Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill
includes a Winston Churchill Timeline/Chronology with Racist Churchill Quotes
by Johann Hari, with a brief introduction by Michael R. Burch, an
editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry, a peace activist, and the
author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative.
I believe Johann Hari's article is very important, if we are to understand how
the imperialism, racism and fascism of men like Winston Churchill would,
decades later, lead to events like 9-11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Churchill is almost universally revered in Western circles for his
dramatic stand and eloquent speeches against Hitler and the Nazis. But in other areas of the world, Churchill has been seen as a man very
similar to Hitler, as have George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald
Rumsfeld. I first became aware of Churchill's "dark side" when I studied his
words and actions during his stint as British Colonial Secretary from 1921 to
1922. At that time, just after World War I, the British Empire had peaked in
size with the addition of territories taken from its vanquished enemies.
Approximately one quarter of the world's land and population fell within the
spheres of British influence. As Colonial Secretary, Churchill had enormous power.
Unfortunately, the man's hubris and insensitivity to the rights of people with
darker skin was astonishing. As
Churchill himself recalled, he "created Jordan with a stroke of a pen one Sunday
afternoon," putting multitudes of Jordanians under the thumb of a throneless
Hashemite prince, Abdullah, whose brother Faisal was awarded another arbitrary patch
of land that became Iraq. Faisal and Abdullah were war buddies of Churchill's
pal T. E. Lawrence, the famous "Lawrence of Arabia" (who was called "the wild
ass of the desert" by some of his detractors). Lawrence would later call the
1921 Cairo conference his finest hour, because he was able to fulfill his
promises to the Hashemite king Hussein and his sons. But the lines drawn in the
sand by British imperialists were hardly stable, as large numbers of Jordanians,
Iraqis, Kurds and Palestinians were denied anything resembling real democracy.
The huge zigzag in Jordan's eastern border with
Saudi Arabia has been called "Winston's Hiccup" or "Churchill's Sneeze" because
Churchill allegedly drew the expansive boundary after a generous lunch.
Michael R. Burch
T.E. Lawrence was the most influential delegate at the Cairo conference,
which convened formally on the morning of Saturday, March 12, 1921. Winston
Churchill had arranged the conference without inviting a single Arab (which is
not surprising because in his memoirs Churchill said that he never consulted the
Arabs about his plans for them).
Government House reception in Jerusalem on March 28th 1921. From the left to
right on the front row: Emir Abdullah I of Transjordan, Sir Herbert Samuel,
Winston Churchill, Clementine Churchill, T. E. Lawrence & the Emir Abdullah.
Before presenting Johann Hari's article, here is a Timeline of Winston
Churchill's actions during his tenure as Colonial Secretary for the British
Empire. The primary source for this timeline was Churchill: A Life by
Winston Churchill Timeline
On January 8, 1921, a month before formally becoming the
Secretary of State for the British Colonies, Churchill decides to cut the budget
for the Middle East in half. Churchill wanted to create regional governments
that would not make "undue demands" on Britain. Despite his many orations about
democracy, Churchill opined that Western political methods "are not necessarily
applicable to the East, and basis of election should be framed".
In February the new Colonial Secretary plans to visit Egypt for a conference
in Cairo. Lord Milner warns Herbert Samuel, the British High Commissioner in
Palestine, that Churchill is "too apt to make up his mind without sufficient
On March 12, 1921 the Cairo conference begins. The British "experts" include
T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia"), Sir Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell.
Churchill described the meeting as one of "Forty Thieves" and spent his leisure
time practicing his new hobby of oil painting. During a break he did paintings
of the pyramids. Churchill slashes the region's budget and sets up friends of T.
E. Lawrence as puppet rulers of the artificially created nations of Jordan and
Iraq. These hasty, ill-advised, imperialistic decisions would lead to many
serious problems, including ever-escalating hostilities between Zionists and
On March 23, 1921 the conference moves to Jerusalem. Churchill promises the
just-appointed puppet ruler of Transjordan, King Abdullah, that the rights of
Palestine's non-Jewish population would be protected, that no Arabs would be
dispossessed. Was Churchill deliberately lying, or was he so naive that he
didn't understand the real goals of the Zionists? In either case, the statement
was as false as false can be.
