A False Quotation

I was reading the news, as one does, and came across an article talking about the implications of Israel’s current political gridlock during a period of increasing conflict between Iran and the likes of Saudi Arabia. Such articles, of course, tend to attract those who argue that the Israeli nation itself is illegitimate and/or is responsible for all the Middle East’s problems (usually turning a blind eye to the rest of the Middle East), and comments tend to become swiftly impassioned.

There’s a lot I could say on that topic, but what caught my attention was an excerpt of an article that someone produced in support:

After studying the establishment and fall of old empires, and the existing conditions early in the twentieth century, they drew up their suggestions in a report, which ended with a declaration stating that the dangers facing colonialist empires lay in the Arab land if and when they are liberated, united and progress. Thus they recommended to the seven colonialist powers to maintain the prevailing status quo in the region, divided and backward, and keep its people in their current status: disunited, backward, ignorant and quarreling.

The report also recommended fighting the unity of the people of the Arab nation culturally, spiritually and historically, resorting to strong scientific means wherever possible to separate its components from each other, namely keeping apart its western wing away from its eastern wing, that is separate its African wing from the Asian wing, by establishing a foreign and powerful barrier on the land bridge that connects Arab Asia with Arab Africa, which connects them together with the Mediterranean Sea, and near to the Suez Canal, a powerful entity friendly to western colonialism and enemy to its people.

This was, it was claimed, “the plan of Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman”.

Something didn’t seem right about this. Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister was Prime Minister from 1905-1908, a period where the European powers were hardly acting in concert (as would be proved just a few short years later). Furthermore, North Africa and Egypt were already separated from the Levant and Arabia: the latter at the time were not governed by any European colonial power at all, but were territories of the Ottoman Empire. And of course it would certainly be nonsensical to attribute the origins of Zionism to this, considering political Zionism (that is the belief in establishing a Jewish homeland) and other such movements arose in the 19th century.

A quick search on the above text found found the full article, attributed to an author called Awni Farsakh, and claimed to be translated by an Adib S. Kawar; I find little more details of either. although the article itself was supposedly published in Al-Khaleej, based in the United Arab Emirates, on May 11, 2007, while the latter individual is a member of the website, tlaxcala.es,  that had the supposed translated version. Virtually all searches head back to that website, however, as do all other citations. The full article, however, made an extended argument along the lines of the excerpt above, and furthermore attempted to support it from a quote attributed to “the Campbell-Bannerman Report, 1907”:

There are people (the Arabs, Editor’s Note) who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of world routes. Their lands were the cradles of human civilizations and religions. These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations. No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another … if, per chance, this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world. Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.

This is a supposed quotation from this report in 1907. Yet there are already issues with it. There’s the claims, for instance, that the region has “one faith, one language”, claims that anyone familiar with the Middle East should recognise as simply not true, now or in 1907. They are, however, claims that are often advanced both by Arab Nationalists and by Islamic Fundamentalists, and indeed the last few years have witnessed the efforts of groups like ISIS to try and make such claims reality by eliminating groups such as Yazidis, Assyrian Christians and so on.

Furthermore, there’s anachronistic elements to the quotation, such as the idea that the region could “serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects”. First, the European powers – who were very much focused on their rivalry with each other – were exceptionally unlikely to think of themselves as acting as a unified “West” (in fact that term would be used by the likes of the UK and France to define themselves against other European powers, such as Germany). And then springboard to what? The British Empire of 1907 already included all of India. If one were following the expansive definition of “West” employed here and includes all the other colonial powers, there’s little else left in 1908.

The most fundamental problem with this quotation, however, is that it appears to be a complete fabrication. One can find the full minutes of the proceedings of the Colonial conference of 1907 here. It does not contain that text. Nor is there is any evidence of any other such report; indeed the only sources in English of such a text go back to the article mentioned above. Digging deeper I found a lengthy but interesting recording of a seminar on the topic at the Oxford University Website: Eugene Rogan – The Myth of the Campbell-Bannerman Report: Arab views on Israel after the Suez Crisis, in which Rogan recounts his own research, including interviewing Antoun Canaan, the Egyptian lawyer who is the first to have made claims about the existence of said report in a paper he presented following the Suez Crisis. It appears Canaan himself was unable to explain quite what his sources where, and his paper did not include any citations or quotations. All other references to said report appear to rely on Canaan, and it is some of these later sources that appear to have invented the wording found above. In other words, the above quotation is spurious, and little more than a conspiracy theory. So once again, one should never believe something just because it’s written down, especially if it’s written down on the internet.

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