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Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Six

“While the Mad Fakir was rousing Swat and Buner, this powerful priest incited the Mohmands”.[1] The Mohmand were also a Pashtun tribe, against whom the British had waged war on and off since 1851, but the main operations began between 1897–1898.

Though he was known to be a physical coward, his sanctity and the fact that he was their own particular holy man, not less than his eloquence, powerfully moved this savage tribe. A Jehad [Jihad] was proclaimed. How long should Islam be insulted? How long should its followers lurk in barren lands of the North? He urged them to rise and join in the destruction of the while invaders. Those who fell should become saints; those who lived would be rich, for these Kafirs [unbelievers, i.e. non-Muslims] had money and many other things besides, for which a true believer might find a use. The combined allurements of plunder and paradise proved irresistible.[2]

In his memoir, My Early Life, Churchill explains the military importance of the Malakand Pass:

For three years the British had held the summit of the Malakand Pass and thus had maintained the road from the Swat Valley and across the Swat River by many other valleys to Chitral. Chitral was then supposed to be of great military importance. It has always seemed to get along quite happily since, but no doubt it was very important then. The tribesmen of the Swat Valley, irritated by the presence of the troops in what they had for generations regarded as their own country, had suddenly burst out in a fury, attributed by the Government [of India] to religion, but easily explicable on quite ordinary grounds.[3]

The Government of India was correct that it was, at least partly, religion — Islam — that must be blamed. Islam demanded that once a land had passed into Muslim hands, it must forever remain Muslim. If invaded by non-Muslims, it must be at all costs be liberated in the name of Islam. 

Churchill rode out with Sir Bindon Blood’s Malakand Field Force on 5 September 1897. Blood’s force was made up of two brigades of British and Indian regiments, their aim was to tackle the unruly Mohmand tribes. Churchill, in his dispatch to The Daily Telegraph which was published on 7 October 1897, notes the courage of the Pashtuns, “Their swordsmanship, neglecting guards, concerns itself only with cuts and, careless of what injury they may receive, they devote themselves to the destruction of their opponents”. However, he is less charitable towards the mullahs, who were responsible for the instigating the violence in the first place, and is aghast by their habit of trading their women to buy their rifles, “Their religion [Islam] is the most miserable fanaticism, in which cruelty, credulity, and immorality are equally represented. Their holy men — the Mullahs — prize as their chief privilege a sort of droit de seigneur. It is impossible to imagine a lower type of beings or a more dreadful state of barbarism”.[4]

On 2 October 1897, Churchill wrote to his mother: “The danger & difficulty of attacking these active fierce hill men is extreme….It is a war without quarter. They kill and mutilate everyone they catch and we do not hesitate to finish their wounded off…”

In a dispatch to the Daily Telegraph that was published on 6 November 1897, Churchill said: “Civilisation is face to face with militant Mohammedanism [Islam].”[5] In another dispatch, published 9 November 1897, he stated: “Their intelligence only enables them to be more cruel, more dangerous, more destructive than the wild beasts. Their religion [Islam] — fanatic though they are — is only respected when it incites to bloodshed and murder.”

One incident must, however, be recorded. The line of march on the 22nd lay past the village Desemdullah or Bibot, in which the severe fighting of the night of the 16th had taken place. In company with several officers, I rode to look again at the ill-fated spot. It will be remembered that the bodies of Mohammedan native soldiers killed in the fighting had been buried there. The sight which was presented to our gaze was horrible and revolting. The remains had been disinterred and mutilated. Remembering that a morning journal is read to a large extent at the breakfast table, I do not intend to describe the condition in which these poor fragments of humanity were found.