On March 29, 1921 at a Jerusalem ceremony, Churchill plants a tree at the site
of the future Hebrew University and promises that Palestine will be happy and
prosperous, a "paradise." More lies, or incredible naοvetι.
On March 31, 1921 the impetuous Churchill rushes to catch an Italian ship
leaving for Genoa. In less than three weeks he has done damage that will last a
century, or longer.
On May 31, 1921 the great orator and proponent of democracy announces during a
cabinet meeting that he will suspend the development of "representative
institutions" (i.e., democracy) in Palestine.
On June 14, 1921 in a speech before the House of Commons, Churchill insisted
that Arab fears of being dispossessed of their land were "illusory." But of
course their fears were entirely valid. Only eight days later, Churchill told
the Canadian Prime Minister that if the Jews became the majority they would
"naturally take it over." But there was nothing "natural" about the Zionists
creating an artificial Jewish majority by ethnically cleaning hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians, which is what would happen just a few years later, in
On November 12, 1921 after riots that left five people dead, Churchill told
his advisers not to forget that "everything else that happens in the Middle East
is secondary to reduction in expense." Churchill cared more about money than the
lives of Palestinians and Jews. But when there were riots in Ireland, Churchill
was very concerned about reconciling the hostile factions.
On July 4, 1922 while Americans were celebrating their independence, Churchill
was lobbying the House of Commons to deny Palestinians any chance of real
democracy or independence, as he supported the creation of Jewish National
Home in Palestine. Even worse, he supported the Zionists having a monopoly over
the development of water power in Palestine, even though Palestinians were much
more numerous than Jews. Once again, Churchill was willing to throw democracy
out the window in the Middle East. Churchill had his way, and another nail was
driven into the coffin of Palestinian rights. A few months later, in October
1922, Churchill would lose his appendix and office in quick succession. But he
certainly did a lot of damage during his short stint as Colonial Secretary.
Winston Churchill Racist and Imperialistic Quotes: Were Churchill and
Hitler Twin Sons of Different Mothers?
"Everywhere one looks, one finds Churchill dripping blood from his mouth. He
was fanatical about violence."
Churchill sounded suspiciously like Hitler when he said that his country's
"Aryan stock is bound to triumph."
Churchill sounded like the KKK when he said that "Keep England White" was a
Churchill's beliefs about race may be summed up in his Hitleresque statement
that "It is natural for a superior race to dominate an inferior one."
Leopold Amery, the British Secretary of State for India, wrote in his diary
that "on the subject of India, Winston is not quite sane" and that he didn't
"see much difference between [Churchill's] outlook and Hitler's."
Churchill called Gandhi a "half naked seditious fakir."
Churchill was not much concerned with the deaths of Indians: "Starvation of
anyhow underfed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks."
Churchill had similar ideas about China: "I think we shall have to take the
Chinese in hand and regulate them."
Churchill was very consistent in his hatred of Orientals: "We shall wipe them
out, every one of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese
left on the face of the earth."
Churchill, like Hitler, advocated the forced sterilization of the
"feeble-minded" and "insane."
Churchill once again sounds like Hitler: "I propose that 100,000 degenerate
Britons should be forcibly sterilized and others put in labour camps to halt the
decline of the British race."
Churchill told the Palestine Royal Commission: "I do not admit for instance,
that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black
people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people
by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more
worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place."
Churchill also disdained the natives of India, saying: "I hate Indians. They
are a beastly people with a beastly religion."
Churchill blamed Indians for a famine they suffered, claiming they "breed like
Churchill referred disparagingly to Palestinians as "barbaric hordes who ate
little but camel dung."
Churchill boasted of personally killing three Sudanese "savages."
Churchill said, "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against
According to Warren Dockter, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge
and the author of Winston Churchill and the Islamic World, Churchill
was in favour of using mustard gas against Ottoman troops in WWI.
