Achmed Sukarno was a populist leader and founder of modern Indonesia. He also founded the non-aligned movement of developing countries to create a ‘third way’ between the then two superpowers. In 1955 he convened the Asia-Africa Conference where the leaders of the developing world (the majority of mankind) met to forge their common interests. Alarms went off as his initiative demonstrated a powerful potential in opposition to the boundless aspirations of the proponents of a “free market economy.” The 1963 formation of the Malaysian Federation was criticised by Sukarno as a neo-colonial plot to further British commercial interest in the region. A declassified British Foreign Office report from 1964 called for the ‘defence’ of western interests in South-East Asia as “the region produced nearly 85% of the world’s natural rubber, over 45% of the tin, 65% of the copra and 23% of the chromium ore.” More stridently, from a CIA memorandum two years earlier, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and President John Kennedy had agreed to “liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities”.
Under Sukarno Indonesia was a parliamentary democracy and later was referred to as a guided democracy. He vigorously encouraged the establishment of trade unions as well as peasant, women’s and cultural movements. Sukarno was himself a committed nationalist and democratic leader, while characteristically autocratic in his performance. He promoted participation in political parties and by 1965 the largest was the PKI, a communist party. According to the historian Harold Crouch, “the PKI had won widespread support not as a revolutionary party but as an organisation defending the interests of the poor within the existing system.” Its popularity as grass-roots resistance to the former colonial power’s corporate interests is what seriously alarmed the Americans and their friends. It could, they said, like Viet Nam “go communist.” Sukarno’s government was a broad coalition within which the PKI had a significant position, while there had never been evidence that he was himself a member of the Party.
In 1966, with the secret backing of the CIA, General Suharto seized power. While the ‘threat of communism’ was the provocation promoted to the Western World, copiously splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world, there was the de facto flash point that rushed America and Britain to act, culminating in their pre-arranged mandate that Suharto would be put in place. A recalcitrant Sukarno had committed a most mortal sin within the secular religion of liberal democracy that safeguards the sacred rites of corporate capitalism. He had thrown out the IMF and World Bank. We know, again from declassified memoranda, that the CIA provided lists of suspected or known communists or agitators. The lists were supplied to General Suharto and his army. Thousands, then tens of thousands of people were rounded up and killed. With the names checked off the lists were handed back to the CIA. Sir Andrew Gilchrist, Britain’s Ambassador to Jakarta, reported back to the Foreign Office that “I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change”. The Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, while visiting the White House said: “With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked-off I think it’s safe to assume a reorientation has taken place”.
In 1967 a meeting was held in Geneva, sponsored by Time-Life Corporation, to distribute the spoils from the great prize of Indonesia. David Rockefeller helped chair the meeting in which all the most powerful capitalists were assembled. The corporate titans of the Free World were represented: General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British Leyland, British-American Tobacco, American Express, Siemans, Goodyear, US Steel and the International Paper Corporation. On the other side of the table were Suharto’s men, whom Rockefeller referred to as “Indonesia’s top economic team”. The team was headed by the Sultan of Jogjakarta, who produced a plan for a free ‘market economy’ that had been supplied to him by the Ford Foundation which had worked it out with two CIA front organisations: The Center for International Studies and the Stanford Research Institute. The final draft was written by Harvard economist David Cole. In Geneva the team was jokingly referred to as the Berkeley Mafia, as many of the participants had enjoyed US government scholarships to study at the University of California in Berkeley. All of the vast natural resources, including that of the human resource of cheap labour, were handed over in exchange for General Suharto being placed in power, protected by the USA, Britain and Australia. The Geneva conference was called ‘To Aid in the Rebuilding of a Nation’. The prestigious conference was opened by the notable James Linen, president of Time Inc. and a man who has the appearance of someone who has just consumed a third of the worlds natural resources for lunch, who said, “we are trying to create a new climate in which private enterprise and developing countries work together…for the greater profit of the free world. This world of international enterprise is more than governments…It is a seamless web of enterprise, which has been shaping the global environment at revolutionary speed”. By the second day of the conference the region was all carved-up. Chase Manhattan set up the financial services; the Freeport Company got the mountains of copper, the giant US company Alcoa got most of the bauxite, and on and on. A tax-free haven was quickly set up by Suharto’s government for his new friends and to the raucous cheers of the conference participants the IMF and World Bank were back in business in Indonesia.
