Jeg har just færdiglæst Mary S. Lovell’s murstensværk A Rage To Live om Sir Richard Francis Burton og hans hustru Isabel. Om Burtons tid (1869-72) som britisk konsul i Damaskus skriver Lovell bl.a.:
Before he went to Syria his opinions were conventional enough, afterwards his anti-Semitism was pronounced. Damascus was home to a colony of 4,000 Jews, some of whom were ‘men of great wealth and affluene’.
Lidt over en snes af Damaskus’ mægtigste jøder havde under Burtons forgænger fået tildelt britisk statsborgerskab. I en fodnote citerer Mary Lovell følgende fra Richard Burtons The Jews, the Gipsy and El-Islam:
‘On January 26, 1849, an order from the Russian Consulate-General of Beirut obliged [jews of Russian origin] either to return home biennially in order to renew their passports or give up their nationality. They were then taken under the protecting wing of Great Britain by immense extertions of their co-religionists in … London …’
Vidre fortæller Lovell om, hvordan jøderne i Damaskus forsøgte at bestikke den nyankomne britiske konsul:
Richard wrote how, shortly after his arrival in Damascus, one of the Jewish moneylenders had come to him and, ‘patting me patronisingly on the back, told me he had thrre hundred cases for me, relative to collecting £60,000 worth of debts’. Richard, deeply affronted, told him he had better hire himself a debt-collector, for he was not there to do so. ‘He then threatened me with the British Government. I replied, “It is by far the best thing you can do.”‘ This was the start of a war between Richard and the moneylenders…
It was immediately clear to Richard that the moneylenders, of whom as British Consul he found himself the official protector, were making their fortunes by usury, charging interest rates between 30 and 60 per cent or even more. In the past, when a debt remained unpaid, one of these ‘British’ moneylenders had only to apply to the British Consul to have the debtor thrown into prison until his relatives paid his debt ‘down to the last farthing’….
Before he had been in Syria six months Richard had publicly announced that he would not be a “bumbailiff to a parcel of bloodsuckers’…. His protagonists appealed til the Alliance Israelites who contacted ‘noble, humane and generous Jews in England’, asking them to aid their persecuted brethern in Damascus.
På vegne af deres ‘forfulgte brødre’ i Damaskus lagde magtfulde jøder i London pres på det britiske Foreing Office for at få fjernet Richard Burton fra posten som konsul:
… several highly respected London Jews made serious formal complaints against Richard directly to the Foreign Secretary. Sir Moses Montefiore wrote to Granville enclosing letters from the Jews of Damascus: ‘Your Lordship will percieve that the Jews complain that the attitude affected towards them by Captain Burton, is such as to occasion them much injury and considerable anxiety.’ Sir Francis Goldsmid also wrote: ‘I hear from another quarter that the lady whom Captain Burton has married is believed to be a bigoted Roman Catholic, and to be likely to influence him against the Jews.’
Richard Burton blev fjernet fra posten som britisk konsul i Damaskus.