Saturday 12 May 2018

America's Bitter Legacy In The Middle East.

Bitter Lake, Bitter Legacy: The Saudi King, Abdul Aziz, guarantees the United States access to Arabia's almost limitless oil reserves and, in return, President Franklin Roosevelt guarantees the Saudi monarchy's security. The photograph was taken aboard the USS Quincy, moored in the Great Bitter Lake, on 14 February 1945. The so-called "Quincy Agreement" set the course of US policy in the Middle East for the next 70 years.

THE QUESTION CONFRONTING the Democratic Party when it next takes control of the White House will, simply, be: “What now?” The next Democratic President will likely enter office with the two most powerful Islamic nations in the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, locked in a nuclear arms race. Faced with the prospect of two bitter foes acquiring the means to wipe it off the face of the earth, Israel (which already possesses its own nuclear arsenal) will be screaming at the new Democratic administration to: “Do something – or we will!” Doing something will be unavoidable – but what is it that the United States should do?

On his way home from the Yalta Conference aboard the USS Quincy, in February 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt paused briefly in the Great Bitter Lake (half-way along the Suez Canal) to meet with Abdul Aziz, King of Saudi Arabia. In many respects this meeting on Great Bitter Lake was as important to the world’s future as Roosevelt’s meeting at Yalta with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Arising out of the secret conclave between President and King was the so-called “Quincy Agreement”, by which the United States guaranteed the security of the Saudi monarchy, and the Saudi monarchy guaranteed the United States access to its almost limitless oil reserves.

The tragedy of the Quincy Agreement is that it simply wasn’t necessary. In 1945 the US was the most powerful nation on earth and just a few months away from producing the world’s first nuclear weapons. Under Roosevelt, the Americans had already set in motion the dismantling of the British Empire: a process which would, in the space of two years, force Great Britain to relinquish the “jewel” in its imperial crown – India. That Roosevelt, the Roosevelt of 1940, would not have vouchsafed US protection to the deeply reactionary Saudi dynasty; not when he could have had it swept away by forces dedicated to establishing a modern, secular, democratic republic with just a flick of Uncle Sam’s finger. Unfortunately, that Roosevelt no longer existed. In his place was the gaunt, exhausted figure of the Yalta newsreels: a man barely two months away from death.

It was this dying Roosevelt who resigned himself to preserving not only the Saudi king (and his oil) but also the King of Egypt and the Emperor of Ethiopia. Churchill and the British had convinced him that US strategic interests would be best served by keeping in place every one of the petty kings and potentates that Britain had installed across the Middle East in the aftermath of World War I.

It was a fatal error. For the next seventy years the Americans (aided and abetted at every turn by the British) found themselves obliged to prop-up a corrupt collection of quasi-medieval reactionaries who had set their faces against all the emancipatory forces of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and who were doing everything in their power to advance the most extreme and retrograde interpretations of the Prophet Mohammed’s religious teachings.

The alternative course of action: the road not taken; would have seen the full weight of the US thrown behind the secular forces of Middle Eastern nationalism and their quest for cultural and economic independence. Yes, many of these nationalist leaders may have been mildly socialist, like Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran, but no more so that the leaders of Sweden or India. With the encouragement and support of the United States, the Arab and Iranian peoples could have constructed modern, open societies to match the magnificent civilisations of their past. Moderate Islamic democracies, forever beholden to the United States for underwriting their freedom, prosperity and independence.

What actually happened, of course, was that when the aforementioned Mosaddegh attempted to establish just such a government in Iran, the CIA (represented, ironically, by Roosevelt’s son, Kermit) and the British secret service, MI6, colluded in mobilising the reactionary Muslim clergy against him and restored to the Peacock Throne the craven and vicious Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – Iran’s hereditary (and now absolute) ruler.

That this anti-democratic behaviour has remained a constant of US policy in the Middle East is due in no small part to the State of Israel. Born out of the acquisition and, later, the expropriation of Arab properties in the former British mandate of Palestine, Israel’s existence has always constituted a major obstacle to the peaceful evolution of a modern and moderate Middle East.

Had the US and Britain been willing to stand behind secular Arab nationalism and the establishment of democratic governments in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Arabia, the Gulf States and Iran, it is possible that Israel may have felt sufficiently secure to negotiate a lasting modus vivendi between the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. From 1956 onwards, however, Britain and America were happy to use Israel as a battering ram against Arab nationalism and, at need, the entire Muslim world. A strategy which has positioned Israel as a nuclear-armed obstacle squarely athwart every path to Middle Eastern peace.

