Monday, December 12, 2016

Imperial Idiocies

The first time Boris Johnson says anything vaguely sensible and he gets slapped down by the Prime Minister.  That Saudi Arabia is a major sponsor of Islamic terrorism shouldn't really be news to anyone, though.  Nevertheless, it doesn't stop us cosying up to them - they're traditionally a big customer for British weapon systems.  Who needs a moral foreign policy in the face of hard cash, eh?  Not a Tory government, that's for sure. But don't worry, the Saudis are apparently 'not offended' by Johnson's comments.  Clearly, he needs to try harder.  Perhaps he should look back to the dying days of Empire, when we Brits thought it OK to refer to Arabs as 'wogs', even in their own countries.  I was reminded of this less-than-glorious part of our Imperial legacy recently, when I started reading Dominic Sandbrook's Never Had it So Good.  He relates te story of how, during the UK's occupation of the Suez Canal Zone, a British soldier reported on a car accident to his superior officer, writing that one car involved had been a Rolls Royce with 'two wogs' in the back, one of whom 'was called King Faroukh'.  When the officer told him that he couldn't call the King of Egypt a 'wog' and ordered the soldier to rewrite the report, he instead wrote that the car contained 'King Faroukh and some other wog'.  Sadly, this was all too typical of the casual racism which characterised those last, delusional days of Empire - you would have hoped that as Britain divested itself of Empire it might start to accept its former subjects as equals.

But it could no more do that than accept its diminished position in the world - all those decades, centuries indeed, of convincing ourselves of our superiority over non-white colonials, were too deeply ingrained.  Of course, a lot of these delusions came to a juddering halt with the Suez Crisis in 1956 - the last swagger of Britain and France as Imperial powers which ended in a humiliating climbdown in the face of near universal condemnation..  Actually, it occurred to me whilst reading the Sandbrook book that this Autumn had marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Anglo French (with Israeli collusion) invasion of Egypt in supposed 'defence' of the Suez Canal.  (Those damned Egyptians were arrogant enough to believe that they could nationalise their main economic asset and not have British soldiers occupying parts of their country and interfering in their domestic affairs.  Who the hell did they think they were?).

 With the current mania for glorifying all things war-related which seems to grip both politicians and media, I'm surprised  that we didn't see it celebrated.  After all, we're being forced to relive every moment of World War One, despite it being a 'bad war', on the pretext that we're merely remembering those who gave their lives in the conflict - so why not do the same for those who gave their lives in the Suez operation?  It wasn't their fault they were caught up in an Imperial folly.  But that's the point, we don't want to be reminded of an episode which demonstrated Britain's impotence as a world power.  Especially in this new era of 'patriotism' in which right wingers promise that Britain can be made 'great' again by turning our backs on those horrible Europeans and keeping out those filthy immigrants.  Much of this 'patriotism' harks back to a fantasy version of empire and expresses itself in terms of racist attacks upon 'foreigners' and ethnic minorities. It seems those old Imperialist attitudes haven't gone far after all.  The main difference now, though, is we're only insulting the 'foreigners' when their in 'our' country, rather than occupying theirs and heaping racially charged invective upon them in their own homelands.

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