If Churchill Was Sober in Shaping the Middle East, Might 100+ Years of Conflict Have Been Avoided?

There’s no question that Winston Churchill demonstrated greatness in rallying the British in World War II and saving England from Nazi invasion. But he also helped to shape the Middle East we know today, not in positive ways.

He bragged about creating the border between Trans-Jordan and Saudi Arabia one Sunday afternoon in 1921 while drinking champagne. The inexplicably squiggly nature of the border was attributed to Churchill’s “hiccup.”

In “Not His Finest Hour: the Dark Side of Winston Churchill,” Johann Hari asks, “What if, in addition to rousing a nation to save the world from the Nazis, he fought for a raw white supremacism and a concentration camp network of his own? This question burns through Richard Toye’s new history, Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and That He Made.

In both South Africa and India, Churchill expressed white supremacist views, rooting for the “Aryans,” describing dark-skinned natives as “primitives” or “savages” who the British would civilize, or helpless children who would “willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown.”

Of Mahatma Ghandi, Churchill said he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” As the resistance swelled, he announced: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

In the Middle East, Churchill was somewhat an ignorant imperialist  — an anti-semite as well as a Zionist; a betrayer of the Arabs, and an Islamophobe. When the Kurds rebelled against British rule, he said: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.”

Hari points that Churchill “is the man who invented Iraq, locking together three conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders that have been bleeding ever since. He is the Colonial Secretary who offered the Over-Promised Land to both the Jews and the Arabs – although he seems to have privately felt racist contempt for both.” He jeered at the Palestinians as “barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung,” while he was appalled that the Israelis “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.”

The British and the French essentially set the tribes of the region against each other in conflict that has lasted more than 100 years. Churchill is at least partially responsible for the conflict in the Middle East that continues today.


8 thoughts on “If Churchill Was Sober in Shaping the Middle East, Might 100+ Years of Conflict Have Been Avoided?

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