How to respond when the next Democratic President of the United States asks: “What now?” Tell her to reverse every policy the United States has followed in the Middle East since the USS Quincy hove-to in the Great Bitter Lake in February 1945. Yes, it’s a little late for such a radical realignment of US policy – but better late than never.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 May 2018.


greywarbler said...

On the practices and policies of the CIA and Mr Roosevelt (Kermit or one of the dynasty) this is interesting - The New York Times view.

Mr. Roosevelt's best-known exploit was as director of the 1953 coup that overthrew the leader of Iran, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a nationalist who concerned Washington because he was supported by the Iranian Communists at the height of the cold war....

On Aug. 16, fearing the coup had failed, the shah fled to Baghdad and the C.I.A. urged Mr. Roosevelt to leave Iran immediately. He refused, insisting that there was still ''a slight remaining chance of success.''
After the tide started to turn against Mr. Mossadegh, Mr. Roosevelt got one of the coup leaders, Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, out of hiding and he made a radio address to the nation that brought the forces over to the shah's side.

It was the C.I.A.'s first successful overthrow of a foreign government, and the shah stayed in power until the Islamic revolution of 1979.
''For an operation to last 25 years is not so bad,'' one of Mr. Roosevelt's C.I.A. colleagues, Samuel Halpern, said today. ''It fell apart. Every operation cannot go on forever.''...

He wrote ''Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran,'' published in 1979.

Frederic P. Hitz, the Weinberg Goldman Sachs Professor of International Relations at Princeton University, said the book ''showed how covert actions were authorized in those days, without oversight. It was just a group of people sitting around in an office at the White House -- not the Oval Office.''

Because of the success of the Iranian coup, Professor Hitz said, Mr. Roosevelt ''was offered the opportunity to overthrow the government of Guatemala, and he turned it down.''...

Winston Churchill had asked Mr. Roosevelt to discuss the overthrow of Mr. Mossadegh and, with Mr. Waller paraphrasing, said, ''Kim, if I were a young man again, I would have done anything to have worked with you in that operation.''

Mr. Waller said that Mr. Roosevelt had been brought up in what the British called ''the great game,'' the secret rivalry between Britain and Russia in the late 19th century.
''Kim [Roosevelt] was in that Churchillian mode of a 19th-century warrior,'' Mr. Waller said. ''He was a man of the times and a good man to have around during the cold war.''

Power games and strategies. It is so much more interesting than going about political business with both hands in plain view. And the citizens become spectators at this ultimate game.

Gerrit said...

I'am not sure it would have been possible to introduce democracy to the Arab states as you suggest the USA/Britain should have done. Islam does not allow separation of the state from religion and a truly functioning democracy does require that to be so. Turkey is struggling with that currently.

"Is it even possible to transition from hierarchical religious authoritarianism to a modernized and even secularized form of Islamic democracy — one that accepts the separation of church and state?

While the possibility and harsh eventuality remains, this is a tall order since Islam, perhaps more than other monotheistic religions, invites itself into every aspect of social life. More specifically, Islam is inherently and by definition inconsistent with the separation of church and state."

So whilst it is easy to paint a picture of USA and Britain foreign policy failure to establish democratic Arab states, the reality may have been realised that benign dictatorships were a Hobsons choice, but ultimately as events have proved uncontrollable, option.

Add to that the strong tribal and religious factions within the region, a democratic state may well have thought to have been impossible to introduce without massive border changes to encapsulate the factions within their spheres of influence.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I suspect that certain factions in Israel actually prefer chaos in the surrounding countries. They feel safer that way. Interesting though that one of the excuses America gives for unconditionally supporting Israel is that it's the only democracy in the Middle East. Even if it were true, it would be ironic.

Simon Cohen said...

I would recommend to you the book "The China Mirage"" by James Bradley.It convincingly shows that FDR for the whole of his presidency pursued a policy of propping up Chiang Kai-shek with huge loans and military aid to pursue a war against the communists rather than the Japanese.
General Joseph Stilwell, commander of the China theatre (and a man who spoke Chinese), summed up the picture: “China, our ally, was being run by a one-party government and supported by a Gestapo and headed by an unbalanced man with little education.
In fact the book shows that the Chinese Government up until 1948 was as corrupt and cruel as any Middle Eastern kingdom and that FDR supported it with all the means at his disposal.
And as a correction the British did not install Abdul Aziz as king of Saudi Arabia nor Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia.

