How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
WRITING a year ago in FOREIGN AFFAIRS[i] at the time when a resurgent Turkey was dictating terms of peace at Lausanne to the powers that had inflicted overwhelming defeat upon her in the Great War, I pointed to the grave portent that millions of Mohammedans, including Indian Mohammedans, were acclaiming her as the invincible sword of the Faith, whilst other millions of Asiatics who are not Mohammedan were hailing her as the champion and spearhead of an Asian revolt against the west.
An amazing thing has happened since then. Turkey of her own free will--for one must assume that the action of her present rulers is the expression of her will--has cast away the sword with which she had rallied the enemies of western civilization to her support; she has abolished the Khalifate upon which she based her claim to the leadership of Islam; she has deposed both Khalif and Sultan and driven into exile every member of the House of Othman that had ruled over her in unbroken succession for nearly six and a half centuries since the Turkish hordes, who became the Othmanli Turks, swept down from their remote Central Asian homelands to build up the Ottoman Empire on the ruins both of earlier Asian states and of Christian kingdoms and principalities in southeastern Europe. She has proclaimed herself a Republic of a type at least nominally advanced and democratic.
The downfall of the Turkish Khalifate owes its special significance to the circumstances in which it has taken place. The Khalifate is an Islamic institution which goes back to the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632, and its history has been almost from the beginning a stormy one. The Khalifa-Rassoul-Allah, the Viceregent of the Prophet of God, is not a supreme pontiff, for orthodox Mohammedanism knows, strictly speaking, no priesthood. He is the guardian of the Sacred Law upon which public and personal law is alone based in Mohammedan countries; he is the Defender of the Faith, armed with the sword to defend a faith which leapt sword in hand into the world. Out of the dissension which sprang up over the selection of the first Khalif arose within less than thirty years the great schism between Sunni and Shiah Mohammedans which, having engendered fresh heresies, endures to the present day. The fourth Khalif, Ali, son-in-law of Mohammed, was murdered in 661, and the Khalifate, which his followers, who became known as the Shiahs, have ever since repudiated, passed by a combination of violence and fraud to the Ommayad dynasty of Damascus. As a divinely appointed institution it has always been upheld, though with varying fervor, by the Sunnis who comprise the large majority of Mohammedans. But there have been many and often violent feuds as to the legitimacy of successive Khalifates whose title has in fact usually rested in the last resort on the power to enforce it. Since the Khalifate of Damascus there has never been a Khalifate universally recognized even by the whole Sunni communion itself. With the rapid expansion of Mohammedan conquests, which extended in the first centuries of Islam from Central Asia in the East to Spain and even a large part of France in the West, it became impossible to maintain unity either of temporal or spiritual sovereignty.
During the past four centuries, while the Khalifate was in the hands of the Turks, it remained with rare exceptions little more than a decorative appendage to the Turkish Sultanate until Sultan Abdul Hamid came to the throne in 1876. An English poet pilloried him as the "Red Sultan" after the first Armenian massacres in which he sought a solution of the Armenian question by a drastic elimination of his Armenian subjects. But there is no reason to believe that he was himself a fanatic. He liked to converse with Europeans, to whom he could be a charming host; he had many European tastes, notably in music and theatricals, and he built a private theatre for his own delectation within his palace grounds. He may not have been free from superstition, for a prophecy made to him in his childhood by a pious fakir, who claimed to have discovered his star in the heavens, that he would live to revive the ancient glories of Islam as Sultan and Khalif, made such a deep impression on him that he called his new palace "Yeldiz Kiosk" or the "Pavilion of the Star." In the same way he gave his confidence to an incredible extent to an inspired negro who professed to take down messages for him from celestial voices. Unquestionably an adroit diplomatist, he conceived the bold idea--at bottom political rather than religious--of seeking in the assertion of his spiritual power as Khalif a substantial compensation for the heavy loss of temporal power as Sultan which the disastrous Russo-Turkish war had inflicted upon him in the very first years of his reign. But he felt that his own dull-witted Turks who had never made anything of the Khalifate would hardly rise to the occasion. He resolved to call in aid other non-Turkish Mohammedan races beyond as well as within the political frontiers of his Empire.
