ISLAM alone of all the great religions of the human race was born sword in hand. Islam has always relied on the sword, and for thirteen hundred years the Mollah who reads the Friday prayers in the Mosques wears a sword, even if only made of wood, as a symbol of his creed. Today Turkey, having cheated the Nemesis which four years ago seemed to have irretrievably overtaken her, claims to speak in the name of Islam; and millions of Mohammedans, including Indian Mohammedans, acclaim her as the invincible sword of the Faith, whilst other millions of Asiatics who are not Mohammedan hail her as the champion and spearhead of an Asian revolt against the West.

This is a grave portent for all the Western nations that are in close contact with the East; especially grave for Britain, who by a singular procession of events has become a great Asiatic Empire and rules in India alone over roughly a quarter of all the Mohammedans in the world; and gravest of all when one looks back on Turkey's record ever since she emerged into history.

From the time when the Turks streamed westward out of their pagan homelands in Central Asia and picked up Islam on the way, they have destroyed but never built. They destroyed Saracenic civilization when they broke up all the early Mohammedan States of Western Asia, and, wresting the leadership of Islam from the more highly gifted Semitic Arabs, they impressed upon it the baser stamp of their Turanian race. Stout fighters to the present day, they have contributed nothing of their own to human progress, nothing to science or art or literature, and what they borrowed from Persians and Arabs they have degraded. The first ten Sultans of the House of Othman were great conquerors with some conceptions of statesmanship, but after them the power passed to the effete and blood-stained creatures of the Seraglio and to the corrupt Pashas of the Sublime Porte.

The devastating tide of Turkish conquest, sweeping over the Christian kingdoms and principalities of South Eastern Europe, became a formidable danger to Western civilization until it was at last arrested outside the gates of Vienna in 1683. It then swiftly receded. For as soon as defeat robbed the Ottoman armies of the prospect of fresh fields to plunder, corruption and nepotism spread to the camp and undermined the central authority throughout the provinces. The Christian subject races awoke from their long lethargy and Turkey's rapid decay opened up the question of her inheritance, which became before long as great a menace to the peace of Europe as her overweening power had formerly been to the safety of Christendom.

During a great part of the nineteenth century the Eastern Question, as it was then called, resolved itself into a contest chiefly between Britain and Russia as to what should be done with Turkey. Russia had always been a semi-Asiatic power, and Turkey in dissolution offered her on her own frontiers a tempting field of expansion. But Britain herself had become, by the greatest adventure in her history, namely the establishment of British rule in India, a great Asiatic Empire to which Russian expansion in Asia was held to constitute an increasingly serious danger. Britain, repeatedly deluded into the belief that Turkey could be reformed and weaned from the systematic oppression of her subject races, fought the Crimean War in 1854-55 and went to the brink of another war against Russia in 1878 in order to save Turkey from dismemberment. Yet only a few years later Lord Salisbury had to admit that in backing Turkey "we had backed the wrong horse;" and when the Turk found that he could no longer rely upon Britain to save him from the consequences of his own iniquitous system of government he sought, and obtained for value received, the protection of Germany, who reckoned, in the Kaiser's words, to use Turkey "as a bridgehead to world-dominion." The "Young Turks" followed Germany's lead as willingly as had the "Red" Sultan Abdul Hamid, whom they had deposed, and at her heels they plunged into the Great War. Utterly defeated at last, and mainly by British armies, Turkey was ready to accept any terms of peace after her surrender in 1918. But the incredible blunders of British statesmen, disunion amongst the Allies, who at first sanctioned and then repudiated the intervention of the Greek armies in Asia Minor, and the unrelenting severity of the Treaty of Sèvres, quickened once more the racial and religious pride of a ruling and fighting race. The Greek armies on whom Mr. Lloyd George gambled were shattered, and only the hasty despatch of British naval and military reinforcements to the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmora arrested the immediate re-entry of the victorious Turks into Constantinople and Thrace. But by the Mudania Convention of October 11 last the Treaty of Sèvres was finally scrapped, the Turkish Empire was restored on European soil as well as in Asia Minor with a halo of military glory, however cheaply earned, and all the most legitimate of British war aims went by the board, including the oft repeated vow that never again should Turkey enjoy unrestrained powers of oppression over her Christian subjects. That question was indeed already practically solved by Turkey's systematic policy of extermination and the wholesale exodus of the bulk of the survivors.

