In retrospect the Great War of 1914-1918, shook the foundations of western hegemony. Perhaps unbeknownst to Europeans at the time, the tragedy of war that befell Europe served to undermine much of its authority in the world. As a result, this monumental event often serves as a marker event distinguishing the decades that followed World War I from all previous eras. For intellectuals and political leaders throughout Africa and Asia, the appalling devastation of World War I cast doubt on the claims that the Europeans had made for over a century that they were, by virtue of their racial superiority, the fittest of all peoples to rule the globe. With millions of lives lost, economies disrupted, and infrastructures destroyed, Europe faced an unprecedented rebuilding effort and made a mockery of European claims of superior rationality and a racially ingrained capacity to rule. In Europe, the 19th century’s modern, liberal ideals were challenged, and in the colonies, the first wave of decolonization resulted.
The social and economic disruptions caused by the war in key colonies, such as India, Egypt, and Ghana, made it possible for nationalist agitators to build a mass base for their anti-colonial movements for the first time. But in these and other areas of the colonized world, the war gave added impetus to movements and processes already underway, rather than initiating new responses to European global domination. Therefore, it is essential to place wartime developments in the colonies and the postwar surge in anti-colonial resistance in a longer-term context that takes into account African and Asian responses that extend in some cases back to the last decades of the 19th century. Since it is impossible to relate the history of the independence struggles in all of the European colonies, key movements, such as those that developed in India and Egypt will be considered in some depth. These specific movements will then be related to broader patterns of African and Asian nationalist agitation and the accelerating phenomenon of decolonization worldwide.
World War I: The Nationalist Assault on the European Colonial Order
World War I severely disrupted the systems of colonial domination that had been expanded and refined in the 19th century, and it also gave great impetus to the forces of resistance that had begun to well up in the decades before the war.
World War I presented the subjugated peoples of Africa and Asia with the spectacle of Europe’s “civilizers” sending their young men by the millions to be slaughtered in horrific trench warfare. Moreover, the fact that the three main adversaries in the war—Great Britain, France, and Germany—were colonial powers meant that when they plunged into war, they pulled their empires into the abyss with them. A truly global conflict erupted as the British and French were able to draw raw materials, laborers, and soldiers from their colonial possessions, and these proved critical to their ability to sustain the long war of attrition against Germany.
European reliance on their colonial possessions was revealed and heightened by the war effort. To fight the war, European troops in the colonies were withdrawn to meet the need for manpower on the many war fronts. This need to recall administrative and military personnel from British and French colonies meant that European officials were compelled to fill their vacated posts with African and Asian administrators, many of whom enjoyed real responsibility for the first time – a role that would have been unimaginable without the war. Not only did Africans and Asians fill political needs, but the colonies were also key economic producers for Britain and France. Native populations supplied food for the home fronts, as well as vital raw materials such as oil, jute, and cotton for the battlefields. In fact, contrary to long-standing colonial policy, the hard-pressed British even encouraged a considerable expansion of industrial production in India to supplement the output of their overextended home factories. Thus, the war years contributed to the development in India of the largest industrial sector in the colonized world. Thus, the war itself was pivotal in the colonies’ native populations in fostering political leadership, seeds of industrial growth, and deep resentment for the sacrifices that the war effort required.
Additionally, African and Asian soldiers by the hundreds of thousands served on the Western Front or in the far-flung theaters of war in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and east Africa. So not only were European killing each other, but for the first time, African and Asian soldiers were ordered by their European officers to kill other Europeans. In this process of war, the vulnerability of the seemingly invincible Europeans and the deep divisions between them were starkly revealed. Though the European colonizers had frequently quarreled over colonial territory in the late 19th century, during World War I they actually fought each other in the colonies for the first time.
Further undermining colonization, Europeans actively sought to earn the support of Western-educated elites, win the cooperation of new Arab allies, and maintain the loyalty of their traditional native allies by making promises regarding future leadership. Whether promised self-determination, greater access to administrative posts, or economic development, these concessions often seriously compromised Europe’s prewar dominance and plans for further expansion. As a result, the British and French repeatedly broke their promises when negotiating the postwar settlement at Versailles. Wartime promises to the Arabs in return for supporting the Entente were forgotten, as Britain and France divided the Arab heartlands of the Middle East between themselves. China's pleas for protection from Japanese aggression were dismissed, and a youthful Ho Chi Minh, the future leader of Vietnam, was rudely refused an audience with Woodrow Wilson. The betrayal of these pledges understandably contributed a great deal to postwar agitation against colonial rule and eroded any remaining confidence in European leadership. When the British and French victors sought to restore their prewar political prerogatives, the first wave of decolonization was set in motion in Egypt, India, Vietnam, and other colonial societies.
World War II: Nationalism Accelerates
A second global conflict between the industrial powers proved fatal to the already badly battered European colonial empires. From the Philippines to West Africa, independence was won in most of the non-settler colonies with surprisingly little bloodshed and remarkable speed; the opposite was true in colonies with large settler communities.
The Nazi rout of the French and the stunningly rapid Japanese capture of the French, Dutch, British, and U.S. colonies in Southeast Asia put an end to whatever illusions the colonized peoples of Africa and Asia had left about the strength and innate superiority of their colonial overlords. Because the Japanese were non-Europeans, their early victories over the Europeans and Americans played a particularly critical role in destroying the myth of the white man's invincibility, even though they went on to eventually defeat the Japanese. The harsh regimes and heavy demands the Japanese conquerors imposed on the peoples of southeast Asia during the war further strengthened the determination to fight for self-rule and to look to their own defenses after the conflict was over.
The devastation of World War II — a total war fought in the cities and countryside over much of Europe—drained the resources of the European powers. This devastating warfare also sapped the will of the European populace to hold increasingly resistant African and Asian peoples in bondage.
The effort to confirm old colonial regimes applied also to the Middle East, India, and Africa. Indian and African troops had fought for Britain during the war, as in World War I, though Britain imprisoned key nationalist leaders and put independence plans on hold. African leaders had participated actively in the French resistance to its authoritarian wartime government. The Middle East and north Africa had been shaken by German invasions and Allied counterattacks. Irritability increased, and so did expectations for change. With Europe's imperial powers further weakened by their war effort, adjustments seemed inevitable. The war also greatly enhanced the power and influence of the two giants on the European periphery: the United States and the Soviet Union. In Europe the boundaries of the Soviet Union pushed westward, with virtually all the losses after World War I erased, and many of the remaining independent nations quickly fell under Soviet domination. The nations of Western Europe were free to set up or confirm democratic regimes, but most were greatly weakened and clearly in the shadow of growing U.S. dominance.