Churchill was the ultimate warmongering imperialist, writing to a friend: "I
think a curse should rest on me because I love this war. I know it's smashing
and shattering the lives of thousands every moment and yet I can't help it
I enjoy every second of it."
While the rest of the world was sickened by World War I, an enthusiastic
Churchill wrote: "I would not be out of this glorious delicious war for anything
the world could give me."
Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill is rightly remembered for leading Britain through her
finest hour but what if he also led the country through her most shameful
hour? What if, in addition to rousing a nation to save the world from the Nazis,
he fought for a raw white supremacism and a concentration camp network of his
own? This question burns through Richard Toye's new history, Churchill's Empire,
and is even seeping into the Oval Office.
George W. Bush left a bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in
an attempt to associate himself with the war leader's heroic stand against
fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It's not hard to guess why:
his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for
two years and was tortured on Churchill's watch, for resisting Churchill's
Can these clashing Churchills be reconciled? Do we live, at the same time, in
the world he helped to save, and the world he helped to trash? Toye, one of
Britain's smartest young historians, has tried to pick through these questions
dispassionately and he should lead us, at last and at least, to a more mature
conversation about our greatest national icon.
Churchill was born in 1874 into a Britain that was washing the map pink, at
the cost of washing distant nations blood red. Victoria had just been crowned
Empress of India, and the scramble for Africa was only a few years away. At
Harrow School and then Sandhurst, he was told a simple story: the superior white
man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the
benefits of civilisation. As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his
part in "a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples". In the Swat
valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, a crack of doubt. He
realised that the local population was fighting back because of "the presence of
British troops in lands the local people considered their own," just as Britain
would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding
instead they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a
"strong aboriginal propensity to kill".
He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying
houses and burning crops. He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he
bragged that he personally shot at least three "savages".
The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in
turn. When concentration camps were built in South Africa, for white Boers, he
said they produced "the minimum of suffering". The death toll was almost 28,000,
and when at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps,
where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his "irritation that Kaffirs should be
allowed to fire on white men".
Later, he boasted of his experiences there: "That
was before war degenerated. It was great fun galloping about."
Then as an MP he demanded a rolling programme of more conquests, based on his
belief that "the Aryan stock is bound to triumph". There seems to have been an
odd cognitive dissonance in his view of the "natives". In some of his private
correspondence, he appears to really believe they are helpless children who will
"willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of
an ancient crown".
But when they defied this script, Churchill demanded they be crushed with
extreme force. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious
Black and Tan thugs on Ireland's Catholic civilians, and when the Kurds rebelled
against British rule, he said: "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas
against uncivilised tribes...[It] would spread a lively terror."
Of course, it's easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as
anachronistic. Didn't everybody think that way then? One of the most striking
findings of Toye's research is that they really didn't: even at the time,
Churchill was seen as at the most brutal and brutish end of the British
imperialist spectrum. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was warned by Cabinet
colleagues not to appoint him because his views were so antediluvian. Even his
startled doctor, Lord Moran, said of other races: "Winston thinks only of the
colour of their skin."
Many of his colleagues thought Churchill was driven by a deep loathing of
democracy for anyone other than the British and a tiny clique of supposedly
superior races. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Mahatma Gandhi
launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he "ought to
be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an
enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back."
As the resistance
swelled, he announced: "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly
religion." This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a
famine broke out in Bengal, caused as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved by the imperial policies of the British. Up to
million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to
direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was
their own fault for "breeding like rabbits".
At other times, he said the plague
was "merrily" culling the population.
Skeletal, half-dead people were streaming into the cities and dying on the
streets, but Churchill to the astonishment of his staff had only jeers for
them. This rather undermines the claims that Churchill's imperialism was
motivated only by an altruistic desire to elevate the putatively lower races.
