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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 24

What is to be done with the Turk?

What is to be done with the Turk?

Yet the general answer to this question is a simple one. The power of the Turk is something purely evil, something which cannot be reformed; it must there fore be dealt with as we should deal with any other evil which is past remedy. The great mistake of all European powers for a long time past has been that of treating the Turk as one of themselves, of speaking of the "Ottoman Government," "the rights" of the Sultan, and so forth, as if they were speaking of and dealing with a civilized power. The whole course of the history which we have gone through shows that the power of the Turks is not a "government" in the sense which we apply those words to the powers which bear rule in any civilized nation. The government of this or that European country may have great faults, and may need reform in many ways; still, it is on the whole an instrument of good. It discharges the common duties of government in its own country, and in most cases it fairly represents the nation of which it is the head in the face of other page 46 nations. We may therefore, with perfect truth, speak of the "rights" of such a government, even though we may think that there are many things about it which might be improved. The worst that we can say of it is that it is a bad government, and that its rule is misgovernment. These words in themselves imply that it does in some sort discharge the functions of government, and that by needful reforms it might be made to discharge them better. The worst civilized government is not a thing which is purely evil; it is a good thing more or less perverted, but which still may be reformed. But the so-called Turkish government is none of these things, and does none of these things. It is a mistake to speak of it as a government, or to speak of its rule even as misgovernment. Its fault is, not that it governs badly, but that it does not govern at all. Its rule is not government, not misgovernment, but organized brigandage. Systematic oppression, systematic plunder, the denial of the commonest rights of human beings to those who are under its power, is not government in any sense of the word. It is therefore a mistake, and a dangerous mistake, to speak of the Sultan and his ministers as a "government," and to treat them as such. It is a mistake to speak of the "rights" of the Sultan; for he has no rights. The Turk has never dealt with the subject nations in such a way as to give him any rights over them, or to bind them to any duty towards him. His rule is a rule of brute force, of mere brigandage. It makes no difference that that brigandage has gone on for five hundred page 47 years. While other conquerors have, sooner or later, made their conquest lawful, by giving the conquered people a government, the Turk has never given the nations whom he has conquered any government at all. He came in as a robber, and he remains a robber. He has no rights except such as may be held to belong to a man who has broken into the house of another, who has carried off his goods, laid waste his fields, and enslaved or murdered his children. To have done these things for five hundred years is what the Treaty of Paris calls the relations between the Sultan and his subjects. But such relations are not what any European nation understands by government. The so-called Turkish government is not a government, and is not entitled to be treated as one. The Sultan has no rights, and is not entitled to claim any.

We must therefore, in dealing with the Turk, get rid of all such phrases as the "rights" of the Sultan, his "honour," his "dignity," his "susceptibility." He has no rights, no honour, no dignity, and his susceptibility does not matter. We do not trouble ourselves about the susceptibilities of those at home who may have robbed or murdered a single man. We deal with them as with robbers and murderers, however unpleasant the process may be to the robber or the murderer. So we ought to deal with the robbers and murderers of whole nations. Their susceptibility, their wishes, their proposals, their promises, must simply go for nothing. The promises of the Turk must go for nothing, because every promise which the Turk has made has been page 48 broken. He must be dealt with as a convicted liar, whose word is no better than his bond. The Turk is in short simply a barbarian, and none the less a barbarian because he has picked up a good deal of cunning, because he has learned to wear European clothes, and to speak an European language. These things only make him a more dangerous kind of barbarian. The men who dress and talk like Europeans, and whom the Ministers of European states have to treat as their equals, are the men who ordered the massacres in Bulgaria, and who naturally refuse to punish those who acted by their orders. On such men words are wasted; what is wanted is deeds. The model for correspondence with the Sultan and his ministers is to be found in the letter which Sir Garnet Wolseley sent to the King of Ashantee. The barbarian of Constantinople and the barbarian of Ashantee are alike enemies of humanity, to be dealt with as such. The only difference between the two is in favour of the barbarian of Ashantee. He at least does not ape the ways of civilized men, or make lying promises of good government.

Experience shows that to preach to the Turk, to argue with the Turk, is simply to waste words. The notes and memoranda and despatches which were sent to the Turk during the last year, the proposals and counter-proposals which were made to him during the late Conference, had the simple fault of coming five hundred years too late. Five hundred years ago, when the Turk was a new comer and men did not know page 49 him so well as they do now, those notes, memoranda, despatches, and proposals would have been reasonable and creditable. After five hundred years' experience of Turkish doings, they are simply foolish. The Turk will yield only to force, or to a conviction that force will follow on refusal. Talking will not win the independence of Bosnia, or Bulgaria, or Herzegovina. Talking will not win the slightest reform in any of those lands. Other arguments are needed to bring the Turk to reason. The fight of Navarino, the Russian march to Hadrianople, brought Mahmoud to reason, and he acknowledged the independence of Greece. The like arguments, the certainty that refusal would be followed by application of the like arguments, would in the like way bring the ruling ring at Constantinople—we need hardly speak of the wretched being called a Sultan—to reason in the same way. No weaker argument will do it. No weaker argument will work any change. To the demand of armed and united Europe the Turk will at once grant everything. To mere preaching, mere arguing, mere talking of any kind, he will yield nothing.