The end of World War II set the stage, in other words, for two of the great movements that would shape the ensuing decades in world history. First, Africans and Asians challenged the tired remnants of European control—the movement known as "decolonization." Scores of new nations were formed in the decades that followed World War II. From the Philippines to west Africa, independence was won in most of the non-settler colonies with surprisingly little bloodshed and remarkable speed; the opposite was true in colonies with large settler communities, where liberation struggles were usually violent and prolonged. Second, the confrontation between the two superpowers that emerged from the war – the United States and the Soviet Union – resulted in a new wave a influence on the newly independent nations that emerged as each struggled to earn ideological allies in Africa and Asia. The United States had approached the war as a campaign of liberation and sealed its alliance with Great Britain by forcing recognition of the "right of all people to choose the form of government under which they live." The Soviets were equally vocal in their condemnation of colonialism and were even more forthcoming with material support for nationalist campaigns after the war.
In the early decades of independence, the very existence of the nation-states that were carved out of the Western colonial empires was often challenged by internal political and ethnic rivalries. The leaders of these new nations soon felt the pressure to deliver on the promises of social reform and economic well-being that had rallied nationalist support.
The nationalist movements that won independence for most of the peoples of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia usually involved some degree of mass mobilization. Peasants and working-class townspeople, who hitherto had little voice in politics beyond their village boundaries or local labor associations, were drawn into political contests that toppled empires and established new nations. To win the support of these groups, nationalist leaders promised them jobs, civil rights, and equality once independence was won. The leaders of many nationalist movements nurtured visions of post-independence utopias in the minds of their followers. The people were told that once the Europeans, who monopolized the best jobs, were driven away and their exploitive hold on the economy was brought to an end, there would be enough to give everyone a good life.
Unfortunately, post-independence realities in almost all of the new nations made it impossible for nationalist leaders to fulfill the expectations they had aroused among their followers and, in varying degrees, among the colonized populace at large. Even with the Europeans gone and the terms of economic exchange with more developed countries somewhat improved, there was simply not enough to go around. Thus, the socialist-inspired ideologies that nationalist leaders had often embraced and promoted were misleading. The problem was not just that goods and services were
unequally distributed, leaving some people rich and the great majority poor. The problem was that there were not enough resources to take care of everybody, even if it was possible to distribute them equitably.
When utopia failed to materialize, personal rivalries and long-standing divisions between different classes and ethnic groups, which had been muted by the common struggle against the alien colonizers, resurfaced or intensified. The European colonizers had established arbitrary boundaries, sometimes combining hostile ethnic or religious groups. In almost all the new states, these rivalries and differences became dominant features of political life. The recurring problems of famine and starvation in parts of Africa have stemmed from human conflicts more than natural disasters. Rivalries and civil wars in many of the newly decolonized nations consumed resources that might have been devoted to economic development. They also blocked—in the name of the defense of subnational interests—measures designed to build more viable and prosperous states. Absorbed by the task of just holding their new nations together, politicians neglected problems—such as soaring population increases, uncontrolled urban growth, rural landlessness, and environmental deterioration—that soon formed as large a threat as political instability to their young nations.
Depending on the skills of their leaders and the resources at their disposal, newly independent nations have tackled the daunting task of development with varying degrees of success. Ways have been found to raise the living standards of a significant percentage of the population of some of the emerging nations. But these strategies have rarely benefited the majority. It may be too early to judge the outcomes of many development schemes. But so far, none has proved to be the path to the social justice and general economic development that nationalist leaders saw as the ultimate outcome of struggles for decolonization. Although some countries have done much better than others, successful overall strategies to deal with the challenges facing emerging nations have yet to be devised.
33.1 - India
Because India and much of Southeast Asia had been colonized long before Africa, movements for independence arose in Asian colonies somewhat earlier than in their African counterparts. By the last years of the 19th century, the Western-educated minority of the colonized in India had been organized politically for decades. Their counterparts in the Dutch East Indies were also beginning to form associations to give voice to their political concerns. Because of India's size and the pivotal role it played in the British Empire (by far the largest of the European imperialist empires), the Indian nationalist movement pioneered patterns of nationalist challenge and European retreat that were later followed in many other colonies.
India prior to WWI: Makings of Nationalist Challenge to British Raj
The National Congress party led the Indians to independence and governed through most of the early decades of the postcolonial era. It grew out of regional associations of Western-educated Indians that were originally more like study clubs than political organizations in any meaningful sense of the term. These associations were centered in the cities of Bombay, Poona, Calcutta, and Madras. The Congress party that Indian leaders formed in 1885 had the blessing of a number of high-ranking British officials. These officials viewed it as a forum through which the opinions of educated Indians could be made known to the government, thereby heading off potential discontent and political protest.
For most of its first decades, the Congress party served these purposes quite well. The organization had no mass base and very few ongoing staff members or full-time politicians who could sustain lobbying efforts on issues raised at its annual meetings. Some members of the Congress party voiced concern for the growing poverty of the Indian masses and the drain of wealth from the subcontinent to Great Britain. But the Congress party's debates and petitions to the government were dominated by elite-centric issues, such as the removal of barriers to Indian employment in the colonial bureaucracy and increased Indian representation in all-Indian and local legislative bodies. Most of the members of the early Congress party were firmly loyal to the British rulers and confident that once their grievances were made known to the government, they would be remedied.
Many Western-educated Indians were increasingly troubled, however, by the growing virulence of British racism. This they were convinced had much to do with their poor salaries and limited opportunities for advancement in the colonial administration. In their annual meetings, members of the Congress, who were now able to converse and write in a common English language, discovered that no matter where they came from in India, they were treated in a similar fashion. The Indians' shared grievances, their similar educational and class backgrounds, and their growing contacts through the Congress party gave rise to a sense of common Indian identity that had never before existed in a south Asian environment that was more diverse linguistically, religiously, and ethnically than the continent of Europe.
Social Foundations of a Mass Movement
By the last years of the 19th century, the Western-educated elites had begun to grope for causes that would draw a larger segment of the Indian population into their growing nationalist community. More than a century of British rule had generated in many areas of India the social and economic disruptions and the sort of discontent that produced substantial numbers of recruits for the nationalist campaigns. Indian businessmen, many of whom would become major financial backers of the Congress party, were angered by the favoritism the British rulers showed to British investors in establishing trade policies in India. Indian political leaders increasingly stressed these inequities and the more general loss to the Indian people resulting from what they termed the "drain" of Indian resources under colonial rule. Though the British rebuttal was that a price had to be paid for the peace and good government that had come with colonial rule, nationalist thinkers pointed out that the cost was too high.