In an interview given in 2000 an air force pilot who had been loyal to Sukarno at the time of the coup, and while he had survived, had spent many years in prison under the Suharto/CIA regime, was quoted as saying: “In the early sixties the pressure on Indonesia to do what the Americans wanted was intense. Sukarno wanted good relations with them but did not want their economic system. With America that is never possible. So he became an enemy. They didn’t call it globalisation then, but it was the same thing. If you accepted it you were America’s friend. If you chose another way you were given [a] warning, and if you didn’t comply all hell was visited on you”. It must be clear that the Suharto Indonesian model worked. It worked for more than thirty-five years before anyone ventured to pull the plug on one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. The very same model was applied in Viet Nam.
In 1959, as the French were preparing their withdrawal from Viet Nam, the Americans started sending in their first ‘advisors’. A few years on the CIA, under the cover of innocuous NGO’s, brought explosives and arms into the country. By the mid 1960’s innocent villagers were being butchered and unprovoked explosions were going off in Saigon. The front pages of the western world’s newspapers reported the atrocities being committed by the communists. Ralph McGehee, a top CIA operations officer in the 1960’s declared that the Viet-cong did not kill villagers and burn villages; rather their modus operandi was to recruit people and set up supply lines to fuel the resistance [to foreign occupation]. McGehee went on to say of the Indonesian Model of 1965 (code named ‘Operation Phoenix’ when launched in Viet Nam where American-directed death squads assassinated over 50,000 people): “You can trace back all the major, bloody events run from Washington to the way Suharto came to power. The success of that initial program meant that it would be repeated again and again.” Seven years after the Terror in Indonesia, the model was again used, according to McGehee, as a ‘model operation’ for the American run coup that disposed Chilean President Salvador Allende. Allende was a highly cultured Marxist intellectual who was elected by the people of Chile in indisputably free and fair democratic elections. President Richard Nixon was in the White House. How he arrived there is germane to our understanding of the events leading up to the present.
Kennedy had been highly instrumental in America’s continued involvement in Viet Nam, just as he had been complicit in the overthrow of Sukarno. Nixon was the man who the rapidly expanding military industrial complex had intended to succeed Dwight D. Eisenhower, war hero president of WWII. Yet Nixon lost, and the wild-card candidate got in. Cuba and the ‘Bay of Pigs’ turned into a fiasco, and the military, together with the armaments industry, i.e. military industrial complex, lost a lucrative opportunity. Nevertheless, they were given Viet Nam, which was a golden compensation for having lost Cuba. The American Mafia, instrumental in getting Kennedy into the White House and who also lost out when the hay-days of Havana ended, were given Las Vegas in Nevada to operate legalised gambling. This was political payback for new friends who were old friends of his father Joe Kennedy. Kennedy’s presidency was cut short and LBJ stepped in and so deepened America’s involvement in Viet Nam that Johnson eventually buried himself. Then in 1969 Nixon took the place that had been usurped from him by the charismatic and popular Kennedy back in ‘61.
In 1972 US business interests and other trans-nationals were sucking dry the great natural wealth of Chile. The communications giant ITT was a major player and when its head, Geneen, an execrable Polish American, went to Nixon and handed him a large suit case crammed with $100 bills to activate the subversion of the Chilean economy with the desired intent that the matter culminate in a coup d’état, the exigent plan was rushed into motion. The danger of Allende was already well known, for in December 1972 he had delivered a most rousing address of immense historical importance to the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his address he outlined, in detail, the vast and rapacious expropriation of wealth from the developing states by huge international corporations. He told of the loss of autonomy and sovereignty of those states, not to other states but to entities and individuals who operated and moved freely beyond any national boundaries. Moreover, they were un-elected by any known franchise of the human population, bound by nothing but their own bottom lines. The ensuing poverty [that ravaged Latin America as well as Africa and Asia] was a direct result of those actions, and the weakened and indebted national governments were helpless to alleviate the suffering of their people. At the end of Allende’s speech the auditorium erupted in a roar of cheering and applause. Behind the roar, in muffled whispers, the acrimonious words not heard but too soon felt, “the communist son-of-a bitch has to go”.
