Friday, February 19, 2021

The Global Politics of Valentine Chirol

The term “Middle East” came into popular usage in 1903, with the publication of Sir Valentine Chirol’s The Middle Eastern Question. (Capitan Alfred Thayer Mahan, a United States naval officer, is credited with first using the term “Middle East” in his 1902 essay, “The Persian Gulf and International Relations.”) In this book, Chirol, a brilliant historian and diplomat well connected with the British intellectual and political establishment of his time, presents his view on how politics and culture in the region of Middle East are evolving, and he makes the suggestion that this region might produce political movements which could at some point of time pose a grave threat to the British Empire (he saw Britain as the world’s great power on its own, which might be correct for a thinker of his time, because then the European nations were battling with each other and the notion of the Western civilization was not popular). On the British conservative mind, he writes: “Owing partly to the innate conservatism of the British mind, which is both self-reliant and slow to move, prone to criticism yet fundamentally optimistic, and partly to the immense complexity of our national interests scattered over a world-wide Empire which has been built up by a series of individual efforts rather than by any uniform and collective design, we are apt as a nation to take things as we find them, and having no reason to be dissatisfied with them on the whole, we are also disposed to assume that they will go on as they are, without troubling ourselves over-much about the unceasing changes which are going on around us, and which, without making themselves so directly and visibly felt as to compel public attention, are constantly and materially affecting the ground upon which we stand in our relations to the outside world.” In 1910, Chirol published his famous book India Unrest, in which he presents his thesis that the anti-British nationalism that was developing in India was very strongly Hindu.

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