A hundred years after the Balfour Declaration and the dismantling of the Uthmani Khilafah after World War One, what has the Muslim Ummah learnt from history, Jahangir Mohammed asks.
Thursday 2nd November 2017 will mark 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, which eventually led to the creation of a Jewish State in the heart of the Islamic world. Supporters of Israel, including thousands of Jews and European politicians will celebrate this key declaration in their colonial history.
We should also not forget the Jules Cambon letter of June 4, 1917 on behalf of the French Foreign Ministry, which also endorsed the Zionist project and appears to be the template upon which the Balfour Declaration was written. The Zionist project of Israel was a distinctly European project, not an exclusively British one. “The Cambon letter to Nahum Sokolow” stated:
“You were good enough to present the project to which you are devoting your efforts, which has for its object the development of Jewish colonization in Palestine. You consider that, circumstances permitting, and the independence of the Holy Places being safeguarded on the other hand, it would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality [nationalité juive] in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago.
“The French government, which entered this present war to defend a people wrongly attacked, and which continues the struggle to assure the victory of right over might, can but feel sympathy for your cause, the triumph of which is bound up with that of the Allies.
“I am happy to give you herewith such assurance.”
Muslims around the world should also remember the Cambon and Balfour Declarations, but for entirely different purposes. Understanding Balfour, and the circumstances that led to it, is a key to understanding both the danger to Muslims living in Europe, but also the path to move out of the chaos of the Middle East towards liberation from colonialism and European supremacist ideologies, which are still controlling that part of the world.
Racism, white supremacy and European colonialism
The Balfour Declaration and the subsequent creation of Israel, was a typically British solution to the age-old “Jewish problem” in Europe, just as today Europe perceives there to be a “Muslim problem”. It was a racist solution.
Recognition by the European political elite and some Jewish groups that after centuries of persecution in Europe, large Jewish communities could not safely co-exist or be “integrated” (read assimilated) into Europe. It was a moment in history in which both the persecutor and persecuted agreed politically that European Jews were better off living elsewhere.
Therefore, they needed to be voluntarily encouraged to leave and be provided with a “home” outside of European soil.The Balfour Declaration represented the formalisation of a policy of racial transfer, by recognising the creation of a separate home specifically for Jews outside of Europe, which became the Jewish State.
Today, white supremacists argue much the same thing about Muslims and other immigrants. Muslims cannot be integrated into Europe and a policy of racial and religious transfer through voluntary repatriation needs to be encouraged.
The creation of racially exclusive states, and the elimination or enslavement of indigenous people, was not a new policy for the European colonialists. Colonial states were essentially racist white Christian states, in which the indigenous people were either eliminated, marginalised, enslaved or separated physically; on reservations or through segregated or apartheid policies, and at the same time being forced or pressured to adopt Christianity. Racial supremacy and European Christianity were the twin ideological pillars that underpinned European colonialism.
The rise of nationalism and birth of nation states
Around the same time, nationalism (essentially European Christian political ideas of nation state) had been taking root in both European and colonial lands (replacing the politics of monarchies and empires). As a direct reaction to their persecution, Jews in Europe also sought a solution to their long-term suffering and plight.
Whilst most Jews at that time believed it was possible to assimilate into Europe, many also found refuge in the new emerging ideas of nationalism – in this case, Jewish nationalism in the form of Zionism. The claim of “Gods promise” of Palestine to the Jews was used to win support to claim Palestine as a Jewish “homeland”. The Zionist movement used the Bible and Christianity to make their case with Europeans.
In Muslim lands, the major aim of the European powers was to dismantle the Uthmani Khilafah and prevent a united Muslim political order appearing in its place. To do this they had to destroy the political unity between Arabs and Turks. The Europeans in the Muslim East were looking for allies to achieve these aims. Arab and Jewish nationalist movements, and later states based on these ideologies were ideal for their purposes.
Arab and Turkish secular nationalism had already taken root in the Ottoman Caliphate. The Young Turks and their programme of “Turkeynisation” had been working to replace the Caliphate with a new state in the image of the Western values – they succeeded with the coup de’ tat against the Caliph Abdulhamid in 1908. Arab nationalist movements also emerged. These ideas were the products of Lebanese Maronite Christians, which Muslim Arabs started to embrace.
Ideas of Arab nationalism were essentially founded on European theological and political doctrines, and found their way into the Muslim world. Movements based on these ideas began to flourish. Various nationalist organisations led by individuals working to break the Arab provinces from the Khilafah rallied behind Sharif Hussain of Makkah and his revolt against Ottoman rule at the time, supported by the British in return for a promise of power and rule over Arabia, including Palestine.
The Destruction of the Uthmani Khilafah
The 19th century witnessed a great expansion of colonialism around the world. The Europeans found the greatest resistance from Muslims and this was rooted in Islam and its political power (albeit declining). The defeat of Islam and the dismantling of the Uthmani Khilafah as the last manifestation of the unity of the Ummah was a necessary condition for Western control of Muslim lands. Zionism and Arab nationalism became useful allies for imperialism.
With the support of Arab nationalists, General Allenby and his forces defeated the Ottoman army and marched into Damascus and Jerusalem in 1917. It was the first time a non-Muslim army had marched into the streets of old Jerusalem since 1187. Since this defeat, the Muslim Ummah became a subjugated people with their lands split into separate colonised states. In those conditions they were powerless to stop European Jews aided by Europe from taking over Palestine.
The creation of Israel, Arab proxies and the future
The creation of the Zionist entity of Israel was not just a Zionist project, but it was an imperialist project. It served and continues to serve the interests of the West in keeping Muslims divided, disunited, and constantly fighting each other.
Arab nation states have had precisely the same effect. They act as military outposts for the West in the Muslim world. It is no surprise therefore that European military imperialism is still rampant in the Muslim world. If disunity and the collapse of a powerful independent state across the region was the reason for defeat and chaos in the Middle East, then it is obvious that a reversal of the process is required to achieve independence and self-determination. A necessary pre-condition to that is the demise of Jewish, Arab, as well as Turkish and Iranian nationalism.
Looking at the current situation in the Middle East one may despair, but Allah is the best of planners. Sometimes a house built on unstable and weak foundations needs to be demolished before it can be rebuilt. Arab nationalism is in its death throes in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen. In Turkey, it may take a bit longer. The European imposed borders between Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon have ceased to exist.
Inside Israel itself, the Jewish people are tiring of Zionism, and being a useful instrument for imperialism, and a state based on abuse of other people. Many are uncomfortable with the situation are also returning to Europe. As new unified political arrangements emerge across a new Muslim Middle East, European origin Jews in Israel (like whites in South Africa) will have a choice to make – they can either merge into the new political environment or return to their homelands in Europe, and rest assured many will. Many Muslims in Europe on the other hand may eventually choose to voluntarily go the other way!
European politicians have every right to celebrate the Balfour Declaration as their greatest achievement. It was indeed the crowning moment of their colonialism, injustice and the embodiment of their values of racial supremacy, which they imposed on the rest of the world through industrial scale violence.