Sunday, July 25, 2010

Camel Corps Gallimaufry

One of the common stereotypes of the British Foreign Service is that it is relentlessly pro-Arab, and has been since at least the time of Lawrence of Arabia.

The British diplomat who “goes native” when posted to an Arab country is a stock character in fiction and film. A cynical observer might blame this tendency on the cultural preoccupation shared by both Arab sheikhs and old boys of the British boarding school system: pederasty.

In the following guest-essay, our British correspondent JP takes a closer look at the Arabophiles of the Foreign Office, whom he dubs the “Camel Corps”.

Camel Corps #1

Camel Corps Gallimaufry
by JP

del cul fatto trombetta1

If the early Arabic panegyrical ode has its camel-section, then Middle East diplomacy for the past hundred years or so has had its Camel Corps — both camel-section and Camel Corps enduring symbols of the endurance of the camel.

Here is Renate Jacobi on the camel-theme in the panegyrical ode:

Thus whatever the function of the camel-section maybe as part of the panegyrical ode, it certainly belonged originally to the poet’s self-praise, where the description of the camel and the perilous desert-journey hold a prominent place…. It further appears that the poet’s pride in his camel and his display of courage in crossing the desert form two separate motifs although they are closely related and often linked together in such a way that the travel-theme is introducing the description of the camel.2

The precise locus of the Camel Corps is the British Foreign Office’s Middle East Centre for Arab Studies (MECAS), initially housed in an Austrian hospice in Jerusalem, found a home in Shemlan, Lebanon, between 1947 and 1978, when it was forced to leave on account of the civil war. Here numerous diplomats as well as applicants from the private sector were taught the Arabic language and Arab culture.

Lord Hurd of Westwell provides a description of MECAS in his foreword to its history by Sir James Craig (former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia):

Legends clustered around this school (MECAS) throughout its life, forming one of the minor myths of Middle-Eastern politics. To the Israelis MECAS was the place where Britain trained its bright young men to be sentimental about the Arabs and hostile to Zionism. To many Arabs it was simply the ‘School for Spies’, the heart of Britain’s postwar strategy of dominating the Middle East through its intelligence agencies.3

Craig is dismissive about claims by the detractors of MECAS:

The Israelis, and even some of the British, hold the. fanciful belief that MECAS was where British diplomatists were indoctrinated with anti-Zionism. There was indeed for a long time a perverse conviction, held all over the world except (and what an irritating exception) among the Arabs, that the British Foreign Office was pro-Arab and anti-Israel. This thesis usually went on to argue that the generator of the prejudice was a clique of Middle Eastern specialists, trained speakers of Arabic, in the Diplomatic Service, a kind of Arabist mafia (the sinister word is often used) which controlled Foreign Office policy on the Middle East; and that these specialists were in love with the notion of Araby, with the tent, the camel, and the lonely desert sands:
- - - - - - - - -
He is crazed with spell of far Arabia,
They have stolen his wits away.

Yet in his preface Carig boasts that in 1996, in addition to three senior officers of the British Foreign Office (the Permanent Under-Secretary, the Political Director, and the Chief Clerk), the head of MI6 and the Director General of the British Council were all graduates of MECAS. A powerful group of people one might imagine whose worldview may have been shaped by their MECAS experience, and whose subsequent policy advice may have tended to favour the Arab side.

Recent blog entries by British ambassadors to the Lebanon (Guy) and Jordan (Watt) indicate that Lord Hurd may have been incorrect in his assessment, and that Craig himself is fanciful in his belief that the British Foreign Office is not pro-Arab and anti-Israel. With forensic skill Robin Shepherd registers his dismay at the underlying thinking of the British Foreign Office on Islamist terrorism: “this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.”5

Returning to odes, camel or otherwise, here is Craig displaying a hint of pathos on being presented with an ode on leaving MECAS:

It is fair to add — it is necessary to add — that among the speeches that night was an ode in my honour composed and recited by Mr Theodry and that a houseguest of mine, himself an Arab scholar and poet, who had with characteristic Arab hospitality been included in the party, found the ode skilful and touching. I have kept it among my souvenirs.6