Denis Bartley said...

Thanks for your essay entitled "America's bitter legacy in the Middle East".I'm not sure that America can take all the blame. Britain was also complicit, and possibly the leading protagonist. i would suggest the essay be entitled "Britain and America's bitter legacy in the Middle East. If you want to have a laugh and learn more about Oil and the Middle East I would recommend to you the Youtube video: Robert Newman's History of Oil (9 parts)
Robert Newman suggests that the reason for the first world war was the discovery of commercial quantities of Oil in Mesopotamia/Iran by the Burmah Oil Company later the Anglo Persian Oil Company (and now BP)in 1908. Subsequently Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty)converted the British Navy's ships from coal to oil prior to 1914. Unfortunately the find was in the Ottoman Empire and it's allies Germany were also wanting to access the Mesopotamian oil Fields. By extending the Oriental Express railway from Istanbul to Baghdad this would give it access.
The other interesting and informative BBC documentary "A Dangerous Man - Lawrence after Arabia" also sheds light on the various scenarios that Britain was pushing during and after the 1st World War.
Denis Bartley

greywarbler said...

Simon Cohen
Thank you for apparently correcting a mistake in the post. But you did not finish the information process. What entity did back Abdul Aziz as king of Saudi Arabia and Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia? Please do not tell me to source it myself. A public correction of a mistake should be accompanied by the actual facts and a link to a reliable source for reference. I am interested in learning so could you supply?

greywarbler said...

It seems there was a big boost by the UK around WW1 to hold lands in the Middkle East and there was an appeal to patriotic fervour to aid the 'Homeland'. John Buchan was one very patriotic Brit and I remember his book Greenmantle where he devises a daring strike for Britain against enemy in the Middle East. It fired the imagination of one sick boy.
Hannay and his admirable sidekick Sandy Arbuthnot are summoned by the Foreign Office's senior intelligence commander, Sir Walter Bullivant....

Bullivant briefs Hannay that Turkish seditionaries are planning to whip up discontent among Muslim nations across Asia Minor and into North Africa. An Islamic uprising will create a major headache for Britain, and a diversion the Turks' German allies can exploit. Our dapper hero has only weeks to foil this dastardly plot....

Greenmantle is the first book I read with both an atlas and an encyclopedia to hand, as Hannay gives a succession of shady ne'erdowells the slip on foot, by sea, on a wild mustang – even by barge. The book gave me a taste for high-energy crime and action thrillers but, in doing so, it brought a secret and seductive world to life, too.

All the big powers have something going on all the time it seems. Trying to gain advantage over each other.

Victor said...


Simon Cohen is correct concerning Haile Selassie.

The former originally owed his throne to an internal power struggle and to his own lineage and talents.

It's true that he was restored to that throne with British, South African and Free French help in 1941, when Ethiopia was liberated from Italian occupation. But it's hard to see what the alternative was, other than allowing the Fascist forces to remain in charge of the country they had so ruthlessly invaded half a decade earlier, which, I assume, Chris is not suggesting.

Haile Selassie (aka Ras Tafari) was also an obvious and sensible candidate for post-war US sponsorship. His defiance of Mussolini had turned him into a global anti-Fascist icon. Moreover, as the leader of the only black African country to escape colonization in the nineteenth century, he was a symbol of the continent’s aspirations to independence and dignity.

But, of course, he wasn’t always Washington’s pliant vassal. Along with Tito, Nehru and Nasser, he was one of the founders of the Non Aligned movement and also became the founding chairman and inspirer of the Organisation for African Unity.

Ethiopia sent troops to fight in Korea but was firmly opposed to the Vietnam War. The Emperor’s reasoning on this matter pointed to his fundamental convictions, viz. that the intervention in Korea had been mandated by the United Nations but that in Vietnam had not. The man who had pleaded with the League of Nations to do something practical to protect his country from aggression, remained a consistent advocate of collective security in accordance with international law.

Simon is also correct about Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. The British backed the wrong horse in the internecine tribal and dynastic warfare of the Arabian peninsula, placing their support firmly behind the Hashemites, whom the Saudis chased out of the holy places in Mecca and Medina in the early 1920s.

