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HOME > Short Stories > The Last Frontier > CHAPTER IV THE ITALIAN “WHITE MAN'S BURDEN”
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SINCE the world began the arm of Italy has reached out into the Mediterranean toward Africa, its finger pointing straight at Tripoli. Ph?nicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Spaniards, and Turks followed the suggestion of that finger in their turn, but of them all only the Arab and the Turk remain. In every case a colonial empire was the mirage which beckoned to those land-hungry peoples from behind the golden haze which hangs over the African coast-line, and in every case their African adventures ended in disappointment and disaster. After an interim of centuries, in which the roads and ramparts and reservoirs built along that shore by those primeval pioneers have crumbled into dust, the troop-laden transports of a regenerated Italy have followed in the wake of those Greek galleys, those Roman triremes, and those Spanish caravels. Undeterred by the recollection of her disastrous Abyssinian adventure, Italy is imbued with the idea, just as were her powerful predecessors, that her commercial and political interests demand the extension of her dominion across the Middle Sea.

Ever since the purple sails of Ph?nicia first flaunted along its coasts the history of Tripolitania has been one [Pg 81] of invasion and conquest. In the very dawn of history the galleys of Greece dropped anchor off this shore, in the belief that it was the Garden of the Hesperides, and the vestiges of their colony of Cyrenaica lure the arch?ologists to-day. The Greeks, who, because of its three leagued cities of O?a, Sabrata, and Leptis, named their new possession Tripolis, just as Decapolis signified the region of ten cities and Pentapolis of five, retreated before Carthage's colonial expansion, and the Carthaginians gave way in turn to the conquering Romans, who included the captured territory within their province of Africa and called it Regio Tripolitana—whence the name it bears to-day. Christianity was scarcely four centuries old when the hordes of fierce-faced, skin-clad Vandals, sweeping down from their Germanic forests, burst into Gaul, poured through the passes of the Pyrenees, overran Spain, and, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, carried fire and sword and torture from end to end of the Mediterranean. Before another century had rolled around, however, Belisarius, the great captain of Byzantium, had broken the Vandal power forever, and the troubled land of Tripolitania once again came under the shadow of the cross. Then the wave of Arab conquest came, rolling across North Africa, breaking upon the coasts of Spain, and not subsiding until it reached the marches of France, supplanting the feeble Christianity of the natives of all this region with the vigorous and fanatical faith of Islam. Though Ferdinand the Catholic, not content with expelling the Moors from Spain, continued his crusade [Pg 82] against the infidel by capturing the Tripolitan capital, the Knights of Saint John, to whom he turned the city over, surrendered to the beleaguering Turks just as the sixteenth century had reached its turning-point, and Turkish it has remained, at least in name, ever since.

We of the West can never be wholly indifferent to the fate and fortunes of this much-harassed land, for our flag has fluttered from its ramparts and the bayonets of our soldiers and the cutlasses of our sailors have served to write some of the most stirring chapters of its history. So feeble and nominal did the Turkish rule become that the beginning of the last century found Tripolitania little more than a pirate stronghold, ruled by a pasha who had not only successfully defied, but had actually levied systematic tribute upon, every sea-faring nation in the world. It was not, however, until the Pasha of Tripoli overstepped the bounds of our national complaisance by demanding an increase in the annual tribute of eighty-odd thousand dollars which the United States had been paying as the price of its maritime exemption that the American consul handed him an ultimatum and an American war-ship backed it up with the menace of its guns. Standing forth in picturesque and striking relief from the tedium of the four years' war which ensued was the capture by the Tripolitans in 1803 of the frigate Philadelphia, which had run aground in the harbour of Tripoli, and the enslavement of her crew; her subsequent recapture and destruction by a handful of blue-jackets under the intrepid [Pg 83] Decatur; and the heroic march across the desert to Derna of General William Eaton and his motley army.

Eaton's exploit, like that of Reid and the General Armstrong at Fayal, seems to have been all but lost in the mazes of our national history. With the object of placing upon the Tripolitan throne the reigning Pasha's exiled elder brother, who had agreed to satisfy all the demands of the United States, William Eaton, soldier of fortune, frontiersman, and former American consul at Tunis, recruited at Alexandria what was thought to be a ridiculously insufficient expeditionary force for the taking of Derna, a strongly fortified coast town six hundred miles due west across the Libyan desert. With a handful of adventurous Americans, some two-score Greeks, who fought the Turk whenever opportunity offered, and a few squadrons of Arab mercenaries—less than five hundred men in all—he set out under the blazing sun of an African spring. Though his Arabs mutinied, his food and water gave out, and his animals died from starvation and exhaustion, Eaton pushed indomitably on, covering the six hundred miles of burning sand in fifty days, carrying the city by storm, and raising the American flag over its citadel—the first and only time it has ever floated over a fortification on that side of the Atlantic.