The resurgence of Turkey has focussed attention on the Mohammedan world. But a spirit of unrest was abroad in Asia long before that and the Mohammedans were by no means the first to be affected by it. It was engendered by the impact, social and religious, political and economic, of the dynamic West upon the static East, and as that impact has been nowhere so sustained and so searching as in India, it is in India that its results have been most significant. British rule in India came into contact with the ancient and deeply-rooted Hindu civilization of which a succession of Mohammedan invasions from Central Asia and centuries of often ruthless Mohammedan domination had never broken the enduring power. Nothing can be more repugnant to the individualism and love of freedom of the British race than the Hindu caste system, under which every man is born into a particular water-tight compartment from which he cannot emerge except through death and rebirth, with the Brahmin as the privileged intermediary between gods and men at the top of the ladder, and at the bottom the millions who are barely within the pale of Hinduism, and are regarded as "untouchable" by all the higher castes. But even Hinduism, thanks to its elastic philosophies at the back of its polytheism and pantheism, offers less resistance to Western penetration than does the rigid orthodoxy of monotheistic Islam based upon the finality of the Koranic revelation down to the last vowel-point of the text revealed by Allah to Mohammed. In India as in Turkey Islam bore the impress of Central Asia rather than of Arabia.

Hence the different reaction upon Hindus and Mohammedans of the most potent of all ferments imported by British rule into India, when close upon a hundred years ago Macaulay introduced Western education. The Hindus at once filled the new schools and colleges and universities. But the Mohammedans for the most part held obstinately aloof, and only forty years later did Seyyid Ahmed Khan succeed in founding a great Mohammedan College at Alighur where he tried to reconcile the tenets of Islam with Western knowledge and Western ideas of tolerance. Again, when the study of English literature and history led to the study of English political institutions and of the principles of English political freedom, and the Western-educated Hindus began to agitate for political rights, the Mohammedans once more held at first entirely aloof. They even organized an All-India Moslem League sworn to implicit loyalty to the British raj, as a counterweight to the Indian National Congress, mainly Hindu, when the latter, pledged at first to constitutional methods of agitation, passed under the control of more violent elements. The Mohammedans remained untouched by the great wave of disaffection and political crime which swept many of the Western-educated Hindus with it in 1905-10. The Morley-Minto reforms, however, filled even conservative Mohammedans with alarm as they detected the danger of Hindu ascendancy in large political concessions bound, they believed, to inure to the benefit of the overwhelming Hindu majority. Seyyid Ahmed had died in 1899, and a new school of young Mohammedans was springing up who rejected his counsels of tolerance and loyalty and disciplined effort and were ready to ally themselves with Hindu extremists for the subversion of an alien and "infidel" British Government. They soon sought congenial contact with the "Young Turks." The Anglo-French agreement with regard to Egypt and Morocco, the Anglo-Russian agreement with regard to Persia, the British pressure on the Porte in favor of the Christian subject races of Turkey, the I talian invasion of Turkey, the Balkan wars,all helped in turn to embitter Mohammedan opinion against Europe and it was easy for the "Young Turks" and Indian "Young Mohammedans" to strike up a covert alliance against Britain as the chief accomplice in a great European conspiracy to crush Islam and enslave Asia, against which Germany's friendship alone offered protection to Turkey.

The development of this alliance was arrested by the splendid rally of the Indian princes and peoples to the British cause at the outbreak of the Great War and Turkey's entry into it on the side of Germany. Throughout the war the loyalty of Indian Mohammedan troops and of the Indian Mohammedan population as a whole never wavered, even when the revolt of the Arabs against Turkey at the call of the Sherif of Mecca threatened to raise the question of the Holy Places of Islam, of which the possession constituted one of the chief titles of the Ottoman Sultans to the Caliphate. On the other hand the doctrine of self-determination proclaimed by the Allied statesmen and their promises of freedom for all nations, whether great or small, acted as a stimulus on Indian Nationalism, and as the war dragged on without any immediate effect being given to Mr. Asquith's declaration that Indian problems would henceforth be approached "from a new angle of vision" a fresh wave of political insurgency swept over India. The All-India League joined up with the Indian National Congress and the cry of "Home Rule for India" was raised under the elastic name of Swa-raj, which might mean anything from the most harmless form of local self-government to absolute independence. At last came the momentous announcement that it was the settled policy of the British Government to set the feet of India in the way of Dominion self-government within the Empire, with certain reservations only as to the stages and rate of progress. By the end of 1919 a new Government of India Act was carried through Parliament which for the first time intimately associated Indians with Englishmen in the executive government and entrusted to Indian Ministers the administration in the provinces of many important departments for which they were to be responsible to Indian Councils elected on the broadest franchise possible. It was a great constitutional charter of which the purpose was strikingly expressed in a Royal message delivered by the Duke of Connaught when, on February 9, 1921, he inaugurated the first All-India Legislative Assembly at Delhi. "For years--it may be for generations--loyal Indians have dreamed of Swa-raj for their Motherland. Today you have the beginning of Swa-raj within My Empire and the widest scope for progress and liberty which My other Dominions enjoy."

