I notice that Bush of Baghdad's Australian poodle, John Howard, is trumpeting the creation of a Centre for Western Civilisation, "[t]he key goal of [which] will be to facilitate the teaching of Western civilisation as a coherent field of study" (Gift from a true champion of Western civilisation, John Howard, The Australian, 14/3/17), and is, moreover, to be the chairman of its board.
'Civilisation' (along with its mate, 'progress') seems to be experiencing something of a revival these days.
It was, of course, under such diverting rubrics as these that the Zionist colonisers of Palestine in the 1920s and 30s, protected by British bayonets, quietly went about preparing for the day when they could snatch Palestine from the hands of its Arab inhabitants.
Many Britons at that time were entranced by such words, and cheered on the Zionist colonial-settler project in their name. But not all.
As one British observer of the Palestinian scene, the Anglican preacher, suffragist and antiwar campaigner Maude Royden (1876-1956), noted in her 1939 book, The Problem of Palestine:
"Before attempting a solution of the Palestinian problem, it is necessary to consider a question which has up to now hardly been raised: it is the question of the meaning of the word 'civilization'.
"Putting aside the promises made by the British to the Arab and to the Jew, putting aside also our right to make some of these promises at all, let us consider the present situation as realists who wish to make the best of a bad business. Englishmen are apt at this point to reflect that, in any case, the Arabs have a great deal to gain by co-operation with the Jews. The Arabs of Palestine are terribly poor. The Jews have brought with them capital, intelligence and a knowledge of Western science which will make much of the fertile places and at least all that can be made of the barren. Moreover they are deeply concerned with all that improves hygiene and are a modern, progressive and enlightened people. If we admit that the Arabs should have been consulted before the promise of a National Home for Jews was made, did we not after all do them a great service when we made it?
"This was, I admit, my own view when I first looked at the problem. I had realized that the old association of ideas by which Palestine and the Jews were one thing in the minds of people brought up on the Bible as I had been was a misleading one. I had grasped the fact that Arabs and Turks were not the same people in spite of their being both Moslems! I had got hold of the fact that the Arabs had been settled in Palestine for thirteen hundred years and were still there, to the extent of over 90% of the population, at the outbreak of war. I was reasonable enough to perceive that, these things being so, it was monstrous of us to have given away their land to the Jews (who had left it 2,000 years ago) without even going through the form of consulting them first.
"I still believed that we had done them a service, even if unintentionally, and that they were, if within their rights resenting it, foolish and shortsighted to do so.
"My position I believe to be that of a large number of my fellow-countrymen and women. It is based on the assumption that the Jews are offering to the Arabs in Palestine 'a higher civilization'.
"What is meant by this phrase? I find that, unconsciously, one is apt to mean by it 'a higher material standard of life'. This phrase (omitting the word 'material') is quoted in the Woodhead Commission Report from a memorandum 'received from a Jewish source'. The memorandum speaks of 'the two different standards of life' in Palestine; 'that of the bulk of the Arab population and the higher one introduced by Jewish... settlers'. The reference is to 'education and standards of life'.
"Before assuming that the Arabs owe gratitude to the Jews for their efforts to raise the Arab standard of life, it necessary to ask whether the civilization which is based on a simple way of living, on a rural foundation, sustained by agriculture and other farming, is necessarily a lower one than that which is urban, commercial and industrial. This question does not seem to have been put; yet it is worth putting. The advantages of Jewish immigration to Palestinian Arabs may then be seen in a different night."
Royden instances the case of the Zionist-conceived and -built city of Tel-Aviv, just to the north of the ancient Arab port city of Jaffa:
"In Palestine [the Jews] have... created Tel-Aviv on a piece of sand. Both the Royal and the Woodhead Commissioners describe this last feat as 'startling', and certainly it is so. Here is a considerable town, full of life and activity and as purely Jewish as a town can be. It is building schools, houses and places of business, and it is already a port of importance."
Be that as it may, she asks rhetorically, "Is a piece of sand such a frightful spectacle?"
"There are some who prefer it to Brighton, just as there are many to whom Brighton is a delight and the seashore a horror unless it be lined with piers and esplanades.
"We may enjoy our own preference without condemning the other. When, however, the urbanized and industrialized civilization is described as the 'higher' one, and the farmer and peasant expected to be grateful to those who thrust it upon him, we are entitled to claim that, on the contrary, he has a right to prefer his own." (pp 108-16)
Such critical thinking, however, would be lost on Howard, with his mindless prattle about "the Judeo-Christian ethic" and Australia's "deep-seated tolerance towards people of different backgrounds."