A territory larger than all the Atlantic States, from Florida to Maine, put together; a dry climate as hot in summer and as cold in winter as that of New Mexico; a surface which varies between the aridity of the Staked [Pg 84] Plains and the fertility of the San Joaquin Valley of California; so sparsely populated that its fanatic, turbulent, poverty-stricken population averages but two inhabitants to the square mile—that is Tripolitania. Bounded on the west by Tunisia and the French and on the east by Egypt and the English, the hinterland of the regency stretches into the Sahara as far as the Tropic of Cancer. Its eleven hundred miles of coast-line set squarely in the middle of the north African littoral; its capital almost equidistant from the Straits, the Dardanelles, and the Suez Canal; and half the great ports of the Mediterranean not twelve hours' steam away, the strategical, political, and commercial position of Tripolitania is one of great importance.

Tripolitania, as the regency should properly be called, or Libya, as the Italians have classically renamed it, consists of four more or less distinctly defined divisions: Tripoli, Fezzan, Benghazi, and the Saharan oases. Under the Turkish régime the districts of Tripoli and Fezzan have formed a vilayet under a vali, or governor-general; Benghazi has been a separately administered province under a mutes-sarif directly responsible to Constantinople, while the oases have not been governed at all. The district of Tripoli, which occupies the entire northwestern portion of the regency, is for the most part an interminable stony table-land, riverless, waterless, and uninhabited save along the fertile coast. The stretches of yellow sand which the traveller sees from the deck of his ship are not, as he fondly imagines, the edge of the Sahara, but merely [Pg 85] sand dunes blown in by the sea, such as may be seen elsewhere on the Mediterranean coast.

Sloping from these coastal sand dunes up to the barren interior plateau is a zone, averaging perhaps five miles in width, of an altogether remarkable fertility, for its deep ravines, filled with considerable streams during the winter rains, continue to send down a supply of subterranean water even during the dry season. By means of countless wells, round and round which blindfolded donkeys and oxen plod ceaselessly, the water is drawn up into reservoirs and conducted thence to the fields. In this coast oasis it is harvest-time all the year round, for, notwithstanding the primitive agricultural implements of the natives and their crude system of irrigation, the soil is amazingly productive. From April to June almonds, apricots, and corn are gathered in; in July and August come the peaches; from July to September is the vintage season, and the Tripolitan grapes vie with those of Sicily; from July to September the black tents of the nomad date and olive pickers dot the fields, though the yellow date of the coast is not to be spoken of in the same breath with the luscious, mahogany-coloured fruit of the interior oases; from November to April the orange groves are ablaze with a fruit which rivals that of Jaffa; the early spring sees the shipment of those “Malta potatoes” which are quoted on the menus of every fashionable hostelry and restaurant in Europe; while lemons are to be had for the picking at almost any season of the year.

Southward into the Sahara from the southern borders of Tripoli stretches the province of Fezzan, its inaccessibility, its prevalent malaria, and its deadly heat having popularised it with Abdul-Hamid, of unsavoury memory, as a place of exile for disgraced courtiers and overpopular officials, presumably because of the exceeding improbability of any of them ever coming back. Artesian wells and scientific farming have proved in other and equally discouraging quarters of Africa, however, that the words “desert” and “worthless” are no longer synonymous, so there is no reason to believe that the agricultural miracles which France has performed in Algeria and Tunisia on the one hand, and England in Egypt and the Sudan on the other, could not be successfully attempted by the Italians in Fezzan. Arid and inhospitable as this region appears to-day, it should be remembered that its Greek and Roman colonists boasted of it as “the granary of Europe.” What has been done once may well be done again. All that this soil needs, after its centuries of impoverishment and neglect, is decent treatment, and any one who has seen those vineyards on the slopes of Capri and those farmsteads clinging to the rocky hill-sides of Calabria, where soil of any kind is so precious that every inch is tended with pathetic care, will predict a promising agricultural future for an Italian Tripolitania. In its physical aspects, northern Tripolitania resembles Europe much more than it does Africa; its climate is no warmer than southern Italy in summer and not nearly as unhealthy as the Campagna [Pg 87] Romana; while its soil, as I have already remarked, holds great possibilities for patient, hardy, frugal, industrious agriculturists of the type of those twenty thousand Sicilians who are forced by poverty to emigrate each year to America or the Argentine. Keeping these facts in mind, one does not have to seek far for the causes which underlay Italy's sudden aggression.
For sheer majesty and grandeur, the only thing that is at all comparable with a Saharan sunrise is daybreak in the Grand Ca?on of the Colorado.

