Friday, October 21, 2011

A New Political Imperialism

Richard Gott has published a new book, Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, which is being hyped as the "magisterial history of the foundation of the British empire, and the forgotten story of resistance to its formation". However, he limits himself by only surveying the resistance to British rule from mid-18th century to mid-19th century, across the world from the Caribbean to Ireland.

One criticism, by Kwasi Kwarteng, author of Ghost of Empire, notes

"the novelty of such as perspective by highlighting the parallels with subaltern studies and Marxist historiography" and he argues "that while the perspective of the oppressed is important and often overlooked in histories of the British Empire, ultimately there was a greater degree of cooperation and mutual economic beneficence unaccounted for in Gott's book. Kwarteng continued, that after rule was established, imperial power was often benign and denied that the crimes of the British Empire could be likened to the systematic genocides and famines of the 20th century."

Kwarteng, however,

...focuses on six imperial sites, most of them consolidated after 1870, when Britain began to face stiffer competition from other, rival powers: Iraq, Sudan, Burma, Nigeria, Kashmir and Hong Kong. In none of them, as Kwarteng describes, was London much (or at all) concerned to advance liberal democracy; and in most of them the quality of its rule helped to store up trouble for the future. In Kashmir, where the population was and is mainly Muslim, the British propped up a Hindu ruling house, which they recognised from the outset was unpopular and oppressive. In Burma the monarchy was abolished after 1885, and the country reduced to a province of British India. In Iraq, conversely, the British created a new monarchy "without any antecedent foundation"; while in Nigeria, different regions and tribal groupings were ruthlessly and imperfectly amalgamated.

In an article, Gott himself writes

...Britain's empire was established, and maintained for more than two centuries, through bloodshed, violence, brutality, conquest and war...Year in, year out, there was resistance to conquest, and rebellion against occupation, often followed by mutiny and revolt – by individuals, groups, armies and entire peoples. At one time or another, the British seizure of distant lands was hindered, halted and even derailed by the vehemence of local opposition.

And since the Palestine experience is missing, even in this article, I will make the case that the Jews, for whom the Mandate was established and awarded to Great Britain by the League of Nations, also fought and resisted but that war of liberation was denigrated and besmirched not only by the British but by fellow Jews.

Gott bemoans the "Settlers, soldiers, convicts" who paid a high price, who "populated the empire...involuntary participants [who] bore the brunt of conquest in faraway continents..." but, being outside his scope, are not the people who returned to the Land of Israel as its rightful sons and daughters to reestablish and reconsitutue Jewish national existence in the patrimony, termed the "Jewish national home" in documents of international law.

Precisely because opf this difference, we are not "settlers", no then in the 1920s and 1930s and not now.

My aversion to the term "settlers" is highlighted by its use here:

White settlers, in the Americas, in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Rhodesia and Kenya, simply took over land that was not theirs, often slaughtering, and even purposefully exterminating, the local indigenous population as if they were vermin.

If anyone was slaughtered, ethnically cleansed or objects of extermination, that people were and are the Jews in the Land of Israel, objects of racist and ideological hate.

Gott observes

None of this has been, during the 60-year post-colonial period since 1947, the generally accepted view of the empire in Britain. The British understandably try to forget that their empire was the fruit of military conquest and of brutal wars involving physical and cultural extermination.

...New generations have been recovering tales of rebellion, repression and resistance that make nonsense of the accepted imperial version of what went on. Focusing on resistance has been a way of challenging not just the traditional, self-satisfied view of empire, but also the customary depiction of the colonised as victims, lacking in agency or political will.

The Jews of the Mandate are part of that narrative but Gott would most probably turn the tale on its head, a peculiar form of radical leftwing political imperialism.

This Gott truth:

To retain control, the British were obliged to establish systems of oppression on a global scale, ranging from the sophisticated to the brutal. These in turn were to create new outbreaks of revolt. Over two centuries, this resistance took many forms and had many leaders...Many of these forgotten peoples deserve to be resurrected and given the attention they deserve.

is quite applicable to the Irgun, the Lechi, Brit HaBiryonim and the Hagana and Palmach.


1 comment:

Juniper in the Desert said...

Divide and rule: here in Britistan, we serfs are being divided up into our multi-culti parts, crushed and enslaved. I have just finished reading the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, nothing has changed in the British governing mentality. The new group to join the ruling elites are the mozlems, the rest are second class citizens. I see the same thing happening in Israel and it breaks my heart.