Tuesday, February 08, 2005

History Repeating, Again

History Repeating, Again

I've been reading an account of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, where Indian troops, angered by perceived insults to their religion and way of life, rose up against their British colonial masters and embarked on an orgy of violence and death that was put down with equal brutality by the colonial government and loyal soldiers.

The causes of the mutiny were many, but at the heart of it was the creeping Anglicization of India, and in particular, the Indian battalions of the army.

While Britain had contented itself with the exploitation of India and its resources while respecting the way of life of its subjects, they lived under an uneasy truce. There were many mixed marriages, and the Anglo-Indian relationship was more-or-less friendly, if utterly unequal. When Victorian missionaries set out with a God-given zeal to bring "Christian Truth to the savages", they were less than impressed with this slight on their already well-entrenched religious practices.

The straw that broke the camel's back, as any history scholar will tell you, was the encasing of rifle cartridges in an unspecified animal fat, a taboo against the sepoys' religious sensibilities [the rumour spread like wildfire - the Hindus feared it was beef fat, the Muslims were convinced it was pork]. The mutiny was brutal, bloody and a much need lesson in the foolhardiness of colonial arrogance and the unwanted imposition of one culture onto another.

There then followed the equally brutal purging of the mutineers - villages raised to the ground, hundreds of bodies hung from trees, unfortunates tied over thre mouths of cannons and blown apart, the whole nine yards that gave colonialism such a good name. Collectve punishment "the Devil's Wind", for a short time, became a way of life, and thousands died as the British reimposed their authority.

But what have we learned? In 2005, I look at Iraq. Once again, Britain is involved, but now the Empire that dare not speak its name is American. An Empire that will work its hardest to impose its Christian Fundamentalist ideology on the rest of the world in the name of liberty, democracy, and learning much from the British Empire, shipping their raw goods back to the Fatherland.

From the mouth of the President: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of [American] liberty in other lands". That's fighting talk, the sound of a nation exporting American ideals to the rest of the world whether they want it or not. The Founding Fathers' warnings on foreign entanglements and the long-standing Monroe Doctrine long since killed off, the Bush doctrine is one of moulding the planet into a copy of Reagan's shining city on a hill, by force if necessary.

And how does this work in practice? By blood.

Fallujah bears so many parallels to the events of 1857. Spurning the Colonials' kind offer to Americanize Iraq with democracy and decent Christian values, the natives revolted, making the mistake of butchering highly paid American missionaries (sorry, mercenaries) and hanging their various pieces from a bridge. The Indian Sepoys' rage mirrored in Arab rage at US blindness to their culture, religion and society.

Naturally, the sight of this impertinence from an ungrateful population signed the city's death sentence, and the Colonials, having to be seen to be in charge took the place to pieces in the kind of collective punishment not seen since the days of Stalin and Hitler, and contrary to the fourth article of the Geneva Convention.

For its affront, for its very defiance in the face of the liberating forces of American kindness, the entire city was destroyed, its inhabitants forced to live in a tented wilderness as bodies lie rotting in the streets, food for carrion birds and rabid dogs. As the Colonial forces continues its doomed battle to win hearts and minds, there will be other Fallujahs, other pitched battles as the Iraqi sepoys eventually rise up against their arrogant, uncaring masters.

Then, in a mockery of the political process, they set up a polling centre amongst the ruins and called it democracy.

The only difference between 1857 and 2005 is that the British Empire learned from its mistakes (not much, granted), and the greatest lesson it learned was that it could never win a final victory. Wars waged in Afghanistan and Africa showed that military might and economic clout just aren't the same thing. It was, after all, the British who pioneered concentration camps in South Africa during a war waged against the Boers solely to remove the local population from valuable gold-bearing land for the benefit of fat-cat millionaires. Plus ca change, and all that.

History showed the British Empire's decline and fall, unable to compete with the strain of global war and the rise of political and economic power elsewhere. Sacrificing itself to prevent German and Japanese empires that would have been many times worse than anything British colonialists ever wrought upon their subjects, the baton was grasped from its hand by a new Empire. It is America's turn.

[This subject is discussed in greater detail in the Speak Your Brains section below.]

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