At the time, the extent of this miscalculation may not have been apparent, as significant quantities of oil had not yet been discovered in Arabia. So the Brits continued to build their Middle Eastern strategy around the Hashemites, who had been rewarded for their support against the Turks with newly established kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan.

By cosying up to Abdul Aziz, FDR wasn’t just making a highly successful play for Saudi oil. He was also signalling that America would follow its own path in the Middle East and not just back up Britain and its empire. The full import of this approach became apparent to the Brits in 1956, when Eisenhower effectively forced them to end their Suez intervention.

Victor said...


As I'm sure you're aware, there's an alternative school of thought which maintains that the rise of militant political Islam is (in part at least) a reaction to the former dominance of authoritarian and elitist, secularising and modernising regimes such as those of Ataturk, the Pahlavis, Nasser, the Assads, Saddam Hussein, Siad Barre etc.

Some of these regimes were pro-western. Some pro-Soviet. And some see-sawed back and forth, depending on the rewards available. But all of them seemed intent on forcing an unwanted new way of life on pious, conservative Moslems.

Victor said...

Simon Cohen

My understanding is that the bulk of the fighting against the Japanese was undertaken by the Kuomintang forces. But this is a heavily disputed field and I might be wrong.

Certainly, the Nationalists were by far the most visible elements in all the major battles China fought against the Japanese, whereas the Communists were more heavily involved in guerilla warfare.

So there's a reasonable case for seeing just about any US assistance to the Kuomintang as a contribution to the war against Japan and, hence, to the global struggle against the Axis powers.

It also seems to be the case that Stalin regarded the Kuomintang as Moscow's chief channel of influence in China for a lengthy period until just prior to the Communist takeover there. The KMT returned the compliment by adopting at least some quasi-Leninist party structures.

If you're looking for explanations for the Kuomintang's undoubted tyrannical side, this might be one of them.

Simon Cohen said...

I am sorry for the delay in responding to this but I have only just read your comment.
As a professional historian [now retired] whose specialty was Middle Eastern history I will respond to your questions from my own knowledge so I will not be supplying links.
But one of the books that has interested me the most is:
Emergence of Saudi Arabia:A political study of King Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud 1901-1953 by S M Igbal, Saudiyah Publishers 1977.I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Abdul Aziz conquered Riyadh from the Rasheed dynasty in 1902 and the House of Saud expanded into the balance of what we know as Saudi Arabia from that time on.In May 1913 Abdul Aziz defeated the Turks in the battle of Hofhuf and extended his kingdom to the Persian Gulf.In 1924 he defeated King Husain and took possession of Mecca,Medina and Jedda thereby setting the approximate boundaries of the modern Saudi Arabia.
Interestingly the British backed King Husain but decided not to intervene.
Perhaps you could tell me as a result of this narrative which entity backed Abdul Aziz as king of Saudi Arabia.Or perhaps he became and retained power as king due to his own military achievements which is what all modern historians believe.
Haile Selassie:in 1270 the Zagwe Dynasty of Ethiopia was overthrown by Yekuno Amlak and his dynasty [the Solomonic] lasted until 1974.There was of course the period from 1935 until 1941 when Ethiopia was occupied by the Italians but when Ethiopia was liberated in 1941 Haile Selassie returned to his throne.
Once again it is difficult to understand your question as to which entity backed Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia.He was the descendant of a family which ruled Ethiopia for over 700 years and his country was always independent apart from the brief Italian occupation.Obviously the French and the British were concerned by the Italian invasion but this was because of the threat to the Suez Canal with Italy occupying Libya and Ethiopia.

Simon Cohen said...

The other interesting comment in Chis's post is the so called "Quincy Pact"
The Quincy Pact is an urban legend, which sums up many decades of Arab-Saudi relations that are much more complex than they appear from the outside.

The content of the Quincy conversation was published very early on, for the first time in 1948 in a fragmented form, and for a second time in 1954 by the person serving as the interpreter at the meeting - the US envoy in Jeddah, William A Eddy.

His minutes from the meeting were authenticated by both parties and were officially published in 1969.

What they really talked about

These three texts essentially give the same information.

The first issue discussed was the Jews of Palestine. The two heads of state mostly agree on the question of refugee Jews in Europe: they could be resettled in countries forming the Axis [Nazi Germany, Italy, Japan etc], which had oppressed them, or in Poland.

