Saturday, 28 March 2009




Arab Nationalism is an oxymoron. It was born out of debates in a literary society formed in Beirut in the 19th century by two American missionaries. As a result, nationalist “cells” of a few dozen Arab hotheads came into tentative being. Arabs could not stand each other. Once a desert Arab had fulfilled the laws of hospitality, even guests could be killed on sight. Sherrif Hussein of Mecca only threatened war against his overlords, the Ottoman Empire, when the Young Turks who took it over planned to build a railway to his kingdom of Mecca. This would have wiped out his main source of income: robbing pilgrims on their way to the Holy City.


It had been a central plank of British diplomacy endorsed by Palmerston that the Ottoman Empire was not to be touched. It was a valuable bulwark in the protection of India from Russia. Though ostensibly Turkish, most of the senior posts and the vast majority of Ottoman soldiers were Arab. In its ramshackle way, the Empire let the Arabs under its control happily kill one another as they had done from the days of Mohammed, himself no stranger to the slaughter of fellow Arabs.


Winston Churchill has been called a great war leader. Perhaps. But it is worth remembering he did write the definitive history of the war.


The historian Noble Frankland is less enthusiastic. He has pointed out Churchill thought that air support on a battlefield would add a complication without an advantage; that the Germans would be unable to break the French on the Western Front; that the Japanese would be too cautious to enter the war and, if they did, Singapore would remain invulnerable. He thought that neither submarines nor aircraft would pose a serious threat to battleships and that kites would be better than radar. He ordered the disastrous Norway campaign, sent the battleships Prince of Wales and the Repulse without air support to Singapore where they were sunk by the Japanese. He first ordered and then condemned the bombing of Dresden.


The decision that cast the longest shadow was his determination in World War 1 to invade the Ottoman Empire, which resulted in the massacre at Gallipoli and much of the mess in which we now find ourselves.


In his day, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia did not exist. As David Fromkin describes it in his magisterial A Peace to End All Peace, “Most of the Middle East rested, as it had for centuries, under the drowsy and negligent sway of the Ottoman Empire.”


The central British aim in the Middle East was to defeat Russian designs in Asia, the buffer that protected India and the route to Egypt. It was, said Queen Victoria, “a question of British or Russian supremacy in the world.”


Winston Churchill promoted the idea of invading the Ottoman Empire, and when the House of Commons rejected his urging, he confiscated, without authority, two Turkish battleships which were being built in British yards. The Turks began negotiations with Germany to protect themselves from invasion.

British diplomats in Turkey had resounding titles but were useless. The Ambassador of the Sublime Porte didn’t speak the local language and so had to rely on his interpreter, or Dragoman. The Sublime Porte ws the name of the gate of the office of the Grand Vizier from which the government took its name.

When the Young Turks took over the government no one knew anything about them. The Dragoman reported it was a Jewish conspiracy and that the Jews controlled the new Government. In fact there were only four Jews in the 288-man parliament. This mistaken belief had a disproportionate effect on future policy in the Middle East. It was amongst the reasons for the Balfour Doctrine which proposed a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, which the British had promised to the Arabs.


Much of the Arab policy was based on a hoax by a 24 year old deserter from the Ottoman Army, Lt Muhammad Sharif al Faruqi. Claiming to be a member of an Arab Secret Society with important information for the British Government, he was accepted without question by Gilbert Clayton, the Head of British Intelligence in Cairo. He told Hussein he had the ear of the British Foreign Office and the British diplomats that he was the secret representative of Hussein and the Arab Secret Societies. He urged the Allies to accept Hussein’s Damascus Protocol which gave the Arabs a homeland.


British diplomats threw themselves wholeheartedly into the business of making the Middle East an enemy. Firstly by promising Sherrif Hussein and Ibn Saud, who was creating  Saudi Arabia, new kingdoms if they  would help the Allies fight the Turks. Ibn Saud agred and employed the Wahabi, a warrior tribe, promising in return to adopt the Wahabi view of the Koran, a puritan regime which is responsible for to-day's milint muslims


Sir Charles Sykes, an expert on the Middle East, designed banners in black, white, green and red to symbolise the past glory of Muslim Arabs for Hussein and his Hejaz force. In 1918 Sykes was promoted and placed in charge of the Ottoman Theatre of War.


Whilst T.E. Lawrence, on behalf of the Government, was promising Hussein and his Arabs their own kingdom, Sykes and a French diplomat Francis Georges Picot signed an agreement which shared out Arabia between their two countries.


The Balfour Doctrine has an interesting history. It was heavily supported by Lloyd George, which was not surprising. Apart from his Cabinet office, he ran a lucrative firm of lawyers. One of the principal clients was the British Zionist party, whose cause he eagerly espoused.


His work for the Christian Zionists put the Welsh trickster in touch with Dr Chaim Weizmann, a chemist and lecturer at Manchester University. In his memoirs Lloyd George wrote that he supported the Balfour Doctrine out of gratitude. He wrote that when he was appointed Minister of Munitions he had discovered Britain was running out of nitrate, needed for its shells. Weizmann was able to create artificial nitrate which helped us win the war. It was true that Weizmann produced unlimited nitrate. The idea that Lloyd George supported the Balfour Doctrine out of gratitude was lie.


It is worth remembering that the much maligned T E Lawrence did warn that what is now Iraq should be divided into regions which acknowledged their bitter religious differences.






I have suspected it for sometime. Now, thanks to a fascinating book, ”Nudge”, by an American academic Richard Thaler, I know that is true.


Somewhere in the dark recesses of what used to be my mind an RSM lurks. Boots gleaming, badge twinkling, pace stick at the high port, he is i/c discipline and responsible for all my actions. Thanks to him, my inner activity lock is set at instant default. Whatever I think to do, be it gardening or tidying up my library, his nagging voice says “Oh, I shouldn’t bother”. And I don’t.


Thaler points out that Nudging is not new. He praises the airport authorities in Holland who had a small house fly painted on the urinals. What he describes as spillage has, in consequence, been reduced by eighty per cent. I take leave to inform him this is not new. In the days when there was still England, no Twyford’s urinal was unleashed on the public without a handsome reproduction of a bee on its surface for the use of the sportingly inclined gentleman.


Outwards nudging he calls choice architecture, and instances the way supermarkets lay out their store so that the customer is drawn to the items they are most anxious to sell. Doesn’t work with the RSM.





My ill-paid district nurse scrimped and saved to send her bright son to a fee paying grammar school. He justified her faith. He has projected ‘As’ in all subjects. He has been told not to apply for the LSE or Oxbridge. They are only taking children from underprivileged homes.


My district nurse points out that her family has been under privileged in order to educate her son