Communism was a failed ideology within the flawed dialectic of left/right that dominated nearly all thinking in the last century. Allende and his government fell, not simply as the Berlin Wall fell, but because he had embraced a theism that failed to grasp the true nature of both capital and money itself. Nevertheless, there has always been an irrefutable critique of Capitalism that emerged from its opponents, irregardless of their inability to have any self analysis. Andre Malraux’s intellect and passion do not go wasted on an attentive listener concerned with the human condition. Yet what is to be taken from the brutal reality of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag requires yet another assessment. The collapse of the Soviet Union was not so different from the collapse of Enron, which together with their accountants Anderson, hid its enormous debt within an empty shell. The irony here is that the Soviet Union collapsed not ostensibly because of a lack of efficacy but lack of efficiency. The Presidential Building was surrounded by General Pinochet’s brutal army. The in-back CIA operation moved forward. Facing inevitable defeat, Allende committed suicide. The mass slaughter began and the football stadiums started filling up with corpses. Among the thousands dead, who remain to this day unaccounted for, were a number of naively idealistic Americans opposed to US sponsored fascism in South America, who needed to be identified by their parents who had flown down to retrieve their children’s bodies. They had been lured by the seductive lies of communist propaganda, the parents were told. We had all been warned of the dangers and now, said the State Department official: “This terrible tragedy.”
What happened in Chile was a new nadir in the transformation from inter-state wars to the now omnipresent hostile takeovers that are occurring in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Elections have just been held to choose Haiti’s first elected president since the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Prior to these elections (2006) and continuing on, Haiti, a small island state, rages on in chaos and violence. These events are all part of the active ‘Nation-Building Policy’ of the Bush administration. Aristide was openly supported by the US, as he had originally been their pick for the presidency. While they stated that he “…was deeply flawed,” its policy was always to work with him as Haiti’s democratically elected leader. Brian Dean Curran, American Ambassador to Haiti had this mandate and conscientiously worked to uphold it. Nevertheless, he continually found his efforts being thwarted. He had come to help this fledgling democracy and now found himself recalled, having to leave in anger and foreboding. Government documents show that while Curran was told to speak with the US voice of cooperation and support for the President, the putative State Department position, a much more powerful voice was running a rip-tide undermining his every effort. That voice came from the publicly funded democracy building group close to the White House, the International Republican Institute, I.R.I. Their man in Haiti was the invidious Stanley Lucas, who actively encouraged and provided support for the war-lord generals to overthrow Aristide. Lucas assured them that this was Washington’s true policy and that “Curran was of no importance, [and] that he did not fit in the bigger picture.” Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell assured the world that America’s policy was precisely what Curran had been promoting, and that “the United States stood by Mr. Aristide”. Then Lucus flew hundreds of opposition rebels to a hotel in the Dominican Republic, situated on the other half of this small island. There the active plan was laid out to oust Aristide by the US backed war-lords. The enactment of the Terror begins. It is the very heart of the operating system. Lucas has since moved on and is currently working hard for the I.R.I. building democracy in Afghanistan.
Then democracy is really tyranny.
“No. It’s really democracy.”
