June 30, 2010

An Eerie Premonition of Mandate Palestine

In an entry from January I quoted Gustave Flaubert:
"Without doubt because of my old Norman blood, since the war in the Orient, I am mad at England, and getting mad at Prussia! After all, what do they want? Whom are they attacking? That presumption to defend Islamism (which is in itself a monstrosity) makes me angry. I demand, in the name of humanity, that they crush down the Black Stone, blow its ashes in the wind, that they destroy Mecca, and that they defile the tomb of Mohammed. This is the least that can be done to demoralize the fanaticism."
(Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) in a letter to Madame Roger des Genettes on January 12 and 19, 1878)
Commenter FPB sheds some more light on the background of Flauberts anger, which I saw as the Crimean war. France and Britain declared war on Russia in March 1854, following the events around the coup d'état of 1851 in France, when Napoleon III sent his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to force the Ottomans to recognize France as the "sovereign authority" in the Holy Land.

FBP, whose thoughts on this deserve not to disappear in the blog bilges, says:
Actually, Flaubert must have been speaking of something much more recent. In 1877, the Russian armies swept through Romania and Bulgaria and forced Turkey to accept a peace treaty that created a comparatively enormous free Bulgaria including the whole of modern Macedonia, most of Thrace and access to the Aegean. This was clearly a provisional settlement at best, because the boundaries forced on Turkey by the new Bulgarian state made the rest of European Turkey untenable and clearly ready to be invaded and freed in its turn as soon as Greece, Montenegro and Serbia felt strong enough. This had followed a horrendous series of massacres in Bulgaria that had revolted the whole of Europe. Britain, however, had a tradition of supporting "legitimate" Turkish power that went back at least as far as the Congress of Vienna, and refused to accept this settlement, effectively rescuing Turkey from annihilation. What followed was the Congress of Berlin (1878), which redrew the borders to make the Turkish European remnant manageable, and in which the two biggest cynics in Europe, Disraeli and Bismarck, formed a bloodstained, Islam-backing mutual admiration society that, looking back, leaves me a bit queasy. This is clearly what Flaubert is speaking of.

There is a post-script. Bismarck showed his chronic incapacity to understand free people. He and Disraeli may have thought they had achieved a diplomatic masterpiece, but the British public were not impressed. And neither was old Gladstone, who had retired to private life. He came back to politics like a whirlwind, roused the country with a series of brilliant anti-Turkish speeches, and swept Disraeli from office.
Very convincing, and I think we have an eerie premonition of the British policy in Mandate Palestine here as well.

2 comments:

fpb said...

The Congress of Berlin committed an even worse crime. It recognized the sovereignty of Leopold II of Belgium, as a person - not, mind you, of the Kingdom of Belgium - over a colossal slice of central Africa, which eventually became the Congo Free State - today's Democratic Republic of Congo. Leopold II turned out to be the second-worst butcher in modern European history, more bloodstained than Hitler if less than Stalin, and his 27-year rule over his "free state" is a ghastly nightmare into whose details I decline to go. Imagine something a lot worse than Hans Frank's proconsulate in Poland, extended over an even larger territory and over a wholly helpless, primitive population, over a period of 27 years, and you will have the dimension of the man's crimes. Eventually there was a great scandal, which led the Belgian Parliament to expropriate the colony from the King by force, and advance it from butchery to mere maladministration. (Belgium did nothing for Congo, and when the country became independent it had no more than 20 native university graduates, but at least it did not do murder on such a scale.) Cecil Rhodes, the English empire-builder, who was certainly no humanitarian, met Leopold II once and staggered out of the meeting, muttering "Satan! That man is Satan!" Nice person for Bismarck and Disraeli to present an empire to.

fpb said...

It's also probably relevant to Flaubert's rage that by January 1878, when he wrote, France had had the pleasure of administering Algeria - a backward and fanatical country even by then-Muslim standards - for forty-seven years. That experience had not disposed many Frenchmen favourably towards Islam, and may well explain the writer's animosity and his belief that, in detesting Islam, he was speaking for the cause of mankind and of reason. God only knows what he would have said if he saw the direction that his "progressive" epigonoi have taken.