I must, however, invite the reader to consider the degradation of mind and body which can alone inspire so foul an act. These tribesmen are among the most miserable and brutal creatures of the earth. Their intelligence only enables them to be more cruel, more dangerous, more destructive than the wild beasts. Their religion [Islam] — fanatic though they are — is only respected when it incites to bloodshed and murder. Their habits are filthy; their morals cannot be alluded to. With every feeling for respect for that wide sentiment of human sympathy which characterizes a Christian civilization, I find it impossible to come to any other conclusion than that, in proportion as these valleys are purged from the pernicious vermin that infest them, so will the happiness of humanity be increased, and the progress of mankind accelerated.”[6]

To be continued.

AUTHOR

RELATED ARTICLES:

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part One

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Two

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Three

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Four

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Five

EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.


SOURCES:

[1] MFF, p.99.

[2]

[4] Ed. Frederick Woods, Young Winston’s Wars, The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill, London: Sphere Books, 1972, p. 42.

[5]   Ed. Frederick Woods, Young Winston’s Wars, The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill, p.67.

[6] Ed. Frederick Woods, Young Winston’s Wars, The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill, pp. 76-77.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL, The River War. An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan. Ed. Col. F. Rhodes, illustrated by Angus McNeill, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899).

The unabridged edition in Two Volumes of the original version of 1899 (see above). Edited by James W. Muller, With a New Foreword by Churchill’s Daughter Mary Soames. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press in association with the International Churchill Society. 2020. Vol.1 pp.430. Vol.2 pp.844.

Contents of Volume 1: Foreword: Mary Soames; The Making of This Book; Abbreviations; Editor’s Introduction; New Bibliography; A Note on the Text; Half Title Page; By the Same Author; Frontispiece, Title Page; Inscription; Preface; List of Principal Works Consulted; Government Publications; Illustrations in the First Volume; Maps and Plans in the First Volume.

Contents of Volume 2: Half Title Page; Frontispiece; Title Page; Illustrations in the Second Volume; Maps and Plans in Second Volume; Epilogue: Churchill’s Introduction to the 1933 Edition; Appendices A, B, C, D, E. Appendices I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI. Index.

Other works by Churchill referred to in this survey are:

Winston S. Churchill, The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898), referred to as MFF.

Winston S. Churchill, My African Journey (London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1908), referred to as MAJ. 

Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1930), referred to as MEL.

Ed. Frederick Woods, Young Winston’s Wars, The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill, London: Sphere Books, 1972.

Ed. David Lough, Foreword by Randolph Churchill, My Darling WinstonThe Letters Between Winston Churchill and His Mother. London: Pegasus Books, 2018.

Other works referred to include:

Andrew Roberts. Churchill. Walking with Destiny. Penguin Books: Penguin Random House UK, 2019. Select Bibliography, Index; 1105 pages.

Andrew Roberts. Eminent Churchillians. Phoenix: London, 1995.

Con Coughlin, Churchill’s First WarYoung Winston and the Fight Against the Taliban, London: Pan Macmillan, 2013.

Randolph S. Churchill, Official Biography: Vol. I: Winston S. Churchill: Youth 1874-1900 1966.

Sir Bindon Blood, Four Score Years and Ten. Sir Bindon Blood’s Reminiscences, London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1933.

William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston-Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 1874-1932. New York: A Dell Trade paperback, 1983.

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Five

“The extraordinary credulity of the people is hardly conceivable. Had the Mad Mullah called on them to follow him to attack Malakand and Chakdara they would have refused. Instead he worked miracles. He sat at his house, and all who came to visit him, brought him a small offering of food or money, in return for which he gave them a little rice. As his stores were continually replenished, he might claim to have fed thousands. He asserted that he was invisible at night. Looking into his room, they saw no one. At these things they marvelled. Finally he declared he would destroy the infidel. He wanted no help. No one should share the honours. The heavens would open and an army would descend. The more he protested he did not want them, the more exceedingly they came. Incidentally he mentioned that they would be invulnerable; other agents added arguments. I was shown a captured scroll, upon which the tomb of the Ghazi — he who has killed an infidel — is depicted in heaven, no fewer than seven degrees above the Caaba [Ka’aba, in Mecca] itself. Even after the fighting — when the tribesmen reeled back from the terrible army they had assailed, leaving a quarter of their number on the field — the faith of the survivors was unshaken. Only those who had doubted had perished, said the Mullah, and displayed a bruise which was, he informed them, the sole effect of a twelve-pound shrapnel shell on his sacred person.

