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The 2007 article The Arab Scene 100 years After Campbell-Bannerman is an English translation of an article about a committee created by British Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1907.

The article alleges that the committee made this recommendation:

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

[Note: This may have been through a round-trip translation, so may not be word for word what the committee wrote.]

Was there are committee that made this recommendation in 1907?

I did fast search, and found Minutes of proceedings of the Colonial Conference, 1907, which involved the Prime Minister, but I can't find this text or similar one.

  • 2
    Good question. All Google hits look modern. – Nate Eldredge May 15 '17 at 4:45
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    The phrase "a springboard for the West" sounds unlikely to be written by a British at 1907, the word "West" specifically doesn't fit pre-WW2 colonial thinking - if the sentence was "a springboard for the British empire" it would have been a bit more believable. If you remember that at the time, the area wasn't controlled by Arabs or by a western power, but by the Ottoman empire - the quotation makes very little sense. – Ofir May 15 '17 at 6:29
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    The real Arab issue for Britain was any potential negative impact on trade with India. Piracy and the slave trade were suppressed by force and treaty (leading for example to the emergence of the Trucial States). Palestine and most of the Arab hinterland were not an issue as they were not on the way to anywhere interesting to Britain, unlike Egypt and Iran – Henry May 16 '17 at 16:01
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As the questioner has observed, the 1907 Imperial Conference was primarily about Britain's official colonial holdings and the question of Zionism and Arab nationalism never arose. Before this translated essay was published in 2007, I could only find one source that connects Campbell-Bannerman directly with the Middle East: a 1985 U. Texas-Austin dissertation, "Iran and the Big Powers 1900-1953", where Campbell-Bannerman is blamed for being disinterested in the Middle East:

The Anglo-Russian domination of Iran further lapsed with a change of government in Britain from the Conservative leadership of Lord Salisbury to a Liberal government under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. At a critical time, these British and Russian preoccupations allowed the Iranian nationalists to consolidate their movement against foreign interference in their domestic affairs. (ibid, p. 11)

The 1907 Imperial Conference was a decidedly pro-local autonomy conference, at which the British colonies were deemed Dominions. The 1911 book The Imperial Conference; a history and study says:

...there was no longer in Britain any party whose Imperialism followed the maxim divide et impera.

So it appears that there was no statement like this offered at the 1907 Imperial Conference, and it would have been an uncharacteristic thing for Campbell-Bannerman to endorse.

Was any statement like this possible from any European at such an early date? Other period sources make such a claim sound quite dubious. According to Yaacov Ro'i's article "The Zionist attitude to the Arabs 1908–1914" (Middle Eastern Studies 4.3, 1968), there was little thought about Arab presence in Palestine before 1908, and for the first decade afterwards, what was written about Arab nationalism was often idealistic. One "highly confidential" memorandum in 1913 stated:

It is not possible to ascertain exactly how organized and strong the Arab movement is yet. Even if it does not seem strong at present, its future development cannot be anticipated. We must, of course, take this movement into account much more than do the Turks ...

In our opinion an agreement with the Arabs on the lines indicated above can be achieved. As you know the resolution that we wished for concerning Jewish immigration was in fact passed at the congress of the Arab leaders held in Paris in June of this year, at which Mr. Hochberg was present. (ibid, p. 215)

But it was hard for them to find people to work with, as there was in fact no political unity among Arabs at that time. In May 1914, the Zionist diplomat Victor Jacobson wrote:

We here are in contact with several gentlemen who call themselves the chiefs and leaders of the different Arab groups. Each one claims that it is he who is the real, the only real, the important one... There is no way of knowing what truth there is in what they say, what is behind them. They do not have a single organization. (ibid, p. 219)

In conclusion, in 1907 the Great Powers did not consider the Arabs a political force and had no reason to do so, making this quote far more likely to be a forgery or misquote.

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