Hussein Al-Alak: Where Do Arabs Come From?

By Hussein Al-alak
Special to

The recent terror attacks on London and Glasgow, by an alleged Al-Qaeda linked group of medical workers, has led many to question the causes behind the attack but has also raised questions in relation to the issues of migrant integration within the United Kingdom.

The attack has been condemned by various organisations but the question that has been missed by many, is in relation to the historical origins, which many Arab “subjects” actually come from.

Charlotte Higgins, the arts correspondent for the British based Guardian newspaper reported in 2006, that a Roman document dated from around AD400 and called the Notitia Dignitatum, described how a unit of Iraqi’s (ancient Mesopotamia) were reported to have patrolled the English northern area of what is now called South Shields.

Higgins explained that “While British soldiers battle it out in Iraq, spare a thought for this: troops from Iraq once occupied Britain.” Some historians have also claimed that Eastern troops for the Roman Empire, also lived and settled around the North East of England, where certain areas are believed to have once been called “Arabia”.

The BBC reported on June 7th 2007, that during the First World War, “In 1916 the Military Cross was awarded to a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers for "conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches".
The citation noted that he had braved "rifle and bomb fire" and that "owing to his courage and determination, all the killed and wounded were brought in".

The “captain” and “hero” in question was the celebrated poet and author Siegfried Sassoon, whose words are central to many poets in English literature and whose real life experience, within the trenches of France, was immortalised in the “factional” novel The Regeneration Trilogy by award winning author Pat Barker.

It is often forgot, that Siegfried Sassoon’s family were Sephardic Jews, who had flourished originally within Iraq and his grandfather was the first of his family to have arrived in England in 1858 and had come to the country as a result of the cotton trade.

In his 2004 paper “The Arab Population in the UK” Dr Ismail al-Jalili explained that there is now an estimated 500,000 Arabs now resident in the UK and that “In the 19th century, Yemeni seamen called Lascars sailed with British ships and many stayed to work in the docks and related industries, or the burgeoning rail network.”

“London’s East End, Tyneside, Liverpool and Cardiff became centres of small Arab communities. By 1948 there were nearly a thousand Arabs in Tyneside, some marrying local women, thus giving birth to the “British-Arab” identity that many native-born British-Arabs, especially those of mixed ancestry, are now establishing.”

The paper also explained ”the traditional trading skills of Syrians and Lebanese brought them to ‘Cottonopolis’ – Manchester.”
The Arab historian Albert Hourani, was also born and educated in Manchester in the early part of the last century and his father was also an elder to a local church within the city.

In the early 1900’s, my own relations lived and worked around coal mining in the North East of England. Within one house, lived eleven men and one woman, who each day tended to the needs and care of ten miners.

I remember nearly a hundred years later, at my grandmothers funeral in Manchester, her elderly brother and my great uncle patting me on the head and asking my mother “when will you teach this lad English?”

Protesting that I already speak English, all the adults laughed and my mother explained, that according to my uncle, who was born and bred in Newcastle, “you will only be Englishman when you speak like a Geordie“.

-The author is a regular contributor to; he is affiliated with the Iraq Solidarity Campaign

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