First of all he had to restore the old autocratic power of the Sultanate. He quickly rid himself of Midhat's famous Turkish constitution, mainly invented in an hour of stress to throw dust in the eyes of Europe, and presently Midhat Pasha himself was banished to Arabia where he opportunely died from a cup of coffee. He broke up the old oligarchy of Turkish Pashas who under his predecessors had ruled the Empire from the Sublime Porte, and sounded for the first time a Pan-Islamic bugle-call when in 1880 he appointed as Grand Vizier none of the privileged ring of Stambul bureaucrats, but Khair-ed-Din, a Tunisian Arab, and emphasized in the Firman of appointment his right as Khalif to claim for the Sultanate the services of all orthodox Mohammedans outside as well as inside the Empire.
Henceforth the propagation of Pan-Islamism as the rallying cry of all orthodox Mohammedan peoples under the hegemony of the Turkish Khalifate became the keynote of his policy; and he was fortunate enough to secure before long as aider and abettor the German Emperor William II, who saw in a friendly Turkey a "bridgehead to German world dominion" and in Pan-Islamism a menace only to rival European powers who ruled, as he did not, over distant possessions with large Mohammedan populations. The Bagdad railway and other "concessions," together with the reorganization of the Turkish army under German officers, were the price that Abdul Hamid was quite willing to pay for William II's direct and indirect support, and notably for the speech which the German Emperor, after masquerading a few days previously as a crusader at Jerusalem, delivered at Saladin's tomb at Damascus, in 1898, proclaiming himself the "friend and ally of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan Abdul Hamid II, whom 300,000,000 Mohammedans throughout the world revere as the Khalif." This was the first and only recognition of the Turkish Khalifate by a great European sovereign. An active and widespread propaganda was steadily carried on throughout all Mohammedan countries from Yeldiz, where Abdul Hamid surrounded himself for preference with Syrians and Albanians and Kurds, just as at Constantinople he relied for his Praetorian guard almost exclusively on other than Turkish soldiers. Nothing contributed more to the spread of Pan-Islamism than the building--with German help--of the Hedjaz railway to the Holy Places of Arabia, for the agents sent out into every Mohammedan country to collect subscriptions for it proclaimed far and wide the revival of Islamic glory under the great Sultan-Khalif.
But his methods of ruthless tyranny, largely bred of his constant fear for his own life (he himself owed his throne to two palace conspiracies) were his undoing. He had driven popular discontent underground, he had banished everyone who uttered the word "liberty" and he had at the same time estranged his army by preferring to make from time to time, especially in Macedonia, some more or less real concessions to the pressure of foreign Powers rather than take any risks of war.
The Turkish revolution of 1908 and Abdul Hamid's deposition in the following year were mainly the work of a discontented army, but one which was acting in combination with the "Committee of Union and Progress." This organization consisted of emancipated "Young Turks" on whom their religion sat very light, with a considerable leaven of Jews and Salonika crypto-Jews. The new Sultan, Mohammed V, who had spent thirty years in a gilded prison hermetically closed against the outside world, was a mere puppet in their hands, half-witted and quite incapable of shining as a Khalif, whilst the real rulers of Turkey, preferring to work on modern lines of extreme nationalism, merely retained Pan-Islamism as a sometimes convenient second string, especially when the Italian invasion of Tripoli and the Balkan wars deepened the conviction all over the Mohammedan world that the European Powers were bent on the destruction of Islam and that Turkey was the one Mohammedan state left to hold the Islamic fort. This situation the "Young Turks" knew well how to exploit, but for political rather than for religious purposes. Not until they rushed at Germany's heels into the Great War did they put the Sultan forward as Khalif in order to proclaim a jehad or Holy War against the Allies. It found hardly any echo at all amongst Mohammedans outside Turkey, but it created the right atmosphere for the wholesale massacres of Armenians which Enver and Talaat, in continuation of Abdul Hamid's policy, carried out and defended with greater frankness even than the "Red Sultan" as a political necessity that had nothing to do with religion. During the war, Pan-Islamism indeed was rapidly superseded at Constantinople by Pan-Turanianism, an extravagantly nationalistic movement largely modelled on Pan-Germanism, which aimed at subordinating to Turkish overlordship every country in which some kind of racial or linguistic affinity to Turkey could by hook or by crook be discovered. It went so far as to displace sometimes the ordinary symbols and war cries of Islam in favor of the ancient Turkish tribal symbols and war cries in the days before the Turks had embraced Mohammedanism.