A large portion of the government of India's budget went to cover the expenses of the huge army that mainly fought wars elsewhere in the British Empire. The Indian people also paid for the generous salaries and pensions of British administrators, who occupied positions that the Indians were qualified to assume. Whenever possible, as in the purchase of railway equipment or steel for public works projects, the government bought goods manufactured in Great Britain. This practice served to buttress a British economy that was fast losing ground to the United States and Germany. It also ensured that the classic colonial relationship between a manufacturing European colonizer and its raw-material-producing overseas dependencies was maintained.
In the villages of India, the shortcomings of British rule were equally apparent by the last decades of the 19th century. The needs of the British home economy had often dictated policies that pushed the Indian peasantry toward the production of cash crops such as cotton, jute, and indigo. The decline in food production that invariably resulted played a major role in the regional famines that struck repeatedly in the pre-World War I era. Radical Indian nationalists frequently charged that the British were callously indifferent to the suffering caused by food shortages and outbreaks of epidemic disease, and that they did far too little to alleviate the suffering that resulted. In many areas, landlessness and chronic poverty, already a problem before the establishment of British rule, increased markedly. In most places, British measures to control indebtedness and protect small landholders and tenants were too little and came too late.
The Rise of Militant Nationalism
Some of the issues that Indian nationalist leaders stressed in their early attempts to build a mass base had great appeal for devout Hindus. This was particularly true of campaigns for the protection of cows, which have long had a special status for the Hindu population of south Asia. But these religious-oriented causes often strongly alienated the adherents of other faiths, especially the Muslims who made up nearly one-fourth of the population of the Indian Empire. Some leaders, such as B. G. Tilak, in western India were little concerned by this split. They believed that since Hindus made up the overwhelming majority of the Indian population, nationalism should be built on appeals to Hindu religiosity. Tilak worked to promote the restoration and revival of what he believed to be the ancient traditions of Hinduism. On this basis, he opposed women's education and raising the very low marriage age for women. Tilak turned festivals for Hindu gods into occasions for mass political demonstrations. He broke with more moderate leaders of the Congress party by demanding the boycott of British-manufactured goods. Tilak also sought to persuade Indians to refuse to serve in the colonial administration and military. Tilak demanded full independence, with no deals or delays, and threatened violent rebellion if the British failed to comply. His combativeness with the British and promotion of a very reactionary sort of Hinduism frightened moderate Hindus in addition to Muslims and religious minorities. At the same time, Tilak's oratorical skills and religious appeal made him the first Indian nationalist leader with a genuine mass following that spread beyond Western-educated elite.
The other major threat to the British inIndia before World War I came from eastern India where an active group of Hindus advocated the violent overthrow of the colonial regime. Rather than mass appeal and demonstrations, considerable numbers of young Bengalis, impatient with the gradualist approach advocated by moderates in the Congress party, were attracted to underground secret societies. Using guerilla tactics and terrorism, this underground network targeted British officials and government buildings. The small number of adherents to the guerilla cause and Britain’s repressive countermeasures ultimately hurt the terrorist movement’s popularity among Indians and limited its impact.
Uncomfortable with the turning tide and radical demands, the British dampened the mass movement by imprisoning Tilak and devoted sizable resources to crushing the violent terrorist threats to their rule. These actions checked the success of these radical movements and strengthened the hand of the more moderate politicians of the Congress party in the years before World War I. The peaceful approach of the Indian National Congress was given added appeal by timely political promises from the British who provided educated Indians with expanded opportunities both to vote for and serve on legislative councils.
India during WWI: Emergence of Gandhi & Spread of Nationalism
At the outbreak of World War I, Western-educated Indian lawyers became the dominant force in nationalist politics, and—as the careers of Gandhi, Jinnah, and Nehru demonstrate—they would provide many of the movement's key leaders throughout the struggle for independence. But, the British could take great comfort from the way in which the peoples of the empire rallied to their defense after the start of the war. Among the many tropical colonies, none played as critical a role in the British war effort as India. Wealthy Indians offered substantial war loans; Indian soldiers bore the brunt of the war effort in east Africa and the Middle East; and nationalist leaders toured India selling British war bonds.
But as the war dragged on, Indians died on the battlefields and went hungry at home to sustain a conflict that had little to do with them. Wartime inflation had adversely affected virtually all segments of the Indian population. Indian laborers saw their already meager wages drop steadily in the face of rising costs. At the same time, their bosses grew rich from profits earned in war production. Indian peasants were angered at the low prices their food stuffs fetched from the British abroad while facing the rising cost of supplies. Indians were also hurt by their inability to sell products due to wartime shipping shortages. In fact, many localities suffered from famines, which were exacerbated by these transport shortages. As a result, unrest spread throughout the subcontinent.
After the end of the war in 1918, moderate Indian politicians were frustrated by the British refusal to honor wartime promises. Hard-pressed British leaders had promised the Indians that if they continued to support the war effort, India would move steadily to self-government within the empire once the conflict was over. Indian hopes for the fulfillment of these promises were raised by the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919. These measures increased the powers of Indian legislators at the all-India level and placed much of the provincial administration of India under their control. But the concessions granted were offset by the Rowlatt Act later in 1919, which placed severe restrictions on key Indian civil rights, such as freedom of the press.
These economic and political conditions fueled by World War I led to local protest immediately after the war. At the same time, Mohandas Gandhi emerged as a new leader who soon forged this localized protest into a sustained all-India campaign against the policies of the colonial overlords. Gandhi's remarkable appeal to both the masses and the Western-educated nationalist politicians was due to a combination of factors. Perhaps the most important was the strategy for protest that he had worked out a decade earlier as a lawyer in the Indian migrant community in South Africa. Gandhi's stress on nonviolent but quite aggressive protest tactics endeared him both to the moderates and to more radical elements within the nationalist movement. His advocacy of peaceful boycotts, strikes, noncooperation, and mass demonstrations—which he labeled collectively satyagraha, or truth force—proved an effective way of weakening British control while limiting opportunities for violent reprisals that would allow the British to make full use of their superior military strength.
