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CHANGING LANGUAGES OF EMPIRE AND THE ORIENT: BRITAIN AND THE INVENTION OF THE MIDDLE EAST, 1917–1918*

  • JAMES RENTON (a1)
Abstract

During the last two years of the Great War the British government undertook a global propaganda campaign to generate support for the military advance into the Near East, British post-war domination of the region, and the war effort in general. The objective was to transform how the West and the peoples of the Ottoman empire perceived the Orient, its future, and the British empire. To fit with the international demand that the war should be fought for the cause of national self-determination, the Orient was re-defined as the Middle East: a region of oppressed nations that required liberation and tutelage by Britain and the entente. Great Britain was portrayed as the pre-eminent champion of the principle of nationality, which was behind its move into the Middle East. It is argued in this article that these narratives constituted a significant change in Western representations of the Orient and the British empire.

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Department of English and History, Edge Hill University, St Helens Road, Ormskirk, Lancashire, L39 4QPj.renton@ucl.ac.uk
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*

Research for this article was made possible by the generous support of the Hanadiv Charitable Foundation and the Cecil and Irene Roth Memorial Trust. It is based on papers that were given at the SOAS Centre for Jewish Studies, and the Imperial History Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. I am most grateful for the questions and comments of those who participated, particularly Mark Levene, and the anonymous referees of the Historical Journal.

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1 Edward Said, Orientalism: Western conceptions of the Orient (London, 1978). For an overview of the literature see Zachary Lockman, Contending visions of the Middle East: the history and politics of Orientalism (Cambridge, 2004), ch. 6.

2 See, in particular, John Mackenzie, Propaganda and empire: the manipulation of British public opinion, 1880–1945 (Manchester, 1984), and the Manchester University Press series ‘Studies in Imperialism’; Andrew S. Thompson, The empire strikes back? The impact of imperialism on Britain from the mid-nineteenth century (Harlow, 2005); Bernard Porter, The absent-minded imperialists: empire, society and culture in Britain (Oxford, 2004).

3 Said, Orientalism, pp. 206, 210–11, 222–4, 237–47.

4 John Mackenzie, Orientalism: history, theory and the arts (Manchester, 1995); Billie Melman, Women's Orients: English women and the Middle East, 1718–1918 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1992).

5 See below, n. 15.

6 Said, Orientalism; Mackenzie, Orientalism; Rana Kabbani, Europe's myths of Orient: devise and rule (Bloomington, IN, 1986).

7 For exceptions to the rule, such as the writing of W. S. Blunt and E. G. Browne, see Geoffrey Nash, From empire to Orient: travellers to the Middle East, 1830–1926 (London, 2005), chs. 3 and 5.

8 Joseph Heller, British policy towards the Ottoman empire, 1908–1914 (London, 1983).

9 Roger Adelson, London and the invention of the Middle East: money, power and war (New Haven, CT, 1995), pp. 22–6; Thomas, Scheffler, ‘“Fertile crescent”, “Orient”, “Middle East”: the changing mental maps of Southwest Asia’, European Review of History, 10 (1993), pp. 253–72.

10 See Ivan Davidson Kalmar and Derek J. Penslar, eds., Orientalism and the Jews (Hanover, NH, 2005), esp. introduction and chs. 1–3.

11 Adelson, London and the invention of the Middle East, pp. 127–30.

12 David French, The strategy of the Lloyd George coalition, 1916–1918 (Oxford, 1995), pp. 108, 134, 198; V. H. Rothwell, British war aims and peace diplomacy, 1914–1918 (Oxford, 1971), pp. 128, 132, 238.

13 Rothwell, British war aims, pp. 129–31, 134–8, 213–15, 218–19, 286–7.

14 The diary of Lord Bertie of Thame, 1914–1918 (2 vols, London, 1924), ii, p. 123.

15 Philip Kerr to John Buchan, 22 Mar. 1917, The National Archives, Kew (TNA) Foreign Office (FO) 395/139/63739.

16 See, for example, ‘Appreciation of the Arabian report’, 28 June, 4 July, 28 Dec. 1916, India Office Records, L/P&S/10/586, BL Asia Pacific and Africa Collections (BL APAC).