Hussein Onyango Obama is unusual among Churchill's victims only in one
respect: his story has been rescued from the slipstream of history, because his
grandson ended up as President of the US. Churchill believed that Kenya's
fertile highlands should be the preserve of the white settlers, and approved the
clearing out of the local "blackamoors". He saw the local Kikuyu as "brutish
children". When they rebelled under Churchill's post-war premiership, some
150,000 of them were forced at gunpoint into detention camps later dubbed
"Britain's gulag" by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Caroline
Elkins. She studied the detention camps for five years for her remarkable book
Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, explains the tactics adopted
under Churchill to crush the local drive for independence. "Electric shock was
widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire," she writes. "The screening teams
whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects." Hussein Onyango Obama
never truly recovered from the torture he endured.
Many of the wounds Churchill inflicted have still not healed: you can find
them on the front pages any day of the week. He is the man who invented Iraq,
locking together three conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders that have
been bleeding ever since. He is the Colonial Secretary who offered the
Over-Promised Land to both the Jews and the Arabs although he seems to have
privately felt racist contempt for both. He jeered at the Palestinians as
"barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung," while he was appalled that the
Israelis [Jews who migrated to Palestine] "take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to
suit their convenience".
True, occasionally Churchill did become queasy about some of the most extreme
acts of the Empire. He fretted at the slaughter of women and children, and
cavilled at the Amritsar massacre of 1919. Toye tries to present these doubts as
evidence of moderation yet they almost never seem to have led Churchill to
change his actions. If you are determined to rule people by force against their
will, you can hardly be surprised when atrocities occur. Rule Britannia would
inexorably produce a Cruel Britannia.
So how can the two be reconciled? Was Churchill's moral opposition to Nazism
a charade, masking the fact he was merely trying to defend the British Empire
from a rival?
The US civil rights leader Richard B. Moore, quoted by Toye, said it was "a
rare and fortunate coincidence" that at that moment "the vital interests of the
British Empire [coincided] with those of the great overwhelming majority of
mankind". But this might be too soft in its praise. If Churchill had only been
interested in saving the Empire, he could probably have cut a deal with Hitler.
No: he had a deeper repugnance for Nazism than that. He may have been a thug,
but he knew a greater thug when he saw one and we may owe our freedom today to
this wrinkle in history.
This, in turn, led to the great irony of Churchill's life. In resisting the
Nazis, he produced some of the richest prose-poetry in defence of freedom and
democracy ever written. It was a cheque he didn't want black or Asian people to
cash but they refused to accept that the Bank of Justice was empty. As the
Ghanaian nationalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote: "All the fair, brave words spoken
about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed
and grew where they had not been intended." Churchill lived to see democrats
across Britain's dominions and colonies from nationalist leader Aung San in
Burma to Jawarlal Nehru in India use his own intoxicating words against him.
Ultimately, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted
dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried
to impose it on the darker-skinned peoples of the world. The fact that we now
live in a world where a free and independent India is a superpower eclipsing
Britain, and a grandson of the Kikuyu "savages" is the most powerful man in the
world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest and a sweet, ironic
victory for Churchill at his best.
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Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel, was a British politician and
diplomat. He was the first High Commissioner of Palestine. He had a religious
Jewish upbringing and despite renouncing all religious belief, he remained a
member of the Jewish community, and kept kosher and the Sabbath "for hygienic
reasons." He put forward the idea of establishing a British Protectorate over
Palestine, and his ideas influenced the Balfour Declaration. Two months after
Britain's declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914, Samuel
circulated a memorandum entitled "The Future of Palestine" to his cabinet
colleagues, suggesting that Palestine become a home for the Jewish people under
British Rule. The memorandum stated: "I am assured that the solution of the
problem of Palestine which would be much the most welcome to the leaders and
supporters of the Zionist movement throughout the world would be the annexation
of the country to the British Empire". In other words, the British Empire could
expand with Britain-friendly Jews in charge! In 1917, Britain occupied Palestine
(then part of the Ottoman Empire) during World War I. Samuel was appointed to