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Wednesday, November 7, 2007
To Be Blunt
WILFRED SCAWEN BLUNT knocked, and then walked confidently onto the stage of politically extraordinary events. He would continue with unabashed vigour to write himself into some of the most important conflicts that characterized the final decades of the Nineteenth Century, with those far-reaching consequences that have come to define the Twentieth. The young Blunt married Lady Annabella King-Noel, Lord Byron’s granddaughter, and attempted to invent himself in a quasi-likeness of the great poet. His spirited sense of adventure made him a more than convincing character within the colourful scripts he wrote for himself. This pioneering breeder of Arabian stallions was a champion of Irish Independence, the reputation for which ingratiated him with W.B. Yeats and some of the most promising young writers who met the old man of English letters. From youth to old age, Blunt cut a convincing figure as a man’s man in a world where the men who held sway over the political and economic arenas of influence are still renowned for the avidity with which they demonstrated their will to dominate global politics and trade within the hegemony of the British Empire. What should not be underestimated is the cunning and savvy with which they wielded their power in world affairs, and the attraction that this world of influence held for Blunt. However persistently Blunt would pitch up with his script in hand—having unfailingly written for himself a leading part with supporting roles for his dubious adopted ‘Eastern’ friends—it was he who was invariably incorporated into far more ambitious scenarios that had more to do with the expropriation of vast wealth and the lucrative function of handling the inevitable debt portfolios of bankrupted countries than with any of his celebrated causes of national independence. Whether it was Irish Home Rule, Egyptian Nationalism, or supporting the British-backed movement for an Arab Khalifate, according to his biographer Elizabeth Longford, Blunt is to be most remembered neither for his poetry, not withstanding a half dozen well-crafted lines pinched from Elizabethan verse, nor his recondite politics, which his friends in Parliament found rash and his wife ridiculous, but rather his living-out his own extraordinary autobiography. Before dropping in on the Blunts it is necessary to describe in some detail the key events that were taking place in Egypt, 1863.
SULTAN ABDALAZIZ HAD INSTALLED ISMA’IL PASHA, an ambitious and clever young man who expressed an early fascination with Europe as the viceroy of Egypt. In 1863 the Pasha brought gifts to the Sultan in Istanbul, including a steamboat, and in return the Sultan visited him in Egypt later the same year. During the next two years Isma’il was to lend support in the form of troops to curb a rebellion in Arabia, a struggle in Romania and trouble on the island of Crete. He was rewarded for his efforts by being made Khedive of Egypt with the right to run its internal affairs. In 1866, with the permission of the Osmanli government, Isma’il began the digging of the Suez Canal, which, when completed, carried with it huge debts to European banks. These debts, in turn, brought in foreign administrators, and financial houses in England—akin to those already ensconced from France—bought up further shares as Egypt was forced to sell off its stake in the Canal. By 1878 a Minister of Finance had been appointed from England and a Minister of Public Works from France. This incursion into the affairs of the Muslims was an unprecedented disaster, notwithstanding the severe shock caused by the military defeat suffered at the hands of the Russians in the Crimean Wars some twenty years earlier, and it brought about Isma’il’s removal, only for him to be followed by his son Tawfiq, who gained support through covert British initiatives. During the next few years, two sides of a feudal banking family—one in France the other in England—fought and intrigued to gain control of the administration of Egypt’s debt, already ten times the total of its annual revenues, and by 1882 Egypt sunk completely under the control of the British (banks). While Egypt was unravelling, the Foreign Office in London was desperate to maintain control over it and out-manoeuvre the French who still held a stake in the country. France was encouraged from behind the scenes by Bismarck, while England wanted no direct squabble with Germany and its headstrong Chancellor.
FURTHER AFIELD, THE EMPIRE’S GRIP ON AFGHANISTAN was being challenged by Russia, who was advancing deeper into Central Asia, and whom the British believed was attempting to enter ‘British’ India through the back door of the Khyber Pass. To exasperate matters even further the Boers were restless in South Africa, stubbornly resisting the yoke of British colonialism and refusing to concede to Her Majesty’s claims on the gold and diamond mines.