Reaching Egyptward in the form of a mighty fist is the peninsula of Barka, the Cyrenaica of the ancients, officially known as the Mutessariflik of Benghazi, its many natural advantages of climate, soil, and vegetation making it the most favoured region in the regency, if not, indeed, in all North Africa. While the climate and vegetation of southern Tripoli and of Fezzan are distinctly Saharan, the date-palm being the characteristic tree, Benghazi is just as decidedly Mediterranean, its fertile, verdure-clad uplands being covered with groves of oak, cypress, olive, fig, and pine. Though well supplied with rain and, as I have said, extremely fertile, the Benghazi province, once the richest of the Greek colonies, is now but scantily populated. Scattered along its coasts are Benghazi, the capital, with an inextricably mixed population and one of the worst harbours in the world; Tobruk, which, because of its excellent roadstead and its proximity to the Egyptian frontier and the Canal, Germany has long had a covetous eye on; and the insignificant ports of Derna and Khoms, the lawless highlands of the interior being occupied by hordes of warlike and nomadic Arabs [Pg 88] who acknowledge no authority other than their tribal sheikhs.

South by east into the Libyan Desert straggle the Aujila and Kufra chains of oases, marking the course of the historic caravan route to Upper Egypt and presenting the aspect of a long, winding valley, extending from the Benghazi plateau almost to the banks of the Nile. Underground reservoirs lie so near the surface of the desert that all of these sand-surrounded islands have water in abundance, that of Jof, for example, supporting over a million date-palms and several thousand people, together with their camels, horses, and goats.

Such, in brief, bold outline, are the more salient characteristics—climatic, agricultural, and geographical—of the region which Italy has seized. Everything considered, it was not such a long look ahead that the Italian statesmen took when they decided to play their cards for such a stake. Though neither soil nor climate has changed since the days of Tripolitania's ancient prosperity, centuries of wretched and corrupt Turkish rule, with its system of absentee landlords and irresponsible officials, has reduced the peasantry to the same state of dull and despairing apathy in which the Egyptian fellaheen were before the English came. If Tripolitania is to be redeemed, and I firmly believe that it will be, the work of regeneration cannot be done by government railways and subsidised steam-ship lines and regiments of brass-bound officials, but by patient, painstaking, plodding men with artesian-well drilling machines and steam-ploughs and barrels of fertiliser. It [Pg 89] may well be, as the Italian expansionists enthusiastically declare, that Tripolitania constitutes a “New Italy” lying at the very ports of old Italy, but it is going to take many, many millions of lire and much hard work to make it worth the having.

To those unaccustomed to the sights and sounds and smells of the East, a visit to the town of Tripoli is more interesting than enjoyable. Both its harbour and its hostelry are so incredibly bad that no one ever visits them a second time if he can possibly help it. The harbour of Jaffa, in Palestine, is a trifle worse, if anything, than that of Tripoli; but the only hotel I know of which deserves to be classed with the Albergo Minerva in Tripoli is the one next door to the native jail in Aden. Picture a cluster of square, squat, stuccoed houses, their tedious sky-lines broken by the minarets of mosques and the flagstaffs of foreign consulates, facing on a crescent-shaped bay. Under the sun of an African summer the white buildings of the town blaze like the whitewashed base of a railway-station stove at white heat; the stretch of yellow beach which separates the harbour from the town glows fiery as brass; while the waters of the bay look exactly as though they had been blued in readiness for the family washing. Within the crumbling ramparts of the town is a network of dim alleys and byways, along which the yashmaked Moslem women flit like ghosts, and vaulted, trellis-roofed bazaars where traders of two-score nationalities haggle and gesticulate and doze and pray and chatter the while they and their wares and the passing camels [Pg 90] smell to heaven. Scattered here and there among the shops are native bakeries, in the reeking interiors of which, after your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you can discern patient camels plodding round and round and round, grinding the grain in true Eastern fashion between the upper and the nether millstones.