Camel icon

A clue to the pusillanimous attitudes of Britain’s diplomatists may be found in Craig’s discussion of the Israel Factor and the dilemma of how to deal with MECAS applicants with a Jewish background:

Later in that same year, 1973, Carden’s successor, Moberly, wrote to say that he had had an enquiry from a man in America with a Jewish name. He had written back, hoping to put the man off by telling him that the fees had recently been increased to £250 a month and that the Arab University of Beirut (name and address supplied) offered an Arabic course for foreigners free of charge. He had added: ‘No doubt you realise it is not in the interests of the student or the Centre for a student of Jewish faith or background to come here at present. If you wish to pursue your enquiry please confirm this is not a problem.’ The student did not pursue; whether it was the fees or the warning that put him off is not clear.7

And what do we find in 2009? Craig giving his thoughts on the Middle East in a further, two-volume work dedicated to the history and influence of MECAS:

People went to MECAS primarily to learn Arabic. It is a highly ingenious, subtle and complex language which excites passion in the linguist. But not every diplomat or banker is entranced by the adverbial accusative and the forty types of broken plural. The students learnt other things besides: that the Arabs are a warm and generous society, that they all, westernized liberals and Muslim fundamentalists alike, burn with a fierce resentment at the loss of Palestine, that they remember the past when they led the world in all the arts of civilisation, that they founded one of the world’s great religions and that they are now enjoying an economic revival. Empires come and go. The Middle East today is at centre of the world and crucial to the peace and prosperity of mankind. It is necessary that the rest of us try to understand it. That, on a small scale, was the purpose of MECAS.8

It is to be doubted that even on a small scale MECAS was conducive to peace in the region, or that it even understood it, rather the opposite.

The inclusion in the same volume of an entry by another MECAS student, Wing Commander John Deverill, who worked for the Arab Legion Air Force, provides further evidence of the Centre’s enduring pro-Arab sympathies:

[1950] I was responsible directly to Glubb Pasha (and his deputy Lash Pasha) for my work in developing the Air Force…. As we needed more aircraft, I immediately cast my eye on another Rapide parked on the tarmac near the aircraft operated by Arab Airways, which operated feeder services in Rapides to Cairo and Beirut and a few other destinations. The ‘spare’ Rapide had been parked in the same place for six months or more; nobody seemed to know exactly why. It emerged that this Rapide had landed at Amman on its way from South Africa to Lydda (now Israel’s international airport). It was being sent from South African Jewry to their brethren in Israel as an air ambulance. Why it landed in Amman, I never found out, but the pilot had disappeared shortly after his arrival, possibly discovering that Jordan was hostile to Israel. The aircraft was in good condition and rather than let it slowly deteriorate I suggested that we take it in hand, register it in Jordan and incorporate it in the Arab Legion Air Force. Thus we soon had two Rapides.9

Camel icon

The work also includes, in contrast to the note by the pragmatic if sinister Deverill, the account of a circus troupe brought to Cairo by the British Embassy in 1973 — “an historic occasion”:

I had brought out to Egypt in the Spring of 1973, three performers from a small tenting circus (a ‘Count of Bulgarian descent’ a boy, Carlos Michelli, aged fifteen, and ‘Princess Sakina’, aged nine). The party stayed with me in my rambling house by the Pyramids. They were invited to perform jointly with the Egyptian State Circus for a week…. My party, under the banner ‘Circus Britannia’, presented three separate acts: stilt walking, which included a traditional belly dance, a high-wire act, which included Carlos Michelli, blindfolded, throwing knives around Princess Sakina, billed as his betrothed, and a snake act. For the latter we visited Cairo Zoo where we chose a ten-foot python which lived for the duration in a laundry basket in my bathroom with a large brick on top. The opening night saw the Union Jack and the Egyptian flag flying side by side above the Big Top, perhaps the first time such juxtapositioning had been exhibited since pre-Suez days. At the start of the show the youngest performers from the British and Egyptian sides exchanged flags as the National Anthems of both countries were played. On the opening night, the Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture and representatives from various ministries attended from the host side, and the Ambassador Sir Phillip and Lady Adams, and her mother, the Lady Oaksey, from the British. It was, after all, an historic occasion and perhaps even a useful one diplomatically…. [T]he Egyptian periodical, Roze Al Yussif, couldn’t resist the headline: ‘The British Lion is Back in Egypt — But in a Circus Cage.’10

Camel Corps #2Has the FCO entrapped itself in the Muslim Brotherhood cage? If yes, is this as a result of recrudescent, British anti-Semitism combined with misplaced sentiment as to the good intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood?

