Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958

Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958

Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958

Western Imperialism in the Middle East 1914-1958

Synopsis

The term "Fertile Crescent" is commonly used as shorthand for the group of territories extending around the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Here it is assumed to consist of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine. Much has been written on the history of these countries which were taken from the Ottoman empire after 1918 and became Mandates under the League of Nations. For the most part the histories of these countries have been handled either individually or as part of the history of Britain or France. In the first instance the emphasis has normally been on the development of nationalism and local resistance to alien control in a particular territory, leading to the modern successor state. In the second most studies have concentrated separately on how either France or Britain handled the great problems they inherited, seldom comparing their strategies. The aim of this book is to see the region as a whole and from both the European and indigenous points of view. The central argument is that the mandate system failed in its stated purpose of establishing stable democratic states out of what had been provinces or parts of provinces within the Ottoman empire. Rather it generated essentially unstable polities and, in the special case of Palestine, one totally unresolved, and possibly unsolvable, conflict. The result was to leave the Middle East as perhaps the most volatile part of the world in the later twentieth century and beyond.

Excerpt

This book is a by-product of Kurds, Arabs and Britons: The Memoir of Wallace Lyon in Iraq 1918–1944 (I. B. Tauris, 2002), which I edited for publication. I did so initially as an act of family piety, since Lyon was my father-in-law and the book was written for and dedicated to his daughter, my wife Sheila. I did it reluctantly, because, though an imperial historian by profession, I knew very little about the Middle East and that highly specialized and over-crowded historical field. But in the process of reading about Iraq I became fascinated by the complexities of the whole Middle Eastern situation during the earlier twentieth century. As a result, when Professor Wm Roger Louis, after reading my draft, suggested that I go on to write a more general history of the five post-1918 League of Nations mandates in the Middle East, I decided to do so. This book is the result.

I confess that I am still intimidated by the scale of the subject and by my own ignorance of its finer points. Each of the five countries covered—Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon—has its own extensive body of specialist literature: Palestine by far the largest and most controversial due to the very intensive work by Israeli historians. Any outsider who enters these labyrinths does so at risk. Moreover, I know no Arabic, Turkish, or Hebrew, so my sources were necessarily limited to material published in English or French. This relates to a further problem: how to spell Arabic or Turkish or Jewish names when transliterated into English: virtually no two of the published sources I have used adopted the same spelling. Moreover, spelling conventions have changed over time. I have therefore attempted to adopt a consistent rather than a correct approach, using accepted anglicized spellings where possible.

The aim of the book is to provide a comparative overview of how Britain and France came to rule these five portions of the Ottoman empire and how they dealt with them. In one sense, therefore, it is a survey of contrasting imperial techniques for controlling these temporary dependencies. In another it is an investigation of the interaction between western imperialism in its final phase and the power of nascent Arab nationalism. Essentially these European powers converted what had been relatively quiescent provinces of the Ottoman empire into some of the least stable and internationally explosive states in the world. This was certainly not the intention of the mandatory powers, and the reasons for this outcome are specific to each of the five territories. It is a main aim of this book to investigate why it happened. Since this study is limited to these Middle Eastern territories it excludes both Egypt—occupied informally by the British since 1882 and declared a protectorate in 1914—and Cyprus, under British protection from 1878 and made a colony in 1914. But a wider study would draw many parallels between these two and the five mandates studied here.

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