Follow the narrow Strada della Marina past the custom-house, where the Italian sentry peers at you suspiciously from beneath the bunch of cock's feathers which adorns his helmet; past the odorous fish-market and so into the unpaved, unlighted, foul-smelling quarter of the Jews, and your path will be blocked eventually by the sole remaining relic of Tripoli's one-time greatness, the marble arch of triumph erected by the Romans in the reign of Antoninus Pius, now half-buried in débris, its chiselled boasts of victory mutilated, and its arches ruthlessly plastered up, the shop of a dealer in dried fish. In that defaced and degraded memorial is typified the latter-day history of Tripolitania. Before the Italian occupation disrupted the commerce of the country and isolated Tripoli from the interior, by long odds the most interesting of the city's sights were the markets, which were held upon the beach on the arrival of the trans-Saharan caravans, for they afforded the foreigner fleeting but characteristic glimpses, as though on a moving-picture screen, of those strange and savage peoples—Berbers, Hausas, Tuaregs, Tubbas, and Wadaians—who are retreating farther and farther into the recesses of the continent before the white man's implacable advance.

All down the ages Tripoli has been the gateway through which weapons, cutlery, and cotton have entered, and slaves, ostrich feathers, and ivory have come out of inner Africa by plodding caravan. Since the sons of Ham first found their way across the wilderness of Shur, this region has been the terminus of three historic trade routes. The first of these runs due south across the desert to Lake Tchad and the great native states of Kanem, Sokoto, Bagirmi, and Wadai; the second follows a southwesterly course across the Sahara to the Great Bend of the Niger and the storied city of Timbuktu; while the third, going south by east, long carried British cottons and German jack-knives to the natives of Darfur and the Sudan. Is it any wonder, then, that, fired by the speeches of the expansionists in the Roman senate, all Italy should dream of a day when the red-white-and-green banner should float over this gateway to Africa and endless lines of dust-coloured camels, laden with glass beads from Venice and cotton goods from Milan, should go rolling southward to those countries which lie beyond the great sands? But, lost in the fascination of their dream, the Italians forgot one thing: modern commerce cannot go on the back of a camel. No longer may Tripolitania be reckoned the front door, or even the side door, to central Africa. As the result of French and British encroachment and enterprise, not only has nearly all of the Tripolitanian hinterland been absorbed by one or the other of these powers, but, what is of far more commercial importance, they have succeeded in diverting the large and important [Pg 92] caravan trade of which the Italians dreamed, and which for centuries has found its way to the sea through Tripoli, to their own ports on the Nile, the Senegal, and the Niger, leaving to Tripolitania Italiana nothing but its possibilities as an agricultural land.

The statesmen who planned, and the soldiers and sailors who executed, the seizure of Tripolitania, were obeying a voice from the grave. Though the overwhelming disaster to the Italians at Adowa in 1896, when their army of invasion was wiped out by Menelik's Abyssinian tribesmen, caused the political downfall of Crispi, the greatest Italian of his time, his dream of Italian colonial expansion, like John Brown's soul, went marching on. With the vision of a prophet that great statesman saw that the day was not far distant when the steady increase in Italy's population and production would compel her to acquire a colonial market oversea. Crispi lies mouldering in his grave, but the Italian Government, in pursuance of the policy which he inaugurated, has been surreptitiously at work in Tripolitania these dozen years or more.

Never has that forerunner to annexation known as “pacific penetration” been more subtly or more systematically conducted. Even the Pope lent the government's policy of African aggrandisement his sanction, for is not the Moslem the hereditary foe of the church, and does not the cross follow close in the wake of Christian bayonets? Italian convents and monasteries dot the Tripolitanian littoral, while cowled and sandalled missionaries from the innumerable Italian [Pg 93] orders have carried the gospel, and the propaganda of Italian annexation, to the oppressed and poverty-stricken peasantry of the far interior. Under the guise of scientists, Italian political and commercial agents have been quietly investigating the problems and possibilities of the regency from end to end, while the powerful Banco di Roma, an institution backed with the funds of the Holy See, through its branches in Tripoli and Benghazi, has been systematically buying up arable farm-lands from the impoverished peasantry at a few lire the hectare, which quadrupled in value with the landing of the first Italian soldier.