Ibn Saud pointed out that the Arabs would be willing to give their lives before they would cede Palestine. It is at this moment that Roosevelt makes the only promise of that meeting, assuring the king that he will do nothing to help the Jews against the Arabs, and that he will lead no hostile action against the Arab people.

Next they talked about Syria and Lebanon. The United States agreed, by contrast, to do everything possible to ensure France fulfilled its commitment to grant them independence.

Finally, the two men agreed on the need to develop agriculture. Discussion here of the Quincy Pact is clearly altogether absent.

There is not a trace of written evidence of any discussion about oil aboard the Quincy, though there was no reason for them to have brought it up, as it may well have been seen as already settled by previous contracts.

In 1933 an agreement had been reached between Abdul Aziz and Socal [The Standard Oil Company of California] giving them exclusive rights to Saudi Arabian oil in return for 50,000 gold sovereigns plus further emoluments if oil was struck.

In March 1938 a successful strike was made at well number 7.

Why Roosevelt would have thought it necessary to conclude a pact guaranteeing something which already existed namely American companies access to Saudi oil is something only those who believe in conspiracy theories could answer.
Nowhere is there any concrete proof of such a pact.

I also find concerning Chis's suggestion that:
"That Roosevelt, the Roosevelt of 1940, would not have vouchsafed US protection to the deeply reactionary Saudi dynasty; not when he could have had it swept away by forces dedicated to establishing a modern, secular, democratic republic with just a flick of Uncle Sam’s finger."
This is the Roosevelt who loaned the deeply reactionary Chiang Kai Shek 100 million US dollars to fight Mao Tse Tung rather than the Japanese. Perhaps Chris it is time to read a little about the real Roosevelt.
Is Chris suggesting the use of American military might to depose the legitimate ruler of a Middle Eastern country because he does not approve of their form of government.
That sounds very similar to me to George W Bush's actions in invading Iraq.
And does Chris think if the Americans had taken that step in 1945 that it would have been any more successful in establishing a" modern, secular, democratic republic" than the Americans have been this century in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately this whole post reeks of the we know best attitude that has pervaded western countries's dealings with the rest of the world.

Guillaume said...

In the 1960s, based in Bahrain as an officer of British naval intelligence I had on occasion to work with US officers and officials. I never cease to be amazed at the uninformed and general ignorance of the Arabs, and Arab affairs, displayed by these people. Quite apart from their tendency to treat locals as curiously garbed Europeans, they had a propensity to dream up hair-brained schemes that flew in the face of local politics, customs and usage.
For instance, employing a civilian contractor, the U.S. Navy determined that it would be useful to have a Dhow Blue Book like that which they devised in Vietnam, the Junk Blue Book, with which in theatre forces would be able to identify the use and homeport of local craft.
They forged ahead with this project and in mutual aid, British warships and maritime reconnaissance aircraft were charged with logging the type, position, speed and course of local craft found at sea. The intention was to build a database suitable for analysis to build up a picture of local marine movements. Unfortunately, the spotters proved to be just as ignorant of local craft as US personnel, and the log sheets returned all craft as “Dhows”. Whereas, each type of local boat enjoyed a distinctive name.
At a conference in the US Embassy in Beirut I was able to enlighten the assembled company of this and to point out that the Persian Gulf trade extended well into the Indian Ocean attracting local craft from India and the East African coast. That if the Blue Book was the have any value it would need to include reference to these craft.
It was inadvertently revealed that the proposed Blue Book would be used not only by the U.S. Navy, but would be handed to the Iranians. The British Resident in Bahrain stepped in and denied any future involvement by British forces in this project. Being generally unaware of the intricacies of local politics, the US officials had overlooked the fact that Iran had a historic claim to the island of Bahrain where the population was Shia Moslem whilst the ruling family was Sunni.

Simon Cohen said...

Victor,Thanks for your comments.
As to who did the bulk of the fighting against the Japanese in China can I recommend two excellent books on this topic.
Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, by Barbara Tuchman.
The China Mirage"" by James Bradley.
Both books assert that the Nationalist forces did not seriously engage the Japanese after 1938 and used the huge loans from the USA [apart from the large percentages siphoned off by the Koong family and invested in Brazilian and New York real estate] to purchase arms which were stockpiled to use against the communists when the Japanese were defeated.

Geoff Fischer said...

Gerrit said: "Islam does not allow separation of the state from religion and a truly functioning democracy does require that to be so."

