Why is ISIS Attacking France? Ho Chi Minh knew the answer in 1924.


          The war in Syria has been raging for almost a century. Control of Syria determines control of the entire Middle East. The war is a fight between the nationalists, who want an independent country called Syria, and the pan-Arabists who want a return to open borders in the Middle East like those in the Ottoman Empire that existed before World War I.  This is why the creation of Israel, at the crossroads of Africa and Asia, is such an important and emotional issue.


            After World War I, the League of Nations awarded the European victors mandates over areas in the Middle East.  Allegedly, these mandates were temporary, given in order to “lead the people to freedom and self-government.”  That the affected people themselves had no say in the creation of these mandates goes without saying.  To the natives, the mandates looked like an occupation by a foreign power.


            France was awarded what is now Syria and Lebanon. Britain got Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. While the formal creation of Israel had to await the end of World War II, Jews started moving to Palestine from Europe and other Arab countries in numbers after World War I, with every intention of creating a Jewish State.


            While World War I was touted in the United States, as the war to end war, and to make the world safe for democracy, in Europe it was called the Just War but it was fought to gain and keep colonies.  Often forgotten is that many of the troops that fought in Europe came from the colonies of the combatants.  Almost 100,000 Vietnamese came to Europe, and 30,000 died there.  Once the war was over, the justice and rights for which the troops were told they were fighting were denied the very colonial soldiers who served. In the Middle East, both Britain and France made promises to the Arabs during the war in exchange for them rebelling against their Ottoman rulers.  But once the war ended, the victors reneged on their promises of independence for the Arabs because the promises were incompatible with promises made to the Jews, a bigger, stronger domestic political constituency.


            Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese Revolutionary, wrote a booklet in 1924 called The Case Against French Colonization.  Although most of its 30,000 words deal with Vietnam, there are occasional references to France’s other colonies in Africa and Asia.  Here is what he wrote about Syria:





            The population of Syria was happy, very happy with the administration of General Gouraud, officials said. But the following facts proved otherwise:


            In March 1922, Mustapha Kemal went to Messina. To receive him, the Moslems in Syria raised a triumphal arch decorated with black flags bearing the inscriptions: “Turkish-Arab brotherhood”, “Do not forget your Syrian brothers!” “Deliver us!”, etc. etc.


            Mustapha Kemal’s visit to Adana generated enthusiastic demonstrations. The irredentists of Antioch and Alexandretta[1] had paraded black flags in the streets of the city for two days uttering hostile shouts against the French Mandatory administration.


            In reply to the manifesto of the irredentist delegation, Mustapha Kemal had said: “A home dating back many centuries can not remain in the hands of foreigners.”


            French colonialism had not changed its motto: “Divide and conquer.” Thus the empire of Annam – the country inhabited by descendants of the same race, people with the same mores, the same history, the same traditions and speaking the same language – was divided into five parts. By hypocritically exploiting this division, the French hoped to cool the feelings of solidarity and brotherhood in the heart of Annamese and compensated for them with antagonism of brother against brother. After having set one against the other, the same elements were artificially grouped into a “union,” the Indochinese Union.


            The same tactic can be seen in the new colonies. After having divided Syria into a “series of States”, the French high commissioner in Beirut claimed to form a Syrian “Federation” from the “States” of Aleppo, Damascus and Alawites. A flag had been invented for this purpose. Like the flag of Annam, the French did not forget to graft onto this federal flag – at the top and near the flagpole – the “protective color.” December 11, 1922, was the “solemn” day when this flag flew for the first time on the federal palace in Aleppo.


            On this occasion, official speeches were made. Soubhi Barakat Bey, federal president, spoke of a “generous protector,” of a “sincere guide,” of “victorious leaders” and a lot of things. Mr. Robert de Caix, the acting High Commissioner, also talked a lot. Among other things, this official said that “independent Syria is not the first people whose cradle France has watched over,” etc … All these palavers, however, deceived no one. And at the Lausanne Conference, the Syria-Palestinian delegation, to defend the independence and unity of the true Syria - sent a protest letter, a letter that was published by our colleagues at The Tribune of the East and that we are pleased to reproduce here.




            “When one tries to repair the breaches the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) has opened in the question of the Middle East, where the Arab people are located, one finds, unfortunately, that the voices of its representatives from the various districts most directly affected by the evils resulting from this treaty, proportional to the sacrifice they made (in the great war), still have no echo in this conference that was convened to establish a firm and lasting peace.


            “And this is when the French authorities find it timely to crown solemnly the work of colonization undertaken four years ago by displaying the emblem of eternal slavery, the Tricolor, on the flag that has just been adopted by the so-called Syrian Confederation. It rejects, once again, the statements of the Allies, the commitments England made on their behalf vis-à-vis the Arabs, and even the promises of French statesmen ensuring independence to that unhappy country. Syria, which has clear title to prompt and complete independence, and that is not less worthy than any other country in the east or west, is deprived of a national flag. As a sign of the mandate, which camouflages annexation, it imposes three colors in its national flag.