No bolder or more generous experiment had ever been undertaken in the hope of bringing the East and the West into close political partnership. Had it come too late? The extremes had in the meantime met--the reactionary forces of ancient Hinduism and those of militant Islam--and a few miles outside Delhi, to a vast multitude that had streamed forth from that preeminently Mohammedan city, Gandhi, whom the people called "Mahatma" Gandhi because he had inherited the spiritual vision of the ancient sages of Hinduism, was denouncing, as he had denounced for months before throughout the length and breadth of India, the whole scheme of reforms for which the Duke of Connaught was at the same moment standing sponsor in the Mogul Emperors' great Hall of Audience--denouncing it as a snare set before the people of India by a Satanic government in order to rivet upon them more firmly than ever the chains of slavery to a Satanic civilization. He exhorted them to resist such a government by steadfastness in "Non-Cooperation," to have nothing to do with its law-courts and its schools, to deny to it every form of public service, to refuse all employment or honors at its hands, to despise its new-fangled Councils and Legislatures and all week-kneed Indians who entered them, to shun its doctors as charlatans who try to defeat the laws of nature and its hospitals as institutions for propagating sin, to boycott every industry and every article of alien origin, all equally tainted with a Satanic civilization. Let them ensue Swa-raj--not the mock Swa-raj offered them, but a real Swa-raj, i.e., the right to rule themselves, their bodies and their souls. All they had to do was to bring to bear upon them the ancient soul-force of India and to return to the simple life of their early forbears when the beloved motherland was wise and happy and free beyond all nations of the earth. Swa-raj alone could bring unity and brotherhood to all Indians, to Hindus and Mohammedans alike.

For Gandhi also threw the mantle of Swa-raj over the Caliphate movement in favor of Turkey which had been engineered by the "Young Mohammedans" as soon as the war was over. He once described it to the writer as "a demonstration of religious faith" on the part of his Mohammedan fellow-countrymen no less splendid than the great uplift of the Hindus towards Swa-raj. Yet in few of its apostles was there any visible sign of the triumph of the spirit over the flesh which invested Gandhi with a halo of sanctity--least of all in its two most prominent leaders, the brothers Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali. Both had been Western educated, and Mohammed had failed for the Indian Civil Service. Both professed to be ardent Indian patriots and fervent Moslems, though their zeal, it had been remarked, never condescended to render any account of the large sums of money collected for their propaganda. Both had had dealings with the "Young Turks" before the war and both had been interned during the war for their impenitent disloyalty. Released after the war, they astutely modified their tactics. They proclaimed the religious inviolability of Turkey. To curtail the Sultan's dominions was to strike a sacrilegious blow at his spiritual authority as Caliph bound up by divine ordinance with his temporal power. The Allies were therefore bent upon destroying not merely Turkey but the Mohammedan religion. The backward and ignorant masses who had cared little or nothing about the Turks during the war were quick to take up the cry that their faith was in danger. By fastening this religious label onto the movement the champions of the Caliphate accomplished two purposes. They roused the fanaticism of hitherto loyal Mohammedans against the British raj, and they achieved the still more remarkable feat of persuading Gandhi that, like him, they were seeking to liberate the spiritual forces of India from a Satanic bondage.

And the multitude, Mohammedan and Hindu, worshipped the frail ascetic figure clad in scanty garments of undyed native homespun, through whose voice the gods themselves seemed to speak, so gentle was it, and persuasive and well-modulated. Yet --such is the strange irony of things--Gandhi too had a Western education. He was called to the Bar in London, he had many personal friends in England and amongst Englishmen in India, he had been a great reader of English literature and speaks excellent English. What first embittered him was the treatment of the British Indians in South Africa where he took up their cause and first organized passive resistance and mass strikes as a protest against anti-Asiatic legislation. He grew into a symbol of the antithesis of East and West. But even when he started to preach a gospel of sheer revolt he persuaded himself at least that it could be carried into practice without violence; and whenever it led, as it was bound to lead, to rioting and bloodshed, he always bitterly reproved his followers and did penance in prayer and fasting for their misdeeds. Nor did he utter a word of complaint when the government at last held him responsible for the results of his teachings and he was tried and condemned to six years imprisonment.

