces of the state. There is no reason to expect a peaceful or stable Syria to emerge out of the chaos, whether Great Powers intervene or not. The Syrians have no precedent for peace and stability in their young unhappy country. 

 

Jillian Becker  September 9, 2013

On slavery 3

Talk about slavery! It is not the peculiar institution of the South. It exists wherever men are bought and sold, wherever a man allows himself to be made a mere thing or a tool, and surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and conscience.

– Henry David Thoreau, journal, Dec. 4, 1860

*

Africans and Muslims were capturing, trading, and using slaves long before the Europeans started the trans-Atlantic shipping of Africans to work as slaves in the Americas. Europeans too had been slavers in ancient times and for centuries in our Common Era, but stopped. They started again with the trans-Atlantic slave-trade. Then they put an end to it, and freed the slaves. Africans and Muslims are still capturing, trading and using slaves.

American haters of America teach a false history of slavery in order to indict Europeans and white Americans.

So well has the “politically correct” account of slavery succeeded, that it would probably come as a surprise to most Americans to learn that more Europeans were enslaved by Africans than were Africans by Europeans, and treated worse.

Regardless of numbers and degrees, slavery is a profound evil. Children should be taught the truth about it. Their teachers should not select aspects of its history for the purpose of indoctrination, as they are doing at present –  and as are leftist movie-makers, historians, preachers like Jeremiah Wright, and others of that kidney.

To indoctrinate is to enslave the mind.

Thomas Sowell sets the record straight. He writes:

The history of slavery across the centuries and in many countries around the world is a painful history to read– not only in terms of how slaves have been treated, but because of what that says about the whole human species– because slaves and enslavers alike have been of every race, religion and nationality.

If the history of slavery ought to teach us anything, it is that human beings cannot be trusted with unbridled power over other human beings– no matter what color or creed any of them are. The history of ancient despotism and modern totalitarianism practically shouts that same message from the blood-stained pages of history.

But that is not the message that is being taught in our schools and colleges, or dramatized on television and in the movies. The message that is pounded home again and again is that white people enslaved black people.

It is true, just as it is true that I don’t go sky-diving with blacks [I refused to go sky-diving with anybody, whether black, white, Asian or whatever]. But it is also false in its implications for the same reason. Just as Europeans enslaved Africans, North Africans enslaved Europeans– more Europeans than there were Africans enslaved in the United States and in the 13 colonies from which it was formed. 

The treatment of white galley slaves was even worse than the treatment of black slaves picking cotton. But there are no movies or television dramas about it comparable to “Roots,” and our schools and colleges don’t pound it into the heads of students.

The inhumanity of human beings toward other human beings is not a new story, much less a local story. There is no need to hide it, because there are lessons we can learn from it. But there is also no need to distort it, so that sins of the whole human species around the world are presented as special defects of “our society” or the sins of a particular race.

If American society and Western civilization are different from other societies and civilization, it is that they eventually turned against slavery, and stamped it out, at a time when non-Western societies around the world were still maintaining slavery and resisting Western pressures to end slavery, including in some cases armed resistance.

Only the fact that the West had more firepower than others put an end to slavery in many non-Western societies during the age of Western imperialism. Yet today there are Americans who have gone to Africa to apologize for slavery– on a continent where slavery has still not been completely ended, to this very moment.

It is not just the history of slavery that gets distorted beyond recognition by the selective filtering of facts. Those who go back to mine history, in order to find everything they can to undermine American society or Western civilization, have very little interest in the Bataan death march, the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire or similar atrocities in other times and places.

Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society …

Talking Turkey 0

The Ottoman Empire sided with Germany in World War I, and was broken up by the victorious allies. Parts of it became Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel.

Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk, was the president of the first Turkish republic brought into existence by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

The Turkish sultan had borne the title of Caliph. Under Atatürk the caliphate was abolished in 1924. Turkey became a constitutionally democratic state with an elected parliament. Even women were enfranchised in 1934.

From 1928, Islam ceased to be the state religion. Men were forbidden to grow beards. If they did, Atatürk had them forcibly shaved. He forbade polygamy. Women threw off the veil. In fact, despite the institutions and procedures of democracy, Atatürk wielded dictatorial powers, but he used them to modernize his country.

By the time he died in 1938, the republic was firmly established as a secular state.

In 1952 Turkey became a member of the (then three year old) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The second Turkish republic, established with a new constitution in 1961, proved itself a firm friend and ally of the United States.

After an outbreak of civil violence in 1980, in which more than 2,000 people died, the army intervened, martial law was declared, General Kenan Evren seized control of the government and restored order. A new constitution of 1982 established the autonomy of the army and gave it extraordinary powers over civilian affairs. The army remained the guarantor of Turkey’s secularism, even after martial law was lifted in 1987.

In 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the US went to war to force his withdrawal, Turkey permitted the American air force to launch strikes against Iraq from its territory.

A woman, Tansu Çiller, became prime minister in 1993 – to the consternation, no doubt, of the Islamic world. A year later a downturn in the economy led to loss of faith in the secular government among some sections of the population, and Islamic fundamentalism began to spread. In elections of 1995 the largest share of the vote went to an Islamist party, which acquired modified power in a coalition government under Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan of the Islamist party. This development threatened an end to the secular state.

The army intervened. It forced the resignation of Erbakan and his replacement by a secularist.

In 1991, Turkey took military action to put down an armed rebellion of Kurdish nationalists. The Kurdistan Workers Part (PKK) used terrorist methods, including suicide bombing. In 1999, with the capture of the rebel leader, the conflict died down. In that year Turkey was invited to apply for membership of the European Union (EU).

The invitation did not provide an easy path for Turkey’s accession. First the Brussels bureaucracy objected to Turkey’s ‘human rights’ record. When Turkey made reforms in order to become more acceptable, it was told that the power of the army was an impediment to its joining. Woodenly, the EU decision-makers either didn’t understand or deliberately ignored the fact that the Turkish army was what kept Turkey the sort of country that could co-operate successfully with Western powers, by keeping it from becoming an Islamic state.

Popular support for Islamism grew. Relations between Turkey and the West deteriorated. In 2003 the parliament refused permission to the United States to invade Iraq from US bases in Turkey. At that point Turkey should have been expelled from NATO. It wasn’t, but a rift came between Turkey and the United States. A long-established friendship between Turkey and Israel also began to cool.

Islamism continues to gain popularity in Turkey. An Islamist party is in power. Beards and the veil have made a comeback. The army is losing power. It has not succeeded in opposing a developing alliance between Turkey and Iran. It was almost certainly against the wishes of the army that Turkey recently cancelled joint military exercises with Israel.

On October 28, 2009, the prime minister of Turkey, Tayyep Recep Erdogan, and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met for talks. According to Israeli sources (in a report of November 10, 2009), they agreed that Turkey, still a member of NATO, will pass on intelligence to Tehran concerning any preparations Israel makes for a strike on Iran’s nuclear development facilities. Presumably this would mean that intelligence concerning Israel-US military co-operation can fall into Iranian hands.

What seems certain enough is that Turkey is now aligned with the Islamic enemies of the United States, and NATO is harboring a traitor. The US should be taking damage-limiting action. But we don’t expect Obama to be troubled enough by this development to do anything about it. He’s probably in favor of it.

Jillian Becker  November 14, 2009