After the military collapse of Turkey and her allies had compelled the Turks to sue for an armistice, they waited at first with fatalistic resignation for the terms of peace to be imposed upon them. The most notorious war leaders had fled to Central Europe, and Mohammed VI, who when he succeeded to the throne in 1915 only endorsed under compulsion Enver and Talaat's policy of war à outrance, chose his ministers from an older and more moderate school of Turkish officials as anxious as himself to restore peace to their exhausted country. Even after the procrastination and divided counsels of the Allies had given Mustapha Kemal his opportunity to reorganize the Turkish army and to stimulate a fresh spirit of resistance amongst the Turkish people of Asia Minor, it was on national rather than on religious lines that he appealed to Turkish patriotism. The landing of the Greek armies in Asia Minor, at the bidding in the first instance of the Allies, no doubt imparted to the struggle a spirit of intense religious as well as racial bitterness which Mustapha Kemal was perhaps too enlightened to share, but could not afford to discourage in the fresh life and death struggle into which he was leading his country. Still, even in the Turkish National Pact, which Mustapha Kemal opposed to the illstarred Treaty of Sèvres, there was no mention of the Khalifate.
The pretense that Turkey had risen to arms again in order to preserve for the Sultan the temporal power and possessions essential to the maintenance of his spiritual authority as Khalif really originated outside Turkey, and, if the idea found favor in other centers of reactionary Mohammedan fervor and vehement anti-British feeling, it was amongst Indian Mohammedans that it found its most aggressive expression in the new school of Mohammedan extremists who had joined hands with the Hindu extremists for purposes of almost undisguised revolt against British rule in India. It was enough for them that the resurgence of Turkey, defeated chiefly by British arms during the Great War, was in itself a blow to the prestige and power of Britain. But in order to carry with them the bulk of the Indian Mohammedans hitherto generally conservative and loyal, they had to give a religious color to their essentially anti-British campaign and to read into the Turkish National Pact a meaning which, to say the least, it did not necessarily bear. The Turks were extolled as the champions of the Khalifate, and though Angora had made it fairly clear that it was quite resigned to the loss of its Arab provinces, including the Holy Places of Islam, the Khalifate party in India boldly described the recovery of the Holy Places as the supreme purpose of Turkey's magnificent rally in defense of the Faith. The rulers of Turkey could hardly be expected to repudiate any war aims that brought them such unexpected and valuable support. For it was the violence of the pro-Turkish agitation in India that, more than anything else, led the Government of India and the Imperial Government to recede rapidly from all the positions they had taken up in the Treaty of Sèvres, and finally induced them to acquiesce in the humiliating surrender of Lausanne, which no British minister has ventured to defend on any other plea than that it was the best that could be made of a hideously bad job.
How vastly different were the purposes for which Mustapha Kemal had actually been fighting from those with which the Indian Khalifate stalwarts had chosen to credit him, became apparent as soon as he had "won the peace" for Turkey in the Mudania Convention. Within a few weeks the Sultanate was abolished and, though the Turkish Khalifate was maintained, the new Khalif chosen in place of the deposed Sultan was shorn of all temporal power. This was a terrible blow to the Khalifate agitation in India, ostensibly based as we have seen upon the theory that temporal power was essential to the maintenance of the Khalif's spiritual power. But the Indian extremists could not afford to look facts in the face or to throw away the stick which they had been using to beat the British Raj. They tried to ride off on such sophistries as that the Khalif, freed from the worldly pre-occupations of government and administration, would be able to devote himself all the more earnestly to the discharge of his spiritual duties as Khalif, whilst he would still have the temporal power of an invincible Turkish state behind him in order to vindicate the rights of Islam and eject the influence of Infidel powers from every corner of the sacred peninsula of Arabia. These sophistries were in turn ruthlessly shattered by Angora as soon as the final Treaty of Lausanne had set Mustapha Kemal's hands completely free from the entanglements of foreign policy. Within little more than two months Turkey was formally proclaimed a Republic and Mustapha Kemal invested with almost dictatorial powers, and, though the Khalifate in the shape given to it in 1922 remained nominally untouched, signs were very soon not wanting that its days also were numbered.