Though prior to the war there were probably not two thousand native-born Italians in the whole of Tripolitania, the numerous Jews, in whose hands was practically the entire trade of the country, were offered inducements of one kind and another to become Italian subjects, Italy thus laying a foundation for her claims to predominating interests in that region. On the pretext that the Turkish authorities had tampered with the foreign mail-bags, Italy demanded and obtained permission to establish her own post-offices at the principal ports, so that for many years past the anomalous spectacle has been presented, just as in other portions of the Turkish Empire, of letters from a Turkish colony being franked with surcharged Italian stamps. The most ingenious stroke, however, was the establishment of numerous Italian schools—and very good schools they are—where the young idea, whether Arab, Maltese, or Jew, has been taught to shoot—along Italian lines.

To those really conversant with the situation, Italy's pretexts that the activities of her subjects resident in Tripolitania had been interfered with and their lives and interests seriously endangered sound somewhat hollow. To tell the truth, Italians have had a freer rein in the regency—and, incidentally, have caused more trouble—than any other people. Italy's real reasons for the seizure of Tripolitania were two, and only two: first, she wanted it; and second, she could get it.

Now that she has Tripolitania in her grasp, however, her task is but begun, for setting forward the hands of progress by occupation of Moslem territory has ever been a perilous proceeding. Though France shouldered the white man's burden in Algeria with alacrity, she paid for the privilege with just forty years of fighting; it took England, with all the resources of her colonial experience and her colonial army, sixteen years to conquer the ill-armed Arabs of the Sudan, while the desperate resistance of the Mad Mullah and his fanatic tribesmen has compelled her practically to evacuate Somaliland; overthrown ministries, depleted war-chests, and thousands of unmarked graves in the hinterland bear witness to the deep solicitude displayed for the cause of civilisation in Morocco by both France and Spain; Russia spent a quarter of a century and the lives of ten thousand soldiers in forcing her beneficent rule on the Moslems of Turkestan. Italy will be more fortunate than her colonising neighbours, therefore, if she emerges unscathed from her present Tripolitanian adventure, [Pg 95] for every page of the history of latter-day colonisation proves that seizure of Moslem territory never ends with a naval demonstration, a landing party, a staff with a descending and an ascending flag, and the flash and thunder of a national salute.

When Italy pointed the noses of her transports Tripoliward she committed the incredible blunder of underestimating for a second time the resistance that she would encounter. She made just such a mistake some years ago in Abyssinia, and the plain of Adowa is still sprinkled with the bleaching bones of her annihilated army. The Italian agents in Tripolitania had assured their government that, as a result of Turkish oppression, corruption, and overtaxation, the Turks were heartily disliked by the Tripolitanians—all of which was perfectly true. But when they went on to say that the Tripolitanians would welcome the expulsion of the Turks and the substitution of an Italian régime, they overshot the mark. In other words, the Tripolitanians much preferred to be ill-treated by the Turks, who are their coreligionists, than to be well-treated by the Italians, who are despised unbelievers. The Italians, having had no previous experience with Moslem peoples, landed at Tripoli with every expectation of being welcomed as saviours by the native population. It is quite true that the natives gave the Italians an exceedingly warm reception—with rifles and machine guns. Here, then, were some sixty thousand Italian soldiers, who had anticipated about as much trouble in taking Tripolitania as we should in taking Hayti, instead [Pg 96] of being permitted to play the jaunty and picturesque r?les of deliverers from oppression, being forced to battle desperately for their lives against the very people whom they had come to save and civilise. It was a graphic instance of the workings of Mohammedanism. How Kitchener and Cromer, those two grim men who have had more experience than any other Europeans in fighting and governing Mohammedans, must have smiled to themselves when they read the Italian statements that the taking of Tripolitania meant only a campaign of a fortnight.