The Swa-raj movement deprived of its leader has of late shown symptoms of disintegration, and the Caliphate movement--though treated throughout with singular leniency and indeed almost publicly endorsed by the Government of India, who had always taken Mohammedan loyalty for granted and took fright at the prospect of losing it--has been gravely embarrassed by the high handed action of the Angora Turks in dethroning the Sultan--as had been advocated already in 1920 at the great Mohammedan-Bolshevist Congress at Baku--and proclaiming a new Caliph shorn of all temporal authority in a way which none of the Allies had ever even remotely contemplated, and not even girt on his accession, as all his Turkish predecessors had been from times immemorial, with the sword of Othman. The extremists may argue to their own satisfaction that the ex-Sultan and Caliph was a British tool who deserved the worst, and that the new Caliph--who, by the way, is the only Prince of the House of Othman to have received a European education and to have often paraded European tastes and habits scarcely compatible with strict Mohammedan orthodoxy--will be in a better position to discharge the spiritual duties of his office now that he has been relieved of all secular cares and that a resurgent and victorious Turkey will supply all the temporal power required to sustain his religious authority. Whether such sophistries will pass muster with more sober Mohammedan opinion remains to be seen. For the present the Caliphate committees continue to show their teeth and threaten to organize "civil disobedience," which is the first step towards open rebellion, with the help of 75,000 "volunteers" to be recruited and equipped for active service in the event of the final rejection by the Allies of the Turkish demands. The rump to which the Indian National Congress has been gradually reduced still displays little disposition to abate its pretensions and between the politically-minded classes the battle of Non-Cooperation yet remains to be fought out, probably at the end of this year when the time comes for the renewal of the Provincial Councils and the All-India Legislative Assembly. The extremists boycotted the last elections at the end of 1920, but failed in their attempt to kill the new constitution in the womb. Will they boycott them again, or will they, as some propose, try to capture the constitutional machinery in order to use it for the subversion of the new constitution?

With the inarticulate and poverty stricken masses, easily as they are carried off their feet by sudden gusts of passion, economic conditions will probably have the last word. The great wave of economic depression which swept from Europe over India after the war is subsiding. The rapid drop in prices for Indian produce and the economic rise in the cost of living created an exceptionally favorable atmosphere for the growth of racial hatred after the deplorable incidents in the Punjab during the disturbances of 1919, which were but tardily admitted and rather leniently dealt with by the British authorities, whilst among Englishmen in India and at home unofficial public opinion often actually applauded or excused them. To use the Duke of Connaught's own phrase at Delhi, "the shadow of Amritsar had spread over the whole of India." It is slowly passing away. Labor troubles have doubtless come to stay as the result of the intensive development of Indian industries during the war. Trades unions have sprung up like mushrooms, and strikes, as common as in England, have often developed into serious rioting and bloodshed. Agrarian troubles, such as Gandhiism stirred up wherever oppressive forms of indigenous landlordism provided a receptive soil, are more likely to die down with the return of bountiful harvests, and India is above all an agricultural country. Both in the labor and the agrarian troubles of the last few years the influence of Bolshevism may have made itself felt, but less directly than in the Caliphate movement which its connection with Angora brings into close touch with the Russian Soviets.