the position of High Commissioner in 1920 and served until 1925. Samuel became
the first Jew to govern the historic land of Israel in 2,000 years. Samuel's
appointment to High Commissioner of Palestine was controversial. While the
Zionists welcomed the appointment of a Zionist Jew to the post, the military
government, headed by Allenby and Bols, called Samuel's appointment "highly
dangerous". Technically, Allenby noted, the appointment was illegal, in that
a civil administration that would compel the inhabitants of an occupied country
to express their allegiance to it before a formal peace treaty (with Turkey) was
signed, was in violation of both military law and the Hague Convention. Bols
said the news was received with '(c)onsternation, despondency, and exasperation'
by the Moslem [and] Christian population ... They are convinced that he will be
a partisan Zionist and that he represents a Jewish and not a British
Government.' Allenby said that the Arabs would see it as "as handing country
over at once to a permanent Zionist Administration" and predicted numerous
degrees of violence. Lord Curzon read this last message to Samuel and asked him
to reconsider accepting the post. (Samuel took advice from a delegation
representing the Zionists which was in London at the time, who told him that
these 'alarmist' reports were not justified. The wisdom of appointing Samuel was
debated in the House of Lords a day before he arrived in Palestine. Lord Curzon
said that no 'disparaging' remarks had been made during the debate, but that
'very grave doubts have been expressed as to the wisdom of sending a Jewish
Administrator to the country at this moment'. Questions in the House of Commons
of the period also show much concern about the choice of Samuel, asking amongst
other things 'what action has been taken to placate the Arab population ... and
thereby put an end to racial tension'. Three months after his arrival, The
Morning Post wrote that 'Sir Herbert Samuel's appointment as High Commissioner
was regarded by everyone, except Jews, as a serious mistake.' Samuel's role in
Palestine is still debated. According to Bernard Wasserstein, "He is remembered
kindly neither by the majority of Zionist historians, who tend to regard him as
one of the originators of the process whereby the Balfour Declaration in favour
of Zionism was gradually diluted and ultimately betrayed by Great Britain, nor
by Arab nationalists who regard him as a personification of the alliance between
Zionism and British imperialism and as one of those responsible for the
displacement of the Palestinian Arabs from their homeland. In fact, both are
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (1868-1926) was an English writer, poet,
translator of Hafiz, world traveller, political officer, administrator,
archaeologist and spy. A British expert on the Middle East, along with T. E.
Lawrence (the famous "Lawrence of Arabia"), Bell helped establish the Hashemite
dynasties in Jordan and Iraq.
She played a major role in establishing and helping administer the modern state
of Iraq, utilizing her unique perspective from her travels and relations with
tribal leaders throughout the Middle East. During her lifetime she was highly
esteemed and trusted by British officials and given an immense amount of power
for a woman at the time. She has been described as "one of the few
representatives of His Majesty's Government remembered by the Arabs with
anything resembling affection".
Bell was born in Washington Hall, County Durham, England to a family whose
wealth enabled her travels. She was described as having "reddish hair and
piercing blue-green eyes". Her personality was characterized by energy,
intellect, and a thirst for adventure. Her grandfather was the ironmaster Sir
Isaac Lowthian Bell, an industrialist and a Liberal Member of Parliament, in
Benjamin Disraeli's second term. His role in British policy-making exposed
Gertrude at a young age to international matters and most likely encouraged her
curiosity for the world, and her later involvement in international politics.
Bell received her early education from Queen's College in London and then later
at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University at age 17. She specialized in modern
history, in which she received a first class honours degree in two years.
(History was one of the few subjects women were allowed to study at that time.)
Bell never married. She had an unconsummated affair with Maj. Charles
Doughty-Wylie, a married man, with whom she exchanged love letters from
1913-1915. Upon his death in 1915 at Gallipoli, Bell devoted herself to her
Bell's uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, was British minister (similar to ambassador)
at Tehran, Persia. In May 1892, after leaving Oxford, Bell travelled to Persia
to visit him. She described this journey in her book, Persian Pictures, which
was published in 1894. She spent much of the next decade travelling around the
world, mountaineering in Switzerland, and developing a passion for archaeology
and languages. She had become fluent in Arabic, Persian, French and German as
well as also speaking Italian and Turkish. In 1899, Bell again went to the
Middle East. She visited Palestine and Syria that year and in 1900, on a trip
from Jerusalem to Damascus, she became acquainted with the Druze living in Jabal
al-Druze. She traveled across Arabia six times over the next 12 years.
