Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Spreading Desert Sands of Islam

"It isn't safe to reckon upon a Dervish's fears. We must always bear in mind that they are not amenable to the same motives as other people. Many of them are anxious to meet death, and all of them are absolute, uncompromising believers in destiny. They exist as a reductio ad absurdum of all bigotry - a proof of how surely it leads to blank barbarism."
The barbarism of suicide bombers? The death worship of Islamic "martyrs"?

"You cannot foretell what they would do. There is no iconoclast in the world like an extreme Mohammedan. Last time they overran this country, they burned the Alexandrian Library. You know that all representations of the human features are against the letter of the Koran. A statue is always an irreligious object in their eyes. What do these fellows care for the sentiment of Europe? The more they could offend it, the more delighted they would be. Down would go the Sphinx, the Colossi, the statues of Abou-Simbel - as the saints went down in England before Cromwell's troopers."
Sound familiar? It is dialogue by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a novel he penned in 1897, A Desert Drama: Being the Tragedy of the Korosko, and published in 1898. It is the story of a group of British, French and American tourists in Egypt and the Sudan and what happens to them at the height of the Mahdist power in North Africa.

One of the novel's characters, Cecil Brown, a British diplomat, remarks:

"...It is my opinion that we [Great Britain] have been the policemen of the world long enough. We policed the seas for pirates and slavers. Now we police the land for Dervishes and brigands and every sort of danger to civilization. There is never a mad priest or a witch doctor, or a firebrand of any sort on this planet, who does not report his appearance by sniping the nearest British officer. One tires of it at last. If a Kurd breaks loose in Asia Minor, the world wants to know why Great Britain does not keep him in order. If there is a military mutiny in Egypt, or a Jihad in the Sudan, it is still Great Britain who has to set it right. And all to an accompaniment of curses such as the policeman gets when he seizes a ruffian among his pals. We get hard knocks and no thanks, and why should we do it? Let Europe do its own dirty work."
That should sound familiar, as well. Doyle's novel is replete with statements about Europe and Islam that were as true in the 19th century as they are today. As evidence that Europe's ambivalence is nothing new, especially that of France, witness this statement by a French tourist in Doyle's novel when the touring party is attacked and surrounded by jihadist dervishes:

"The Frenchman waved his unwounded hand as he walked. 'Vive le Khalifa! Vive le Madhi!' he shouted, until a blow from behind with the butt-end of a Remington beat him into silence."
Well, that about sums up the current European position. Doyle's novel is full of such gems, almost every one of them recognizable in today's headlines of vacillation, conciliation and accommodation.

(The Khalifa, Abdullah et Taaisha - or Abdullah ibn Mohammad - was the successor of Mohammed Ahmed, or the Mahdi , the "expected one,", who waged a jihadist war on Egyptian/British controlled Sudan between 1883 and 1885, but died of typhus a few months after he captured Khartoum and beheaded British general Charles Gordon.)

It is startling to read how much has not changed, except the irresolution of Europe to confront and combat Islamofication by Muslim immigration under the mantra of multiculturalism, "tolerance," and the Big Brotherish paternalism of the European Union, and the assumption by the U.S. of Britain's former role as the world's "policeman," only handcuffed now by its own altruist ends and self-defeating rules of engagement.

The fundamental character of Islam has not changed, either. Its advocates are still out for blood, conquest and submission.

A retired British colonel, Cochrane, perfectly expresses that same altruist "duty," except that Britain then was not restrained by "rules of engagement" or even Etonian notions of "fairness." Speaking of the successive crises that drew Britain into Egypt and then into the Sudan to crush the Mahdists in 1885, Cochrane laments:

"At the time of trouble we begged and implored the French, or any one else, to come and help us to put the thing to rights, but they all deserted us when there was work to be done, although they are ready enough to scold and to impede us now. When we tried to get out of it, up came this wild Dervish movement, and we had to sit tighter than ever. We never wanted the task; but, now that it has come, we must pull it through in a workmanlike manner. We've brought justice into the country, and purity of administration, and protection for the poor man. It (Egypt and Sudan) has made more advance in the last twelve years than since the Moslem invasion in the seventh century....England has neither directly nor indirectly made a shilling out of it, and I don't believe you will find in history a more successful and more disinterested bit of work."
As altruistically "disinterested" as was its policy of policing the world and staving off the advance of Islamic barbarism, Britain was not even trying to spread "democracy," as the Bush administration is. When it engaged the Madhi armies, it meant to defeat them, as it did in September 1898 at Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum. The Khalifa himself was pursued by the British further into the Sudan, and killed there by them in November 1899. And that was the end of radical Islam as a menace in Africa for half a century.

