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Giving Mark Latham a history lesson

By Helen Pringle - posted Monday, 30 November 2015

An earlier version of this essay noted that "Latham actually quizzed his fellow discussants as to whether they are 'practising' Muslims". Mr Latham has brought to our attention that it was Pauline Hanson who asked this question. The sentence has been deleted. The author sincerely apologises to Mr Latham for her mistake on this count, and for any anguish it caused him.

Mark Latham took his place on the Nine Network's The Verdict on 12 November, sitting next to Pauline Hanson for a panel discussion[VIDEO] of whether multiculturalism 'works', the hook for the discussion being the anniversary of the 2005 Cronulla 'race riots'. In his contribution to the discussion, Latham addressed the question of multiculturalism in our collective memory.

Latham's intervention in the discussion was sparked by a comment of former Senator Amanda Vanstone, who noted, 'I think people forget that there were Muslims who fought with the Imperial Forces with us in Gallipoli against a Caliphate. You know, we like to rave on about Gallipoli, it's all about where Australia started and who we are, but we fought side by side with Muslims'. With raised eyebrow and rolling eyes, Latham interjected that 'Gallipoli was an imperial invasion to fight against Islam…Let's just deal with reality. Rewriting history, Amanda, doesn't help. It doesn't help. It doesn't help.'


Latham's mini-lecture on Gallipoli represented another clumsy attempt by him to impugn the civic loyalty of Muslims, and in particular the loyalty of Australian Muslims. In an earlier episode of The Verdict, on 8 October, after the shooting of Curtis Chang, Latham had asserted that western Sydney has 'a Muslim problem', saying,'this is just not radical Islamic ideology, it is also people with too much time on their hands, too many opportunities to sit around in groups, bitching about western culture, bitching about the American President, bitching about the Australian Prime Minister, and getting up to no good'.

Latham's interpretation of Australian military participation in World War I as part of a 'fight against Islam' is so risible that it is unlikely to find support from historians or anyone else any time soon. However, his denial that Australian troops fought with Muslims in Gallipoli (or in the World Wars more generally, as mentioned by Osman Faruqi on the Verdict) is likely to find greater resonance.

For example, even many Indians are reportedlynot cognisant of the record of the Indian Army in the World Wars. Many French and Belgian people do not know of this record, even though around 9000 Indians were killed on the Western Front, and know little of the participation of Muslims in their own armies. And Australians know little of this record, even though Indian soldiers, including Muslims, fought alongside their ancestors at Gallipoli as well as in other theatres of war including the Western Front.

Peter Stanley's remarkable new book, Die in Battle, Do not Despair: The Indians on Gallipoli, 1915,provides a revised estimate of the number of Indian troops involved in the Gallipoli campaign that places their number as equivalent to about a third of the Australian commitment there. Around 15000 or 16000 Indian troops served in the Gallipoli campaign, and of these, about 1600 were killed, and 7000 were on the casualty list. Stanley notes that this participation of the Indian Army at Gallipoli has not been the subject of any comprehensive historical study to now. It is not taught in school history modules. And certainly there has been no iconic film made along these lines.

Stanley also draws from contemporary accounts, letters, reports and photographs to indicate that both Australians and Indians frequently remarked on the mutual friendship between the troop contingents at Gallipoli. (These sources also provide valuable support for the argument that White Australia was more a top-down policy of an authoritarian state rather than a response to popular views about race.) It should also be noted in this context that the Australian soldiers in Gallipoli, or in World War !, were not all white or of Christian background.

The illustrated report of the Adelaide Observer of 18 August 1915is illustrative of the 'camaraderie' noted between Australian soldiers and the Indian Mountain Batteries, for example, on Gallipoli. Various writers also noted that the experience of being 'the greatest pals' often led Australian soldiers to change their perspectives on non-white immigration into Australia. In 1916, the Gallipoli chaplain T.P. Bennett presented a lecture (with lantern slides) of his experience at various meetings in small Australian towns, in which he repeatedly stressed the potential implications of Gallipoli for the White Australia Policy.


For example, Rev Bennett's lecture at Koroit was reportedin these terms: 'The Australians owed the Indians a great debt of gratitude for help in many ways, and how the British or Australians were going to get over the white Australia policy he did not know, for the Indians were always ready to give up their lives for the Empire, and were the bravest of the brave.'

The Indian participation at Gallipoli was part of the larger-scale participation of the Indian Army in the imperial wars. In regard toWorld War I, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has counted [PDF] 7,815 men and women from 'Undivided India' (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Burma] with identified burial places, and a further 66,372 commemorated on memorials.

For World War II, there are 18,220 identified burials from 'Undivided India' (Burma not then included), with 68,820 commemorated in memorials. The CWGC notes, 'India's massive volunteer army suffered by far the heaviest losses', but the Royal India Navy, merchant services, and in World War II, the Royal Indian Air Force also played a part. As the CWGC notes, the Indian army in World War II was the largest volunteer army in the history of the world, numbering more than 2.5 million men and women.

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About the Author

Helen Pringle is in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Her research has been widely recognised by awards from Princeton University, the Fulbright Foundation, the Australian Federation of University Women, and the Universities of Adelaide, Wollongong and NSW. Her main fields of expertise are human rights, ethics in public life, and political theory.

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