In January 1909, she visited the Hittite city of Carchemish, where she mapped
and described the ruin of Ukhaidir and consulted with the archaeologists on
site. One of them was T. E. Lawrence.
Ironically, Bell was involved in anti-feminist activities and became the
honorary secretary of the British Women's Anti-Suffrage League. Her stated
reason for her anti-suffrage stand was that as long as women felt that the
kitchen and the bedroom were their only domains, they were truly unprepared to
take part in deciding how a nation should be ruled.
At the outbreak of World War I, Bell's request for a Middle East posting was
initially denied. She instead volunteered with the Red Cross in France. Later,
she was asked by British Intelligence to help get soldiers through the deserts,
and from the World War I period until her death she was the only woman holding
political power and influence in shaping British imperial policy in the Middle
East. She often acquired a team of locals which she directed and led on her
expeditions. Throughout her travels Bell established close relations with tribe
members across the Middle East.
In November 1915 she was summoned to Cairo to the nascent Arab Bureau, headed by
General Gilbert Clayton, where she once again met T. E. Lawrence. At first she
did not receive an official position, but helped Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth set
about organizing and processing her own, Lawrence's and Capt. W. H. I.
Shakespear's data about the location and disposition of Arab tribes that could
be encouraged to join the British against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence and the
British used the information in forming alliances with the Arabs.
On March 3, 1916, Gen. Clayton sent Bell to Basra, which British forces had
captured in November 1914, to advise Chief Political Officer Percy Cox regarding
an area she knew better than any other Westerner. She drew maps to help the
British army reach Baghdad safely. She became the only female political officer
in the British forces and received the title of "Liaison Officer, Correspondent
to Cairo". She was Harry St. John Philby's field controller, and taught him the
finer arts of behind-the-scenes political manoeuvering.
When British troops took Baghdad on March 10, 1917, Bell was summoned by Cox to
Baghdad and given the title of "Oriental Secretary." She, Cox and Lawrence were
among a select group of "Orientalists" convened by Winston Churchill to attend a
1921 Conference in Cairo to determine the boundaries of the British mandate.
Throughout the conference, she, Cox and Lawrence worked tirelessly to promote
the establishment of the countries of Transjordan and Iraq to be presided over
by the Kings Abdullah and Faisal, sons of the instigator of the Arab Revolt
against the Ottoman Empire (ca. 1915-1916), Hussein bin Ali, Sharif and Emir of
Mecca. Until her death in Baghdad, she served in the Iraq British High
Commission advisory group there.
Referred to by Iraqis as "al-Khatun" (a Lady of the Court who keeps an open eye
and ear for the benefit of the State), she was a confidante of King Faisal of
Iraq and helped ease his passage into the role.
Her work was specially mentioned in the British Parliament, and she was awarded
the Order of the British Empire. Some consider the present troubles in Iraq are
derived from the lines Bell helped draw to create its borders. Perhaps so, but
her reports indicate that problems were foreseen, and that it was clearly
understood that there were just not many (if any) permanent solutions for
calming the divisive forces at work in that part of the world.
As the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire was finalized by the end of the war in
late January 1919, Bell was assigned to conduct an analysis of the situation in
Mesopotamia. Due to her familiarity and relations with the tribes in the area
she had strong ideas about the leadership needed in Iraq. She spent the next ten
months writing what was later considered a masterful official report, "Self
Determination in Mesopotamia". On October 11, 1920, Percy Cox returned to
Baghdad and asked her to continue as Oriental Secretary, acting as liaison with
the forthcoming Arab government. She essentially played the role of mediator
between the Arab government and British officials.
Throughout the early 1920s Bell was an integral part of the administration of
Iraq. However, she did not find working with the new king to be easy: "You may
rely upon one thing I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great
Gertrude Bell's first love had always been archaeology, thus she helped form
what became the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, later renamed the Iraqi Museum.
Her goal was to preserve Iraqi culture and history which included the important
relics of Mesopotamian civilizations, and keep them in their country of origin.