It is foolish to ignore, as British optimism is temperamentally inclined to do, the darker sides of the Indian picture. But fortunately there are also much brighter sides to it. For in the clash of ideals as well as of more sordid interests and ambitions and prejudices, which has never been perhaps so acute as in the last few years, the progressive forces imported by British rule and Western education have not been by any means overwhelmed by the renewed onslaught of the combined forces of reaction and revolution. Gandhi's appeal to the Western educated classes to which he at first addressed himself fell flat. For Western education with all its short comings has undoubtedly produced not only men of conspicuous ability and character, like Mr. Srinivasa Sastri, the representative of India at the last Imperial Conference in London and at the Washington Conference, who have absorbed much of the best that the West could give them without becoming denationalized, but it has created a new middle class, professional, commercial, industrial, and forming the bulk of the public services, which is bound up intellectually and by self-interest with the continuity of Western influence and the maintenance of the British connection. Driven for a time into open antagonism to an autocratic and bureaucratic form of government, it accepted the new constitutional charter given to India as at least a long step towards the recognition of her rights as a nation for which it had long vainly pleaded, and together with the representatives of the old indigenous landed aristocracy, averse from all revolutionary changes, it supplied an overwhelming majority in the Legislatures elected three years ago, and though timid and inexperienced and unduly impatient at the failure of the reforms to work immediate miracles, it has displayed on the whole much wisdom and moderation in the handling of a difficult situation. For the first time an influential body of educated Indians feel that they have been admitted not merely into intellectual partnership with Western knowledge but into political partnership with their Western rulers. That in itself is a great stride forward towards the ultimate goal of Indian self-government within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Though India is the keystone of Britain's position as an Asiatic empire, it is by no means in India alone that she finds herself confronted with the forces of Asian unrest which the resurgence of Turkey has quickened and a special school of Bolshevist propaganda for the East has been founded at Moscow to exploit. She is confronted with them beyond the land frontiers of India in Persia and Afghanistan and Central Asia, where cross currents of nationalist feeling deriving originally from the West and of irreconcilable Mohammedan aversion to the West have commingled far more freely than in India with the inflow of revolutionary Bolshevism. Soviet Russia has reclaimed over the greater part of Central Asia the control which was temporarily shaken by the fall of Russian Tsarism. The first use which Afghanistan has made of its complete independence as a sovereign state, recognized last year for the first time by the Government of India, has been to conclude treaties of intimate friendship only just falling short of a full-blown alliance with Moscow and Angora. Bolshevism is at, if not already within, the gates of Persia, where Britain has now renounced altogether the political ascendancy which she exclusively enjoyed there for the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, and then shared with Russia until the Great War. In the Arab provinces which the British armies liberated from the Turkish yoke there are again other cross currents. The dream of a great Arab State which the Allies encouraged by their lavish promises during the war has vanished into thin air with the separate mandates which Britain and France agreed to confer upon themselves after the war, the latter in Syria, the former in Mesopotamia (now called Irak) and in Palestine. The bitterness amongst the Arabs is perhaps greatest in Syria, and, next to Syria, in Palestine, where there is deep resentment of the actual or prospective Jewish preponderance involved in the creation under British auspices of a Jewish "National Homeland." The recrudescence of Mohammedan sentiment which the Turkish victories have naturally tended to stimulate has, however, been checked in all those countries by fears lest they should pass once more under Turkish domination should the Western Powers withdraw their protection. Hatred of the Turk as a ruler is stronger than the tendency to sympathize with him as a brother in the Faith. It is the same in Egypt, where nationalism is an older growth than in any other Oriental country. Last year Britain yielded to it so far as to abolish the Protectorate proclaimed during the war and to recognize Egypt as an independent sovereign state. This, however, does not satisfy the nationalist stalwarts, who claim to have the majority of their people behind them, so long as Britain insists upon retaining a military force for the protection of the Suez Canal as an essential line of communication with India and for safeguarding the large foreign communities and interests in the valley of the Nile. Egypt, too, is a Mohammedan country, and though the people are usually tolerant and easy-going, events even within the last few years have shown how easy it is to work up a Mohammedan populace into savage outbreaks against Europeans.

The brotherhood of Islam undoubtedly provides a strong bond of sentiment between all Mohammedans from the northwest shores of Africa to the Great Wall of China and the remote Philippines, but, from the time when the first Arab Caliphates fell out, it has never yet prevented bitter feuds and sanguinary wars between rival Mohammedan states. Is it more likely to unite them today for common and effective action against the West, when the renewal of Islamic militancy derives whatever vitality it really possesses from so many mutually conflicting forces and finds its chief expression in the sudden resuscitation of the Turk, who, even if he should agree to a superficial modus vivendi with the West, can no more than the leopard ever change his spots? Is it not more likely that Turkey, already drifting towards Bolshevism, will be swallowed up in the devastating whirlpool which is sweeping Russia back into Asiatic barbarism?

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  • SIR VALENTINE CHIROL, for fourteen years director of the foreign department of the London Times, author of "Indian Unrest", "The Egyptian Problem," etc.
  • More By Valentine Chirol