I pass with relief from the tossing sea of Cause and Theory to the firm ground of Result and Fact. The rumours and reports which reached the Malakand of the agitation in Upper Swat and among the surrounding tribes were fully appreciated by the Pathan Sepoys[1] of the garrison. As July advanced, several commanding officers were warned by their men, that great events were impending. Major Deane, the political agent, watched with great anxiety the daily progress of the fanatical movement. No one desires to be thought an alarmist, least of all on the frontier where there is always danger. At length, however, he felt compelled to officially report the disquieting signs. Warnings were then issued to the officers in charge of the various posts, and the troops were practised in taking up alarm stations. By the 23rd of July all had been informed that the aspect of affairs was threatening, and ordered to observe every precaution. But to the last everybody doubted that there would be a rising, nor did any one imagine that even should one occur, it would lead to more than a skirmish. The natives were friendly and respectful. The valley smiled in fertile prosperity. It was not strange, that none could foresee the changes a week would bring, or guess that in a few days they would be fighting for their lives; that they would carry fire and sword through the peaceful landscape; that the polo ground would be the scene of a cavalry charge, or that the cheery barbarians among whom they had lived quietly for so many months would become maddened and ferocious savages….[2]

Thus the thrust of Churchill’s argument is that rationality and civilization are threatened by a wild religious fanaticism emanating from Islam. Thus on the one hand we had the British Empire, representing Civilization and Progress, and on the other, barbarism of the Muslim tribesmen, who were opposed to these forces. The Ghazis, “mad with fanaticism”[3], were sweeping down the valley exciting the credulous masses all manipulated by their religious class.

In a remarkable passage in The Story of the Malakand Field Force, Churchill reveals the depth of his reading by citing the Chinese pilgrim, Fa-hien[4], when he contrasts the degradation of early Christianity, which was “convulsed by the Arian controversy. That pure religion…was defiled with the blood of persecution and degraded by the fears of superstition” with the Buddhists who were “placid people, thriving, industrious and intelligent; devoting their lives to the attainment of that serene annihilation which the word nirvana expresses”.[5] Again, the enemy was religious fanaticism, whether in Medieval Christianity or modern-day Islam in late nineteenth century India.

AUTHOR

RELATED ARTICLES:

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part One

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Two

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Three

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Four

EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. All rights reserved.


SOURCES:

[1] Sepoy: a word of Persian origin, sipahi meaning ‘soldier or horseman’. In early modern India sepoys belonged to infantry forces, riding on horses, and were serving under British or other European orders. Sepoys made up the vast majority of the British East India Company’s troops.

[2] MFF, pp.27-31.

[3] MFF, p.75.

[4] Now known as Faxian (法顯 [fà.ɕjɛ̀n]; 337 CE – c. 422 CE), also referred to as Fa-Hien, Fa-hsien and Sehi, was a Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled by foot from China to India to acquire Buddhist texts. Starting his arduous journey about age 60, he visited sacred Buddhist sites in Central, South, and Southeast Asia between 399 and 412 CE, of which 10 years were spent in India.

See James Legge (1886, trans.), A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fâ-hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1886.

[5] MFF, p.93.