It is difficult to separate Gandhi's approach to mass protest from Gandhi as an individual and thinker. His background as a Western-educated lawyer gave him considerable exposure to the world beyond India and an astute understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the British colonizers. These qualities and his soon legendary skill in negotiating with the British made it possible for Gandhi to build up a strong following among middle-class, Western-educated Indians, who had long been the dominant force behind the nationalist cause. But the success of Gandhi's protest tactics also hinged on the involvement of ever increasing numbers of the Indian people in anti-colonial resistance. The image of a traditional mystic that Gandhi projected was critical in gaining mass support from peasants. Many of these "ordinary" Indians would walk for miles when Gandhi was on tour. Many did so in order to honor a saint rather than listen to a political speech. Gandhi's widespread popular appeal, in turn, gave him even greater influence among nationalist politicians. The latter were very much aware of the leverage his mass following gave to them in their ongoing contests with the British overlords. Under Gandhi's leadership, nationalist protest surged in India during the 1920s and 1930s.
India during WWII: Winning of Independence
The outbreak of World War II soon put an end to any remaining accommodation between the Indian National Congress and the British during the interwar years. World War II brought disruptions to India similar to those caused by the earlier global conflict. Inflation stirred up urban unrest, and widespread famine engendered much bitterness in rural India. Yet, congress leaders offered to support the Allies' war effort if the British would give them a significant share of power at the all-India level and commit themselves to Indian independence once the conflict was over. These conditions were staunchly rejected both by the viceroy in India and at home by Winston Churchill, who led Britain through the war. The minority Labour Party in parliament, however, indicated that they were quite willing to negotiate India's eventual independence. As tensions built between nationalist agitators and the British rulers, some negotiations were entertained, but political divisions in Indian and British societies slowed progress and mass civil disobedience campaigns renewed under the guise of the Quit India movement, which began in the summer of 1942 calling for immediate Indian independence, protesting of British goods, and protesting of British employers. The British responded to the mass protests with repression and mass arrests, and for much of the remainder of the war, Gandhi and other INC politicians were imprisoned. The only nationalist group to support the British cause was the Muslim League, led by the uncompromising Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This wartime support won the Muslim League much favor as their demands for a separate Muslim state hardened and became a key factor in shaping decolonization in South Asia.
Indian independence was finally brought on by the first postwar British election in 1945. With Winston Churchill's defeat, the incoming Labour party was ready to negotiate with India's nationalist leaders. With independence all but assured, the process of decolonization focused on the type of states that would be carved out of the subcontinent after the British withdrawal. Jinnah and the League played on widespread anxieties among the Muslim minority that a single Indian nation would be dominated by the Hindu majority, and that the Muslims would become the targets of increasing discrimination. It was therefore essential, they insisted, that a separate Muslim state called Pakistan be created from those areas in northwest and east India where Muslims were the most numerous. It was not until religious violence spread that the British and key Congress party politicians reluctantly concluded that a bloodbath could be averted only by partition—the creation of two nations in the subcontinent: one secular, one Muslim. Thus, in the summer of 1947, the British handed power over to the Congress party, who headed the new nation of India, and to Jinnah, who became the first president of Pakistan.
In part because of the haste with which the British withdrew their forces from the deeply divided subcontinent a bloodbath occurred anyway. Vicious Hindu–Muslim and Muslim–Sikh communal rioting, in which neither women nor children were spared, took the lives of hundreds of thousands. Whole villages were destroyed; trains were attacked and their passengers hacked to death by armed bands. These atrocities fed a massive exchange of refugee populations between Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim areas that may have totaled 10 million people. Those who fled were so terrified that they were willing to give up their land, their villages, and most of their worldly possessions. The losses of partition were compounded by the fact that there was soon no longer a Gandhi to preach tolerance and communal coexistence. On January 30, 1948, on the way to one of his regular prayer meetings, he was shot by a Hindu fanatic.
In granting independence to India, the British, in effect, removed the keystone from the arch of an empire that spanned three continents. Burma (known today as Myanmar) and Ceylon (now named Sri Lanka) won their independence peacefully in the following years. No sooner had the European colonizers suffered these losses than they were forced to deal with new threats to the last bastions of the imperial order in Africa. India's independence and Gandhi's civil disobedience campaigns inspired successful struggles for independence in Ghana, Nigeria, and other African colonies in the 1950s and 1960s.
India after WWII: Independence & Development for Some
Although India’s approach to nation-building and economic development mirrored the state intervention of many other developing nations, India's experience has differed from other developing nations in several significant ways. To begin with, the Indians have managed to preserve civilian rule throughout the nearly five decades since they won their independence from Great Britain. In addition, although India has been saddled with overpopulation, its development started with a larger industrial sector, a better communication system, a more established bureaucracy, and a larger (and more skilled) middle class than most other emerging nations.
These advantages have yielded a remarkably stable government for India. India has had the good fortune to be governed by INC leaders who were deeply committed to democracy, civil rights, economic development, and social reform. Following Gandhi’s assassination, the most logical choice for voters was prominent Congress official and close Gandhi ally, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Congress party has continued to rule at the federal level for most of the independence era. But opposition parties have controlled many state and local governments, and they remain vocal and active in the national parliament. Despite a very outspoken press, the government has faced persistent problems with corruption. Still, India remains the world’s largest democracy despite threats to its stability from secessionist movements, religious tension, linguistic tension, poverty, and natural disasters. Civil liberties, exemplified by free press and elections, have also been upheld to an extent that sets India off from much of the rest of the emerging nations. Perhaps the most important step taken has been the government’s outlawing of the caste system and discrimination against untouchables.
Nehru’s approach to government and development attempted a moderate mix of state and private initiatives. Nehru and his successors pushed state intervention in some sectors but also encouraged foreign investment from countries in both of the rival blocs in the cold war. As a consequence, India has been able to build on its initial advantages in industrial infrastructure and its skilled managerial and labor endowment. Its significant capitalist sector has encouraged ambitious farmers, such as those in the Punjab in the northwest, to invest heavily in the Green Revolution—the introduction of improved seed strains, fertilizers, and irrigation as a means of producing higher crop yields. Industrial and agrarian growth has generated the revenue necessary for the Indian government to promote literacy and village development schemes, as well as family planning, village electrification, and other improvement projects in recent decades. Indians have also developed one of the largest and most sophisticated high-tech sectors in the postcolonial world, including its own "silicon valleys" in cities like Bangalore in southern India. From the late 1980s India also provided tens of thousands of computer and Internet experts for advanced industrial societies such as those found in the United States and Europe.