To comprehend thoroughly the peculiar situation in which Italy finds herself, you should understand that the portly, sleepy-eyed, good-natured old gentleman who theoretically rules Turkey under the title of Mohammed V is, politically speaking, as much a dual personality as Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde. As Sultan of Turkey, or, to give him his proper title, Emperor of the Ottomans, he is the nominal ruler of some twenty-four millions of divided, discontented, and disgruntled Turkish subjects—Osmanlis, Arabs, Syrians, Armenians, Circassians, Bulgars, Greeks, Jews—and in that capacity plays no great part in ordering the affairs of the world. But Mohammed V is more than Sultan of Turkey: he is likewise Successor of the Prophet, Commander of the Faithful, and Caliph of all Islam, and as such is the spiritual and temporal leader of the two hundred and twenty millions who compose the Moslem world. Nor is there any way of disassociating the two offices. In making war on the Sultan of Turkey, therefore, [Pg 97] Italy automatically made war on the chief of all Mohammedans, thus shaking her fist in the face not alone of a nation but of a religion—and the most militant and fanatical of all religions at that. There is not a wearer of turban or tarboosh between the Gold Coast and the China coast, be he Hausa, Tuareg, Berber, Moor, Algerian, Tunisian, Tripolitanian, Egyptian, Sudanese, Somali, Arab, Kurd, Turk, Circassian, Persian, Turkoman, Afghan, Sikh, Indian, Malay, or Moro, who does not regard Italy's aggression in Tripolitania as an affront to himself and to his faith.

Among all Moslems there is growing an ominous unrest, a fierce consciousness that the lands which they have for centuries regarded as their own are gradually slipping from them, and a decision that they must fight or disappear. On the Barbary coast, the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, and the Zambezi they see the turbans and the tarbooshes retreating before the white helmets' implacable advance, and now they see even the Ottoman throne, to them a great throne, shaking under the pressure. Hence there is not a Moslem in the world to-day who will remain indifferent to any action which hints at the dismemberment of Turkey, for he knows full well that the fate of the Ottoman Empire and the political fortunes of Islam are inextricably interwoven.

That Italy can hold the Tripolitanian coast towns as long as her ammunition, her patience, and her public purse hold out, no one acquainted with the conditions of modern warfare will attempt to deny. Unless, however, the militant section of Islam, of which this region [Pg 98] is the very focus, can be induced to acquiesce in an Italian occupation, the life of an Italian soldier who ventures out of range of his war-ships' guns will not be worth an hour's purchase. Hordes of fanatical, desert-bred Arabs, inured to hardship, deadly sun, scanty food, and dearth of water, mounted on swift camels and as familiar with the trackless desert as the woodsman is with the forest in which he works, ablaze with a religion which assures them that the one sure way to paradise is to die in battle with the unbelievers, can harass the Italian army of occupation for years to come by a guerilla warfare. Even though Turkey agrees to surrender Tripolitania and to withdraw her garrisons from that province, Italy will still have far from smooth sailing, for the simple reason that she is not fighting Turks alone, but Moslems, and, as a result of her ill-advised slaughter of the Arabs, she has made the Moslem population of Tripolitania permanently hostile. Most significant of all, the Arab resistance to an Italian advance into the interior of the country will be directed, controlled, and financed by that sinister and mysterious power known as the Brotherhood of the Senussiyeh.

To American ears the word “Senussiyeh” doubtless conveys but little meaning, but to the French administrateurs in Algeria and Tunisia, and to the officers of the Military Intelligence Department in Egypt and the Sudan, it is a word of ominous import. Though the Brotherhood of the Senussiyeh is, without much doubt, the most powerful organisation of its kind in the world, so complete is the veil of secrecy behind which it works [Pg 99] that comparatively little is definitely known as to its designs, ramifications, and resources. Briefly, it is a secret Moslem society, organised about a century ago by an Algerian dervish, Mohammed ben Ali ben Es Senussi, from whom it takes its name; its object is the restoration of the Mohammedan religion to its original purity, austerity, and political power, the first step toward which is the expulsion of the Christian from Moslem lands; its initiated members, scattered throughout the Mohammedan world, have been variously estimated at from five to fifteen millions; the present grand master of the order, Senussi Ahmed-el-Sherif, the third of the succession, is admittedly a man of exceptional intelligence, resource, and sagacity; his monastic court at Jof, in the oasis of Kufra, five hundred miles, as the camel goes, south of Benghazi and about the same distance from the Nile, is the capital of a power whose boundaries are the boundaries of Islam.

It is no secret that the growing power of the Senussiyeh is causing considerable concern to the military and political officials of those European nations that have possessions in North Africa, for, in addition to the three-hundred-odd zawias, or monasteries, scattered along the African littoral from Egypt to Morocco, the long arm of the order reaches down to the mysterious oases which dot the Great Sahara, it embraces the strange tribes of the Tibesti highlands, it controls the robber Tuaregs and the warlike natives who occupy the regions adjacent to Lake Tchad, and is, as the [Pg 100] French and British have discovered, a power to be reckoned with in the protected states of Kanem, Sokoto, Bagirmi, Bornu, and Wadai.