She also supervised excavations and examined finds and artifacts. She brought in
extensive collections, such as from the Babylonian Empire. The museum was
officially opened in June 1926, shortly before Bell's death. (After her death,
at the Emir's suggestion, the right wing of the Museum was named as a memorial
to her.) It was extensively looted during the US invasion of 2003.
Bell briefly returned to Britain in 1925, and found herself facing family
problems and ill health. Her family's fortune had begun to decline due to the
onset of post-World War I worker strikes in Britain and economic depression in
Europe. She returned to Baghdad and soon developed pleurisy. When she recovered,
she heard that her younger brother Hugo had died of typhoid. On 12 July 1926,
Bell was discovered dead, of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. There is
much debate on her death, but it is unknown whether the overdose was an
intentional suicide or accidental since she had asked her maid to wake her.
She never married or had children. Some say the death of Major Charles
Doughty-Wylie affected her for the rest of her life and may have added to a
depressive state. She was buried at the British cemetery in Baghdad's Bab al-Sharji
district. Her funeral was a major event, attended by large numbers of people
including her colleagues, British officials and the King of Iraq. It was said
King Faisal watched the procession from his private balcony as they carried her
coffin to the cemetery.
An obituary written by her peer D. G. Hogarth expressed the respect British
officials held for her. Hogarth honoured her by saying, "No woman in recent time
has combined her qualities her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with
her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art,
her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of
men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine
vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency all tempered by feminine
charm and a most romantic spirit."
In 1927, a year after her death, her stepmother Dame Florence Bell, published
two volumes of Bell's collected correspondence written during the 20 years
preceding World War I.
The British diplomat and Member of Parliament Rory Stewart wrote that "When I
served as a British official in southern Iraq in 2003, I often heard Iraqis
compare my female colleagues to Gertrude Bell. It was generally casual flattery,
and yet the example of Bell and her colleagues was unsettling. More than ten
biographies have portrayed her as the ideal Arabist, political analyst, and
Rory Stewart also praised her 1920 White Paper, comparing it to General
Petraeus's report to Congress.
TEACHINGS OF HAFIZ
Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell
SHEMSUDDIN MAHOMMAD, better known by his poetical surname of Hafiz, was born in
Shiraz in the early part of the fourteenth century. His names, being
interpreted, signify the Sun of the Faith, the Praiseworthy, and One who can
recite the Koran; he is further known to his compatriots under the titles of the
Tongue of the Hidden and the Interpreter of Secrets. The better part of his life
was spent in Shiraz, and he died in that city towards the close of the century.
The exact date either of his birth or of his death is unknown. He fell upon
turbulent times. His delicate love-songs were chanted to the rude accompaniment
of the clash of arms, and his dreams must have been interrupted often enough by
the nip of famine in a beleaguered town, the inrush of conquerors, and the
flight of the defeated.
Excerpts from TEACHINGS OF HAFIZ
ARISE, oh Cup-bearer, rise! and bring
To lips that are thirsting the bowl they praise,
For it seemed that love was an easy thing,
But my feet have fallen on difficult ways.
I have prayed the wind o'er my heart to fling
The fragrance of musk in her hair that sleeps
In the night of her hair-yet no fragrance stays
The tears of my heart's blood my sad heart weeps.
Hear the Tavern-keeper who counsels you:
"With wine, with red wine your prayer carpet dye!"
There was never a traveller like him but knew
The ways of the road and the hostelry.
Where shall I rest, when the still night through,
Beyond thy gateway, oh Heart of my heart,
The bells of the camels lament and cry:
"Bind up thy burden again and depart!"
The waves run high, night is clouded with fears,
And eddying whirlpools clash and roar;
How shall my drowning voice strike their ears
Whose light-freighted vessels have reached the shore?
I sought mine own; the unsparing years
Have brought me mine own, a dishonoured name.
What cloak shall cover my misery o'er
When each jesting mouth has rehearsed my shame!
Oh Hafiz, seeking an end to strife,
Hold fast in thy mind what the wise have writ:
"If at last thou attain the desire of thy life,
Cast the world aside, yea, abandon it!"
