Great Britain’s 100 year war on the Arab world

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
on 21 Comments
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the World Economic Forum in 2008. (Photo: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons)

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the World Economic Forum in 2008. (Photo: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons)

In the first decade of this century, amidst the flames of the “War on Terror” which had engulfed Afghanistan and Iraq, the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, made a private visit to London to meet Ken Livingstone, the mayor. Two days earlier British Prime Minister Tony Blair had lectured and rebuked Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales on the need to use the resources of his oil rich country “responsibly.”

Responsibility is the act of being responsible and the Oxford English Dictionary defines “responsible” as “having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone.”[1] On the other hand, what Blair actually meant by “responsibility” was not qualified or spelt out. If by chiding Chavez and Morales, Blair is arguing that the two South American leaders are using their respective countries wealth incorrectly, inappropriately and unwisely, what exactly was Blair’s prognosis?

Needless to say Great Britain has a handsome history in defining how the resources of other nations should be expended, which allows us to understand what exactly Blair means by “responsibility.” Great Britain/England’s association with the resources of other nations is considered to have begun in the first Elizabethan era. For the historian Niall Ferguson, Britain’s foreign adventures into what is now referred to as the developing world or “Global South” heralded in an era of “unabashed imperialism.”[2]

Queen Elizabeth I in the latter part of the sixteenth century conferred royal approval on England’s maritime entrepreneurs to violently hold forth on the possessions of other peoples. John Hawkins was the first pirate to set sail for west Africa and South America with the express purpose of enriching the British political governing elite. In a letter, approvingly received by Her Majesty, he outlined his intention behind the expedition:

“The voyage I planned is to lade Negroes in Guinea and sell them in the West Indies in truck, gold, pearls and emeralds, whereof I doubt not to but to bring great abundance to the contention of your highness…”[3]

Over the last several centuries this “great abundance” multiplied and Africans were not the only people to be reduced, physically and culturally, to commercial objects or killed for English material beneficence or her highness’s “contention.”

Although John Hawkins was England’s trailblazer in capturing and trading in Africans, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the British became the premier slave trading nation. This trade brought hitherto unimagined riches to the British nation.

The trade became a necessity and prospered because European nations established colonies in the Americas and Caribbean. The Europeans wiped out and killed off the indigenous populations of the “New World” and there was a market need for labour, to cultivate the newly established colonies.

The slave trade was popular amongst the British elite as well as the wider public. According to Eric William’s seminal “Capitalism and Slavery,” in the years up to 1783, “all classes in English society presented a united front with regard to the slave trade. The monarchy, the government, the church, public opinion in general, supported the slave trade.”[4]

The reason all sections of society supported the slave trade was because the financial benefits of the slave trade sunk deep into the very fabric of British social and economic life. British goods were traded in West Africa for kidnapped Africans, who were then shackled onto ships for the plantations in the Americas and Caribbean. The plantations produced sugar, cotton, tobacco and many other tropical produce. These products were then exported back to Britain and in turn helped fuel prosperity therein. According to Williams, “By 1750, there was hardly a trading or a manufacturing town in England which was not in some way connected with the triangular or direct colonial trade.”[5]

Modern British financial organisations are also rooted in the slave trade. Primary amongst them was a financial institution set up by two brothers who benefited directly and indirectly from the slave trade. David and Alexander Barclay named their bank after themselves. Lloyd’s of London began as a coffee house where slave merchants met to obtain insurance for their slave ships. One of the founders of Lloyd’s was John Julius Angerstein, who owned slave plantations in Grenada. His art collection purchased with profits from the slave trade laid the foundations for the National Gallery, which today overlooks Trafalgar Square in central London. When the Bank of England was founded in 1694 most of the wealth its members had accumulated emanated directly or indirectly from the slave trade. Many other industries were born and/or prospered on the backs of captured Africans.[6] In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht awarded Great Britain a monopoly to supply Spanish colonies in South America with captured Africans.