AS THE GOVERNMENT IN ISTANBUL catapulted into turmoil, with blame falling first on the high ranking Sadrazam Pasha, the matter became increasingly volatile as the naiveté or, more accurately, Sultan Abdalaziz’s unconscionable ignorance of the machinations of usury-capitalism brought about a further capitulation that resulted in his deposition and ultimately his execution. The escalating foreign debt with the increasing interference in the affairs of the Islamic polity by those whose interests were inimical to it was not restricted to the situation in Egypt; it had already taken root in Istanbul. By some accounts Abdalaziz had attempted (unsuccessfully) to hold back the growth of foreign debt being advanced by officials within the newly ‘liberalized’ government. Undoubtedly there were new forces at work as their creditors were wreaking havoc by imposing financial instruments previously unknown within the Muslim world. The liberalisation that was taking place within the government was a shifting away from the modalities of Islam in the face of these challenges. It embraced a new rationalist system that installed a parliamentary apparatus to replace authentic leadership, census-based taxation instead of the non-state Islamic Awqaf, bank-generated debt in place of Islamic contracts based on partnership, and the extraordinary introduction of fiat money in place of real wealth. All this was made necessary for accom modating these ‘challenges’ within a ‘reformed’ Islam. The short-sightedness of this new class of bureaucrats kept them from recognising the syphilitic effects of usury capitalism and the unprecedented deception that claimed that the keys to modernity and progress could only be had from the banks. Despite the clear prohibitions in both the Qur’an and recorded Sunna of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, against the very financial practices that were proving far more lethal than any modern military weapon, the current leadership, bedazzled by their European ‘liberators’, lost sight of the path of destruction opening before them. Upon Abdalaziz’s death, Murad V was made Khalif and Sultan. Neither a strong nor competent leader, and with controversy still rife over the death of Abdalaziz, he too was soon deposed.
IN 1876, SULTAN ABDULHAMID II, one of the greatest leaders the Muslim people were to have, was handed the reins of authority at a time when such a man could not have been more needed. It was during the first few years of his rule that the English (banks) were consolidating their hold on Egypt, taking full advantage of the reckless financial policies of Khedive Isma’il and of the culpability of the Sultan’s predecessors in Istanbul. Sultan Abdulhamid annulled the adopted ‘liberal’ constitution of his immediate predecessors and began to dismantle the pervasive and corrupt bureaucracy that had been built up. The situation in which he found himself prompted an exigency that provoked his enemies, who castigated him as an autocratic ruler who was impeding the tide of modernity and change. The desired tidal change was nothing less than the expropriation of the rich lands of the Muslim people, while allowing a limited suzerainty within what would develop in time into newly formed nation states.
BEFORE THE DISGRACED ISMA’IL was removed he made a desperate plea for help to Sultan Abdulhamid. Upon judicious advice from the Osmanli Pasha of Tunisia, who saw that this would lead to an uprising in Egypt by those who blamed Isma’il for the interminable woes suffered by the country—and consequently even more foreign interference—it was decided not to move in defence of Isma’il. Yet another rash act by the Khedive, his formation of a new all-Egyptian govern ment, prompted the English to step in and instigated the revolt of the Egyptian people led by the nationalist Arabi Pasha in 1881. A resolute political acumen was needed by the Sultan to navigate the course through this complex and perilous situation. He saw that the nationalist, albeit anti-British movement in Egypt would weaken the Muslim polity, cut Egypt off from the body of the Umma, and make much easier the possession of its wealth and people by those who had already fastened their grip. As an alternative, the Sultan convened a conference in Istanbul with ambassadors from the creditor countries (banks), although he did not personally attend as this would lend legitimacy to their incursion into Osmanli affairs. It was decided that the Osmanli Government would take charge of settling the financial crisis in Egypt with no interference from either Britain or France. The skill of the Sultan had, given the disadvantageous circumstances, guided the matter to the best possible solution. He then summoned Arabi Pasha and some of his key followers to Istanbul, while he sent an envoy to Egypt to meet with Tawfiq, the new Khedive. In accordance with the recently adjourned conference in Istanbul French warships had left the Bay of Alexandria, although English ships had remained anchored in the port. While the diplomatic efforts of Sultan Abdulhamid were on the verge of restoring calm, the continued presence of British warships sparked riots in Alexandria, which resulted in Admiral Seymour shelling the city. Faced with the prospect of sending troops into Egypt, the Sultan held to his promise at the Istanbul Accord to settle the internal debts of Egypt and then to appoint some of the nationalists to the government of the Khedive. While his representative was on his way to Cairo to expedite this prudent plan, one that can be seen to hold the best interests of the Egyptians and the possibility that they could avoid precipitating greater catastrophe, yet another intrigue was underway.
JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN, Britain’s Minister of Trade, and one of the Empire’s leading men, wanted further to secure the interests of British creditors, and at the same time sequester all of the high quality yet inexpensive Egyptian cotton for the textile industry of his hometown, Manchester. The rising nationalist movement provided the provocation necessary to strike, and—with the government at home about to change hands from the Liberal Gladstone to the Conservative Salisbury— Chamberlain seized the moment and moved to the attack at Tell-el Kabir on September 13, 1882. He defeated the Egyptian forces, then moved on, in a brilliant play, to take Cairo! In the aftermath, Britain insisted that their holding Egypt was “only temporary, to secure stability,” and restated their desire to work with the Sultan to this end. Whatever the Sultan may have thought of this promise, he was now unable to object. The Osmanli were still acknowledged as the sovereign authority in Egypt, but now all its internal affairs were inexorably in the hands of the new suzerain power.
CAPTAIN EVELYN BARING, of the Baring banking family, was sent to Egypt as the British Commissioner of the Debt. In 1883 he was appointed British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt, and was thence to be known as (the formidable and overbearing) Lord Cromer who ran Egypt until 1907. His influence would permeate every sphere of society, including the alteration of certain fundaments of Islamic Law. His personally appointing Muhammad Abduh, the prime protégé of al-Afghani—an Irani shi‘a turned agnostic and masonic ‘grand-master’—as the Grand Mufti of Egypt may well be his most vaunted and pernicious achievement. As Afghani had opened the door to an esoteric reinter pretation of the Qur’an and the removal of established fiqh (the science of the application of Shari’a Law), Abduh, as Mufti under Cromer and the Crown’s provisional law and through a series of fatwas, would inaugurate changes that would allow the practice of usury; redefining clearly forbidden business practices based on usury being acceptable, thus allowing the first bank to open, while utilizing Islamic terms denoting recognized and established lawful business practices for clearly unlawful ones. Truly avatars of Islamic Modernism and progenitors of the Islamic bank, an institution that was to arise nearly a century later, both al-Afghani and Abduh opened the door for the degradation and bankrupting not only of Egypt but also of the entire Muslim world. We can ask who opened the door to these two feckless yet ultimately so destructive characters? It was none other than that great adventurer of proboscidian proportions, Mr. Blunt.
BLUNT HAD BEFRIENDED AFGHANI when they met for the first time in 1883 in Paris, where Afghani was engaged with leading French freemasons who had taken to bed their eager Islamic Modernist friend, and was to promote the “free-thinking Eastern gentleman” on numerous occasions during the next ten years. Afghani’s pan-Islamic reforms and his scarcely concealed contempt for Islam suited the architects of Egyptian Independence. Blunt openly supported the nationalists, with their fervent anti-British rhetoric, to whom Afghani and his Salafi school were attached. According to the memoirs of Winston Churchill’s politically unlucky father Randolph, Blunt avidly discussed his radical ideas at his gentlemen’s club in London with Lord Gladstone. Blunt advanced the need to bring Arabi, the leader of the Egyptian Nationalist uprising, back into Egypt, with, he urged, the help of the British. Moreover, he saw the thinking of Afghani as highly suitable to reshape the country.
BLUNT SUPPORTED THE MAHDI in his revolt against the British in Sudan. When Khartoum fell and Gordon was killed, Gladstone’s Liberal government was unravelling in London. Blunt advocated Afghani as “the one man who could speak directly to the Mahdi”, although Afghani had never met him nor was he known to have any access to the self proclaimed messianic leader of the Sudan, and according to Blunt (see My Diaries) rather fantastically, “if the British would back down on Egypt, he could assure peace in the Sudan.” Blunt had even more friends in the new Conservative government of Salisbury, most notably Lord Randolph Churchill, to whom he eagerly promoted his grand plan. The avowed radical and Liberal champion was now considering seeking his own seat in (the new Conservative) government.
EGYPT’S INDEPENDENCE from British rule presupposes it being severed from Osmanli ascendancy, which held the banner of Islam, and therefore, protected it. Likewise, Blunt’s promoting an Arabian Khalif and supporting an Arab rebellion against the Osmanli opened the way for the complete disintegration of the land of the Arabs, from which they have never recovered, today remaining fractured into despotic and unstable nation states. While the British government had very similar designs, they, for their part, found Blunt rash and unaware of the bigger picture. Chaotic dismembering of the Osmanli territory would precipitate Britain losing control of what they saw as the crown jewels that they alone wanted to retain. While Czarist Russia was eyeing the Caucasus and the Balkans, and France the Mediterranean rim of North Africa, it was Egypt, Arabia and the trade route through the Gulf and the biggest prize of all, India, that Britain was determined to have. They would indeed attempt to placate the Osmanli, while more cautiously steering the situation to the desired endgame.