The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that true religion (theirs) is separated from the state (and established churches) by virtue of the fact that true religion is ordained by Jehovah God while the state comes under the authority of Satan. But that is a somewhat extreme position shared by the JWs and Islamic state militants (where the similarities between the two end), and by no means the norm among the mass of religious believers, who generally hold that religion can co-exist with a democratic state.

The separation of church and state is an organic fact. The separation of religion and state is more problematic. From where does the state draw its fundamental values, if not from religion? There were adverse outcomes when twentieth century secular states tried to use the assumed principles of natural philosophy and economic science to guide their conduct. So while a "truly functioning democracy" may require the separation of church and state, democracy can still co-exist with religion and a democratic state, or for that matter any state, must draw on the principles of religion if it is to retain authority in the longer run. Secular liberals err if they think that "separation" is synonymous with "repudiation".

Even though the transition to democracy has not been easy for many Muslim nations, it is hard to make a case that Islam is inherently more hostile to democracy than, say, Christianity or Judaism.

Phil Saxby said...

Thank you, Simon Cohen and "Guilliame".

It was a pleasure to read something from writers who know their subject.

I know very little about the history of the Middle East so I rarely comment here. (I consider Facebook, though, a legitimate arena for what might be seen as general, non-specialist, comment.)

It would be great if Chris's blog generated quality responses more often here.

Nick J said...

Victor, I subscribe to an unpopular alternate school of thought on Islamic terror. Like Marxism there is an inbuilt direction towards creating heaven on earth by the use of force. It is no mistake, Mohammed was a warrior, the message is submission to Islam, by force if necessary.

We in the West currently subscribe to a school of thought that insists on no absolutes, to being understanding, on everything being equal. It's a very dangerous stance. Where there are dragons beware, caution required. The trick is to see what is real, not what is preferred.

I maintain that Western involvement in the Middle East encroached upon an ancient sectarian battle that we should avoid. Neither Sunni or Shia appreciate Western presence because quite frankly we are infidels, which the holy texts explicitly state our worth. And that is that, convert or die, be enslaved. Check the track record, Hindu India was brutalized for a millennium with possibly the greatest numeric genocide ever.

I'd oppose renewed Nazism because the genocidal nature was clearly spelled out in Mein Kampff, I'd oppose a new Soviet because the gulag was always going to be the result of Marx's theory of class warfare. And whilst I see no threat amongst most secular Islamics I will always regard any fundamentalist adherence to Islam as inimical to peaceful coexistence with our secular society. What will it take for the liberals of the West to admit the their tolerance of intolerance is a danger to them?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"From where does the state draw its fundamental values, if not from religion? There were adverse outcomes when twentieth century secular states tried to use the assumed principles of natural philosophy and economic science to guide their conduct."

You mean like the American state, which was actually founded on the principle of separation of church and state and the prohibition of the promotion of one religion over another? I'm assuming you're talking about Nazis and Communists here, but let's remember that Hitler was a Catholic, and seem to mention God a lot in his speeches. And both he and Stalin took a lot of their morality from Christianity. Chosen people – tick. Approval of slavery – tick. Close supervision of people's opinions – tick. Misogyny – tick. I could go on. Let's face it, morality proceeded religion, and the idea that people need religion to lead moral lives is fatally flawed. As is the idea that the state must be based on religious principles.

Gerrit said...

Geoff Fisher,

I think you misunderstand my point. Democracy may well have Christian beginnings and bases of operation. Most importantly it is does not curtail religious belief to be christian only. Democracy allows all and any religion to be preached and practiced.

The state ensures that freedom.

Islam does not allow any other religion to be preached or practiced. It allows to state to control the religion and by default, the religion controls the state.

Democracy is not viable if freedom to have different religious beliefs is not allowed.

Hence open democracy and freedom are not an possible in an Islamic run country.

Gerrit said...

Geoff Fisher

Perfect example of this is the Bahai faith in Iran.

Charles E said...

Nick J you are the second left winger in a week I have heard espouse what you wrote above.
This surprises me because I had assumed these days the left thinks Islam is no different from Christianity in being a peaceful faith. It's the BBC line every time some Islamist kills which an exaltation to Allah. It is the right these days who openly say Islam is incompatible with the West but it is good to see I am wrong on this count.