Despite its successes, India has suffered from the same gap between needs and resources that all developing nations have had to face. Whatever the government's intentions—and India has been hit by corruption and self-serving politicians, like most nations—there have simply not been the resources to raise the living standards of even a majority of its huge population. The middle class has grown, perhaps as rapidly as that of any postcolonial nation. Its presence is striking in the affluent neighborhoods of cities such as Mumbai and Delhi and is proclaimed by the Indian film industry, the world's largest. But as many as 50 percent of India's people have gained little, often living on as little as $1.25 per day, from the development plans and economic growth that have occurred since independence. In part, this is because population growth has offset economic gains. But social reform has been slow in most areas, both rural and urban. Groups such as the wealthy landlords, who supported the nationalist drive for independence, have continued to dominate the great mass of tenants and landless laborers, just as they did in the pre-colonial and colonial eras. Some development measures, most notably those associated with the Green Revolution, have greatly favored cultivators with the resources to invest in new seeds and fertilizer. They have increased the gap between rich and poor people over much of rural India. Thus, the poor have paid and will continue to pay the price for Indian gradualism.
The Pakistan that emerged from partition was for several decades a clumsy two-part country, its western section in the Indus Valley, its eastern portion on the opposite side of India in the Ganges Delta. This situation did not bode well for the country. The Bengalis occupying the poorer eastern section, complained that there were treated as second-class citizens, with political and economic power entrenched in the west. Boundary issues in general produced political instability and often threatened the viability of newly independent nations around the world, as with East and West Pakistan. Ultimately in 1971, extreme contrasts of topography and culture led to violence and the secession of East Pakistan and the formation of the independent of country of Bangladesh. This separation did not solve Pakistan’s problems, however, as it remained politically unstable and prone to military rule. It is also important to note that Pakistan retained the British policy of allowing almost full autonomy to the Pashtun tribes of the northwest frontier provinces, a relatively lawless area marked by clan fighting and vengeance feuds. The resulting blind-eye turned to the Taliban and al-Qaeda groups has made Pakistan a linchpin and frustrating ally in the U.S. war on terrorism.
33.2 - Middle East
The Middle East faced perhaps the most striking variety of challenges facing a region as nationalist movements gained strength. The Turkish Ottomans ruled over much of the Middle East since its capture of Constantinople in 1453. The remarkably durable empire successfully resisted European efforts at colonization during the 19th century that were not renewed until after World War I. Still, as the prosperity of the Ottoman Empire declined, many Arabs began to bristle under Turkish rule despite their common religion. In these respects, the Middle East had very real nationalist aspirations before the late European entry into the region. This complexity was combined with Egypt’s earlier 19th century colonization and the growing pressure from European Jews to move their ancient homelands in Palestine.
In the years after World War I, resistance to European colonial domination, which had been confined largely to Egypt in the prewar years, spread to much of the rest of the Middle East. Having sided with the Central Powers in the war, the Turks now shared in their defeat. The Ottoman Empire disappeared from history, as Britain and France carved up the Arab portions that had revolted against the Young Turk regime during the war. Italy and Greece attacked the Turkish rump of the empire around Constantinople and in Anatolia (Asia Minor) in hopes of colonizing it. But a skilled military commander, Mustafa Kemal, or Ataturk, had emerged from the Turkish officer corps and rallied the forces that gradually drove back the Greek armies.
By 1923 an independent Turkish republic had been established by Ataturk. As an integral part of the effort to establish a viable Turkish nation, Ataturk launched a sweeping program of reforms. Many of the often radical changes his government introduced in the 1920s and 1930s were modeled on Western precedents, including a new Latin alphabet, women's suffrage, and criticism of the veil. But in important ways his efforts to secularize and develop Turkey also represented the culmination of transformations made under the Ottomans over the preceding century (see Chapter 26). Today, Turkey is, with the exception of Israel, the most democratic nation, the most closely linked to the West (as evidenced by its NATO membership), and the most diversified economy in the region.
With Turkish rule in the Arab heartlands ended by defeat in the war, Arab nationalists turned to face the new threat presented by the victorious France and Britain. Prior to the war, Britain promised Arabs independence to convince them to rise against their Turkish government and support the British war effort. As a result, British and Arab forces joined to expel the Turks during the war. At roughly the same time, Britain and France signed a secret agreement to partition the area. When the war ended, Britain opted to slight its Arab allies and honor its treaty with France, with one exception. The Saud family convinced the British that a smaller country (Saudi Arabia) should be established, focused on the desert wastes of the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia became fully independent in 1932. Elsewhere, however, Britain and France carried out plans to partition lands into mandates. Britain divided its new territories into three entities: Palestine (now Israel) along the Mediterranean coast; Transjordan to the east of the Jordan River (now Jordan); and a third zone that later became Iraq. Iraq, in particular, was a contrived territory that combined three dissimilar former Ottoman provinces of Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds.
Betraying promises of Arab independence, French and British forces occupied much of the Middle East in the years after the war. Consequently, the allies' postwar violation of these pledges humiliated and deeply angered Arabs throughout the Middle East. In light of this humiliation, Arab nationalist movements in the former Ottoman lands gained ground during the 1920s and 1930s, and technically, several Middle Eastern states, including Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, gained independence between the world wars. With World War II, independence became more complete, although European dominance remained strong in the Middle East during much of 20th century. It was not until the 1970s that governments were strong enough to shake off Western dominance of the oil fields. Yet, there has been little economic or political development in the region outside of Turkey. Dictatorships remain the most common form of government, and petroleum revenues are not well distributed with states along the Persian Gulf and the upper classes benefitting disproportionately.
Arab anti-western sentiment was cemented when Britain occupied Palestine amidst news that it had promised the land for a Jewish homeland – all after having promised Palestinian Arabs independence for supporting British efforts in World War I. The fact that the British had appeared to promise Palestine to both the Jewish Zionists and the Arabs greatly complicated an already confused situation. Despite repeated assurances to Arab leaders that they would be left in control of their own lands after the war, Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary, promised prominent Zionist leaders in 1917 that his government would promote the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine after the war, a pledge known as the Balfour Declaration. The declaration fed existing Zionist aspirations for the Hebrew people to return to their ancient Middle Eastern lands of origin, which had been nurtured by the Jews of the diaspora for millennia. While some Jews promoted emigration to Palestine, others were committed to the eventual establishment of a Jewish state there. The competing Arab and Jewish claims to the land (Palestine/Israel) and the resulting conflict has become the cornerstone of difficult regional geopolitics.