Millions of Africans were captured and enslaved for their entire lives to provide this new burst of wealth to the Kingdom’s subjects; millions of Africans also died during the trans-atlantic passage. They never made it to the colonies to bestow “responsibility” on the British economy. Profits from the slave trade were used to finance the nascent industrial revolution.[7]

When Britain abolished slavery in the 1830’s it was the slave owners who were solely compensated. Amongst them was William Gladstone, the future legendary British Prime Minister. Gladstone’s father, John, had made his fortune largely from the family’s slave plantations in Jamaica. When William Gladstone entered parliament he was financially supported by his father’s wealth and his parliamentary maiden speech was a defence in the face of allegations of cruelty on his father’s plantations in Jamaica. He argued that his father and family were better slave masters than other slave masters – i.e. “they were not inattentive to the wants…of the negro population connected to their plantations” – and furthermore “the ordinary relation” between a British slave master and an African slave, “was one of kindliness and not of hostility.”[8] Is it really a surprise that during the United States’s civil war, Gladstone voiced support of the slave holding Confederacy? Indeed, the very notion of “Gladstonian idealism,”[9] which one political commentator described Tony Blair as possessing, is rooted in the blood soaked profits of slavery. Without the British trade of Africans there most likely would not have been a William Gladstone.

India was the other part of the world that the British bestowed “responsibility” on in this period. The merchant ships that set sail for India were financed largely by merchants who had profiteered and made their money through the piracy of Hawkins’s successors. [10]

After decades of lopsided and illicit trade with the British whereby they had taken advantage of India’s hospitality and began to trade illicitly, the Indians attempted to free themselves by removing the British from the area of India they were then mostly based, in Kolkata (Calcutta). Upon successfully liberating Kolkata and capturing the area’s main fort, the Indians allegedly held some British prisoners in its dungeon. It was claimed that over 120 out of about 150 of these prisoners had died in suffocating conditions. This deed gave birth to the ‘black hole of Kolkata’ myth. Like the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) deception which provided a pre-text to the British-American invasion of Iraq almost 250 years later, this lie was widely publicised in Britain to justify a military expedition that allowed the British political establishment to dispatch reinforcements to regain that part of India in 1757 in what is known as the Battle of Plassey. The British leader, Robert Clive, bribed certain enemy generals and defeated the then ruler of Kolkutta, Nawab Sirajuddaulah.[11]

This victory allowed the British to further expand into India as well as pillage, loot and impoverish this nation to its heart content.[12] To this day the loot brought back by Clive continues to make its mark. Ten years ago certain items Clive “spirited” away to Britain were auctioned at the world famous Christie’s auction company to the tune of millions of pounds.[13]

When the British originally entered the Bengal region of India, many commentators had observed it was self-sufficient and rich. But by the time they finally left almost 200 years after Plassey, it was one of the poorest nations in the world. Within a hundred years of Plassey, the population of Bengal had fallen from 150,000 to 30,000 in 1840.[14] British policy played no small part in creating Indian impoverishment. According to Montgomery Martin, England compelled the “Hindus” i.e. Indians,[15] under the pretence of free trade, “to receive the products of the steam-looms of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Glasgow, etc., at mere nominal duties; while the hand-wrought manufactures of Bengal and Beher, beautiful in fabric and durable in wear” were heavily taxed if an attempt was made to export them to England. First, British imperialism imposed Protection on its home industries by financially prohibiting others, including Indians, from accessing its domestic market. Simultaneously, the Empire charged nominal taxes on English goods in India and this allowed its mass produced goods to undermine local indigenous industry.[16] Keep in mind that the raw materials, such as cotton, for British industry came from the slave colonies in North America and the Caribbean.

