Politically Incorrect Diplomacy

“The other day I saw a group of young people with signs that said, ‘Make Love, not War.’ Trouble is—they looked like they weren’t able to do either!”- then-Governor Ronald Reagan, 1967


Most of you are familiar with the practice of Sati, or suttee, practiced in India and abolished by the British  General Napier – in an event that made history:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.

Very well.

Here’s another example of  courageous self confidence,  absent in our present era diplomats interacting with Muslim diplomats and officials from Islamic governments, discovered by Andrew Bostom:

How to Pray with a Vizier

A Timeless Lesson in Diplomacy Towards Muslim Nations

Today I came across this refreshing example of everything absent in our present era diplomats interacting with Muslim diplomats and officials from Islamic governments—erudition, self-confidence, courageous intellectual honesty, and even a sense of humor. These illustrative extracts describing Mr. Charles Alison’s exploits in Constantinople—a British diplomat respected by his Turkish Muslim counterparts—are from Sir A. Henry Layard’s autobiography. Layard (1817-1894) was a British polymath—an archaeologist, draftsman, art historian, author, politician, and diplomat, employed by Sir Stratford Canning, the British Ambassador to Turkey, in various diplomatic missions, from 1842-1845. Subsequently, Layard would serve as an envoy to Madrid, prior to returning to Constantinople as the British ambassador under Prime Minister Disraeli, from 1877 to 1880.

Sir A. Henry Layard,  Autobiography and Letters from His Childhood Until His Appointment as  H.M. Ambassador at Madrid,  Edited by the Hon.. William N. Bruce,  with a Chapter on His Parliamentary Career by the  RT. Honorable Sir Arthur Otway, in Two Volumes,  Vol. II., London, 1903.

Extracts from, Chapter III, “Politics and Society in Constantinople,” (1842-1845), pp. 75-80

Soon after my arrival at Constantinople I became very intimate with Mr. Charles Alison, who was then attached as Chief Interpreter, and afterwards became Oriental Secretary, to the British Embassy. The friendship which we then contracted lasted until his death, and was never clouded. He had real genius, and was singularly gifted. He was perhaps the man most highly endowed by nature that I have ever known. His qualities of head and heart were equally remarkable. He was generous, affectionate, unselfish, of the most amiable disposition and the most equal temper, and modest and retiring. He was an accomplished linguist, speaking and writing Turkish, Persian, Greek, and several European languages, with perfect facility, and having a sufficient knowledge of Arabic. He was a skillful musician, playing on several instruments, and would have been an accomplished artist had he given himself seriously to art. His memory was singularly tenacious, and, although he had not read much, he had retained all that he had read.

His remarkable talents were at once recognised by Sir Stratford Canning, who soon took him into his entire confidence, and made use of him in his most secret and delicate negotiations with the Turkish Ministers and the Porte.

A man of Alison’s character and original and somewhat eccentric habits was not likely to be a favourite at the Foreign Office. Although for many years, and under successive Ambassadors, he had had the almost exclusive conduct of the affairs of the Embassy at Constantinople, and had carried to a successful issue, by his extraordinary diplomatic skill, many questions of the utmost delicacy and moment, and had acquired the esteem and confidence of his chiefs, who had strongly recommended him for promotion and for employment in an independent position worthy of his abilities, and at the head of an important mission, it was not until 1860 that he was named H.M. Minister at Teheran, where he died in 1872.

In his intercourse with Turkish officials he maintained the same calm and equal demeanour as he showed in his intercourse with the Ambassador, was perfectly straight- forward and truthful, and scorned the petty intrigues upon which the agents employed by the foreign representatives at the Porte have generally relied to carry out the policy and instructions of their chiefs. This mode of dealing with the Turkish statesmen and officials pleased and gratified them, and enabled him to obtain far influence over them than any of his rivals. At the same time, he always showed a spirit of independence in his dealing with them, and made them feel that he was capable of resenting any attempt to deceive him. Many amusing anecdotes were current in Constantinople of his way of treating those, Mussulmans or Christians, who gave him cause of offence, and did not treat him with the respect which he considered his due.

Amongst them I remember the following. Sir Stratford Canning had sent him to transact some business of moment with the Grand Vizir, who was a Turk of the old school, notorious for his bigotry and intolerance. In the middle of a discussion the Prime Minister rose from his seat and proceeded to say his customary prayers on a carpet which an attendant had spread for him on the floor. He concluded them with the usual curse, very audibly and significantly uttered, upon all giaour, or infidels the name then given to all Christians indiscriminately and went through the motion of spitting over his right and left shoulders to show his horror of them ; he then resumed his seat, and renewed the conversation as if nothing had occurred to interrupt it. After a short interval Allison left the divan, and going into a corner of the room, began to repeat in Turkish an extemporary prayer in which he invoked similar curses upon the followers of Islam. The Pasha jumped up in a violent passion, and reminded him of the fate which, according to the Mussulman law, was reserved for those who dared to blaspheme the religion of Islam and its Prophet. Alison very quietly replied that, like the Pasha himself, he had only performed a duty by saying his prayers at that particular hour, and that he had no doubt that the denunciations they contained against Mohammedans were as much a matter of form, and of as little significance, as the curses which His Highness had a short time before launched against those who professed the Christian faith.

7 thoughts on “Politically Incorrect Diplomacy”

  1. I agree Gary. Our political ingrates could learn a lesson or two from Charles Allison.

  2. It seems to me that Alison missed a vital point in regards to the prayers…the islamist meant every word he said…Alison was only mimicking. Had he taken Islam more seriously, he would have actively worked with missionaries and supported the spread of the Gospel. Did he do that?

    I am not so sure that people like Alison helped at all. Had his administration understood Islam at all. Yet, there were people who did something about Islam…people like Balmoral who actually preached Christianity to Muslims because they were aware that there was a real need in Muslim communities to be freed from this ideology.

  3. @steiner:
    No, you missed the point, Alison knew perfectly well what he actually meant, this is known as irony.
    Today, any member of the foreign office doing anything of the sort would be forced – by their own people – to apologise. Back then people still had pride & loyalty.

    As to preaching Christianity to Muslims, why swap crutches for a cane?
    Teach atheism.

  4. AYAAN HERSI ALI promoting ‘NOMAD’
    You should see the podcast of Landline from tonight 26th Juluy 2010 available in a day or two.
    Go to:- http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/vodcast.htm
    …and subscribe at


    She has just allowed the discussion of islam to build to the next level in Australia.

    islam is dead in Australia!

  5. Wow that was one hell of a disclaimer, firstly. More interesting than the article quite honestly.
    Right. Clever guy that allison. He displayed quite good understanding of what islam was and was a proper diplomat. The other chap on the other hand just proved himself another ignorant idiot.
    Problem with islam is that it is the most misunderstood religion. Bigger problem is that most of those who dont understand it are muslims themselves. We’ve got little kids taught how to read the quran and actually can recite it but they have no idea what it means.
    That being said . .death to the infidels (read ignorant bigoted douches). Im so sick of hearing about bombs going off in my own country. If the extremists are that keen on blowing something up they should take themselves off to the sahara somewhere. Leave everybody else in peace.

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