17 ‘Note by Sir Mark Sykes’, 3 May 1915, no. 1, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, copies from the Sledmere papers, Middle East Centre Archives, St Antony's College, Oxford (MECA); ‘Appreciation of the attached Eastern report’, 24 Aug. 1917, 25 Jan. 1918, TNA Cabinet Office (CAB) 24/144, and 22 Nov. 1918, TNA CAB 24/145.

18 Asli Çirakman, From the ‘terror of the world’ to the ‘sick man of Europe’: European images of Ottoman empire and society from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth (New York and Oxford, 2002), chs. 3 and 4.

19 Memorandum by David Lloyd George, 19 Feb. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/42320.

20 H. Montgomery to Sykes, 26 Mar. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/42318.

21 See ‘Procès-verbal of the First Meeting of the Imperial War Cabinet’, 20 Mar. 1917, TNA CAB 23/43; Rothwell, British war aims, pp. 126–7.

22 Memorandum by David Lloyd George, 19 Feb. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/42320.

23 Philip Kerr to John Buchan, 22 Mar. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/63739.

24 This is not to discount, for example, the growing sense of a Palestinian identity that had developed before the war, of which clearly, however, Lloyd George was wholly ignorant. See Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian identity: the construction of national consciousness (New York, 1997).

25 Mark Sykes, ‘The clean fighting turk’, Times, 28 Jan. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/42318. Other pamphlets included A. J. Toynbee, Turkey: a past and a future (London, 1917), no. 557, Wellington House Schedule (WHS), Wellington House papers, Imperial War Museum Library; E. F. Benson, Crescent and iron cross (London, 1918), no. 793, WHS; Rev. Sir George Adam Smith, Syria and the Holy Land (London, New York, and Toronto, 1918), no. 911, WHS; Canon Parfitt, Mesopotamia: the key to the future (London, 1917), no. 659, WHS.

26 Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian question, 1915–1923 (London, 1984), pp. 69–88, 119.

27 John Buchan to H. Montgomery, 25 Mar. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/64927.

28 See, for example, Benson, Crescent and iron cross.

29 John Buchan to H. Montgomery, 25 Mar. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/64927.

32 ‘Minutes of the third meeting of the sub-committee of the Imperial War Cabinet on territorial desiderata in the terms of peace, held at 2 Whitehall Gardens on April 19, 1917’, TNA CAB 21/77; ‘Report of Committee on Terms of Peace (Territorial Desiderata)’, 28 Apr. 1917, TNA CAB 21/77.

33 Jukka Nevakivi, Britain, France and the Arab Middle East, 1914–1920 (London, 1969), pp. 49–50; James, Renton, ‘Toward a multi-causal framework: the historiography of the Balfour Declaration’, Journal of Israeli History, 19 (1998), pp. 123–6.

34 Note by Lord Milner, 17 Sept. 1917, MSS Milner Dep. 466, Milner papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

35 Sir Mark Sykes, ‘Memorandum on the Asia Minor Agreement’, 14 Aug. 1917, no. 75, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA; Eastern Committee (EC), 5th minutes, 24 Apr. 1918, 23rd minutes, 8 Aug. 1918, 34th minutes, 3 Oct. 1918, TNA CAB 27/24.

36 See, for example, minutes of the War Cabinet, WC 94, 12 Mar. 1917, TNA CAB 23/2.

37 David, French, ‘The Dardanelles, Mecca and Kut: prestige as a factor in British Eastern strategy, 1914–1916’, War & Society, 5 (1987), pp. 4562.