The British pillage and impoverishment of India reached its zenith in the late Victorian era. Mike Davis’ study shows that millions of Indians perished in famines because of British economic policies. The main periods of the famines were 1876-79, 1889-91 and 1896-1902. Startlingly, in the midst of these famines, British imperialism was exporting foodstuffs from India to the United Kingdom. “Londoners were in effect,” argues Davis, “eating India’s bread”. [17]

As of 1878 after 120 years of direct British rule, the Indians had experienced 31 serious famines, compared to seventeen in the previous two millennia before the Battle of Plassey.[18] Through these famines the British rulers never relented in collecting taxes from the remaining destitute.[19] The impoverishment of India for the benefit of the British nation continued well into the twentieth century. According to George Orwell, writing in 1939:

“One gets some idea of the real relationship of England and India when one reflects that the per capita income in England is something over £80, and in India £7. It is quite common for an Indian [worker’s] leg to be thinner than the average Englishman’s arm. And there is nothing racial in this, for well-fed members of the same races are of normal physique; it is due to simple starvation. This is the system which we all live on…” [20]

Great Britain did not leave India until it helped to engineer another famine in the Bengal in the early 1940’s, which took the lives of further millions as well as fanning sectarianism by promoting the Muslim sectarianism of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, [21]the official founder of Pakistan, while simultaneously imprisoning advocates of Indian unity like Nehru.

Since Indian independence in the late 1940’s, India has experienced no famines and is technologically developed to the extent that it is launching its own spacecraft to Mars. India’s leading businessmen have done more than enough to help save car manufacturing in the UK, after most of UK indigenous car manufacturing had financially collapsed in the post-war period.

After enslaving and impoverishing Africans and Asians continuously for centuries, British imperialism then turned to Arabs to wage war on, pillage, colonise and subsidise its economy–or as Blair would have it, to bestow “responsibility” upon.

The British Empire had been encroaching on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf since the 1870’s. However, the opportunity to invade the Arab World did not arise until the first World War. Some leading Arabs had wanted to secede from the Ottoman Empire. The British Empire, after its face to face military trouncing and defeat at Gallipoli, looked to undermine the Ottoman Empire by attacking its underbelly. Herein lies the main origin of the so-called “Arab Revolt.” The British successfully led a main Arab leader, the Sheriff of Hijaz, Hussain bin Ali,[22] to believe that if he assisted the British Empire against the Ottomans, then a united Arabia would ensue. The British dispatched their agent, T.E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”) to assist in the so-called “Arab Revolt.”

Obviously, the Empire had other ideas than a united Arabia. A British Lord in the India office spelt them out:

“What we want is not a United Arabia but a weak and disunited Arabia, split up into principalities so far as possible under our suzerainty – but incapable of coordinated action against us…” [23]

Not only did the Empire want a fractured Arabia but also a different people, Zionist Jews, to settle in Arab-Palestine. So the British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The main reason for this is that the “trade” coming through the nearby British owned Suez Canal was mostly British. Therefore, it wanted a population it perceived it could trust in Palestine, in case the indigenous Arabs in Palestine and Egypt joined forces to establish independent sovereignty or colluded with other powers to establish sovereignty. The Jewish population at the time of the Arab revolt was 80,000. Palestinians were refused democracy and representative government and therefore had no say on settler-immigration to their country. By the time the Empire officially withdrew in 1948 there were at least an additional three hundred thousand Jewish settlers. [24]

Nineteen-Seventeen also officially heralded what can be seen as Great Britain’s almost hundred year war on Arabs in order to keep them fractured and divided. This is largely because an immense amount of oil exists on the eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula. The British, probably more than any other major western country, are dependent on the oil profits and financial benefits making its way back to London and ‘subsidising’ the British economy–the way Africans and Asians ‘subsidised’ them in previous centuries. Harold Macmillan, a former British Prime Minister, alluded to this during the 1950’s Suez Crisis when he said without the oil of the Arabian peninsula the British nation would be “lost” and the whole structure of the British “economy would collapse.” Furthermore, “without oil,” Macmillan noted, “and without the profits from oil” the UK will not be able to survive.[25]

To stabilise its geo-political order, the British have bombed and waged war on Arabs for almost hundred years. The Empire oppressed Palestine and Iraq in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Military aeroplanes dropping gas bombs on Iraqis was introduced in the 1930’s as well as the rigged 99% democratic victory election. After T.E. Lawrence (“of Arabia”) failed to cajole Sharif Hussain of Hijaz with a 80,000 rupee bribe and threats to “unleash” Ibn Saud’s Wahhabis, in order to accept Britain’s Zionist project in Palestine, they gave the Wahhabis the green light to invade Mecca and Medina.[26]