The organisation of the order is both strong and simple. The khuan, or brothers, whose names are carefully recorded in the books of the mother lodge at Jof, owe unquestioning obedience to the mokaddem, or prefect, in charge of the district to which they belong. Each mokaddem has under his orders a corps of secret agents, known as wekils, whose duty is to keep him constantly in touch with all that is going on in his district and to communicate his instructions to the brothers. On Grand Bairam—the Mohammedan Easter—the mokaddems meet in conclave at Jof, on which occasion the spiritual and political condition of the order is discussed and its course of action decided on for the ensuing year. Above the mokaddems, and acting as an intermediary between them and the veiled and sacred person of the Senussi himself, is a cabinet of viziers, who, by means of a remarkable system of camel couriers, are enabled to keep constantly in touch with all the districts of the order.

At Jof, from which no European investigator has ever returned, are centred all the threads of this vast organism. There is kept the war-chest of the order, constantly increased by large and small contributions from true believers all over the world, for every member of the Senussiyeh who has a total income of more than twenty dollars a year must contribute two and one half per cent of it to the order annually; there the Senussi [Pg 101] has established depots of stores and war material and factories for the manufacture, or rather the assembling, of modern fire-arms; thither come to him from the obscure harbours of the Tripolitanian coast cargoes of arms and ammunition; thither flock pilgrims from North and West Africa, from the Niger and from the Nile, to receive his orders and to seek his blessing; there is centred one of the most remarkable secret-service systems in the world, its agents not alone in every corner of the Mohammedan world, but likewise keeping their fingers ever on the political pulse of Europe.

A place better fitted for its purpose than Jof it would be hard to imagine. Here, surrounded by inhospitable desert, with wells a long day's camel-ride apart, and the route known only to experienced and loyal guides, the Senussi has been free to educate, drill, and arm his disciples, to accumulate great stores of arms and ammunition, and to push forward his propaganda of a regenerated and reinvigorated Islam, without any possibility of interference from the Christian nations. There seems to be but little doubt that factories have been erected at Jof for the assembling of weapons of precision, the materials for which have been systematically smuggled across the Mediterranean from Greece and Turkey for years past. Strange as it may sound, these factories are under the direction of skilled engineers and mechanics, for so well laid are the plans of the order that it annually sends a number of Moslem youths to be educated in the best technical schools of Europe. Upon completing their courses of instruction [Pg 102] they return to Jof, or other centres of Senussiyeh activity, to place their trained services at the disposal of the order, others being sent Europeward to be educated in their turn. The Senussiyeh's military affairs are equally well organised, the Arabs, than whom there is admittedly no finer fighting material in the world, being instructed along European lines, modified for desert warfare, by veteran drill-masters who have learned their trade in the native armies of England and France. The nucleus of this mobile and highly effective force is, so I am told by French officials in Africa, an admirably mounted and equipped camel corps of five thousand men which the Senussi keeps always on a war footing in the Kufra oases. These facts in themselves prove definitely that it would be no sporadic resistance, but a vast, organised movement, armed with improved weapons, trained by men who learned their business under European drill-masters, and directed by a high intelligence, with which Italy would have to reckon should she attempt the hazardous experiment of an advance in the real hinterland of Tripolitania.

Let me make it perfectly clear that the grand master of the Senussiyeh is a man of altogether exceptional ability. Under his direction the order has advanced with amazing strides, for he is a remarkable organiser and administrator, two qualities rarely found among the Arabs. The destruction of the Mahdi and of the Khalifa, and the more recent dethronement of Abdul-Hamid, resulted in bringing a large accession of force to his standard by the extinction of all religious authority [Pg 103] in Africa except his own. Though the Sultan of Turkey is, as I have said, the titular head of the Moslem religion, and is venerated as such wherever praying-rugs are spread, the chief of this militant order is undoubtedly regarded by the average Mohammedan as the most actively powerful figure, if not as the saviour, of Islam. The first Senussi was powerful enough to excommunicate the Sultan Abdul-Medjid from the order because of his intimacy with the European powers; the father of the present Khedive of Egypt was accustomed to address the second Senussi in such terms as a disciple would use to a prophet, while Abbas Hilmi II, the reigning Khedive, a few years ago journeyed across the Libyan desert to pay his respects to the present head of the order.