38 Elie Kedourie, In the Anglo-Arab labyrinth: the McMahon–Husayn correspondence and its interpretations (Cambridge, 1976), chs. 1–3; Sir Mark Sykes, ‘Memorandum on Mr. Austen Chamberlain's amendment’, Appendix ii, War Cabinet minutes, 12 Mar. 1917, TNA CAB 23/2. On the influence of racial nationalist thought on British foreign policy-makers during the war, see James Renton, The Zionist masquerade: the birth of The Anglo-Zionist alliance, 1914–1918 (Basingstoke, forthcoming), chs. 1–2.

39 Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House version and other Middle-Eastern studies (Hanover, NH, 2nd ed., 1984), pp. 17, 19; EC 14th minutes, 18 June 1918, TNA CAB 27/24.

40 M. L. Sanders and Philip M. Taylor, British propaganda during the First World War, 1914–1918 (London, 1982), pp. 185–207.

41 Renton, Zionist masquerade, chs. 1–2; memorandum by A. J. Toynbee, 24 Sept. 1918, TNA FO 371/3404/162647; memorandum by Sir Mark Sykes, 6 July 1918, Appendix, EC 21st minutes, 18 July 1918, TNA CAB 27/24.

42 Minute by R. F. Roxburgh, FO, and Roxburgh to Butler, 10 Dec. 1917, TNA FO 395/137/231515.

43 Sykes, ‘Memorandum on the Asia Minor Agreement', 14 Aug. 1917, no. 75, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA.

44 Nevakivi, Britain, France and the Arab Middle East, pp. 49, 60–1, 81–2; David Vital, Zionism: the crucial phase (Oxford, 1987), pp. 269, 299–301; Richard, G. Hovannisian, ‘The Allies and Armenia, 1915–1918’, Journal of Contemporary History, 3 (1968), pp. 145–50; Artin, H. Arslanian, ‘British wartime pledges, 1917–1918: the Armenian case’, Journal of Contemporary History, 13 (1978), pp. 517–30.

45 FO to W. R. D. Beckett, Batavia, 20 Apr. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/65527.

46 Sykes to Eric Drummond, FO, 20 July 1917, no. 68, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA.

47 Roger Adelson, Mark Sykes: portrait of an amateur (London, 1975), pp. 212, 222–4, 225–6; Sykes, ‘Memorandum on the Asia Minor Agreement', 14 Aug. 1917, no. 75, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA.

48 As to the lack of an authoritative definition in Whitehall by the end of the war, see J. Shuckburgh, ‘The proposed Middle East Department’, 12 Dec. 1918, India Office, L/P&S/11/141/5072, BL APAC.

49 Great Britain, Palestine, and the Jews: Jewry's celebration of its national charter (London, 1918), WHS 952, pp. 17–18.

50 Joanna Laycock, ‘Imagining Armenia: Orientalism, history and civilisation’ (Ph.D. thesis, Manchester, 2005), ch. 3 esp. pp. 58–67, 141–2; Eitan Bar Yosef, ‘Christian Zionism and Victorian culture’, Israel Studies, 8 (2003), pp. 18–44; Said, Orientalism, chs. 1 and 2, pp. 201–38.

51 See above, n. 10.

52 Elie Kedourie, England and the Middle East: the destruction of the Ottoman empire, 1914–1921 (London, 1956), pp. 27–8.

53 Sykes to Eric Drummond, FO, 20 July 1917, no. 68; Sykes to G. F. Clayton, Cairo, 22 July 1917, no. 69, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA.

54 Adelson, Mark Sykes, p. 238.

55 Briton Cooper Busch, Britain, India and the Arabs, 1914–1921 (Berkeley, 1971), ch. 2, pp. 164–81, 202–13; Peter Sluglett, Britain in Iraq, 1914–1932 (London, 1976), pp. 19–20.