The other left winger I refer to, who has a history degree from Oxford, filled me in on the horrendous history of Muslim violence bursting out of the ME both east then west over a 1000 years ago. I did not know even a lot of it. My negative view of this creed is mostly from the failures of Muslim societies since WW2. I thought its backwardness was a result of its total relative economic failing, not anything fundamental. Now I have been reminded that Ataturk suppressed Islam in Turkey, calling it a backward curse and described Mohammed as a murderer and rapist! Imagine a leader in any predominantly Muslim country saying that today, let alone a Western one! But Turkey now is risking terrible decline from a new Islamist dictator so will there be any democracies left in the Muslim world in due course? I doubt it, unless their people have an enlightenment and reject Islam or totally reform it. Currently to propose that is often a death sentence.

Victor said...

Hi Nick

Yes, but the long list of modernising, secularist (largely military) regimes that dominated the Islamic world in the mid/late twentieth century all ruled in defiance of the mores of many of their subjects.

Conversely, free elections, whether imposed from outside or otherwise, have almost always led to the triumph of Islamist parties of varying degrees of conservatism.

So what point would ultimately have been served by the West supporting, as Chris suggests, "progressives" from among the ranks of the secularist dictators?

Victor said...

Simon Cohen

Thank you for those suggestions for further reading, which I'll add to my ever lengthier list.

Nick J said...

True Victor, I think that viewing Islamic society through Western eyes is only going to land us in difficulty. Better to take the long term historic record as guidance, pushing our ideas of democracy upon them seems both arrogant and ridiculous.

Nick J said...

Charles, Attaturk lived through a period where a long established "calibrate" collapsed in the face of Western imperial competition. He was lucky that Islamic radicalism had not emerged as it has in recent decades. From the look of Erdogans Turkey it would appear that the historic culture centred on Islam is remarkably resilient and powerful.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" Islam is no different from Christianity"
Anyone who thinks Christianity is more peaceful than Islam has obviously not been "filled in" on the Rwanda massacres where Christians led by priests managed to kill people at a faster rate with machetes than the Nazis with all their technology. And of course many of the people who facilitated the Holocaust with themselves Christian. (Cue no true Scotsman fallacy here)

greywarbler said...

Thinking about books and how things might be. This sounds sort
of diverse and interesting. It refers though to 'Remnants' in the title. Not going to offer a blueprint for getting on between Islam and Christianity but if we keep thinking we may find it.
'Make book-time, not war, to find a novel idea!'

Dr Ben Stubbs:
My first book Ticket to Paradise: A Journey to Find the Australian Colony in Paraguay Among Nazis, Mennonites and Japanese Beekeepers about my search for the remnants of the Australian utopian colony in Paraguay was published by ABC Books in 2012.

I am a writing and journalism academic. My background is as a travel and features journalist for publications in Australia and overseas. I have written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Toronto Star, The Sydney Morning Herald and Rough Guides among many others. My current academic research focuses on exploring the plurality of the travel writing form.

I am fluent in Spanish and my latest book After Dark: A Nocturnal Exploration of... Read more

Geoff Fischer said...

In reply to Gerrit I know something about Iran (having been seconded to the Jihad-e-Sazandegi for a couple of months in the late nineties). The Bahai come off badly, for reasons which are historical as much as theological (in particular the close and to me unconscionable association between some leading Bahai and the Pahlavi regime). Christians and Jews were tolerated (I understand that the Jews even had a seat allocated to their community in the Majlis) but were restricted from proselytizing. Zoroastrians were given pretty free rein. Sunni Muslims and Sufi (Dervish) were accepted on more or less equal terms. I think there is a pragmatic element to this tolerance, but to be fair most Shia clerics concede at least in principle that "There is no compulsion in religion".
I haven't travelled to Lebanon but I expect similar rules would apply there. Muslims, whether Shia or Sunni, would have to accept the existence of Sunni, Shia, Druze, Maronite Christian and so on, even if through gritted teeth.
The problem of religious intolerance is universal, and the only reason we see less of it in the west these days is because westerners in general no longer care about religious issues which fiercely divided them from the fifteenth century through to the nineteenth. I also believe that the main drivers of religious intolerance are social, economic and political rather than theological, and that the actions of western secular governments have fueled and fanned religious intolerance in the Muslim world. If you really want to address the problem of Islamic terrorism you need to start at home by reconsidering New Zealand support for the century long western campaign of terror against the Muslim peoples of the Middle East.
I have worked and prayed alongside all kind of Muslims and I don't see Islam as intrinsically threatening.