Winston Churchill’s bigoted statements prove nothing
by Sheila Musaji
The Islamophobes have discovered Winston Churchill as a new hero because of a number of bigoted comments that Churchill made. Anti-Muslim quotes from Churchill have been showing up on social media, and on Islamophobic sites in the past few months. Most with some statement from the individuals posting them alleging that Churchill was right, or that the particular bigoted statement must be correct because it came from a “great man”.
Churchill may have been a great British statesman, and considered a hero for his leadership during WWII. However, he wrote such things up to a century ago, and he was a product of his time, his culture, his class, etc. He had a lot of ideas that most people today would find reprehensible. Passing on such comments only proves that the person sharing them is as bigoted as Churchill was.
The Winston-Salem Journal recently published Cal Thomas says current prime minister should heed Churchill by Cal Thomas. In this article he said: “Following the hacking death of a British soldier by two alleged Islamic extremists, Prime Minister David Cameron said, “There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.” Winston Churchill thought otherwise, but he lived in a time before political correctness ran amok and drew on his personal experiences serving in the Sudan and in the Crimean War. ... “ Blah, blah, blah, Muslim Brotherhood, devious Muslims, Investigative Project on Terrorism, huge influx of radical Muslims, blah, blah, blah
Cal Thomas is not new to Muslim bashing. He previously said “How can the president say that we all worship the same God when Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus, whom the president accepts as the One through whom all must pass for salvation?” Perhaps, he is unaware that Jews also deny the divinity of Jesus, or perhaps Mr. Thomas also believe that Jews don’t worship the same God as Christians.
Missouri State Rep. Rick Stream [R-MO] also sent out to his colleagues in the legislature what Sam Levin called a Bizarre E-Mail About the Dangers of Islam…Citing Winston Churchill?. The quote he emailed was
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.
A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement, the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Johann Hari wrote Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill which gives a lot of information about Churchill’s views on a number of non-British people. Hari notes:
... 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 antedeluvian. 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 3 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 hoards who ate little but camel dung,” while he was appalled that the Israelis “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.
In the article Bill Kristol Would Like to Remind You of Winston Churchill’s Rabid Bigotry, David A. Graham includes this Churchill quote:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property—either as a child, a wife, or a concubine—must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proseltyzing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.
Joseph Croitoru wrote Winston Churchill: Crusade against the Empire of the Mahdi - Genesis of Jihadism? in which he discusses Winston S. Churchill’s war report from the Sudan during the uprising against Anglo-Egyptian rule in the Sudanese provinces at the end of the 19th century. He says:
... The national war of liberation fought by the Sudanese against the Egyptians and their British allies had not, in the eyes of Churchill, so much to do with religion; first and foremost it was a war fuelled by a sense of injustice. The insurgents claim that they were fighting a holy war he said was what “characterised” and “strengthened” their cause, but it was “not the reason” why they were fighting.
Apologia of British colonialism
In spite of all critical distance, however, Churchill the war correspondent remains an apologist of British colonialism and, as such, a child of his time. The first five chapters of his book, detailing events in Sudan and the British involvement prior to the beginning of the 1896 Sudan campaign, are in any case heavily based on accounts by fellow and appropriately polarised western contemporaries. There is very little to be discovered here about the true nature and condition of the Mahdi state, the “Caliphate”.
Though the religious effulgence that had surrounded the Mahdi movement faded following the early death of its leader in 1885 and it subsequently turned into a military dictatorship under Abdullahi, these things do not suffice, as far as the author is concerned, to explain the strength of the Sudanese ruling government under the successor to the legendary Mahdi. This he ascribes much more to Abdullahi’s skilfully constructed network of contacts amongst the local emirs.
Nevertheless, Churchill, too, was of the opinion that the Sudanese people were being suppressed, above all by their own rulers; an idea, of course, which allowed the colonial rulers – and Churchill too – to justify the Sudan campaign.
The author, who arrived in Sudan in 1898 and experienced only the final stages of the war as a cavalry lieutenant, describes the details of the campaign almost exclusively from a military point of view. ...
And, Rev. Frank Julian Gelli in The Greatest Briton quotes Churchill as saying: ‘I do not admit the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there a long time. I do not admit 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 those people by the fact that stronger race, a higher grade race…has come in and taken their place.’ The ‘dog in the manger’, by the way, meant the Arabs of Palestine, who objected to Zionist colonisation of their land. Rev. Gelli further noted:
In 2003 Winston Churchill was voted the ‘Greatest Briton’ of all time. Now, as Shakespeare puts it, some men are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. Churchill’s own greatness – the son of a Lord, the Prime Minister of a worldwide empire and a much glorified war leader - indeed encompasses all of those. However, in the next five years an orgy of WWII anniversaries is going to be unleashed upon us. Churchill’s name will loom very large in it. Hence it is salutary to remember that being great and being flawed are not incompatible. The greatest Briton’s evidence to the 1937 Peel Commission on Palestine exemplifies that.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917, taken by Zionists as their Magna Charta, promised Jews a national home in Palestine. ‘We did not adopt Zionism entirely out of altruistic love of starting a Zionist colony’ Churchill candidly told fellow Harrovian Lord Peel ‘...we gained great advantages in the war…it was a matter of great importance to this country’. True. Until 1917 many Zionists recoiled from supporting a Britain allied to a Tsarist Russia notorious for anti-Semitic pogroms. After Balfour influential Zionists agitated to bring America into the war, effectively saving the British Empire from the Huns. With that at stake, cynically selling the Arabs down the river surely was a mere bagatelle, no?
By 1936 the Palestinians were in revolt. Zionist settlers had reached 400.000. Arabs were less than pleased. Lord Peel saw the problem – in his own terms: ‘That terrifies the Arabs, of course. They know they are – I call them – an inferior race in many ways to the Jews…the Jews will rule them financially, culturally and educationally.’ Churchill agreed: ‘Why is there injustice done if people come in and make a livelihood for more and make the desert into palm groves and orange groves? There is no injustice. The injustice is when those who live in the country leave it to be a desert for thousands of years.’
The desert. Interesting how Judaism, Islam and Christianity initially had a lot to do with the desert. But Winston seems to have had a bit of a down on it. ‘You find where the Arab goes it is often desert…where there is now desert would become a really lovely place (thanks to the Jews) and the Arabs would reap the benefit.’ Pity the Arabs did not see it like that. Maybe they just preferred ‘the desert’ to losing their homeland, who knows? ...