Not exactly the playbook being followed by the U.S. in its pursuit of Osama bin Laden, author of 9/11, who probably pictures himself as another kind of "expected one," in competition for the role with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Remember that in the 19th century all the British had to work with were camels and perhaps the telegraph, without the advantages of GPS- or laser-guided 500-pound bombs, fighter aircraft, or helicopters. Even altruists with a rational "war-fighting" philosophy can accomplish wonders. It was not a "police action" they were conducting, but war.

Doyle's tourists are captured and are to be taken through the wastes of the Libyan Desert to Khartoum to be either ransomed or enslaved. At one point in the novel the chief of the dervishes offers the tourists an alternative: convert to Islam, kiss the Koran, and grind the cross under their heels - or die on the spot. The tourists waver, thinking that pretending to be converted might save them. But every one of them asserts his Christianity, kneeling to pray to God, not Allah. In reality, they would have been executed, but the British Camel Corps comes to the rescue, ambushing the dervishes and slaying every one of them. Doyle, an agnostic, would not have the reader believe that God had anything to do with it.

Now we are less certain of the value of Western concepts of individual rights, freedom of speech, and other liberties that we once took for granted, thanks to the nihilism of multiculturalism. Iranian dervishes are no less brazen than their ancient counterparts in the Sudan. They can kidnap fifteen British sailors and marines in open waters and send Prime Minister Tony Blair into a Porky Pig dither. The Taliban can behead Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and get away with it. Al Qada can behead Nick Berg and get away with it. President Bush can propose that Americans continue to sacrifice themselves to bring "democracy" to a culture and country whose inhabitants prefer to remain medieval.

In Frankfurt, Germany, a judge rejected a petition for divorce submitted by a Muslim woman whose husband had beaten her and threatened her with death. The judge based her decision, not on German law, but on the Koran's dictum that "men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other." And to treat women as chattel.

An interesting question should be posed to that judge: If the husband had succeeded in killing his wife, would she have countenanced the woman's murder, as well, because the Koran sanctioned it?

Doyle's Colonel Cochrane was worried that the Mahdists might reach the shores of the Mediterranean and swallow Egypt. Over a century later, their desert sands have spread as far north as Germany and Norway, not only in Europe's legal systems, but in men's minds, as well.


dan rohr said...

Great comparison there EC; the more things change, the worse they get – on this front. Blair’s dribbles of diplomatic escalation awaken us to the threat of the Iranian butchers [due to our – the West – own inaction] as much as the missiles they may rain on us.

Putrid philosophy has, at last, totally crippled the UK & the USA. If we survive the episodes of confrontation with Islamists in the near term, it will be sheer luck.

Bill K. said...

Tony Blair has now surpassed that most pathetic figure in British history, Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlain was at least facing a Nazi war machine, that while still growing, was at least an order of magnitude more dangerous to Britain than Iran is to The U.K. today.

Assuming the Defense Ministry actually allowed the British navy to use their weapons, they could wipe out the Iranian "navy" in a week. This would send a far stronger message to the mullahs than an eternity of Blair's impotent whining.

Of course George Bush would get irate too. He might actually have to use our two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf to ensure that the Strait of Hormuz was not closed.

Anonymous said...

A 19th century intellectual on colonial warfare:

Whatever happens, we have got
the Maxim gun and they have not

What a vast gulf between the times.

Bill Bucko said...

Thanks -- what remarkable quotes! Numerous used copies of Conan Doyle's novel are for sale at; or you can download it in electronic form at .

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on an excellent blog. I love Doyle's works and have read most of them, but "Korosko: A Desert Drama" is amazing in that it looks so relevant to us who live in the twenty first century. I don't think anyone who is in touch with world affairs can miss the gems you talk about, although at times Doyle forwards his pro colonialism and Christian views in a very cheap manner. As Timothy Olyphant says to Emile Birsch in The Girl Next Door, "You wanna be President? Here's the first rule of politics:Always know if the juice is worth the squeeze." In the old days Britain, and today America, can't resist to "squeeze" the juice out of certain places because they know it's worth it. One wonders when Colonel Cochrane talks about Britain doing altruistic work in Egypt and Sudan and not making "directly or indirectly a shilling out of it", why is it that every new power that rises, from the days of the Achaemenids to the present day never fails to find some altruistic work to do all over the world when their own economic problems are far from over. When Britain was master of half the world, there were thousands of beggars in London alone and the working conditions for those who were not gentlemen were atrocious. But Britain failed to do any altruistic work among these people and preferred to send the flower of its youth to the extremes of the earth to die like dogs just as America has been doing since WW2. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, there's just no end to it.
PS. It is curious, is it not, that Afghanistan and Iraq have for thousands of years been at the top of "To Do" list of most empires? Assyrian ,Babylonian, Achaeminid ,Alexandrian ,Roman, Mohammaden ,Mongol ,British, Russian and American to name a few.