Those who are in a position to know whereof they speak believe that the Senussiyeh would actively oppose any attempt on the part of the Italians to occupy the hinterland of Tripolitania, for it is obvious that such an occupation would not alone bring the Christian in dangerous proximity to the chief stronghold of the order, but it would effectually cut off the supplies of arms and ammunition which caravans in the pay of the Senussiyeh have regularly been transporting to Jof from obscure ports on the Tripolitanian coast. It has been the policy of the Senussiyeh, supported by the Turkish administration in Tripolitania, to close the regions under its control to Christians, so it is scarcely likely that it would do other than resist an Italian penetration of the country, even in the face of a Turkish [Pg 104] evacuation. Though the order encouraged resistance to the French advance in the Sudan, considering that the extension of the French sphere of influence threatened its own prestige in those regions, it has, as a rule, refrained from displaying antagonism toward the rulers of the adjoining regions. Aside from proselytism, the Senussiyeh has performed a great work in the Sahara in the colonisation and cultivation of the oases, the encouragement of trade, the building of rest-houses, the sinking of wells, and the protection of trans-Saharan caravans.

Stripped of the glamour and exaggeration with which sensational writers and superficial travellers have invested the subject, it is apparent that the Senussi controls a very wide-spread and powerful organisation—an organisation probably unique in the world. As a fighting element his followers are undoubtedly far superior to the wild and wretchedly armed tribesmen who charged the British squares so valorously at Abu Klea and Omdurman and who wiped out an Italian army in the Abyssinian hills. Their remarkable mobility, their wonderful powers of endurance, their large supplies of the swift and hardy racing-camel known as hegin, and their marvellous knowledge of this great, inhospitable region, coupled with the fact that they can always retreat to their bases in the desert, where civilised troops cannot follow them, are all advantages of which the Senussi and his followers are thoroughly aware.

Although the Senussi is, as I have shown, amply [Pg 105] capable of causing the Italians serious trouble, it is very unlikely that he will prove actively hostile if they refrain from encroaching upon those remote regions which he looks upon as his own. Italy will have her hands full with the development of the coastal regions for many years to come, so, if she is wise, she will leave the interior of the country severely alone, recognise the religious authority of the Senussi, and, if possible, effect some such working agreement with him as England has done with an equally dangerous neighbour, the Amir of Afghanistan.

From the glimpses which I have given you of the inhospitable character of Tripolitania and the still more inhospitable people who inhabit it, it will be seen that Italy's task does not end with the ousting of the Turk. She has set her hand to the plough, however, and started it upon a long and arduous and very costly furrow, the end of which no man can see. For a nation to have a colony, or colonies, wherein she can turn loose the overflow of her population and still keep them under her own flag, is an undeniable asset, particularly when the colony is as accessible from the mother country as Libya [1] (for we must accustom ourselves to the new name sooner or later) is from Italy. But if Italy is to be a success as a colonising nation she must school herself to do things differently in Tripolitania from what she has in her other African dependencies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

[1] The Italians have given their new possession the historic name of Libya.

First and foremost, she must pick the men who are to settle her new colony as carefully as she picks the men [Pg 106] for her carabinieri, choosing them with a view to their intelligence, industry, energy, and sobriety, for to flood Tripolitania with such a class of emigrants as every vessel from Italy dumps on our hospitable shores is but to invite disaster.

Secondly, she must impress on these colonists the imperative necessity of keeping on friendly terms with the natives, who are, after all, the real owners of the soil, and of obtaining their co-operation in the development of the country. The Arab, remember, unlike the negro, cannot be bullied and domineered with impunity, Germany's African colonies providing significant examples of the failures which invariably result from ill-treatment of the native population.

Thirdly, there must be no “absentee landlordism,” the future of the colony largely depending, to my way of thinking, upon frugal, hard-working peasant farmers, owning their own farms, whose prosperity will thus be indissolubly linked with that of the colony.

Lastly, all local questions of administration should be taken entirely out of the hands of Rome and left to “the man on the spot,” for history is filled with the chronicles of promising colonies which have been ship-wrecked on the rocks of a highly centralised form of government.

If the Italians will take these things to heart, I believe that their conquest of Tripolitania will prove, in the end, for the country's own best good, contributing to its peace and to the welfare of its inhabitants, native as well as foreign, and that it will promote the opening [Pg 107] up of the dark places to civilisation, if not to Christianity—for the Moslem does not change his faith. When, therefore, all is said and done, I cannot but feel that the cross of the House of Savoy portends more good to Africa in general, and to Tripolitania in particular, than would ever the star and crescent.

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