ON ANOTHER FRONT, or foot, Blunt had travelled through Iran, “looking,” he said, “for a stallion.” He would not meet the Imperial Shah (although he claimed in his Diaries to have done so), ruler of the shi‘a, a bane within the Muslim world from the moment they emerged as a splinter (etymologically the correct word would be splitter although not found in the English dictionary). He did join up with some “impoverished pilgrims on the way to the Hajj,” and shot six wild boars for them to eat, the last one nearly killing Lady Anne and her prized stud. They were next visited by a “lost tribe, worse off than the pilgrims,” who offered to be their guides and “turned out to be forty thieves,” as we learn from Blunt’s own account. Afghani would visit Iran after him, seeking directly from the Shah, whom he did meet, a high ministerial post. This is an egregious anomaly for an Iranian-born shi‘a who had built his identity on pretending to be an Afghani Sunni scholar, and who now hoped to stage a rebellion against the Shah of Iran. The encrusted Peacock got wind of Afghani’s smoke and would have none of it, and threw him out of His Royal Highness’ Persia.
AN ARAB REBELLION in the Hijaz would in time be advanced by Britain, as the hidden wealth that lay under its sands was becoming known. It was, of course,
T.E. Lawrence, the man who loved the romance of the desert just as he had a fond predilection for Arab boys, and who called W.S. Blunt his “prophet and role-model,” that would incite the ignorant bedouins to rebellion and assisted Britain in eventually installing the family of Ibn Saud as the Kings of Arabia. It was an inebriated Churchill—his normal condition—who congratulated the King on his new job, for which the monarch was to receive a stipend from the British Government. While they sat together on a British frigate, with Churchill mulling over the future of the region as he ate his pork-chops, the newly appointed King of Arabia declared “Saudi Arabia.”
MUHAMMAD ABDUH would be introduced in London, as had been his mentor Afghani before him, by Blunt to his friends in government. On returning to Egypt Blunt would sit with the impressive Lord Cromer, stalwart of British Imperialism in the East. In 1899, while Blunt was ill and unable to travel, he asked Cromer to “give away” his daughter Judith in marriage. Blunt’s wife, Lady Anne, found this “extraordinarily bizarre,” as Cromer had, “apparently!” been her husband’s nemesis for years in Egypt. She admitted to having never understood Wilfred’s politics. The same year found the head of the Mahdi severed from his entombed body, which was then thrown into the Nile, and brought back to London to be used as an inkwell or drinking cup. Lord Kitchener ordered the act, while it was the young Major William Gordon, nephew of the avenged General, whom he put up to it. Blunt was incensed by the act as well as Kitchener’s shirking responsibility for it. Blunt wrote, “An abominable world it is, an abominable century, and an abominable race.” The Boer War broke out and Blunt became involved in the ‘fate of the blacks’ in South Africa. Then the Boxer Rebellion in China, and in contrast to the ‘Yellow Peril’ scare-mongering that was popular amongst his countrymen, he wrote: “The Chinese, after a long course of bullying by the Powers, worrying by the missionaries, and robbing by merchants and speculators, have risen, and are, very properly, knocking the foreign vermin on the head.”
WITH THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW CENTURY Blunt was still expressing his bitterness about the last one. Nevertheless, he remained somewhat optimistic that the age of British Imperialism was to end, and with it its incessant wars. “The shame of the Nineteenth,” wrote Blunt, “had to be put aside for the shame of the Twentieth,” and while he was moving into old age, and his causes of conscience more obtuse, he was keeping closer to home and his growing grandchildren.