Egypt prior to WWI: Rise of Nationalism
Egypt is the one country in the Afro-Asian world in which the emergence of nationalism preceded European conquest and domination. Risings touched off by the mutiny of Ahmad Orabi and other Egyptian officers (see Chapter 26), which led to the British occupation in 1882, were aimed at the liberation of the Egyptian people from their alien Turkish overlords as well as the meddling Europeans. British occupation meant, in effect, double colonization for the Egyptian people by the Turkish khedives (who were left in power) and their British advisors.
In the decades following the British conquest, government policy pushed to reduce the debts of the puppet khedival regime, reformed the bureaucracy, and built irrigation systems and other public works projects. But the prosperity the British congratulated themselves for having brought to Egypt by the early 20th century was enjoyed largely by tiny middle and elite classes, often at the expense of the mass of the population. The leading beneficiaries included foreign merchants, the Turco-Egyptian political elite, a small Egyptian bourgeoisie in Cairo, and the rural landlords (known as ayan). The latter were clearly among the biggest gainers. The British had been forced to rely heavily on rural nobles in extending their control outside of Cairo. As a result, the ayan, not the impoverished mass of farmers, received most of the benefits. New irrigation systems, the building of railways, and the increasing cultivation of cash crops (like cotton), bolstered Egypt’s export markets and allowed the ayan to greedily amass ever larger estates by turning small farm owners into landless tenants. As their wealth grew, the contrast between the landlords' estate houses and the thatch and mud-walled villages of the great mass of the peasantry became more and more pronounced.
With the khedival regime and the great landlords closely allied to the British overlords, resistance to the occupation was left mainly to the small middle class. In the wake of the Orabi Revolt and subsequent British occupation, the cause of Egyptian independence was taken up mainly by the small but growing number of prosperous business and professional families (the effendi) that made up much of this new middle class. In contrast to India, where lawyers predominated in the nationalist leadership, in Egypt, Western-educated journalists led the way. In the 1890s and early 1900s, numerous newspapers in Arabic, French and English vied to expose the mistakes of the British and the corruption of the khedival regime. Egyptian writers also attacked the British for their racist arrogance and their monopolization of well-paying positions in the Egyptian bureaucracy. Like their Indian counterparts, Egyptian critics argued that these could just as well have been filled by university-educated Egyptians. In the 1890s the first nationalist party was formed. But again in contrast to India, where the Congress party dominated the nationalist movement from the outset, a variety of rival parties proliferated in Egypt. There were three main alternatives by 1907, but none could be said to speak for the great majority of the Egyptians, who were illiterate, poorly paid, and largely ignored.
In the years before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, heavy-handed British repression on several occasions put down student riots or retaliated for assassination attempts against high British and Turco-Egyptian officials. Despite the failure of the nationalist parties to unite or build a mass base in the decades before the war, the extent of the hostility felt by the Egyptian masses was demonstrated by the Dinshawai incident in 1906. This confrontation between the British and their Egyptian subjects exemplified the racial arrogance displayed by most of the European colonizers. Though the incident at Dinshawai was seemingly a small clash resulting in only limited numbers of fatalities, the excessive British response to it did much to undermine whatever support remained for their continued presence in Egypt.
Most Egyptian villages raised large numbers of pigeons, which served as an important supplement to the meager peasant diet. Over the years, some of the British had turned the hunting of the pigeons of selected villages into a holiday pastime. A party of British officers on leave was hunting the pigeons of the village of Dinshawai in the Nile delta when they accidentally shot the wife of the prayer leader of the local mosque. The angry villagers mobbed the greatly outnumbered shooting party, which in panic fired on the villagers. Both the villagers and the British soldiers suffered casualties in the clashes that followed. In reprisal for the death of one of the officers, the British summarily hung four of the villagers. The British also ordered that other villagers connected to the incident be publicly flogged or sentenced to varying terms of hard labor.
The harsh British reprisals aroused a storm of protest in the Egyptian press and among the nationalist parties. Some Egyptian leaders later recounted how the incident convinced them that cooperation with the British was totally unacceptable and fixed their resolve to agitate for an end to Egypt's occupation. Popular protests in several areas, and the emergence of ayan support for the nationalist cause, also suggested the possibility of building a mass base for anti-British agitation. More than anything else, the incident at Dinshawai had galvanized support for popular protest across the communal and social boundaries that had so long divided the peoples of Egypt.
Egypt during WWI: Hardship & Strengthened Nationalism
By 1913 the rising tide of Egyptian nationalism had sufficiently coaxed the British into granting a constitution and representation in a parliament elected indirectly by the men of wealth and influence. Initially, World War I and the resulting British declaration of martial law in combination with the constitutional concessions put a temporary end to nationalist agitation. But, as in India, the war unleashed forces in Egypt that could not be stopped and that would soon lead to the revival of the drive for independence with even greater strength than before.
Because Egypt was already occupied by the British when the war broke out, and it had been formally declared a protectorate in 1914, it was not included in the promises of self-determination made by the British to other Arab regions. As a result, the anti-colonial struggle in Egypt was rooted in earlier agitation and the heavy toll the war had taken on the Egyptian masses rather than in feelings of betrayed promises. During the war, the defense of the Suez Canal was one of the top priorities for the British. To guard against possible Muslim uprisings in response to Turkish calls for a holy war, martial law was declared soon after hostilities began. Throughout the war, large contingents of British as well as African and Indian British colonial troops were garrisoned in Egypt. These soldiers created a heavy drain on the increasingly scarce food supplies of the area. Additionally, Egyptians peasants were often forced into labor or to forfeit their draft animals in order to support the war effort. The resulting discontent was further inflamed by spiraling inflation and famine as the war dragged on.
By the end of the war, Egypt was ripe for revolt. Mass discontent strengthened the resolve of the educated nationalist elite to demand a hearing at Versailles, where the victorious Allies were struggling to reach a postwar settlement. When a delegation of Egyptian leaders was denied permission to make the case for Egyptian self-determination before the peacemakers at Versailles, most Egyptian leaders resigned from the government and called for mass demonstrations. What followed shocked even the most confident British officials. Student-led riots touched off outright insurrection over much of Egypt. At one point, Cairo was cut off from the outside world, and much of the countryside was hostile territory for the occupying power. Though the British army was able, at the cost of scores of deaths, to restore control, it was clear that some hearing had to be given to Egyptian demands. The emergence of the newly formed Wafd party provided the nationalists with a focus for unified action and a mass base that far exceeded any they had attracted in the prewar decades.
