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Posted February 26, 2004
Fine account of imperialist abuse of the Middle East
This book charts the malign effects of British, French and later US imperial interference in the Middle East, from 1900 to 1960. But in common with many recent historians, the author takes far too rosy a view of the Empire, an approach not unrelated to his consistent anti-Soviet bias. Keay vividly depicts how the British, French and US states interfered in Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Lebanon for oil, military bases and power, always claiming the purest and most democratic of motives. But their autocratic and imperial rule betrayed those countries¿ aspirations for democracy and sovereignty. For example, successive British governments tried to rule Iraq after World War One through a series of constitutional fictions uncannily similar to the US state¿s efforts today. In 1919, Arnold Wilson, Britain¿s Acting Civil Commissioner, set up municipal councils and (purely advisory) divisional councils. The British state preferred a Sunni oligarchy to a Shia democracy, so Wilson prevented any elections, claiming that the `premature¿ election of an Iraqi government with real power would be `the antithesis of democratic Government¿. The Iraqis objected to these anti-democratic and anti-national shenanigans and in 1920 rose in revolt: British forces killed 10,000 of them. In 1921, Britain¿s new High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, appointed a Council of Ministers and told them to ask ex-king Faysal of Syria to become Iraq¿s king. Cox then arranged a plebiscite asking the `better sort¿ of Iraqis to endorse his choice, and removed the other candidates. Under British supervision, Faysal won 96% of the votes. The British state brought not democracy, but death and destruction to Iraq. Why was it really there? The answer, in a word, was oil. Yet the Minister for War and the Colonies, Winston Churchill, told the House of Commons in December 1920, ¿The idea that HMG would have gone through all the difficulties they have gone through, faced all the expenses and burdened themselves with all the military risks and exactions in order to secure some advantage in regard to some oilfields ¿ is ¿ too absurd for acceptance.¿ It is perhaps less absurd than the notion that they would have gone to all that trouble if Iraq had no oil. In 1924, the Admiralty informed Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, ¿from a strategical point of view, the essential point is that Great Britain should control the territories on which the oilfields are situated.¿ Five weeks later, Curzon lied to The Times, ¿Oil had not the remotest connexion with my attitude, or with that of His Majesty¿s Government, over Mosul.¿ The British state¿s abuse of Iraq was typical of the way the British, French and US states mistreated the peoples of the Middle East. These states continually sought to justify their interference by blaming the peoples for the region¿s troubles. However, as Albert Einstein told an Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry on Palestine, ¿It was the British presence that perpetuated the troubles, not, as received opinion had it, the troubles that perpetuated the need for a British presence.¿ This book helps us to understand why capitalist ruling classes continually resort to empire, and why some people in the Middle East resort to terrorism, but to understand both is to condone neither. Last century¿s imperialist interventions in the Middle East created lasting bitterness. Reruns of aggression and occupation today only worsen life for all the Middle East¿s peoples, adding to the bitterness and increasing the dangers of terrorism.
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