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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Monday, April 12, 2004  

Churchill in India, 1896

For I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some—even in these modern days—who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster. Winston Churchill, writing in 1899.

Steven Hayward wrote post-9/11 of Churchill:

Moments such as the present help remind us of some of the permanent features of political life and statesmanship, which otherwise tend to be obscured by all the sophisticated intellectualisms of our time. All great statesmen have a central idea or insight. Churchill’s central idea or insight was that the distinction between liberty and tyranny, between civilization and barbarism, is real and substantial. This may seem simple or even simple-minded, yet it is worth recalling that when Churchill referred to Hitler in the 1930s as "that bad man, " sophisticated people in Britain criticized him for making what we today would call a "value judgment." Churchill’s view of the distinction between civilization and barbarism, and between liberty and tyranny, is rejected explicitly by the doctrine of so-called "multiculturalism." The reaction against Churchill’s moral clarity about Hitler in the 1930s tracks closely with what self-loathing Americans on the Left are saying today about September 11—that it is somehow our fault, that we just need to "understand." the anger of Islamic fanatics, and, one supposes, resolve them through a 12-step program or some other therapeutic process of "conflict resolution."

There is a long pedigree for this kind of nonsense. Thomas Hobbes wrote that tyranny is merely kingship misliked. The modern value-free social science approach to politics liked to speak of "regimes," and of Soviet "leaders" rather than the more accurate "Soviet dictators." The value-free understanding of politics effaces the meaningful distinctions among regimes.

Hayward sees parallels today with the 1898 campaign against the Mahdi in the Sudan, described the following year in the book The River War by Churchill, who at Omdurman against the Dervishes had taken part in the British cavalry's last charge.

Here's Churchill, in The River War, on Islam:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property—either as a child, a wife, or a concubine—must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science—the science against which it had vainly struggled—the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.

(Via Hayward and Jonah Goldberg at The Corner)

* * *

Listen: "Soldiers of the Queen," performed for an early Gramophone record by the Kilties, the Regimental Band of the Gordon Highlanders.

* * *

Churchill and the Great Republic is an exhibition currently on display at the Library of Congress that emphasizes his lifelong links with the United States.

The Time 100 profile of Churchill recalls how he stood alone against fascism.

Also recalling Churchill: Tony Blair:

We are locked in a historic struggle in Iraq. On its outcome hangs more than the fate of the Iraqi people. Were we to fail, which we will not, it is more than 'the power of America' that would be defeated. The hope of freedom and religious tolerance in Iraq would be snuffed out. Dictators would rejoice; fanatics and terrorists would be triumphant. Every nascent strand of moderate Arab opinion, knowing full well that the future should not belong to fundamentalist religion, would be set back in bitter disappointment.

As each attack brings about American attempts to restore order, so they then characterise it as American brutality. As each piece of chaos menaces the very path toward peace and democracy along which most Iraqis want to travel, they use it to try to make the coalition lose heart, and bring about the retreat that is the fanatics' victory.
They know it is a historic struggle. They know their victory would do far more than defeat America or Britain. It would defeat civilisation and democracy everywhere. They know it, but do we? The truth is, faced with this struggle, on which our own fate hangs, a significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with schadenfreude at the difficulty we find.

There you have it. On the one side, outside terrorists, an extremist who has created his own militia, and remnants of a brutal dictatorship which murdered hundreds of thousands of its own people and enslaved the rest. On the other side, people of immense courage and humanity who dare to believe that basic human rights and liberty are not alien to Arab and Middle Eastern culture, but are their salvation.


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