Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald profiles British Foreign Minister Jack Straw:
For a sampling of what historians think of Jack Straw, consult an article entitled “Your view of history is bunk, academics tell Jack Straw” by Michael Paterson. Straw is quoted as saying that “a lot of the problems that we are having to deal with now – I have to deal with now – are a consequence of our colonial past.”
Straw on the Subcontinent: “India-Pakistan – we made some quite serious mistakes. We were complacent with what happened in Kashmir, the boundaries weren’t published until two days after independence. The consequences are still there.”
Straw on Afghanistan: “We played less than a glorious role over a century and a half.”
Straw on the Middle East: “The odd lines for Iraq’s borders were drawn by Brits.” Straw on the Arab-Israeli conflict: Britain’s role was “not entirely an honourable one”.
Straw on Africa: he has “huge arguments” with Robert Mugabe. “However, when any Zimbabwean says to me land is a key issue . . . the early colonisers were all about taking land.”
In response, Oxford don Niall Ferguson: “Nobody pretends that the history of the British Empire is unblemished but it is reckless for politicians to suggest that problems are the consequence of British colonialism. In the 19th and into the 20th century, it brought a quarter of the world’s land surface free trade, the rule of law and non-corrupt administration and in many places the British were successful in sowing seeds of parliamentary government.
Ferguson added that sub-Saharan Africa “has got much worse since decolonization,” and “to say the British are to blame for problems in Zimbabwe is laughable. If we encourage people to blame problems on the British, it becomes a wonderful excuse for dreadful foreign governments to cover up their own faults.”
Historian Andrew Roberts: “Mr Straw seems to be forgetting it was the Attlee Labour government that scuttled the Empire and pulled Britain out of India in a hurry, leaving a mess. Churchill stood up in Parliament and spoke about his fears that Mountbatten’s timetable for partitioning India was wrong – and that has become the view of most historians.”
Conor Cruise O’Brien, another historian: “Britain did not create the divisions among people groups in any of its former colonies – many of them were hundreds of years old – and Britain could not have eliminated them during the end of colonialism.”
Barry Buzan of the London School of Economics: “It is easy to be critical. But it is hard to say which bits of our foreign policy from the Imperial days should have been different. It’s like looking back at a game of chess; it’s much easier to work out afterwards what the moves should have been. Conspiracy theorists think Britain and the French wanted to stop the creation of an Arab superstate after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. But it is doubtful a superstate like that could have held together. In one sense, we have a hangover from the days of Empire. But really we are involved now in some former colonies because we are Bush’s poodle.”
Historian J. B. Kelly: “Iraq would not have come into being as a state after the First World War if it had not been for Britain. It is an area where the sea had been made safe – largely for our benefit but also for that of locals. We brought the rule of law to the Gulf. Not long after Britain left, the Arabs began the oil offensive and Iraq made claims on Kuwait. But he should remember that we could not have stayed and staying would not have prevented most of the trouble with countries which had more money and allies nearby”¦.This demonising of Britain has long been dismissed by good scholars.” Iraq’s borders? “Very well drawn.”
One of the things J. B. Kelly told the interviewer that did not appear in the final article was that the most important “boundary line” of modern Iraq, that supposedly separating “Arab” (Sunni) Iraq from Shi’a Persian Iran, was drawn not by the “colonialist” British, but by the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire, in an agreement brokered by the Russian government called the Treaty of Erzrum (1847).
Note Straw’s remark that Britain’s role in the Israeli-Arab conflict was “not entirely an honourable one.” Jack Straw is not here referring to the British administration of Mandatory Palestine, which was entirely intent on betraying the solemn commitments that Great Britain had made to the League of Nations in order to become the Mandatory power, and was in fact bent on not fulfilling the League of Nations’ promise to create the Jewish National Home. The only exceptions in Mandatory Palestine itself (there was Wyndham Deedes in London) were Orde Wingate (expelled from Palestine because he actually believed in helping the Jews learn how to defend themselves from Arab attack), and earlier, Col. Richard Meinertzhagen (see the “Diary” of Meinertzhagen).
No, what the ill-informed Jack Straw is referring to is the nonsensical and baseless Arab insistence that certain promises were made to them that the British betrayed. This is completely false. The Hussein-Macmahon correspondence, which was thoroughly studied by Elie Kedourie, shows exactly what “promise” was made by the British — none. The “promise” made by MacMahon 1) could not bind the British government, and the Arabs understood this perfectly; and what is more important, 2) explicitly excluded the territory of what became Mandatory Palestine from its purview — as MacMahon kept insisting and finally, fed up with Arab misstatements, set out clearly in a letter to the London Times in late July 1937. This can all be found in Elie Kedourie’s article on the MacMahon-Hussein correspondence (see the collection of articles “Islam in the Modern World”).
Straw is a former National Union of Students leader. He does not know the history of Great Britain. He only knows the standard caricature history of the Empire, and of figures such as Palmerston. Somehow the Foreign Office has kept him from reading Kedourie and Kelly both. If he did, he would save himself from a great deal of error.
And if he studied Islam, what is actually in the texts, and what every great Western historian of Islam has written about it (he can find a sample of it in the forthcoming “The Legacy of Jihad”), he might change his tune about Turkey. But he won’t because he will not study, will not learn. Don’t confuse the Jack Straws of this world with history.
They are Jaywalking (in the Jay Leno sense) through the Foreign Office, and in various other European and North American chanceries. It is not only the high school students and college students who cannot place the American Civil War within 50 years, think Christopher Columbus discovered America round about 1750, and believe that Africa is in Asia, and China touches Peru. No, it is also people at the level of Jack Straw.
Keep that in mind, as you try to make sense of all the nonsense. Idiots rule. Straw is a fool. Historians know it. Visitors to Jihad Watch know it. When will enough people in England know it?