As Derek Pasquill pointed out in his interview with Nick Cohen in the November 2009 issue of Standpoint magazine: “I realised that the FCO is Islamotropic: it grows towards Islamic extremism, always searching for reasons to excuse it.”11 The question remains “Who, whom?” and the answer is likely to be less than reassuring.

on chie tous par le même trou

Camel icon


1. Valerie Allen, On Farting: Language and Laughter in the Middle Ages, Palgrave Macmillan, New York and Basingstoke, 2007, p.27. Allen quotes this line from Dante (Inf., XXI, 139), adding that “butt-trumpets are as old Aristophanes, whose character Strepsiades calls a gnat’s rectum [proktos] a bugle [salpigks].”
2. Renate Jacobi, “The Camel-Section of the Panegyrical Ode” Journal of Arabic Literature Vol 13, (1982), pp. 1-22.
3. Sir James Craig, Shemlan: A History of the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies, Macmillan Press Ltd, Basingstoke, 1998 (in association with St Antony’s College, Oxford), p.vii.
4. Ibid.,p.viii.
5. Robin Shepherd, “Britain’s ‘Extremist Mainstream’: Mideast Ambassadors reveal their true colours”, 12 July 2010.
6. Craig, op.cit.,p.33.
7. Craig, op.cit.,pp.116-121.
8. Paul Tempest (editor), Envoys to the Arab World. Volume II: MECAS Memoirs 1944-2009, Stacey International, London, 2009 (on behalf of the MECAS Association), p. 323. See also Volume I: Arabists of Shemlan: MECAS Memoirs, 1944-1978, Stacey International, London, 2006.
9. Ibid.,pp.194-195.
10. Ibid.,pp.244-246.
11. Nick Cohen, “The High Price of Patriotism”, Standpoint, November 2009.

See also Tom Gross’s blog entry for 28 April 2004, “Backlash begins against ex-diplomats ‘poisonous views’ on Iraq, Israel”.

Gross records Andrew Roberts’ remark that the best collective noun for any group of British diplomats is “a cringe” — I think a “pucker of British diplomats” would be more appropriate.


Unknown said...

"Arabs remember the past when they led the world in all the arts of civilisation, that they founded one of the world’s great religions and that they are now enjoying an economic revival"

Eeeeeuw - what disgusting sentimentality, what an embarassing schoolboy kitsch..It is no doubt a re-enactment of the all male romance of boyhood in boarding schools, with the deceptive chivalry of arabian manners seducing british men to believe in indestructable male bonds. And why does this have such a gay association?

Matthew said...

Maybe I am being overly simplistic, but I imagine the British government's love affair with Arabs stems primarily from 1) a naive infatuation with a fictional romantic Middle East, 2) the growing awareness (in the first half of the 20th century) of British need for oil, and 3) good old fashioned anti-semitism.

Of course, resentment at the way Israeli Jews reacted to British policies during the Mandate Period probably continue to fester among British government figures (how dare those Jews get uppity and resist British complicity in leaving them to die in Hitler's death camps by forbidding Jewish immigration to Israel!?!)

Well, the UK is currently being swamped by angry, violent members of the religion of peace, so who has the last laugh now?

Dymphna said...

Well, the UK is currently being swamped by angry, violent members of the religion of peace...

And the horror of it all is the fact that this was done deliberately by the English Political OverClass in order to control their own natives.

This is not a rhetorical question, but I do wonder if that is not the fate of all imperial governments?

In the US we are passively-agressively swamped with Mexican and Central American illegals. A South American writer called the US "Mexico's Penal Colony".

We also "lose track" of our M.E. foreign students while we appear to keep out many desirables.

Large crews of Somalis, or Marianna Islands natives, et al, come in wihthout health certificates (and many cases of TB) to do the ugly, unhealthy jobs in the meat manufacturing industry. Some of them literally die on the job.

BTW, these aren't jobs "Americans won't do" they are simply jobs that Americans may not have.

