For those who believe in the fairy tale of original sin, Adam and Eve, so goes the narrative, partook of the forbidden fruit, fell from grace, and were forever banished from the garden. The same narrative informs us that the second major sin, an infinitely more hideous one, was the result of a jealous and covetous fratricidal criminal deed.
Cain’s murder of his brother Abel is held up as a Mark of Cain, a mortifying act of ignominious behaviour that has become an archetypal motif in theological dissertations, social and jurisprudential discourse, and literary lore.
Humanity’s history is writ large with the ghastly Mark of Cain and in the blood-splattered scripts of every nation and every clime.
The brutal Turkish onslaught on the Kurdish population of northern Syria can be trailed to the May 1916 connivance of the secret Anglo-French meeting to divvy up the spoils of World War I.
In a manner of speaking, the carnage unfolding in Northern Syria is one of Britain’s early 20th century Near Eastern original sins (one of many similar sins across the globe) that bears the Anglo Mark of Cain emblazoned in gory detail in today’s bloodstained Palestinian, Syrian, Kashmiri, Somali, Iraqi, Yemeni, Afghani, and Burmese soils, to name but a few.
Prior to 1917 the exhausted Ottoman Empire’s rule over Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and small swaths of the Arabian Peninsula was losing its grip. The empire was gasping its last breath as a result of The Sick Man of Europe’s involvement in WWI and the hubris that befalls spent empires. Smelling victory at smashing the Triple Entente, Mark Sykes and François George-Picot, British and French diplomats, convened a secret 1916 kleptomaniac meeting to carve up the Ottoman Empire and Arab World into their spheres of influence.
In 1901 huge oil reserves were being discovered in Iraq, Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula, reserves that enticed the ever-ruthless and greedy Brits and French, much like Cain, to covet large expanses of desert which were heretofore merely uninhabitable backwashes.
And 85 years later another superpower, led by Bush the Elder in 1991 and his son, Bush the dumber in 2003, would twice invade Iraq and pulverise it back to the stone-age—all because of oil, that black gold that jaundices moral behaviour and justifies covetous Mark of Cain schemes to lay claim to what belongs to others.
Having successfully colonised much of the world in the late 18th and 19th centuries, between them Britain and France had well over 100 colonies across the globe. Gibraltar, East Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Kenya), South Africa (Rhodesia, Zululand, Natal), Central Africa (including Nigeria), multiple islands in the Caribbean, Central Asia and the lower Asia sub-continent (Afghanistan, Brunei, Burma, Hong Kong, Ceylon), and, of course, India and Kashmir, the jewels/pearls of British Imperial possessions, to name but a few, were subjected to British Imperial hegemony.
In their typically arrogant disposition, the British referred to these possessions as their dominions, protectorates, and Commonwealth countries (including South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Australia—acquired at high cost to the indigenous populations). For its part, France acquired Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Niger, Madagascar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Cameroon (shared also by Germany and Britain). Britannia not only ruled the world, but she also pompously bragged that the sun never set on her empire.
Not to be outdone, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Holland, and Germany swallowed what’s left of the Asian, African, and Latin American real estate to enrich themselves with these continents’ rich natural resources.
To implement their 1916 Sykes-Pico agreement, the Brits and French urged the Arabs to take up arms against the Ottomans with promises of independence. And in 1917 the Brits schemed up the Balfour Declaration promising (more like stealing) Palestine and handing it (much like John the Baptist’s severed head served on a silver platter) over to European Jews. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and with few exceptions, the Arab countries woke up to the Anglo-French fraudulent deception.
Syria was portioned off as France’s spoil of war; the French would soon carve modern day Lebanon out of Syria proper, thus laying the foundation for sectarian and ethnic demarcation lines. Lebanon’s apportioning confessional quotas for political representation doomed the country into periodic civil wars. Palestine was wiped off the face of the map and replaced with a militant and virulently racist, Zionist colonial settler entity that was born (in some measure) as a result of European guilt for their long history of anti-Semitism, a xenophobic sentiment that culminated in Germany’s genocidal crimes. Besides, sending millions of Jews to Palestine was also a backhanded way of reducing Europe’s Jewish populations. With the exception of the gas chambers, for the past 71 years Europe’s surviving persecuted Jews in stolen Palestine have been doing unto the Palestinians, their Semitic cousins, what was done unto them across Europe.
Out of the expansive Hijaz region, Sykes, Pico, and later Winston Churchill formed Trans-Jordan, Iraq, and several protectorates, including Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and other fiefdoms.