            “Mr. Speaker, we have always protested against the mandate, we have never recognized it, and we now strongly protest against the adoption of its symbol in our flag.


            “Almost all the powers, even those that are no less great than France, did not adopt this method in humiliating their most backward colonies.


            “The Covenant of the League of Nations specifies the provisional character of mandates (Article 22, Paragraph 4). On what basis, therefore, are French authorities empowered to have their colors adopted by a country they claim to lead to the independence already recognized by the aforementioned pact?


            “Minister, consider our protest about this, and we reaffirm our very keen desire to assert our just claims to the conference.


            Sincerely, etc…


            “For the head of the Syrian-Palestinian delegation,



                                                                        “The Secretary general,


                                                                        “Emir Chékib Arslan”


            On the other hand, the inhabitants of Hama, many of whom were civil servants, lawyers, professors, journalists, and traders, addressed to the President of the Council of Ministers of France, a letter including the following key passages:


            “We have the honor, Mr. Council President, to present our claims, as well as to protest against the reaction of the Council that we consider not in our interests or the country in general.


            “1st Said Federal Council is not elected by the votes of the nation. Its members are not, in any way, the representatives of the nation, nor do they reflect its thinking.


            “2nd Said Council is devoid of any power; it can not even address the vital issues concerning the country, constrained to dealing only with business submitted to it. Finally, its decisions are at the discretion of the High Commission, who can execute or reject them.


            “3rd The very basis of that Council is skewed by the fact that each State has one vote despite the population inequality of the States. Add to this, the inexplicable oddity, that only unanimity counts on this Council, and that any differences end the debate. The question is then brought before the High Commissioner.


            “4th Said Council, presented as a step on the path to unity, is the negation of unity and even the personality of the country. This Council, appointed to office, in no way reflects national thought; maybe it is even against this thought while in the eyes of the world it would be considered the interpreter of national aspirations and provide an argument against the nation itself.




            “As for our wishes, we can formulate them in the following manner:


            “a) Actual recognition of the independence and unity of Syria;


            “b) Once the census currently underway is completed, we will conduct the election of a National Assembly by universal suffrage that will enact the constitution and determine the form of government of the country. This Assembly could be held toward the end of 1922, the date when the Federal Council will have convened.


            “c) The formation of a government responsible to the Assembly with full legislative power.


            These are the real aspirations of the people of Hama; they are equally those of the majority of the Syrian people.”


                                                                                                                                    The Case Against French Colonization p. 106-110


The Life of Colonial Subjects


            While Britain claimed the mantle of “white man’s burden” and France touted its “civilizing mission,” life in the colonies for the natives was miserable, far worse than for the American blacks living under Jim Crow.  At least in the United States, the blacks had rights on paper even if they were ignored in fact.  But colonial subjects had no rights.


            Keeping the natives ignorant is an essential tool of oppression, so while the European occupiers ran the countries and extracted raw materials, the natives were reduced to subsistence living, a mass market for the products of the colonizers. There were only 22 native college graduates in the Congo when it became independent in 1960, out of a population of 15 million.  The same was generally true in Vietnam.


            The Middle East has been the West’s gas station from the end of World War I.  While Britain and France extracted raw materials from their colonies and protectorates in the Middle East, the money and profits went to the mother country.  In Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn, his book about World War II in North Africa, he says that the peasants in Algeria were useless for intelligence purposes because most of them could not count beyond the number twenty.  Civilizing mission my foot.


            When people are illiterate, there is little need for censorship, but just in case, there was no such thing as “freedom of the press” in French colonies and mandates.  Even private mail was subject to censorship.  In fact, there isn’t even freedom of the press in France today, it just depends on whose speech the government wants to suppress.  Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing politician, was fined $250,000 for saying the Holocaust was a detail.  But the whole world is supposed to rally round when Charlie Hebdo mocks Mohammed.   


            Now France, with its Jewish president, joined the coalition and is once again bombing Syria. Terror bombing of civilians was started in Iraq by the British in the 1920’s and promoted by that fine humanitarian Winston Churchill.  Israel summarily executes its “terrorists” and innocent bystanders alike. The Bataclan attacks were not the mindless nihilistic acts depicted in the press.  The Middle East never had borders until after World War I and the West took over the area.  The western desire to impose nation states on people who identify primarily with their tribe and religion has led to military dictatorships.  Any truly democratic country in the Middle East will be an implacable opponent of Israel and all fixed borders because the nations of the Middle East are all artificial. The armies are the only cohesive force, ergo, military dictatorships.  As in Vietnam, we’re on the wrong side again.  Failure to understand the legitimate rage of the Arabs in the Middle East against the military occupation and plundering of their resources means a viable plan for peace is impossible. The western media and Israeli lobbying is preventing the true facts about the Middle East from getting into the public forum.  This is why the United States has been at war for fifteen years, with no end in sight.


            Even Ho Chi Minh was complaining almost one hundred years ago about the conduct of France in Syria.  Yet, that would be news to most people in the west today.


Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page

Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf


[1] Iskenderun, Turkey