THE bird of gardens sang unto the rose,
New blown in the clear dawn: "Bow down thy head!
As fair as thou within this garden close,
Many have bloomed and died." She laughed and said
"That I am born to fade grieves not my heart
But never was it a true lover's part
To vex with bitter words his love's repose."
The tavern step shall be thy hostelry,
For Love's diviner breath comes but to those
That suppliant on the dusty threshold lie.
And thou, if thou would'st drink the wine that flows
From Life's bejewelled goblet, ruby red,
Upon thine eyelashes thine eyes shall thread
A thousand tears for this temerity.
Last night when Irem's magic garden slept,
Stirring the hyacinth's purple tresses curled,
The wind of morning through the alleys stept.
"Where is thy cup, the mirror of the world?
Ah, where is Love, thou Throne of Djem?" I cried.
The breezes knew not; but "Alas," they sighed,
"That happiness should sleep so long!" and wept.
Not on the lips of men Love's secret lies,
Remote and unrevealed his dwelling-place.
Oh Saki, come! the idle laughter dies
When thou the feast with heavenly wine dost grace.
Patience and wisdom, Hafiz, in a sea
Of thine own tears are drowned; thy misery
They could not still nor hide from curious eyes.
WIND from the east, oh Lapwing of the day,
I send thee to my Lady, though the way
Is far to Saba, where I bid thee fly;
Lest in the dust thy tameless wings should lie,
Broken with grief, I send thee to thy nest,
Or far or near there is no halting-place
Upon Love's road-absent, I see thy face,
And in thine ear my wind-blown greetings sound,
North winds and east waft them where they are bound,
Each morn and eve convoys of greeting fair
I send to thee.
Unto mine eyes a stranger, thou that art
A comrade ever-present to my heart,
What whispered prayers and what full meed of praise
I send to thee.
Lest Sorrow's army waste thy heart's domain,
I send my life to bring thee peace again,
Dear life thy ransom! From thy singers learn
How one that longs for thee may weep and burn
Sonnets and broken words, sweet notes and songs
I send to thee.
Give me the cup! a voice rings in mine ears
Crying: "Bear patiently the bitter years!
For all thine ills, I send thee heavenly grace.
God the Creator mirrored in thy face
Thine eyes shall see, God's image in the glass
I send to thee.
Hafiz, thy praise alone my comrades sing;
Hasten to us, thou that art sorrowing!
A robe of honour and a harnessed steed
I send to thee."
A FLOWER-TINTED cheek, the flowery close
Of the fair earth, these are enough for me
Enough that in the meadow wanes and grows
The shadow of a graceful cypress-tree.
I am no lover of hypocrisy;
Of all the treasures that the earth can boast,
A brimming cup of wine I prize the most
This is enough for me!
To them that here renowned for virtue live,
A heavenly palace is the meet reward;
To me, the drunkard and the beggar, give
The temple of the grape with red wine stored!
Beside a river seat thee on the sward;
It floweth pastso flows thy life away,
So sweetly, swiftly, fleets our little day
Swift, but enough for me!
Look upon all the gold in the world's mart,
On all the tears the world hath shed in vain
Shall they not satisfy thy craving heart?
I have enough of loss, enough of gain;
I have my Love, what more can I obtain?
Mine is the joy of her companionship
Whose healing lip is laid upon my lip
This is enough for me!
I pray thee send not forth my naked soul
From its poor house to seek for Paradise
Though heaven and earth before me God unroll,
Back to thy village still my spirit flies.
And, Hafiz, at the door of Kismet lies
No just complainta mind like water clear,
A song that swells and dies upon the ear,
These are enough for thee!
In depicting the intensity of love, Gertrude Bell thought Hafiz comparable to
the Wests own Shakespeare.
My weary heart eternal silence keeps
I know not who has slipped into my heart;
Though I am silent, one within me weeps.
My soul shall rend the painted veil apart.
I have estimated the influence of Reason upon Love
and found that it is like that of a raindrop upon the ocean,
which makes one little mark upon the waters face and disappears.