By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite Politics]
Colonialism has become the filthiest word in our modern lexicon; it is now more socially acceptable to publicly extol the virtues of sodomy than of colonial rule.
It is hard to imagine the world without colonisation, since from time immemorial civilisations have extended their reach not only to perpetuate further trade and wealth but also to share culture and gain new allegiant territories for growing populations.
The ancient Phoenicians – once the inhabitants of a tiny country in the Levant that we know as Lebanon – created vast tracts of colonies on the other side of the Mediterranean basin which included Spain, Sicily, Morocco and many islands in between like Cyprus. Due to their navigational skills and swift boats, by around 650 BC the Phoenicians were such competent colonisers, that one of its Numidian colonies, Carthage (Tunisia) itself began to colonise and grew into a cosmopolitan city that completely outshone Tyre, its original mother city.
Though Phoenician civilisation existed simultaneously with Greek civilisation, the Greeks grew into powerful colonisers and eventually supplanted the Phoenicians. After his being privately tutored by the world’s most profound philosopher, Aristotle, the young Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, conquered the known world of his time disseminating the Greek language and Hellenistic culture through to its farthest parts. Egypt, which had been occupied by the Persians for 200 years, received Alexander as a liberator and took to Greek philosophy and logic as much as Alexander took to Egypt’s gods and handsome youths.
After the Greeks, the Romans became the ancient world’s leading colonisers, spreading roads, aqueducts, law, learning, art and architecture while always recruiting for their ever-growing garrisons. Even so, Romans placed a premium emphasis on the concept of citizenship (which they learned from the Greeks) thus loyal colonies as far flung as Britannia and Gaul diligently practised Roman jurisprudence as it evolved to include foreign communities living under Roman jurisdiction.
So exceptionally complex and in keeping with natural order, Roman law went on to form the solid foundation for post-renaissance European and English law – implemented in all of their subsequent colonies including America.
Yet since the end of the Second World War, peoples of the earth now seem to exhibit what can only be called ‘colonialist derangement syndrome’, where any utterance of the disgusting ‘C’ word triggers folks to make sweeping and strident denunciations of its evil practices, such as slavery, exploitation and massacres… and slavery… and… well exploitation and massacres – and did I mention slavery, exploitation and massacres you racist, white, privileged bigot?
Slavery, exploitation and massacres have been the usual way of the world in human history. It was the colonists, especially the British colonists, who helped to bring these evils to an end. It didn’t happen overnight by any stretch of the wildest imagination, but it did eventually happen, and that is a fact that continues to be wilfully ignored.
India is a case in point. The British Raj fused many cultures under one system – Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. British law was implemented to protect all individual human life, including the lives of millions of baby girls, which had hitherto been widely disposed of on a daily basis. For a 300-year time span, British enterprise built a solid infrastructure across India which united it – schools, railways, hospitals, businesses, civil law courts, churches, orphanages, postal services, universities, sewers, roads, mines and electrical grids – and this is arguably why after the British withdrew in 1947 leaving India to its desired independence, within twenty years it managed to become the world’s largest functioning democracy. Atrocities committed by the British, and there were atrocities committed which the British themselves have consistently acknowledged, were on balance insubstantial compared to the value Anglo–Saxon culture brought to India.
Dr Kartar Lalvani, an Anglo-Indian entrepreneur who published his book in 2013 titled, “The Making of India: a Story of British Enterprise,” wrote:
The 200-year window of British governance was perhaps the only period in a thousand years of Indian history to date when the minorities and people of different religions felt more secure and less discriminated against, with a notable absence of killings, conflicts and persecutions.
It was always the intention of the British to keep India unified as one nation, but the new democratically elected leaders of India were locked in an impossible impasse on the grounds of sectarianism. While the Hindu leader of the Quit India Movement, Mahatma Gandhi, successfully campaigned for Britain to withdraw from India completely, the leader of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah successfully campaigned for Muslims to have their very own Islamic homeland – Pakistan.
Not wanting to adjudicate a vicious civil war and with their rule now officially over, the British sought an exit strategy; the lines of partition between India and Pakistan were mapped out and one of the greatest human tragedies – in a century full of human tragedies – unfolded. India collapsed back into that great ditch of human misconduct known as religious violence.
There has been much written about Partition. All of it horrific. In his historical book “Midnight’s Furies: the Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition,” Indian–American author Nisid Hajari wrote:
Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.
It was exactly this type of hellish savagery that British rule had kept at bay, not only in India, but wherever they set up other thriving colonies such as in New Zealand.
In Maori culture, cannibalism, slavery and intertribal massacres were customary ways of eating, working and acquiring new lands – this is why one seldom runs into any descendants of those who predated Maori, like the peaceable Moriori; Maori wiped them off the face of the earth. Through imposing British law, the colonists forced Maori to end these barbaric practices. They also showed Maori how to transfer their language into written form and brought them out of a stone age that had lasted well into the 19th century (even Jesus lived in an Iron Age). But, mention anything positive today about the early British colonists in NZ, who had a track record unmarked by great atrocities, and one gets met with hysterically hostile accusations of racism.
Colonialism was a mixed bag of good and bad, but it was mostly good. The common narrative about it today is that it was entirely bad. This is just absurd and ahistorical nonsense.
I regret that I never got to read Professor Bruce Gilley’s essay titled “The Case For Colonialism.” It was written in late 2017 and then quickly withdrawn from the Third World Quarterly due to many violent death threats – that’s how deranged people become at the notion of even allowing the topic to be discussed.
One commentator who wrote about Gilley’s article, Professor Nigel Biggar of Oxford University noted that, “Gilley had called a most unlikely witness: Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist and fierce anti-colonialist hero.” In his final work, There Was a Country, Achebe wrote:
The British governed their colony of Nigeria with considerable care. There was a very highly competent cadre of government officials imbued with a high level of knowledge of how to run a country… British colonies were, more or less, expertly run.
That ‘considerable care’ and ‘highly competent’ knowledge produced peaceful communities with stable institutions and the optimism of a cohesive and predictable future for individual human flourishing to thrive. When the likes of a Chinua Achebe live long enough to mourn the passing of a stable colony, you can be assured that the British were busy about something of incomparable benefit. Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960 – and look at it now?
While westerners are so often called upon to apologise for their colonial past, are there any third-world leaders or indigenous tribal leaders who are prepared to apologise for their nation’s pre-colonial and post-colonial barbarism? Will the Moriori ever get a formal apology from Maori for committing genocide and cannibalism against them, as Maori received from Queen Elizabeth II for much lesser crimes?
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