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Four

The Mad Mullah was born Saidullah Khan [sometimes also known as Sadullah, or Mastun Mullah (Ecstasy Mullah), or the Sartor Fakir or Faqir (the Bare-headed Saint)] in the village of Rega Buner in the Buner Valley and was a member of a branch of the Yousafzai tribe, another Pashtun tribe. He may have had links with the extremist Wahhabi sect, whose origins lie in Saudi Arabia. (Osama bin Laden [1957-2011], born in Riyadh, S. Arabia had been a Wahhabi also). This sect had acquired an impressive following among India’s Muslims, especially in North India, where they were known as Hindustani Fanatics (they were, of course, all Muslims despite the confusing title, which refers to India as Hindustan). They had played an important role in the Indian Mutiny of 1857; after its suppression, thousands of Hindustani Fanatics were executed. But the extent of the Mad Mullah’s links with the latter group is unclear, though his views did reflect their Wahhabi agenda.

Great and widespread as the preparations were, they were not visible to the watchful diplomatic agents who maintained the relations of the Government with the tribesmen….

So extraordinary is the inversion of ideas and motives among those people that it may be said that those who know them best, know them least, and the more logical the mind of the student the less he is able to understand of the subject. In any case among these able men who diligently collected information and observed the state of feeling, there were none who realised the latent forces that were being accumulated on all sides. The strange treachery at Maizar[1] in June was a flash in the pan. Still no one saw the danger. It was not until the early days of July that it was noticed that there was a fanatical movement in Upper Swat. Even then its significance was disregarded and its importance underrated. That a Mad Fakir had arrived was known. His power was still a secret. It did not long remain so.[2]

Churchill’s encounter with religious fanaticism was to prove crucial in his later assessment of Hitler; as Churchill biographer Andrew Roberts put it, “His writing about Islamic fundamentalism prepared him for the fanaticism of the Nazis”[3]. This conclusion is not at all as absurd as it may sound. For Islamic fanaticism shared many features- “its sheer implacability, contempt for Christianity, opposition to liberal Western values, addiction to violence, demand for total allegiance”[4]– with the political zealotry of the Nazis, something successive British Prime Ministers had never encountered, and thus were not intellectually or politically capable of recognizing its true nature in the 1930s. Churchill, on the other hand, had fought it in the 1890s, and knew its true character from early on.

Churchill observed:

It is, thank heaven, difficult if not impossible for the modern European to fully appreciate the force which fanaticism exercises among an ignorant, warlike and Oriental population. Several generations have elapsed since the nations of the West have drawn the sword in religious controversy, and the evil memories of the gloomy past have soon faded in the strong, clear light of Rationalism and human sympathy. Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men’s passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination. But the Mahommedan religion [Islam] increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness. In a moment the fruits of patient toil, the prospects of material prosperity, the fear of death itself, are flung aside. The more emotional Pathans are powerless to resist. All rational considerations are forgotten. Seizing their weapons, they become Ghazis — as dangerous and as sensible as mad dogs: fit only to be treated as such. While the more generous spirits among the tribesmen become convulsed in an ecstasy of religious bloodthirstiness, poorer and more material souls derive additional impulses from the influence of others, the hopes of plunder and the joy of fighting. Thus whole nations are roused to arms. Thus the Turks repel their enemies, the Arabs of the Soudan break the British squares, and the rising on the Indian frontier spreads far and wide. In each case civilisation is confronted with militant Mahommedanism [Islam]. The forces of progress clash with those of reaction. The religion of blood and war [Islam] is face to face with that of peace [Christianity]. Luckily the religion of peace is usually the better armed.

AUTHOR

RELATED ARTICLES:

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part One

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Two

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Three

EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:

[1] Maizar: where British officers and Indian sepoys, though initially well-received, were killed in a surprise attack by Swat valley tribesmen.

[2] MFF, pp..27-29.

[3] Roberts, Churchill, p.968.

[4] Roberts, Churchill, p.53.