Egypt during the Interwar Years & WWII: Nominal Independence
When a British commission investigating the causes of postwar upheaval in Egypt was greeted by Wafd party civil disobedience and continuing violent opposition, it recommended that the British begin negotiations for an eventual withdrawal from Egypt. Years of bargaining followed, which led to a very limited independence for the Egyptians. Officially independent in 1922, British withdrawal occurred in stages culminating in the British withdrawal to the Suez Canal zone in 1936. As the British handed Egypt independence, they did so by restoring the Turkish Khedives to power and reserved the right to reoccupy Egypt should it be threatened by a foreign aggressor.
Still, Egypt won a significant degree of political independence, but parliamentary leaders from the Wafd party and others did little to relieve the misery of the Egyptian masses. Most Egyptian politicians regarded the winning of office as an opportunity to increase their own fortunes. With corruption rampant, many politicians from professional, merchant, and ayan households used their influence and growing wealth to amass huge estates, which were worked by landless tenants and laborers. Locked in interparty quarrels, as well as the ongoing contest with the khedival regime for control of the government, few political leaders had the time or inclination to push for the land reforms and public works projects that the peasantry so desperately needed.
To remedy these injustices and rid Egypt of its foreign oppressors, two Arab alternatives to the Khedival regime emerged. One revolutionary group, the Free Officers movement, evolved from a secret organization established in the Egyptian army in the 1930s. Founded by idealistic young officers of Arab-Egyptian rather than Turco-Egyptian descent, the Free Officers studied conditions in the country and prepared to seize power in the name of a genuine revolution. A second revolutionary movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in 1928 in an effort to bring social reform to Egypt. The brotherhood was founded by Hasan al-Banna, a schoolteacher who had studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo in the years after World War I. Al-Banna’s interests combined a deep curiosity in scientific subjects with active involvement in Wafd-organized demonstrations for Egyptian independence. Like many other Egyptians who supported the Wafd’s nationalist ambitions, al-Banna developed contempt for the wealthy Egyptian minority who prospered during Egypt’s conditional independence amidst so much poverty. Although members of the Muslim Brotherhood were committed to a reactionary revival of Islam, the organization's main focus, particularly in the early years, was on a program of social uplift and sweeping reforms. The organization became involved in a wide range of activities, from promoting trade unions and building medical clinics to educating women and pushing for land reform.
The outbreak of World War II only brought more discontent to Egypt. Hoping to exploit the farmland in Egypt, strategic location of the Suez Canal, and feelings of betrayal elsewhere in the Middle East, Axis powers invaded Egypt in 1940. Instigating British defense of the Suez Canal, the Allied battle against Germany’s Rommel again made North Africa and Egypt a centerpiece in global conflict. This time the resulting Egyptian hardship led criticism to be leveled at Khedive, King Farouk I. King Farouk’s lavish lifestyle, for example keeping all the lights burning at his palace in Alexandria during Italian bombing and blackouts elsewhere in the city, particularly angered some. Despite the brotherhood's social service becoming highly politicized, the group continued to expand its influence among the impoverished massed and even middle-class youths during World War II.
Egypt after WWII: Arab Independence
As we have seen, the Egyptians won their independence in the mid-1930s except for the lingering British presence in the Suez Canal zone. But self-centered civilian politicians and the corrupt khedival regime had done little to improve the standard of living of the mass of the Egyptian people. The social bankruptcy of Khedive and Wafd party leadership is suggested by some revealing statistics compiled by the United Nations in the early 1950s. By that time, nearly 70 percent of Egypt's cultivable land was owned by six percent of the population. As for the mass of the people, 98 percent of the peasants were illiterate, and malnutrition was chronic among urban and rural lower classes. Such was the legacy of the very un-revolutionary process of decolonization in Egypt. As conditions worsened and Egypt's governing parties did little but rake in wealth for their elitist memberships, revolutionary forces emerged in Egyptian society.
Following a government assassination of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Hasan al-Banna, the group best positioned to reform Egypt was the Free Officer’s movement. Representative of a broader global trend, militaries often became forces of political change in the 20th century. The regimentation, discipline, and solidarity emphasized in military training often rendered soldiers more resistant than other groups to ethnic or religious divisions. Additionally, in conditions of political breakdown and social conflict, the military possesses the monopoly—or near monopoly—of force that is often essential for restoring order. Military personnel also tend to have some degree of technical training, which was usually lacking in the humanities-oriented education of civilian nationalist leaders. Lastly, because most military leaders have been staunchly anticommunist, they have often received technical and financial assistance from Western governments.
It is in this context that Egypt’s Free Officers led the military coup and social revolution in 1952 that ended 40 years of nationalist political dominance. After Egypt's humiliating defeats in the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and in a clash with the British over its continued occupation of the Suez Canal in 1952, mass anger gave the officers their chance. In July 1952, an almost bloodless military coup toppled the corrupt Khedive Farouk from his jewel-encrusted throne. The revolution had begun. The monarchy was ended, and with the installation of the Free Officers, Egyptians ruled themselves for the first time since the 6th century B.C.E.
Rising to power with several officers at the head of the Free Officers movement and months of internal power struggles, Gamal Abdul Nasser emerged as the head of a military government that was deeply committed to revolution. Nasser and his fellow officers used the dictatorial powers they had won in the coup to force through radical economic and social programs that they believed would uplift the long-oppressed Egyptian masses. They were convinced that only the state had the power to carry out essential reforms, and thus they began to intervene in all aspects of Egyptian life. By 1954 all political parties had been disbanded, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Land reform measures were enacted: limits were placed on how much land an individual could own, and excess lands were seized and redistributed to landless peasants. State-financed education through the college level was made available to Egyptians. The government became Egypt's main employer; by 1980, more than 30 percent of Egypt's workforce was on the state payroll. State subsidies were used to lower the price of basic food staples, such as wheat and cooking oil. State-controlled development schemes were introduced that emphasized industrial growth, modeled after the five-year plans of the Soviet Union. To establish Egypt's economic independence, stiff restrictions were placed on foreign investment. In some cases foreign properties were seized and redistributed to Egyptian investors. Nasser also embarked on an interventionist foreign policy that stressed the struggle to destroy the newly established Israeli state, forge Arab unity, and foment socialist revolutions in neighboring lands. His greatest foreign policy coup came in 1956, when he rallied international opinion to finally oust the British and their French allies from the Suez Canal zone.
