‘A Considerable Effect’: Winston Churchill and Wilfrid S. Blunt’s Legacy
- 151 Downloads
By the 1880s, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt had become ‘the avatar for anti-imperial causes’ and an active force for the ‘regeneration of Islam’ by means of ‘agitation and negotiation as well as by poetry and horse breeding.’ It is odd then to think that such an anti-imperialist would inadvertently provide a blueprint for British colonial administrators to restructure the Middle East after the First World War. Despite Blunt’s historical role as an intellectual bridge between liberal Arab thinkers and nationalists and the British imperial policy-making elite, studies of his influence have remained confined to the literary world. This is because Blunt is often cast as an anti-Kipling often representing a voice of dissent to British Imperial policies in his poems and travel literature. But, this overtly literary understanding of Blunt’s work alone has significantly overlooked his political commentary (often published in periodicals) and social influence with British policymakers and early Arab nationalists. This omission most likely owes to a legacy of historians dismissing Blunt as a ridiculous and eccentric political radical (especially after 1900), who exaggerated the sway of his ideas. However, given the current geopolitical environment of the collapse of the ‘Arab Spring,’ and the rise of ‘ISIS,’ a re-evaluation of Blunt’s influence and ideas on British imperial policy in the Middle East is required. Prophetically, Blunt wrote that the British government had undermined his work in The Future of Islam, by ‘adopting’ it and ‘using it for its own purposes.’ Thoroughly utilizing the Blunt papers, letters, essays and diaries, this paper will explore Blunt’s influence on the political class in Britain during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. By revealing Blunt’s social network with major figures in British Middle Eastern policy like Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell, T.E. Lawrence and H. St. John Philby, this paper will illustrate how Blunt’s anti-imperial ideas were co-opted and used for British imperial aims in the Middle East. It will also explore how Blunt’s anti-imperial message was adopted by early Arab nationalists such as Muhammad Abduh and Jamal al-Afghani.