“Beloved Father”, “Darling Mother”: Race, Purity and the Divine Duty – Pedagogy as a Continuation of War in Gertrude Bell’s Mesopotamian Writings
“Darling Mother […] I'm most exceedingly well and deeply interested in my job. I feel at times rather like the Creator about the middle of the week. He must have wondered what it was going to be like, as I do.” Gertrude Bell, Baghdad, 5 December 1918 (a letter to her mother)
In the wake of World War I Great Britain pursued its first occupation, 1914–1920, (two more were to come: 1941–1945 and 2003–2004) of present day Iraq, then Mesopotamia; this was the birth of Iraq as a nation state under the tutelage of British administration. The occupation was pursued in close proximity to the adoption of the Hague Regulation of 1907 – the international law pertaining to occupation – which aimed at preserving ‘status quo’ during occupation: social, political and legislative reforms were outlawed or made permissible only as an exemption. A coalescence of International Humanitarian Law and colonial administration, the administration of the occupation of Mesopotamia targeted strategic areas: private and public property, taxation, the judiciary, healthcare, and education. Whereas private and public property, taxation and the judiciary were directly regulated by the Hague Regulation of 1907 and healthcare regulated by the laws of war, education was not. Indeed, it is not until 1949 that the maintenance of institutions for the care and education of children becomes one of (few) explicit duties of an occupying Power (IV Geneva Convention 1949, article 50, first paragraph). Even so, educating Iraqi children was one of the preoccupations of the administrators of Mesopotamia: special attention put on the proper education of the instructors, and in particular the language of instruction: English. In my paper I draw on the letters, diaries, official reports and creative writing of Gertrude Bell – colonial explorer, cartographer, archeologist, and one of the key persons in the administration of the occupation, 1914–1920. I do so in order to trace the making of the child a synecdoche for the new world – the future to come. The future to come involves the embodiment of a break with history (subjugation to Ottoman Turkish rule, the religious and customary fabric of the old society); it necessitates a reconstruction of the subject. By invoking race and purity, and by the means of pedagogy, the child in this respect becomes a figure of imagination and desire for the administrators: it becomes the surface for a continuation of war by means of pedagogy.
- International law of belligerent occupation,
- Gertrude Bell
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/matilda_arvidsson/47/