The Turk then, if he is only pressed by the right arguments, will yield all that is wanted. But what is wanted? The least that is wanted is that the direct rule of the Turk in Europe shall cease. In a word, enslaved nations of South-eastern Europe must be delivered from the rule of force, and put under the rule of law. Government must be put in the place of brigandage. What kind of government is to be page 50 given to those lands, under how many governments they are to be placed, are proper questions for the powers of Europe to settle. It is for them to settle whether the Slavonic lands which are now under the Turk shall be joined to any existing state, or be formed into a new state or several new states. It is for them to settle in like manner whether the Greek lands which are now under the Turk shall be joined to the present kingdom of Greece, or receive freedom in any other shape. It is for them to settle in what relations the lands shall stand to one another; whether they shall be absolutely independent of the Turk, or whether the Turk shall be allowed to stay at Constantinople as a nominal lord over them, as he is over Servia and Roumania. All these are points of detail, very important and difficult points some of them, and not to be settled off-hand. But one thing is a matter of principle to be insisted on at all hazards, that the direct rule of the Turk over those lands shall come to an end. It is a matter of principle that those lands should be set free; as for the best form for their freedom to take, much may be said on many sides. But two points are in any case essential. Whatever is to be the form of government in any of these lands, the Turk must have no hand in choosing their governors, and no spot in any of the lands that are to be set free must be garrisoned by Turkish soldiers. Unless these points are insisted on, nothing will be gained; the whole work will have to be done over again.

The Turk must have no voice in the choice of the page 51 rulers of Bulgaria, of Bosnia, of Herzegovina, of Epeiros, Thessaly, or Crete, any more than he has in the choice of rulers in Servia and Roumania. It is not enough that his choice should be approved by the European powers. The European powers may not agree, and difficulties and complications such as diplomatists are always afraid of are sure to arise. The Turk is very cunning; if he is allowed to have any voice in the matter, he will find some means to throw dust into the eyes of Europe, and to carry out his own ends. It is not enough to say that the governors must be Christians. There is a kind of Christian who is as bad as any Turk, who is always ready to do the Turk's work for the Turk's pay, who is ready to fight as his admiral or to lie as his ambassador. Such Christians the Turk will contrive to send as rulers, if he is allowed to have any voice in choosing them. The rulers of the Greek and Slavonic lands must be as little the nominees of the Turk as the princes of Servia and Roumania are now.

Besides this, no Turkish garrisons must be allowed in any town or any other place of the lands that are to be set free. If Turkish soldiers are allowed to enter those lands, their freedom will be a mere name. Wherever the Turkish soldier treads, there is the Turk and all his evil deeds. Experience proves this. After Servia was independent in other things, Turkish soldiers still garrisoned Belgrade and other fortresses. The Turks did as Turks; they bombarded the city of Belgrade out of sheer wantonness, because Turkish page 52 soldiers had been resisted in the wickedness which Turks everywhere do. What they did at Belgrade they will do anywhere else where they are allowed to abide. If the Turk is allowed to garrison any spot in the lands which are to be set free from his direct rule, freedom from his direct rule will be a mockery : nothing will be gained, unless the Turk is made to leave the whole of the Greek and Slavonic lands as free as Servia and Roumania are. It needs only union and energy on the part of Europe to make the Turk do this, even without fighting. But if it should be needful to fight, men have never, from the beginning of the world, fought in a nobler cause than that in which they would fight then.

These then are the main principles, these are the great objects which must be carried out. If they are not carried out, nothing will be gained. And here it may be well to answer some of the objections which are commonly made.

First then, it is sometimes said that the whole thing is no affair of ours; that we are not called upon to go about through the world as knights errant, looking out for wrongs to redress. This is perfectly true; but it is our duty to redress those wrongs which we have done ourselves. By waging a war on behalf of the Turk, by signing a treaty which left the nations of Southeastern Europe at the mercy of the Turk, by propping up the wicked power of the Turk in many ways, we have done a great wrong to the nations which are under his yoke; and that wrong which we have ourselves done it is our duty to undo.

