by Eric Margolis
The fearsome Sudanese nationalist leader known as the "Mahdi" was a dire threat to his own nation, the neighbouring Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Egypt and the entire Christian world, proclaimed Britain's Imperial government. The Mahdi's Dervish army had taken Khartoum by storm and killed the saintly Sir Charles "Chinese" Gordon, British sirdar, or proconsul, of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
So the British Empire sent a "coalition" army of white troops and Egyptian native units up the Nile under the command of Lord Kitchener with orders to crush the Mahdi before his calls for freedom from British imperial rule for Muslim peoples might infect all Africa. The Dervishes mounted the first major Islamic resistance against European colonial occupation.
On Sept. 2, 1898, the British Army met the Dervish army outside Khartoum at Omdurmam. In spite of fanatical bravery by the Dervish cavalry and Nilotic tribesmen popularized by Rudyard Kipling as "Fuzzy-Wuzzies," their spears and broadswords were useless against Britain's field artillery and Maxim guns (machineguns), which mowed down the oncoming waves of cavalry. The Dervishes lost 10,000 dead and 16,000 wounded. British losses were 41 dead, 382 wounded. The modern age of industrial imperialism had dawned.
The British poet, Hillaire Beloc, summed it up well:
Whatever happens we have got
the Maxim gun and they have not.
Now, the newest Islamic bogeyman to threaten the West's colonial interests in the Mideast, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, is about to meet his fate as once again another imperial army, this time of U.S., British and Australian troops, marches up the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to lay fire and sword upon Baghdad.