To illustrate the cavalier manner in which the new national boundaries were drawn up, while working on Jordan’s eastern boundary, Churchill is said to have accidentally moved his elbow on the drafting table; unbeknownst to him, he pushed a pencil along the paper’s surface, thus leaving a straight line. Realising what he had just done, he quipped the following: “Gentlemen, I have just formed the eastern border of Jordan.” And when the news that “he created Jordan with the stroke of a pen” became widely circulated, he wore this charge as a badge of honour.
Churchill’s racist and bigoted sentiments include the following: as a onetime Hitler admirer, he bragged that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” One solution he advocated to subdue Iraqi insurgents exposes his deep-seated racist nature: “I am strongly in favour [sic.] of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” His xenophobic statement about Indians: “I hate Indians.” He referred to Arabs as “dirty desert niggers”, and to Palestinians as “barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung”; and he “cheered Britain’s plan for more territorial conquests.” To suppress Iraqi uprisings against brutal British occupation, in the 1920s and 1930s Churchill ordered the British air force to drop tons of mustard gas on Iraqi civilians, killing them by the thousands.
There’s no doubt that Churchill was inculcated with everything that is pathologically Anglo-imperial arrogance, a kind of Trumpian view of non-European nations.
Like their Palestinian counterparts, the Kurdish population of Kurdistan saw their homeland carved up into Sykes-Pico parcels apportioned to Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. And much like the refugees of Palestine who’ve experienced ostracism, exploitation, marginalisation, and genocide by the Israelis and some of their so-called Arab brothers, the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria have been marginalised, abused, dispossessed, and brutally murdered by their fellow Muslim brothers.
For gassing the Kurds and Iranians with U.S. made chemicals (a business transaction orchestrated by Dick Cheney), Saddam Hussein was rightly condemned; and eventually he was hanged in a primordial display of revenge. For gassing Iraqi civilians, Winston Churchill was decorated and lauded for his service to the British Crown.
Suffice it to say that prior to and during the 2003 rape of Iraq George Bush, the Mission Accomplished war-dodger, surrounded himself with a group of Zionist neocons more interested in advancing Israel’s interests at the expense of America’s interests. Having destroyed yet another Arab country, Bush’s underlings, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Eliot Abrams, in cahoots with other like-minded characters, placed Syria in the cross-hairs of America’s war machine. North Korea, Iran and Syria were the new antichrist. That Axis of Evil had to be destroyed. Will Iran and North Korea be next?
Fast forward to June 12, 2012: what started out as an isolated small demonstration against the Syrian government soon mushroomed into a full-fledged nine-year civil war. And much to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf actors’ glee and support, the Syrian government lost the upper hand. Instead of decreasing tensions, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were drawn into the fray, and soon became complicit supporters. If only Syria’s Assad were deposed, went the official policy, then peace, harmony and a Jeffersonian democracy would emerge in Syria.
The best laid plans rarely materialise.
A morbidly virulent Caliphate reared up its monstrous head in Syria and Iraq, and for a few years the genii, set loose by chaos and foolish regional and international miscalculations, devolved into some of the most bizarre atrocities and dastardly barbarities of modern times. the Obama/Hillary extension of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the form of drone strikes (which killed thousands of innocent civilians) streamed into Syria and has no doubt set the stage for the ongoing Turkish carnage against the Kurds, victims of American false promises, Turkish nationalism and expansionism, Syrian policies vis a vis the Kurdish minority, and an abandonment by the United Nations, at best an impotent body serving the interests of the superpowers.
Postscript: A caveat for all future entities that might partner with the U.S. military. That alliance is transitory; once American politicians find it expedient to leave, they will desert you and leave you as fodder to the wolves. The Vietnamese, Kurds of Syria, and the Shiite of southern Iraq are excellent examples. Another prime example was the U.S. pledge to guarantee the safety of Palestinian civilians after U.S. troops pulled out of Lebanon in 1982.
To date no one has been held accountable for the murder of some 2,000 Palestinian women, children and aged men, penned up in refugee shanties and summarily murdered. Even the animals were not spared, a Mark of Cain crime more heinous that its original prototype. The reader is urged to read Robert Fisk’s news reports.
The seeds of discord, ethnic/religious/sect/class identities, and the divide and conquer policies of all modern empires are still unfolding in former colonies such as Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Kurdistan, the former Burma, and most recently, Kashmir.
War-loving invaders beware: It is much easier to wage war than to avoid it. Once started, a war is akin to a sink hole that sucks one into its bottomless pit.
And finally, the innocent will, as they always have, be bought, sold, bartered for/over, and slaughtered to appease the hegemonic powers who, instead of wearing their Marks of Cain as Marks of Shame, wear their arrogance and brutality as marks of Pride and triumph.
Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. firstname.lastname@example.org. The article was first published in Counterpunch.