Robert Fisk – Sunday 2 February 2015
Churchill published some views so dark about Muslims that he deleted them from future editions – but I kept hold of them
As the Havengore carried Churchill’s body down the Thames, I was not at all enjoying his funeral.
A cub reporter on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, I was based in the frozen coal port of Blyth, where even the puddles of vomit outside the pubs frosted over on Sunday mornings. And the Blyth lifeboat – how all of us regretted it – had long ago been named the Winston S Churchill and even the town’s socialist dignitaries agreed that this blue-painted but life-saving barque should set off into the North Sea blizzards on 30 January 1965 with, you guessed it, a clutch of local reporters on board.
A 19-year-old Fisk managed (just) to master his seasickness while a council flunky hurled a rather tatty wreath into the waters as the boat pitched horribly amid the waves.
A colleague was later heard to remark that we could “thank fucking Churchill for that”, a comment that did not find its way into my report for the Chron.
This, of course, was before the dung heap of history took a swing at the old man’s life. Gallipoli, the creation of fraudulent Arab satraps in the sandpits of Transjordania and Mesopotamia, the deployment of troops in the General Strike, Dresden, those old racist quotes (the Indians, the “fakir” Gandhi, the Red Indians); they’re all part of the “don’t-forget-what-a-shit-Churchill-was” coverage that would never have been published in our coverage of the funeral 50 years ago.
But I have to report that Churchill had some pretty intemperate views about Muslims, which he expressed in the first edition of his 1899 account of the Sudan campaign, The River War – views so dark that he was persuaded to delete them from all later edition
“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism [sic] lays on its votaries!” Churchill wrote in this now almost unobtainable first edition. “Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy … Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture … 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.”
There is much more on the enslavement of women and the dangers of Islam, along with the usual liberal sentiments which have their modern-day counterparts.
“Moslems [sic] 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 paralyses the social development of those who follow it.”
But there are a few, now-censored remarks which would have Isis and Boko Haram nodding in agreement. “No stronger retrograde force [than Islam] exists in the world,” the great man announced, but “…Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step…” If it were not for Christianity, “sheltered in the strong arms of science,” then “the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.” Ukip couldn’t better that.
Thousands of people lined the street to see Sir Winston Churchill’s coffin borne through London’s streets on a gun carriage (Getty) And Churchill was not alone among his contemporaries in denigrating the peoples of India and the Arab world. Politicians from India and Egypt impressed one of his fellow Europeans as “jabbering Orientals” and “mountebanks” who tried to convince Europe that the British Empire was about to collapse.
“England will never lose India unless she gives way to racial confusion…,” he wrote. “Indian risings will never be successful… I…would far rather see India under British domination than that of any other nation.”
These imperialist statements appear in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, whose English publishers, Hurst & Blackett, blurbed their 1938 edition with the advice that this is “a book everyone should read, for it reveals the forces and circumstances which went to make a remarkable character”.
The trouble was that a lot of people did read Mein Kampf. The tragedy was that they didn’t take it seriously. Thanks be to God, therefore, that we had the author of The River War. My dad adored him so much that he persuaded Churchill to autograph the first volume of his Marlborough: His Life and Times. The book is beside me as I write these words. “Inscribed by Winston S Churchill 1948,” the Great Man wrote on the flyleaf. Volume Two got shorter shrift. “WSC” was all the old boy would give my dad there.
Bill Fisk kept a massive, black-and-white photograph of Churchill above the fireplace at our old home in Maidstone; the 1940 Prime Minister glowering into the camera.
When Bill died, my mum asked me if she could take the picture down. I agreed. I didn’t like Churchill very much, least of all after I wrote my PhD thesis on Ireland and WSC’s threats to invade the country during the Second World War when he declared that Eire was “at war but skulking”.
But I was moved by Nicholas Soames’s comment that his grandfather was an “authentic” man – compared, at least, to the Cameron show which we had to watch last week as the current Prime Minister fawned over Churchill’s memory.
As for Bill’s huge photograph, it has no place on my wall today. But I keep it still, in a little cupboard. You can’t throw Churchill away.