Lawrence also travelled to South Arabia and Yemen to inform their leaders that Ibn Saud and his Wahhabi fanatics are at the “back and call” of London, if they did not comply with the Empire’s interests.[27] The Empire taught Zionist forces how to military oppress Palestinians during the latter’s uprising against British-Zionist colonialism in the 1930’s. Iraq was attacked again in the 1940’s within the context of World War 2. Egypt in the 1950’s was invaded and attacked after the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. Great Britain was also very much involved in North and South Yemen in the 1960’s. In North Yemen, Great Britain revived the use of mercenaries after the practise had been extinct in warfare for centuries.[28] In the 1970’s Britain took the lead in waging war against Omani revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow their British puppet. Within the context of the war in Oman, Britain ‘secretly’ used and dropped more bombs on South Yemen than it did during the entire Falklands War. In the 1980’s Britain assisted the United States in bombing Libya. In the 1990’s, Britain and the United States attacked Iraq to remove the latter’s army from Kuwait and then led the way in imposing a UN sanctioned embargo which led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. The 2003 British-American led invasion and destruction of Iraq led to the deaths of up to a million people and millions became internally and externally displaced.

By concocting small states (or principalities) on the eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula, it allowed the resources therein to be separated from the Arabian hinterland and legally siphoned off to Britain via the veneer of puppet states such as “Kuwait”, “Qatar”, “United Arab Emirates” (UAE), etc. The total number of Arabs in the region is at least 300 million. But the total number of indigenous Arabs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries minus Saudi Arabia is in around ten million.

Britain’s leading weapons manufacturer British Aerospace (BAE) is heavily dependent on contracts from the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. Billions have poured into the coffers of British Aerospace from the Gulf monarchical despots. Most infamously is the corrupt multi-billion pound Yamamah deal between the British and the Saudis, which in turn also meant employment for British companies supplying parts to BAE as well as tax revenue for the state.

BAE recently supplied the Omani despot, who was placed in power after the British got rid of his father during the counter-insurgency operations in the 1970’s, with military aeroplanes worth £2.5 million. BAE currently has its order books full until 2022 largely due to orders from the dictators of the Gulf.

The construction company Carillion is also heavily dependent on contracts from the Gulf States. Amongst many other projects, it has recently built the parliament for the Omani dictator. Carillion awarded the contract to supply construction tools and equipment such as cement mixers, chisels, saws and screws to a British company, Speedy Hire, because obviously Omanis don’t have the ability for constructing their own buildings or know how to mix cement.

Qatar, an Arab principality with a population of no more than three hundred thousand indigenous Arabs, is in a league of its own in “investing” in the UK economy. Harrods and the £1.5bn Shard building in central London is owned by these Gulf despots. The opulence and waste behind the Shard was partly justified as “confidence” in London’s economy. Sainsbury’s, the national supermarket chain, and Barclays bank have been kept afloat by the ruling al-Thani family. London’s Olympic Village is supposedly under Qatari ownership after a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Recently, £10billion has been invested by Qatar in British infrastructure projects. Qatar also helps to guarantee UK’s energy security with its gas supply to the latter.

Kuwait, a statelet created by Britain by clefting it out of Iraq’s southern province, Basra, in the late nineteenth century, is also a large investor in the British economy. The Kuwaiti royal family, through its sovereign fund, propped up British infrastructure with a $5 billion pound investment. This was reported as a Kuwaiti “commitment” to the British economy during the financial crises.

The Gulf states have also invested heavily in British sports events through sponsorship and even purchasing football clubs such as Manchester City or Nottingham Forrest. UAE helped to build Arsenal F.C.’s football stadium. UAE and Qatar’s ruling families also have a soft spot for British race horses, spending millions on these animals while the Arabs of the hinterland scrape a living and Palestinians continue to endure occupation, theft and ethnic cleansing.