By the strange irony of things it was two distinguished Indian Mohammedans, resident chiefly in England and both eloquent champions of the Turkish Khalifate, who drove one of the biggest nails into its coffin. The Aga Khan, worshipped in India by his own sect as almost a divine incarnation and well known on English race courses and in the smart circles of London, and Mr. Justice Ameer Ali, a person of greater weight as a member of the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council, wrote a joint letter to the Angora Government in the name of the whole Sunni Mohammedan communion expressing its religious anxieties in view of recent developments in Turkey, and urging her Republican rulers to uphold the dignity and power of the Khalifate. This letter was regarded in Angora as a piece of interference all the more unwarrantable in that neither of the signatories belonged to the Sunni communion, for which they professed to speak, both of them being from the orthodox Sunni standpoint equally rank heretics, if of different schools of heresy. Behind this letter, written in English and coming from London (where the signatories were credited with a vastly exaggerated amount of influence in British official circles), and worst of all translated and published simultaneously in three Turkish papers at Constantinople, the Angora Government at once scented a deep-laid British political intrigue. Another Constantinople paper was at the same time voicing very vehemently the cause of the Khalifate. The Grand National Assembly instituted a special tribunal, styled the "Tribunal of Independence," which proceeded against all the obnoxious editors; but the action against those who had merely published the Aga Khan-Ameer Ali letter failed, as their offense could not be brought within the four corners of any existing law. Other incidents contributed to convince Angora that the Khalif, if not himself disloyal, was a dangerous center of disaffection, and after an ominous speech delivered during the budget debate by the President of the Republic, who was also the President of the Council of Ministers, President of the Grand National Assembly, and Commander-in-Chief, resolutions were passed (March 3, 1924); with only two dissenting votes, for the abolition of the Khalifate. The very next day the sentence of deposition was read to the Khalif at Constantinople and that night he and his son were put across the European frontier. A few days later all the remaining members, male and female, of the House of Othman were likewise banished, and their inherited and personal possessions, palaces and jewels and all the rest, were confiscated for the use of the State. To emphasize the significance of this action a series of drastic measures was forthwith enacted by the Grand National Assembly. The Sheikh-ul-Islam, who had formerly held rank immediately after the Grand Vizier, was to be no longer even a member of the Cabinet and his functions were to be purely religious. All the property of the Evkaf, or Pious Foundations, was appropriated to the State. The administration of the law hitherto based entirely upon the Koran was subordinated to the civil authority, as was national education by the abolition of all religious schools. The Turkish Republic became a lay republic which is the negation of Islam.
What are the reasons that may account for this "iconoclasm," as one of the more sober Indian Mohammedans terms it? To answer that question one would have to read the riddle of Mustapha Kemal's perplexing personality. The British army knows him as the able soldier and clean fighter of Gallipoli who defeated its last great effort on the heights above Suvla Bay in August, 1915. Liman von Sanders, the head of the German Military Mission to Turkey before and during the war, has singled him out almost alone for praise in his war book, "Five Years in Turkey," a dispassionate but damning indictment of the military incompetency and gross corruption that prevailed at Constantinople. Only an exceptionally capable and energetic administrator could have reorganized the Turkish army as Mustapha Kemal did after the Great War or could have galvanized into fresh life the exhausted forces of national resistance; and if the final collapse of the Greek armies in Asia Minor was largely due to the sins of Athens under the Constantinist regime, experts are agreed that Mustapha Kemal's crushing assault on the Greek center in August, 1922, showed him to be a master of strategy. That there are in him elements of greatness none can deny. Is the revolution which he has carried through the work of an enlightened social reformer, convinced that the regeneration of his country can only be consummated by freeing its people from the trammels of a narrow creed which blocks the way against all modern progress? Or has the intoxicating love of power turned his head and prompted him to destroy the Khalifate as the only danger that might threaten the dictatorship which he has built for himself on the ruins of the Sultanate? Has he been consciously or unconsciously inspired by the example of Soviet Russia? Evil association corrupts good manners, and the rift between Turkey and Russia at Lausanne has hardly affected the great influence which Moscow exercised at Angora during the most acute period of Turkey's renewed conflict with Europe. The recent measures of wholesale confiscation both of the property of the Ottoman Imperial family and of the great possessions which it has always been the custom of Mohammedans to protect by placing them in religious trust as "Pious Foundations," seem to be directly copied from Soviet practice; and if the war which Mustapha Kemal is waging against Islamic institutions is not so openly proclaimed as the Soviet's war against Christianity, it is perhaps not less deadly and certainly not less predatory. Those who prefer to place the best construction on the Turkish dictator's policy contend that it really reflects a great psychological change in the mentality of a large majority of the Turkish people, who have been driven by the terrible ordeal through which Turkey has passed during the last twelve years and more to subordinate religious sentiment and interests to the more vital exigencies of national salvation. In support of this contention they can point to the extraordinary indifference which the Turkish people as a whole have displayed in the presence of a revolution that has shattered their most ancient institutions.
