Boris Johnson is flying in to the hurricane ravaged British Caribbean territories to play benevolent colonial master. Hurricane Irma plays in to the fantasies of the Tory Brexiteers – Britain as world-bestriding Empire, with great interests around the globe. Hurricane Irma caused death and huge deprivation to local people.
Individuals were cowering behind furniture and preparing for emergency flights out. These latter were the ultra-wealthy in London who were terrified that the rooves would be torn off company registries and their tax haven secrets scattered abroad by the hand of God.
Despite having all the Tory fantasy elements of patrician benevolence, warships, colonies, subjects and soldiers, the Tory instinct of meanness remains overriding. Some of the British overseas territories in the Caribbean have suffered enormous damage to their infrastructure, with power, water, hospitals and schools out of action. But the British government response so far has been to provide a paltry £32 million in aid of which it claims £28 million is already spent.
You cannot help but feel that some parts of the Tory Imperial vision are more valued in the Tory hierarchy than others. What do you think the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar would have been given if they had suffered massive losses of power, water, health and education infrastructure? There is a definite hierarchy of colonies in Brexiteer eyes, depending on their place in military jingoism and (whisper it softly) the skin colour of the inhabitants.
Britain has sent 500 squaddies to assist. Cuba, despite itself suffering terrible damage, has managed to send 1,000 extra doctors and nurses to other Irma hit islands. The much maligned government of Venezuela has sent more aid than the UK. But of course they have not sent Boris Johnson on a publicity seeking trip. I am sure Boris is much more valuable than a repaired school or a tent to live in or the other boring stuff the Venezuelans are doing.
A constant theme of my writing has been the deliberate blindness of the Western establishment and media in ignoring the long term causes of conflicts, and instead choosing sides as “goodies” and “baddies”, as though large groups of human beings are suddenly motivated by nothing but spontaneous evil. The tribal divisions which beset Kenyan policies today were largely caused by British seizure of the best farming land for white settlers, and displacing the inhabitants onto the lands of other tribes. The root of the civil wars in both Sierra Leone and Liberia owed much to the transplantation of large colonies of freed slaves, who came to form the basis of a coastal elite that dominated trade, politics and corruption. The Rwandan genocide was in large part triggered by a CIA sponsored Tutsi insurgency.
None of this excuses, in any way, individual or mass acts of violence, oppression, looting or depravity. But it must be understood that events have causes. The appalling massacres of Rohingyas in Burma can in no sense be excused. But they are a direct result of the British Empire. The British deliberately imported the bulk of the Rohingyan population during the 19th century to increase the pre-existing Muslim population and provide a local class that would be more “dependable” than the native Burmese, who were extremely difficult to subdue militarily and culturally resistant to the “benefits” of British Imperial rule. Rohingyans were a key component in British occupying military forces, in which for long periods (including World War II) other Burmese were not entitled to enlist.
None of this makes the current attacks on the Rohingyas any less of a crime. Nor does it lessen the responsibility of Aang San Suu Kyi to restrain her military and prevent attacks. But it is essential background. This is yet another conflict caused by the British Empire. It is most improbable the mainstream media will tell you that.
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