56 Bruce Westrate, The Arab bureau: British policy in the Middle East, 1916–1920 (University Park, PA, 1992), pp. 107–12; ‘Arabian report’, 28 June and 18 July 1916, India Office Records, L/P&S/10/586 file 705/1916, pt 1, BL APAC; Captain L. Buxton, ‘Propaganda in the Near East’, 22 June 1918, TNA FO 371/3409/112414; ‘War propaganda posters in Oriental languages’, 23 May 1918, TNA FO 395/237/98526; TNA FO 395/137/4278-238033; TNA 395/238/f. 5645 and f. 5646; TNA 395/230/11357.

57 Memorandum by Sir Ronald Graham, 11 Dec. 1916, TNA FO 371/2782/251737.

58 See Sir R. Wingate, ‘Arabian policy’, 11 June 1917, TNA CAB 27/22.

59 Q.59888, Photograph Archive, Imperial War Museum (IWM).

60 There was also an attempt to raise an Anglo-French Arab Legion, which failed to attract sufficient numbers or enthusiasm and was eventually dissolved. Westrate, Arab bureau, pp. 74–6.

61 Sykes to Clayton, Cairo, 2 Mar. 1918, TNA FO 371/3383/40066; S. Gaselee to Editor, Daily Sketch, 24 Sept. and 2 Oct. 1918, TNA FO 395/247/240775; Hardinge, FO, to General Macdonogh, director of military intelligence, 5 Sept. 1918, TNA FO 371/4009/143493; ‘Recruits from Palestine’, Q.12303, ‘Officers of the Army of the King of Hedjaz’, Q.52133, Photograph Archive, IWM.

62 Sykes to Reginald Wingate, 22 Feb. 1917, TNA FO 882/16; Sykes to Arbur, Cairo, 19 May 1917, no. 41b, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA; Shane Leslie, Mark Sykes: his life and letters (London, 1923), p. 280.

63 On the drafting of the declaration, see Busch, Britain, India and the Arabs, pp. 135–40.

64 War Cabinet minutes, WC 94, 12 Mar. 1917, TNA CAB 23/2.

65 War Cabinet minutes, WC 96, 14 Mar. 1917, TNA CAB 23/2.

67 ‘British troops entering Bagdad’, Q.79450, Photograph Archive, IWM.

68 Minute by S. Gaselee, 4 May 1917, TNA FO 395/144/96177.

69 Arab independence and the king of Hedjaz (London, 1917), WHS.

70 ‘The Arabs’, Times, 30 Mar. 1917, and minute by S. Gaselee, 10 Mar. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/65527.

71 Benjamin, Schwarz, ‘Divided attention: Britain's perception of a German threat to her eastern position in 1918’, Journal of Contemporary History, 28 (1993), pp. 103–22; John Fisher, Curzon and British imperialism in the Middle East, 1916–1919 (London and Portland, OR, 1999), pp. 156–71.

72 Wingate to FO, 16 June 1918; memorandum by Sykes, n.d., TNA FO 371/3381/107379.

73 Memorandum by Sir Mark Sykes, 6 July 1918, Appendix, EC 21st minutes, 18 July 1918; EC 23rd minutes, 8 Aug. 1918, 34th minutes, 3 Oct. 1918, 35th minutes, 17 Oct. 1918, TNA CAB 27/24.

74 Memorandum by Sir Mark Sykes, 6 July 1918, Appendix, EC 21st minutes, TNA CAB 27/24.

75 FO to Monsieur Cambon, 26 Sept. 1918, TNA FO 371/3411/161891; Minute by Eyre Crowe, 1 Oct. 1918, TNA FO 371/3411/164505.

76 Kedourie, Chatham House version, ch. 3; Matthew Hughes, ‘Elie Kedourie and the fall of Damascus: a reassessment’, War and Society, 23 (2005), pp. 87–106.

77 Clayton, Cairo, to FO, 8 Oct. 1918; minute by Sykes, n.d., TNA FO 371/3412/169079.

78 See, for example, ‘The Emir Feisal's headquarters’, Q.12377, ‘Some Sherifian troops’, Q.12373, ‘Capture of Damascus’, Q.12363, Photograph Archive, IWM.

