Winston Churchill and the Islamic World: Early Encounters

Historian article

By Warren Dockter, published 1st October 2009

Winston Churchill had a major impact on British and world history in the twentieth century. A great deal has been written on his roles in the two world wars and on many aspects of his career. Yet relatively little attention has been paid to his relations with the Islamic world. This is a strange omission given that as Colonial Secretary he played a large part in the development of the Middle East and that during the Second World War the region was again one of his major concerns. This article examines the often overlooked earlier phase of Churchill's relationship with Islam, from the 1890s to 1908.

His first encounters with the Islamic world were as a subaltern in the IV Hussars Cavalry regiment on the frontier of imperial India in Afghanistan. The British ‘Forward Policy', which, dictated that imperial forces had a right to secure frontier regions in order to ensure economic stability, met antagonism from Muslim tribes dwelling along the Chitral road through the Swat Valley, which passes through the Chakdara and Malakand passes. The Islamic tribal uprising was led by Mullah Sadullah, whom the British called the Mad Fakir and Churchill described as a ‘wild enthusiast, convinced of his Divine mission and miraculous powers, [who] preached a crusade, or Jehad, against the infidel.' Both the British forts at Chakdara and Malakand were attacked. The British losses were severe, with over 153 casualties. In assurance of a rapid retribution, Sir Bindon Blood was dispatched with a relief column and authorized to perform a punitive expedition, which was characterized as the ‘Butcher and Bolt Policy'.

Churchill, always eager for an adventure, requested to go to the Swat Valley to serve under Sir Bindon Blood.

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