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Secondly, it is sometimes said that all interest and sympathy for the enslaved nations is mere foolish sentiment, and that we ought to think of nothing but our own interest in dealing with other nations. If people really mean that there is no such thing as right and wrong in public affairs, let them say so at once, and we shall know how to deal with them. Again, people who talk in this kind of way forget that men have hearts as well as heads, and that men will therefore always be guided by their feelings, both in public and private matters. The only thing to be taken care of is that they shall be guided by right and generous feelings. And, after all, the really sentimental people are on the other side. It is the voice of reason and common sense which says that, as the Turk has shown himself to be an incorrigible liar, it is foolish to trust him. It is the voice of reason and common sense which says that, as his rule has shown itself to be incorrigibly bad, it is both foolish and wicked to prop it up. The people who really are foolishly sentimental, are those who have a kind of love for the Turk, who say that he is a "gentleman," and so forth; and who therefore, though he has lied nine hundred and ninety-nine times, would still believe him the thousandth time.

Thirdly, there are some people who say the Turks are no doubt very bad, but that the Christians are just as bad and have done things just as cruel. Now, as a matter of fact, this is not true; and, if it were true, it would be another page 54 reason for setting the Christians free; for if they are as bad as the Turk, it is the Turk who has caused their badness. While other nations have been improving, the Turk has kept them from improving. Take away the Turk who hinders improvement, and they will improve like the others. The slave never has the virtues of the freeman; it is only by setting him free that he can get them.

Fourthly, when we point out the evils of the rule of the Turk, some people tell us that Christian rulers in past time have done things quite as bad as the Turks. This is partly true, but not wholly. No Christian government has ever gone on for so long a time ruling as badly as the Turk has ruled. But it is true that Christian governments have in past times done particular acts which were as bad as the acts of the Turks. But this argument too cuts the other way; for Christian governments have left off doing such acts, while the Turks go on doing them still. The worst Christian government is better now than it was one hundred years ago or five hundred years ago. The rule of the Turk is worse now than it was one hundred years ago or five hundred years ago. That is to say, the worst Christian government can reform, while the Turk cannot.

Fifthly, it is sometimes said that we ought not to set free the Christians for fear that they should do some harm to the Mahometans who would be left in their land. Now, if the question were really put—Shall a minority of oppressors go page 55 on oppressing the people of the land, or shall the majority of the people of the land turn round and oppress the minority who have hitherto oppressed them?—this last would surely be the lesser evil of the two. But there is no ground for any such fear. No one wishes to hurt any Mahometan who will live peaceably and not hurt Christians. No one wishes that any man, merely because he is a Mahometan, should be in any way worse off than a Christian, or be put under any disability as compared with a Christian. There is no reason why he should be. For the Mahometan religion, though it does not command that Christians shall be persecuted, does command that Christians shall be treated as subjects of Mahometans. But the Christian religion in no way commands that Mahometan shall be treated as the subject of Christian. Christians and Mahometans cannot live together on equal terms under a Mahometan government; because the Mahometan religion forbids that they should. But Mahometans and Christians may perfectly well live together under a Christian government. They do so under the governments both of England and of Russia. The few Mahometans who are left in Greece and in Servia are in no way molested; there are mosques both at Chalkis and at Belgrade. But it is foolish to argue, as some people do, that because men of different religions can live together under a Christian government, therefore they can live together under a Mahometan government. For both reason and the page 56 nature of the Mahometan religion prove that it is not so.

Sixthly, some people say that we ought not to help the Christians in South-eastern Europe for fear lest the Mahometans in India should rise against the English government here, on behalf of the Sultan, as Caliph or religious head of all Mussulmans. Now, if it is right to help the Eastern Christians, we ought to help them, whether there is any such danger or not. But those who know India best say that there is no such danger at all to be feared.

Seventhly, still more people say that we ought not to help the Eastern Christians, because by so doing we play into the hands of Russia. They say that we are helping Russia to get Constantinople, and that if Russia gets Constantinople, our power in India will come to an end, and that many other dreadful things will happen. And they go on to tell us that Russia is the wickedest and most dangerous of all powers, that she is the special enemy of England, that she has dealt wickedly by Poland and other nations, that all the revolts against the Turk are got up by her intrigues, and that therefore Russia is to be withstood and thwarted and suspected in a way in which we should not withstand or thwart or suspect any other power. Now there are many answers to all this talk:—

1. If it is right to help the Eastern Christians, we ought to do so, whatever may come of it.

2. We may be quite sure that Russia does not wish to get Constantinople, because to get Constantinople page 57 would be the break-up of the Russian Empire. She may possibly wish to set a Russian prince on the throne of Constantinople, as there has been talk of setting an English prince there; but such a prince would soon cease to be either Russian or English. We have seen enough of her history to know that New Rome must be New Rome, and cannot be subject to Russia or to any other power.

3. If Russia did get Constantinople, it would make no difference to our power in India. The way to India lies, not by Constantinople, but by Egypt.