Recently, the ‘Little Chef’, aroadside diner, was bailed out by a Kuwaiti company and the British lingerie retailer ‘La Senza’ was saved from bankruptcy by another Kuwaiti company. Cricket stadiums built by British companies, a sport which has little traction for Arabs, are multiplying in the Gulf.

Qatar and UAE have a combined 35% stake in the London Stock Exchange. When Barclays Bank was on the verge of collapse during the recent financial crises, its Chief Executive successfully travelled to Qatar for financial assistance.

It’s no contradiction that the main supporters of the factional jihadis and al-Qaeda in the current Syrian civil war are the same despots who are bankrolling British finance, bailing out failed British businesses and building useless opulent buildings in London.

Furthermore, the Gulf states are now providing an outlet for surplus British manpower, following in the footsteps of North America, Canada, Australia and South Africa. This comes at the expense of the indigenous Arabs as a whole. A Daily Mail article in 2008 claimed, with reference to the UAE, that “Young Emiratis may be first in line for civil service positions, but the plethora of perk-laden, tax-free jobs in the new foreign businesses in places such as Media City and Internet City routinely go to candidates from London, Birmingham and Manchester.” The author refers to the British presence in the UAE as a “modern form of colonisation.”[29] No one knows the exact figures for British ex-pats in the entire Gulf, but it must run into the hundreds of thousands.

Needless to say, Arab puppet despots propping up the British economy is nothing new. In the early to mid 1970’s, the Saudi Arabian ruling clan “invested” £9.3 billion, (with £800 million going to the public sector) in the United Kingdom, which today would be equivalent to £20 billion.[30]

What the British managed to economically achieve through the enslavement of Africans and the direct imperial rule and colonisation of India is now being achieved in Arabia with divide and rule as well as indirect rule, i.e. the use of Arab puppet dictators. What underpinned the British Empire’s trade in Africa, India (and many other parts of the world) is what now underpins British foreign policy in Arabia: unabashed military violence. Whereas in the past the British Empire nakedly, violently and relentlessly enslaved, pillaged and looted nations and their peoples, today imperialistically concocted British principalities in the Persian Gulf endow “confidence” and/or are “committed” to the British economy.

In a speech delivered soon after he became Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron claimed that the world did not owe Great Britain a living. He exclaimed that a country with a prosperous past is not entitled to prosperity in the future. Fair point, but he forgot to add that it was the world, especially the darker shades of the world, were violently held to ransom and ransacked on a global scale by superior British military might, which allowed Great Britain to be prosperous in the past. On a personal level, Cameron’s family ancestors were involved and benefited from the slave trade.

The current hundred year war on Arabs, the latest manifestation of which was in Libya in 2011, must be seen or can only be really understood as part of, and integral to Great Britain’s rapacious four hundred year war on mankind. And once the British have finish with exploiting Arab resources in the Gulf, Great Britain will no doubt move to another part of the world to bestow “responsibility.”

In conclusion, and to return to Tony Blair, responsibility is–from what can be historically and contemporarily deduced–clearly that which enriches, props up or subsidises the British economy. Responsibility is also that which secures a future for British businesses, saves them from financial bankruptcy, oblivion and also provides British people with employment, especially in this era when its venal capitalist system collapsed in London in 2008 and required government financial crutches and bailouts to continue.

The alternative to this “responsibility” can be ascertained from the media reports surrounding British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent visit to China promoting British businesses. China, unlike Arabia, is an independent, strong and united nation which has developed its own indigenous manufacturing and construction industry. Therefore, Cameron and his business delegation were limited to touting business for the education sector, elaborately decorated crockery, Burberry clothing, Jaguar cars, chicken feet and pig trotter’s. In other words, Great Britain has no choice but to advocate and extol other world leaders in the Global South to be “responsible” with their nations natural resources.