However well-intentioned, many of Nasser's initiatives misfired. Land reform efforts were frustrated by bureaucratic corruption and the clever strategies devised by the landlord class to hold on to their estates. State development schemes often lacked proper funding and failed because of mismanagement and miscalculations. Even the Aswan Dam project, the cornerstone of Nasser's development drive, was a fiasco. Egypt's continuing population boom quickly canceled out the additional cultivable lands the dam produced. The dam's interference with the flow of the Nile resulted in increasing numbers of parasites that cause blindness. It also led to a decline in the fertility of farmlands in the lower Nile delta, which were deprived of the rich silt that normally was washed down by the river. Foreign investment funds from the West, which Egypt desperately needed, soon dried up. Aid from the much poorer Soviet bloc could not begin to match what was lost, and much of this assistance was military. In the absence of sufficient foreign investment and with Egypt's uncontrolled population rising at an alarming rate, the state simply could not afford all the ambitious schemes to which Nasser and the revolutionary officers had committed it. The gap between aspirations and means was increased in the later years of Nasser's reign (in the 1960s) by the heavy costs of his mostly failed foreign policy adventures, including heavy intervention in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, had little choice but to dismantle the massive state apparatus that had been created. He favored private rather than state initiatives. As a result during Sadat's tenure in office, the middle class emerged again as a powerful force. Additionally, he also moved to end Egypt’s costly intervention in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sadat then expelled Soviet advisors and opened Egypt to investment from the United States and Western Europe. Sadat's shift in direction was continued by his successor, Hosni Mubarak. But neither the attempt at genuine revolution led by Nasser nor the later move to capitalism and more pro-Western positions has done much to check Egypt's alarming population increases or the glaring gap between the living conditions of Egypt's rich minority and its impoverished masses. Perhaps most importantly, corruption in the bloated bureaucracy, in addition to these inequalities, has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to remain influential in secret. At times stressing Islamic fundamentalism and at others stressing more moderate economic agendas, the Muslim Brotherhood was a critical force behind peaceful 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak in favor of democracy, but the success of the revolution and its ideals have yet to be determined.
Palestine-Israel: Conflicting Nationalisms
Conflict over the land known as Palestine or Israel has existed since Biblical times. In 70 CE, the Romans expelled the Jewish people from the land of Palestine resulting in Jewish refugees forming minority communities across Europe. Since then Jews had always dreamed of returning to this homeland. But the Roman conquerors of this land and their Byzantine descendants were ousted from the eastern Mediterranean early in the postclassical period by Arabs united under a banner of Islam. Yet more conflict surrounded the region when Arab control of the eastern Mediterranean, and in particular Palestine, became the rallying cry for European Christian crusaders in the 11th century. Although Arab citizens withstood these onslaughts, it was not until the new Turkish, albeit Muslim, political authority of the Ottomans laid claim to much of the Middle East in 1453 that a considerable era of peace stabilized the narrow slice of land.
The modern conflict in area known today as Israel most clearly has its roots in the migrations of the late 1800s. A wave of anti-Semitism in the second half of the 19th century witnessed particularly vicious pogroms, or violent assaults on the Jewish communities of Russia and Romania. The desire for a Jewish homeland grew as discrimination intensified convincing Jewish intellectuals such as Leon Pinsker that assimilation of the Jews into, or even acceptance by, Christian European nations was impossible. In response, Jewish nationalism, known as Zionism, spiked in Europe, and Zionist organizations formed to promote Jewish migration to Palestine. These early moves were made in direct response to the persecution of the Jews of Eastern Europe in the last decades of the 19th century. But until World War I, the numbers of Jews returning to Palestine were small, and Arabs – both Christian and Muslim – greatly outnumbered Jewish settlers.
Britain’s efforts to the defeat the Ottoman Empire in World War I also spurred a conflicting Arab nationalism in the region. Promised independence in exchange for rebelling against their Turkish overlords, Arab peasants clamored for freedom. The Zionist movement then turned to the British government for support. In 1917, the British governor issued the, now famous, Balfour Declaration which states “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Lord Balfour's promises to the Zionists and the British takeover of Palestine in 1920 struck the Arabs as a double betrayal. Having promised the land to two groups, Britain created a land struggle betraying two deeply nationalistic groups following World War I. Further adding to the tension was increasing Jewish immigration. Zionist groups helped Jews to buy land from Arab landlords. Often these Arab landowners lived in cities and used tenant farmers to work the farm plots in their absence. Arab landlords quickly sold much of their rural holdings for profit, but forcing tenant farmers to suddenly leave in turn and face the hardships of urban life. A major Muslim revolt swept Palestine between 1936 and 1939. The British managed to put down this rising but only with great difficulty. It both decimated the leadership of the Palestinian Arab community and further strengthened the British resolve to stem the flow of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Government measures to keep out Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression led in turn to violent Zionist resistance to the British presence in Palestine. This violent competition for land only increased during World War II and after.
By the end of World War II, the major parties claiming Palestine were locked into a deadly stalemate. The fate of Palestine continued to present special problems. The Palestinian Arabs and their allies in neighboring Arab lands were equally determined to transform Palestine into a multireligious nation in which the position of the Arab majority would be ensured. The Zionists were determined to carve out a Jewish state in the region. Hitler's campaign of genocide against the European Jews had provided powerful support for the Zionists' insistence that the Jews must have their own homeland, which more and more was conceived in terms of a modern national state. The brutal persecution of the Jews also won international sympathy for the Zionist cause. Having badly bungled their responsibilities, and under attack from both sides, the British proposed perhaps the only viable option: partition. The newly created United Nations provided an international body that could give a semblance of legality to the proceedings. In 1948, with sympathy for the Jews running high because of the postwar revelations of the horrors of Hitler's Final Solution, the member states of the United Nations—with the United States and the Soviet Union in rare agreement approved the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish countries.
The Arab states that bordered the newly created nation of Israel had vehemently opposed the UN action. Soon the two sides were engaged in all-out warfare. Though heavily outnumbered, the Zionists proved better armed and much better prepared to defend themselves than almost anyone could have expected. Not only did they hold onto the tiny, patchwork state they had been given by the United Nations, but they expanded it at the Arabs' expense. The brief but bloody war that ensued created hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arab refugees. It also sealed the persisting hostility between Arabs and Israelis that has been the all-consuming issue in the region and a major international problem to the present day. In Palestine, conflicting strains of nationalism had collided. As a result, the legacy of colonialism proved even more of a liability to social and economic development than in much of the rest of newly independent Africa and Asia.
Iran: Religious Revivalism and the Rejection of the West
Thirty years ago Iran was one of America’s staunchest Middle East allies, until a revolution in January 1979 toppled Iran’s pro-Western monarchy and brought to power an anti-American Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Less than a year later, sixty-six Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.