IN 1914 A GROUP OF POETS in England went to pay homage to Blunt. Among them was Yeats, advocate, like Blunt, of Irish Home Rule, and also young Ezra Pound, who was writing (and dressing) in the style of an Eighteenth Century romantic poet, steeped in the Romance Languages and Medieval Literature. Pound’s poetry and politics would, during the next two decades, mature, and with them an understanding that would place usury as the most pernicious and destructive force against nature. In the poet’s words, repeatedly expressed in both his prose essays and epic poem The Cantos, usura was Contra Naturum, destroyer of the highest aspects of human civilization: “Its culture, religion, art and the ability to establish justice.” (Collected Essays). Nevertheless, the seventy-four year-old Blunt was still an impressive figure, and Yeats and his young friends were not disappointed with their famous ‘Peacock Dinner’ (Pound’s idea and I believe he cooked it) in honour of the man of action with “a fine old eye,” as he was referred to in The Cantos. Ten years later Pound would preach the necessity of going to the root of meanings: it was part of his Confucian education and a quality he attributed in his epic poem to the Prophet Muhammad.
THE RELEVANCY OF THE REFERENCE TO THE PROPHET, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, can be recognized by referring to his last formal address during the Farewell Hajj which took place not long before he, peace be upon him, died. Three salient topics were discussed: the unequivocal prohibition against usury (riba) and the imperative to protect against it; the equitable and honourable treatment of women within society; and a profound understanding of tawhid (the unity of God). This auspicious, deeply moving and most crucial address was a safeguard for his community, then and for future generations. Losing hold of these things has not only precipitated the loss of their lands and wealth but, to some extent, their very humanity. The taking as ‘friends and protectors’ those whom they have envied, feared and eventually hoped for help from has left them lost in a dark desert storm.
WILFRED S. BLUNT did not delve deep into the root causes of the wars, conflicts and confrontations that he was to witness and often champion in his lifetime. He was, all the same, a rare English archetype that appears a cut above the rest. He became the first Englishman to be sent to prison, albeit for a short stay, over the conflict in Ireland. At the other end of his political spectrum, in 1915, he sat for hours with his young friend Winston Churchill, who was utterly distraught over Asquith’s Liberal cabinet having fallen apart and taking him, as part of the coalition, down with it. On top of that Winston was haunted by his responsibility, as First Lord of the Admiralty, for the horrendous loss of life at Gallipoli, and Blunt would spend whole afternoons watching him paint a portrait that he ever so much tried to praise. Five years later, after a conversation with the Churchills, Blunt would write that he thought Winston had caused the war even more than Gray, and then in My Diaries: “There is much of the schoolboy in Winston notwithstanding his crimes…”
LADY ANNE DIED in 1917 and is buried in Cairo. In 1918 Judith, the Blunts’ daughter, defeated her father’s contesting her mother’s will that left the ownership of all the stud horses to her. The final years became clouded with morphine and there was no reconciliation with his daughter, although he said he was satisfied that the horses would end up with his grandchildren and he had been relieved of the responsibility. The publication of My Diaries met with some critical acclaim, which he certainly enjoyed, although one senses that when he was up to it, it was his private conversations that provided him with pleasure. Blunt died on the tenth of September 1922 at the age of eighty-two.
THE GREAT GAME, a term first used by a Russian officer engaged in reconnaissance in Central Asia and coined in English by Kipling, was truly a British invention. It was a far more ingenious game than many of the players were aware. The vast horizons of the most prodigious men became a circumscribed wasteland of wrecked private ambitions and puerile fantasies. The major players have slipped into a ubiquitous obscurity. Wilfred Blunt played, with conspicuous flare, his part. He was indubitably a man of conscience. Ultimately the Islamic Khalifate was bankrupted, and the spoils divided. By the end of the First World War the job was done, the Khalifate ended, and today, at the beginning of another new century, all its lands divided into corrupt nation states, indebted and with despotic regimes run by ‘b-movie’ gangsters. Britain, no longer great, has yet to resolve the conflicts of Northern Ireland, bombs continue to explode in the streets of London, leaving a trail of blood and shattered glass. In the summer of 2001, cities in the Midlands of England provided venues for conflicts of racial unrest as the Government and police joined forces to drive an already alienated and disenfranchised population of youth into futile battles. The great prize of India comes down to a street fight in Manchester between the police and the British Indian youth.
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