This moral mess stays in place because the bipartisan corruption at the top keeps it cemented there.


An excellent post.

Juniper in the Desert said...

Great article! I have bookmarked it. Matt and Dymphna, absolutely right!

X said...

It is no doubt a re-enactment of the all male romance of boyhood in boarding schools, with the deceptive chivalry of arabian manners seducing british men to believe in indestructable male bonds. And why does this have such a gay association?

I'd agree up to a point, but this idea of a "gay association" strikes me as bothersome. It's the contemporary dialectic (if I can use those words without appearing to be a swot) to declare that any bond between males is automatically homosexual.

The truth is that it isn't.

This is an argument that I've been working over for some time and I'd love to expand on it more, but time and references are elusive. However I have made some efforts at it in the past:

Writing Romance and Random Musings, which deals more with sexuality (the revelation half-way down is only for completeness).

Why am I making this point? The argument that "they're all just gay" feels a little simplistic, and doesn't take into account the real problem behind this issue, though I'm sure it might take a small part. The real problem is a failing in the British character - not the English, but the British, which you might define as the ruling class of these isles, whether by ancestry or profession - if they're of a certain personality they will rise to the mushy upper layers and will always end up thinking in the same sort of way.

When they experience Arab/Muslim feigned deference they enjoy it, because it appeals to their belief that they really should be treated that way. They either don't understand, or don't want to understand, that the Arab "politeness" is just another form of barter, only for position and honour rather than goods. They are seduced by this "hospitality", which is many miles divorced from the treatment they get at home from us surly saxons.

The failing is simple: they want to be treated like the princes. Arabs treat them like prince, something that, apart from their immediate fawning coterie, is a treatment they won't get from the populations they claim to rule over, ergo Arab culture and Muslim/Arab peoples are a desirable replacement for the native populations that despise them.

That's it in a nutshell. They want fawning deference and Arabs appear to give it to them, in contrast to the Saxon, dour Scot and the uppity Jew.

spackle said...

Dymphna said:

"BTW, these aren't jobs "Americans won't do" they are simply jobs that Americans may not have."

Very true. And even if they did get that job in the meat packing plant they would not last long as they would feel like they had been transported to Somalia. A recent article in the Daily Mail spoke of a woman who worked in a British meat plant that was filled to the brim with Polish workers. Besides the exploitation and workers dropping dead on the line she felt so out of lace she eventually left.

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...

In hoc signo vinces

The white jihad consists of two of the most serious attacks on the West and is particularly advanced in the UK, that is the economic lockout and undermining of a large section of the indigenous population and the treachery of the overclass, a treachery that can only be removed by purging a large section of that class.

To the casual political observer this is shaping up and has the appearance in the UK of a class war.

Zenster said...

4Symbols: … a treachery that can only be removed by purging a large section of that class.

This betrayal has gone on for so long and is of such a shameless and abject nature that there can be little argument against such measures. The elite have become so parasitic and simultaneously destructive − think tricogramma wasp − that there can no longer be any accommodation with such deceit.

To the casual political observer this is shaping up and has the appearance in the UK of a class war.

Not just in the UK. The EU and America are all experiencing this exact same phenomenon. There have been inducted into our halls of power the Spawn of Nero™ who shall fiddle about with their baubles and lucre even as they burn down Western civilization around our collective ears.

The lingering question remains as to what it is that they hope to rule at the end of all this. It is as if they are in some bizarre contest to be King of all the Ashes™ and there is no doubt that the barbarians they have let through the gates will slaughter them just as surely as these cretins want to start by killing us.

More than anything else, overthrowing this Vampire Elite™ is rapidly becoming an issue of simple self-preservation.

In Hoc Signo Vinces† said...

In hoc signo vinces

A particularly bad example of British foreign policy and treachery at work.

A transcript of a speech given by Prime Minister David Cameron in Ankara, Turkey, on 27 July 2010

This is not conservative diplomatic speak it is a declaration of war on your own kind it is almost as bad as BHO's Cairo speech.

urah2222 said...

# 3 Matt

I have often thought that the 3rd World invasion of Europe is G-d's revenge for the Holocaust brought about in his good time and measure for measure.

Dr. Shalit