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Three

In the evenings one can imagine them recounting tales of the former glory days of Islam, continues Churchill,

[when] the Mullah will raise his voice and remind them of other days when the sons of the prophet drove the infidel from the plains of India, and ruled at Delhi, as wide an Empire as the Kafir holds to-day: when the true religion strode proudly through the earth and scorned to lie hidden and neglected among the hills: when mighty princes ruled in Bagdad, and all men knew that there was one God, and Mahomet was His prophet. And the young men hearing these things will grip their Martinis[1], and pray to Allah, that one day He will bring some Sahib—best prize of all—across their line of sight at seven hundred yards so that, at least, they may strike a blow for insulted and threatened Islam.[2]

Though Churchill admires the courage of the Ghazi[3]he abhors their “wild fanaticism”.[4]

Britain had put in place the Forward Policy, which reflected British concerns about the security of India against possible incursions by Russia, and was identified with a desire for influence on and control of strategic cities, and for the annexation of states and territories on the Indian border. Churchill explains the strategic importance of the town of Chitral.

During the two years that the British flag had floated over Chakdara and the Malakand the trade of the Swat Valley had nearly doubled. As the sun of civilisation rose above the hills, the fair flowers of commerce unfolded, and the streams of supply and demand, hitherto congealed by the frost of barbarism, were thawed….[5]

But a single class had viewed with quick intelligence and intense hostility the approach of the British power. The priesthood of the Afghan border instantly recognised the full meaning of the Chitral road. The cause of their antagonism is not hard to discern. Contact with civilisation assails the ignorance, and credulity, on which the wealth and influence of the Mullah depend. A general combination of the religious forces of India against that civilising, educating rule, which unconsciously saps the strength of superstition, is one of the dangers of the future. Here Mahommedanism [Islam] was threatened and resisted. A vast, but silent agitation was begun. Messengers passed to and fro among the tribes. Whispers of war, a holy war, were breathed to a race intensely passionate and fanatical. Vast and mysterious agencies, the force of which is incomprehensible to rational minds, were employed. More astute brains than the wild valleys of the North produce conducted the preparations. Secret encouragement came from the South—from India itself. Actual support and assistance was given from Cabul.

In that strange half light of ignorance and superstition, assailed by supernatural terrors and doubts, and lured by hopes of celestial glory, the tribes were taught to expect prodigious events. Something was coming. A great day for their race and faith was at hand. Presently the moment would arrive. They must watch and be ready. The mountains became as full of explosives as a magazine. Yet the spark was lacking.

At length the time came. A strange combination of circumstances operated to improve the opportunity. The victory of the Turks over the Greeks; the circulation of the Amir’s book on ‘Jehad [Jihad]’; his assumption of the position of a Caliph of Islam, and much indiscreet writing in the Anglo-Indian press, [Articles in Anglo-Indian papers on such subjects as The Recrudescence of Mahommedanism [Islam] produce more effect on the educated native mind than the most seditious frothings of the vernacular press] united to produce a ‘boom’ in Mahommedanism [Islam]].

The moment was propitious; nor was the man wanting. What Peter the Hermit was to the regular bishops and cardinals of the Church, the Mad Mullah was to the ordinary priesthood of the Afghan border. A wild enthusiast, convinced alike of his Divine mission and miraculous powers, preached a crusade, or Jehad [Jihad], against the infidel. The mine was fired. The flame ran along the ground. The explosions burst forth in all directions. The reverberations have not yet died away.[6]

AUTHOR

RELATED ARTICLES:

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part One

Winston Churchill and Islam—Part Two

EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. All rights reserved.


SOURCES:

[1] That is of course a reference to the rifle and not the cocktail: “The Martini–Henry is a breech-loading single-shot rifle with a lever action that was used by the British Army. It first entered service in 1871, eventually replacing the Snider–Enfield, a muzzle-loader converted to the cartridge system. Martini–Henry variants were used throughout the British Empire for 47 years.”

[2] MFF, p.8.

[3] The Ghazi was someone who has taken part in military expeditions to rid the land of infidels.

[4] MFF, p.9.

[5] MFF, p.27.

[6] MFF, pp.27-28