79 Allenby to War Office, 6 Oct. 1918, TNA FO 371/3383/169524.

80 ‘The Arab campaign’, Times, 26 Nov. 1918, ‘The Arab epic’, Times, 27–8 Nov. 1918.

81 ‘The epic of the Hedjaz’, Editorial, Times, 27 Nov. 1918, p. 9.

82 A. P. Hacobian, Armenia and the war (London, 1918), no. 915, WHS, p. 186.

83 Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian question, pp. 117, 119.

84 Donald Bloxham, The great game of genocide: imperialism, nationalism, and the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford, 2005), pp. 140–3.

85 Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian question, pp. 98–100.

86 Ibid., pp. 101–3.

87 Ibid., 112–16; Arslanian, ‘British wartime pledges’, pp. 520–2.

88 TNA 371/3404/160092, 160346, 160873, 162647, 162745, 164439, 164847, 166169.

89 Memorandum by A. J. Toynbee, 24 Sept. 1918, TNA FO 371/3404/162647.

90 Renton, Zionist Masquerade, ch. 6; Eitan, Bar-Yosef, ‘The last crusade? British propaganda and the Palestine campaign, 1917–18’, Journal of Contemporary History, 36 (2001), pp. 87109.

91 ‘Appreciation of the attached Eastern report’, 28 Dec. 1917, TNA CAB 24/144. For more on the government's wartime Zionist propaganda, see Renton, Zionist masquerade, chs. 5–7.

92 See Michael Berkowitz, Zionist culture and West European Jewry before the First World War (Cambridge, 1993).

93 See, for example, Shmuel Tolkowsky, The Jewish colonisation in Palestine (London, 1918), no. 933, WHS; Vladimir Jabotinsky, ‘With the Jewish regiment’, c. Mar. 1918, TNA FO 395/237/60273; ‘Wine industry and the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the Jewish Universities [sic]’, IWM 35, Film Archive, IWM.

94 See, for example, ‘The Arabs’, Times, 30 Mar. 1917, TNA FO 395/139/65527.

95 Sykes to Eric Drummond, FO, 20 July 1917, no. 68, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA.

96 Rashid Khalidi, Lisa Anderson, Muhammed Muslih, and Reeva S. Simon, eds., The origins of Arab nationalism (New York, 1991), esp. chs. 1, 3, 9, and 10; Bloxham, Great game, pp. 65, 91.

97 This growth was most pronounced in the USA and Russia. See Melvyn Urofsky, American Zionism: from Herzl to the Holocaust (Lincoln, NE, 1975), chs. 5 and 6; Zvi Gitelman, Jewish nationality and Soviet politics: the Jewish sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, NJ, 1972), pp. 71–2.

98 Memorandum by Albert Hyamson, c. 13 Dec. 1917, TNA FO 395/86/237667.

99 Ibid., ‘Early proposal for Propaganda Department', n.d., Z4/3824, papers of the London Zionist Bureau, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem (CZA); memorandum by Hyamson, 18 July 1918, TNA FO 395/237/12718; ‘Report of meeting of Propaganda Committee, 14 Dec.–30 June 1918’, Z4/243, papers of the London Zionist Bureau, CZA.

100 Great Britain, Palestine and the Jews, p. iii.

101 ‘A Jewish Palestine’, Times, 3 Dec. 1917, p. 2.

102 Hyamson to Sir William Jury, 26 Apr. 1918, TNA FO 395/202/59467.

103 Middle East Committee minutes, 19 Jan. 1918, TNA CAB 27/23.

104 See, for example, ‘Arrival of Zionist Commission’, IWM 30-Reel 2, and ‘The New Zionist Commission in Palestine’, IWM 45-Reel 2, Film Archive, IWM; ‘Zionist Commission in Palestine’, Q.13194, Photograph Archive, IWM.

