Sunday, 19 September 2010

Secret Affairs – Britain’s collusion with radical Islam
by Mark Curtis
Pubs. Profile Books Ltd
Pbck. £12.99

Mark Curtis’s book should be on the book list of every educational institution’s history curriculum. In this detailed historical journey, he charts Britain’s intimate involvement in the promotion of Muslim individuals and Islamic states as tools for its own imperial ambitions. It used Islam in a blatant divide and rule tactic, from the time of the Raj onwards. Curtis amply demonstrates a continuous and intimate marriage of convenience between Britain and various Islamic forces over three centuries.

After Britain’s long-time support of the Ottoman Empire, as a bulwark against Tsarist Russia and to protect its East Indian trade routes, it soon sought alternative allies once the Turks had unexpectedly entered the First World War on the side of Germany. Britain then proceeded to find a suitable and subservient proxy from among the tribal groups of central Arabia. In the 1920s it found Ibn Saud as an ideal candidate for leadership and gave him sole control over Saudi Arabia which he proceeded to assert in one of the most bloody repressions the region had experienced, killing over 40,000 Arab tribesmen and women and amputating the limbs of 350,000 more. This led to the complete domination by the Saud family in the region to this day. It assured Britain of a steady flow of oil and the Saudi family complete support from Britain in the maintenance of its brutal ad obscurantist regime. It also led to the spread of the divisive and backward-looking faction of Islam called Wahabism (the founding ideology of modern jihad).

Throughout the region Britain has always propped up elements of the ruling classes against the democratic and nationalist aspirations of the people. Curtis provides a long list of such tactics from Egypt, Afghanistan and Persia to Turkmenistan. This history is little known and rarely discussed in historical circles. It will come as a surprise to many to see how Britain has meddled in Islamic affairs over such a long and continuous period. And, although it would be silly to blame Britain solely for the present resurgence of Islamic extremism or terrorism, it’s certainly not the innocent bystander it paints itself.

Britain has continuously covert support to Muslim guerrilla forces to counteract the spread of Soviet influence in Persia, Turkey and Afghanistan to Kosovo (does that sound like more recent history?).

Curtis concludes with the present day chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, showing how Britain and the USA are very much to blame for what unravelled there even before they chose to invade. He names those ‘heroic Afghani guerrilla leaders’ who fought Soviet forces, who were backed and armed by Britain and the USA, only to then set up the Taliban regime and become ‘the enemy’. Pakistan was also given massive military and financial support over many years as a bulwark against Soviet influence in the region and to counteract India – seen as pro-Soviet and unreliable. This policy and Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan has also contributed to the present political instability and violence there.

A fascinating, well written and researched book – a must read for anyone who wishes to better understand the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and Britain’s key role.

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