4. There is no reason to think that Russia is in herself much better or worse than any other power. She has done some bad things, as all other powers have done. But it is very strange that those who now make a special outcry about Poland are the very same party who never thought of Poland before, and who rather approved of Russia as long as she was really doing misdeeds. And the old misdeeds of Russia were the misdeeds of her rulers in days when the Russian people had no voice in anything. But now the Russian people has a voice, and it is the generous impulse of the Russian people which is making their Emperor come to the help of the oppressed, whether he himself wishes it or not. Russia is in no way the enemy of England, except so far as we have ourselves chosen to make her so. It is absurd to say that the revolts are all stirred up by Russian intrigues. Men who are oppressed as the nations under the Turk are oppressed do not need any foreign intriguers to tell them of their oppressions. page 58 Lastly, if Russia has any hidden evil designs, we shall best thwart them by frankly working with her in everything which on the face of it is good. If she seeks exclusive influence in the South-eastern lands, and if we wish to keep her from getting such influence, the best way is to help her to deliver those lands, and so to get an influence in them equal to hers.

Eighthly, some people—who must be either the most foolish of all, or else the most wicked, as saying what they must know to be false—say that it is wrong to help the insurgents or the Servians, because they are rebels and traitors, who had no wrongs, but were merely stirred up by secret societies. Some have said that the Servians were ungrateful for the favours which they had received from the Turks. Those favours were the impaling of their grandfathers sixty years back, and the bombarding of their capital twelve years back. They received other favours of the same kind last year, such as the roasting alive of their children; perhaps they ought to be thankful for these too. And if we condemn them for revolting against oppression, we must condemn all our own forefathers who won the freedom of England. They revolted against their own kings on account of much smaller misdeeds than those on account of which the Eastern Christians have revolted against their foreign tyrants. As for secret societies, it is true that societies in Russia have done much for the cause of the oppressed nations. But these societies are in no way secret. It would be just as true to say that the Corn Laws were abolished through page 59 secret societies, because there was an Anti-Corn Law League.

Lastly, some people say that we who speak up for the cause of the oppressed do it out of some bad private motive of our own, or at best because we want to upset the present Government and set up another. One is inclined to think very badly of people who talk in this way, to think that their own motives must be very bad, as they seem not to understand that other men's motives can ever be good. Yet, after all, it may be only blind prejudice, and it is better to think so. But to those who have been saying the same things for more than twenty years and who, in so doing, have had to blame Liberal and Conservative Governments alike, it does seem very strange to be told that they have taken the matter up just lately in hopes of getting rid of the present Government. All that we have done is to speak the plain truth, to say that Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Derby have done very wrong in these matters, as in times past we had to say that Lord Palmerston had done very wrong. Only we are allowed to say what we like about Lord Palmerston; but if we say a word against Lord Derby or Lord Beaconsfield, we are told that we are acting only for party motives. Indeed some people seem to think that Lord Derby can change the nature of right and wrong. For if we say that Lord Derby did certain things, and that those things were wrong, they do not try either to prove that Lord Derby did not do those things, nor yet to prove that those things were not wrong. All page 60 that they do is to cry out that it is wicked to speak against Lord Derby. This does seem very like blind party spirit indeed. But that we are not acting out of party spirit is shown by the fact that no one has ever said a word against Lord Salisbury. Lord Salisbury is not on our own side in home politics; therefore, if we were acting only through party spirit, we should speak against him also. But though he is not on our side in home politics, we believe him to be a just and truthful man, whose sympathies were on the right side, and who tried to do what was best under very difficult circumstances. We know that our own motives are right, and that we are acting in a just cause. And the only reason for taking any notice of those who say otherwise, is the same reason which we have for taking notice of any of the other fallacies and false statements which have been put forth about the matter. We shall not convince those who say them, but we may save unwary people from being deceived by them.

Thus we have gone through all our questions. We have seen what the Turk in Europe is, what he has done in Europe, and what must be done with him. He came in as an alien and barbarian, encamped on the soil of Europe. At the end of five hundred years, he remains an alien and barbarian encamped on soil which he has no more made his own than it was when he first took Kallipolis. His rule during all that time has been the rule of strangers over enslaved nations in their own land. It has been the rule of cruelty, faithlessness, and brutal lust; it has page 61 not been government, but organized brigandage. His rule cannot be reformed; while all other nations get better and better, the Turk gets worse and worse. And when the chief powers of Europe join in demanding that he should make even the smallest reform, he impudently refuses to make any. If there was anything to be said for him before the late Conference, there is nothing to be said for him now. For an evil which cannot be reformed, there is one remedy only, to get rid of it. Justice, reason, humanity, demand that the rule of the Turk in Europe should be got rid of; and the time for getting rid of it has now come.

Hazel!, Watson, and Viney, Printers, London and Aylesbury.