It is indeed not inside but outside Turkey that one must look for the chief repercussions of recent events at Angora--all the more widespread because of the attempt made in the first place by Abdul Hamid, and in more recent times by restless elements throughout the Mohammedan world, to exalt the Turkish Khalifate into a universal Khalifate. This last pretense must obviously be now abandoned, but it is argued, rightly enough, that though Mustapha Kemal has abolished the Turkish Khalifate he cannot touch the Khalifate as an Islamic institution, which if disowned in Turkey must continue to subsist elsewhere. But where ? Already there are signs of the same discord that has so often split up Islam in former ages. The King of the Hedjaz as an authentic descendant of the Koreish tribe of the Prophet has hastened to declare his readiness to accept the office of Khalif, more or less spontaneously offered to him by Arab delegations from Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia as well as from his own scanty dominions. But his revolt against Turkey during the war, in alliance with Britain, makes him still less acceptable to Indian extremists than King Fuad of Egypt, who is also credited with a desire to enter his candidature. There is no love lost between Arabs and Turks, but Arabs and Indians despise as well as dislike each other, brothers though they all may be in the Faith. Another candidate may be the King of Afghanistan, now that Britain has recognized him as an absolutely independent sovereign, and he is so close to the gates of India that the extremists might welcome him as a potential sword of the Faith to be turned against Britain. The Afghans, however, have made a bad name for themselves in Indian history, and this might weigh against the King's candidature with conservative and well-to-do Mohammedans, whilst it would certainly frighten Hindu Nationalists who have no wish to exchange British rule for a fresh cycle of Mohammedan despotism. There is talk of a sort of Mohammedan Œcumenical Council at Cairo next year, but the chances seem to be that Islam for a time will be split up, as it has been before, and even more than it has been recently, into a number of separate Khalifates.
It is a prospect which need not disturb any European nation with large Mohammedan connections in its overseas dependencies, for none of these Khalifates is likely to assume such a militant shape as the Turkish Khalifate has assumed at times during the last half-century. Nor is it a prospect which should alarm any earnest and enlightened Mohammedan, for with the beginning of the Turkish Khalifate there settled down upon Islam as a whole the same blight which the conquering Turk brought with him everywhere. If that blight is now finally removed and the leadership of Islam passes from the Turkish race back to the Arabs, or even to any other race more capable of moral progress and more intellectually elastic than the Turk, one of the great religious forces of the world may yet recover some of the enlightened vigor which it displayed, far in advance of Europe, during the most splendid periods of the Damascus, Bagdad, and Cordova Khalifates.
But what of Turkey? If we put aside the rather grotesque suggestion of some of his Indian worshippers, who in order to cover their desperate mortification would have Mustapha Kemal revive the Turkish Khalifate in his own person, Turkey shorn of the prestige and influence which the possession of the Khalifate has, in our own days at any rate, conferred upon her, must sink to the position of a third rate state, barely equal in general resources to any of the Balkan States over which she used to rule. Her population, estimated at between six and eight millions, has been decimated by the war and is believed to be still shrinking, as it was already doing before the war, from congenital disease. It will henceforth be purely Turkish, for of the Greeks and Armenians who in 1914 still numbered some three millions in Asia Minor, only a very few remnants are left. These were the most intelligent and economically active communities and their disappearance renders incomparably more difficult any recovery of financial stability in a practically bankrupt country. Owing to her geographical position and to the fighting qualities of her people the new Turkish state will remain by no means a wholly negligible factor in the Near East, but even if we credit its rulers with the best intentions as well as with great energy and ability, Turkey can never renew either the glory or the havoc of the old Ottoman Empire that has now disappeared out of history.
[i]"Islam and Britain," Foreign Affairs, Vol. I, No. 3.