105 Balfour, FO, to Weizmann, Zionist Commission, 26 July 1918, TNA FO 371/3395/125475.

106 The 38th was later joined by the 39th and 40th battalions, which were recruited in the USA and Palestine respectively.

107 J. H. Patterson, With the Judaeans in the Palestine campaign (London, 1922), pp. 110, 123, 157–8.

108 Jabotinsky to Lord Robert Cecil, 25 Oct. 1917, Jabotinsky papers, Jabotinsky Institute, Tel Aviv (JI), A1-2/7. The Legion was also intended to attract Russian Jews in the UK to enlist who had, hitherto, failed to volunteer for the British army. See David Cesarani, ‘An embattled minority: the Jews in Britain during the First World War’, in Tony Kushner and Kenneth Lunn, eds., The politics of marginality – race, the radical right and minorities in 20th century Britain (London, 1990), pp. 65–71.

109 ‘Medal given to every recruit’, Q.12684, Photograph Archive, IWM.

110 Geoffrey Butler, New York, to John Buchan, 27 Aug. 1917, and unsigned minute, 28 Sept. 1917, TNA FO 395/80/185484; Colonel Patterson to Jabotinsky, 1 Dec. 1917, JI A1-3/5/2; IWM 662a, Film Archive, IWM; ‘Some of the 1,000 recruits for the 40th (Palestinian) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers’, Q.12672, Photograph Archive, IWM.

111 William Ormsby-Gore, ‘The Jewish volunteer movement in Judaea’, 2 July 1918, TNA FO 371/3409/139153.

112 Great Britain, Palestine and the Jews, p. 32. On the discourse of the Jews as an Oriental people in European Jewish culture during the nineteenth century, see Ivan Davidson Kalmar, ‘“moorish style”: Orientalism, the Jews and synagogue architecture’, Jewish Social Studies, 7 (2001), pp. 68–100. On the Zionist culture in Palestine, see Arieh, Bruce Saposnik, ‘Europe and its Orients in Zionist culture before the First World War’, The Historical Journal, 49 (2006), pp. 11051123.

113 Great Britain, Palestine and the Jews, pp. 26–7, 31; FO to Bayley, New York, 6 Feb. 1918, TNA FO 395/237/12461; TNA FO 371/3411/153192.

114 Wingate to FO, 12 Dec. 1917, no. 92, Sir Mark Sykes Collection GB165-0275, MECA.

115 ‘The conquest of Syria: the conditions of settlement in the East’, Times, 31 Oct. 1918, p. 6.

116 John Darwin, Britain, Egypt and the Middle East: imperial policy in the aftermath of war, 1918–1922 (London, 1981), Part iii and ch. 10.

117 Memorandum by A. J. Toynbee, 24 Sept. 1918, TNA FO 371/3404/162647.

118 Memorandum by A. J. Toynbee, 3 Oct. 1918, TNA FO 371/3404/166169.

119 Captain L. Buxton, ‘Propaganda in the Near East’, 22 June 1918, TNA FO 371/3409/112414. On Arab suspicions regarding the Arab revolt and Britain's role in it, see Wingate to Balfour, 21 Sept. 1918, TNA FO 371/3384/737.

120 See, for example, ‘British official war photographs in colour: notes for the press’, c. 26 June 1918, TNA FO 395/219/113022.

121 David, Cesarani, ‘Anti-Zionist politics and political antisemitism in Britain, 1920–1924’, Patterns of Prejudice, 23 (1989), pp. 2845.

122 Laycock, Imagining Armenia, pp. 183, 195, 201, 227–9.

* Research for this article was made possible by the generous support of the Hanadiv Charitable Foundation and the Cecil and Irene Roth Memorial Trust. It is based on papers that were given at the SOAS Centre for Jewish Studies, and the Imperial History Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. I am most grateful for the questions and comments of those who participated, particularly Mark Levene, and the anonymous referees of the Historical Journal.

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