Endnotes 

[1] Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, “Concise Oxford English Dictionary”, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, pg.1226

[2] Niall Ferguson, “Empire: How Britain made the Modern World”, (London: Penguin Books, 2004), pg. 379

[3] Nick Hazlewood, “The Queen Slave Trader: John Hawkyns, Elizabeth I, and the Trafficking in Human Souls”, (New York: William Morrow , 2004), pg. 173-175.

[4] Eric Williams, Captialism and Slavery, (Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994), pg. 39.

[5] ibid pg.52

[6] ibid. Pg 101 -105 and S I Martin, “How African slaves Created a Prosperous New Britain”, Voice Online, 23rd August 2011 (accessed at http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/how-african-slaves-created-prosperous-new-britain on 5th February 2014)

[7] Williams, op. cit., pg.102-107

[8] Hansard, volume 18, 3rd June 1833, column 330-337.

[9] John Kampfner, “Blair’s Wars” (London: Free Press, 2003), pg. 387

[10] Kenneth R. Andrews, “Trade, Plunder and Settlement”, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pg. 251-252.

[11] Partha Chatterjee, “The Black Hole of Empire: History of a Global Practice of Power” (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012)

[12] Nick Robbins, “The world’s first multinational”, New Statesman, 13th December 2004.

[13] V. Gangadhar, “Roots of Corruption”, The Hindu, 6th June 2004. Accessed at (http://www.hindu.com/mag/2004/06/06/stories/2004060600250400.htm on 7th February 2014).

[14] Noam Chomsky “Year 501: the Conquest Continues”, (London: Verson, 1995), pg.12

[15] For a what was meant by “Hindu” in this century see Madhusree Mukerjee, “Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the ravaging of India during World War II” (New York: Basic Books, 2010), pg. xxi

[16] Quoted in J.A. Hobson “Imperialism: A Study”, (Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1965) pg. 292. Also Chomsky op, cit., pg11-14.

[17] Mike Davis, “Late Victorian Holocausts, El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World”, (London: Verso, 2002), pg. 26

[18] ibid. pg. 287

[19] ibid pg. 172-3

[20] George Orwell, “Not Counting Ni**ers”, Adelphi, London, July 1939 (accessed at www.orwell.ru/library/articles/niggers/english/e_ncn on 5th February 2014)

[21] Nu’man Abd al-wahid, “British colonial Strategy and the 9/11 blowback”, Mondoweiss, 10th September 2011 (Accessed at http://mondoweiss.net/2011/09/british-colonial-strategy-and-the-911-blowback.html on 16th February 2014).

[22] Hijaz is the western part of the Arabian peninsula.

[23] Gary Troeller, “The Birth Saudi Arabia: Britain and the rise of the House of Saud” (London: Frank Crass, 1976), pg.95

[24] Nu’man Abd al-Wahid, “Britain’s denial of Democracy and the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, Mondoweiss, 20th June 2011. Accessed at http://mondoweiss.net/2011/06/britain%E2%80%99s-denial-of-democracy-and-the-ethnic-cleansing-of-palestine.html on 5th February 2014.

[25] Alistair Horne, “Macmillan 1894-1956 Volume 1 of the Official Biography” (London: Macmillan, 1988) pg.411,422 and 429 respectively.

[26] Askar H. al-Enazy, “the Creation of Saudi Arabia: Ibn Saud and British Imperial Policy, 1914-1927”, (London: Routledge, 2013), pg. 109-111; “unleash” was actually Winston Churchill’s word, ibid., pg.107

[27] ibid. pg.111

[28] Stephen Mercenaries, “War Plc, The Rise of the New Corporate Mercenary”, (London: Faber & Faber, 2008), pg. 17-18.

[29] David Jones, “The Degenerates of Dubai”, Daily Mail, 19th July 2008, pg. 10-11.

[30] Mark Curtis, “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”, (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2010), pg 118.

About Nu'man Abd al-Wahid

Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is a Yemeni-English independent researcher specialising in the political relationship between the British state and the Arab World. His main focus is on how the United Kingdom has historically maintained its political interests in the Arab World. A full collection of essays can be accessed at http://www.churchills-karma.com/. Twitter handle: @churchillskarma.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

    Leave a Reply