Greg Palast

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Colonial Ties, Not Oppression, Is the Best Reason for Granting Asylum

This has been irritating me for some time now, and so I’m going to try to get it off my chest. A month or so ago I went to a Virtual meeting, organised by the left wing of the Labour party, on why socialists should be anti-war. It was part of the Arise Festival of ideas, and featured a variety of speakers all concerned with the real possibility that the war-mongering of Tony Blair, George W. Bush and so on would return. They made the point that all the interventions in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere were motivated purely by western geopolitical interests. Western nations and their multinationals had initiated them solely to plunder and dominate these nations and their industries and resources. One of the speakers was the Muslim head of the Stop War Coalition, who stated that many people from ethnic minorities had supported the Labour party because historically Labour had backed independence for their countries of origin. And obviously the Labour party was risking their support by betraying them through supporting these wars. After the failure of these wars – the continued occupation of Afghanistan, the chaos in Iraq and Libya – the calls for further military interventions had died down. But now these wars were being rehabilitated, and there is a real danger that the military-industrial complex will start demanding further invasions and occupations.

I absolutely agree totally with these points. Greg Palast’s book Armed Madhouse shows exactly how the Iraq invasion had absolutely nothing to do with liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, but was all about stealing their oil reserves and state industries. The invasion of Afghanistan has precious little to do with combatting al-Qaeda, and far more to do with the construction of an oil pipeline that would benefit western oil interests at the expense of Russia and its allies. And the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy in Libya was also about the removal of an obstacle to western neo-colonial domination. These wars have brought nothing but chaos and death to these countries. The welfare states of Iraq and Libya have been decimated, and the freedoms women enjoyed to pursue careers outside the home have been severely curtailed our removed. Both of these countries were relatively secular, but have since been plunged into sectarian violence.

Despite this, one of the speakers annoyed me. This was the head of the Black Liberation Association or whatever Black Lives Matter now calls itself. She was a young a woman with quite a thick African accent. It wasn’t quite what she said, but the tone in which she said it. This was one of angry, indignant and entitled demand, rather than calm, persuasive argument. She explained that the Black Liberation Association campaigned for the rights and self-government of all nations in the global south and their freedom from neo-colonial economic restrictions and domination. She attacked the ‘fortress Europe’ ideology intended to keep non-White immigrants out, especially the withdrawal of the Italian naval patrols in the Med. This had resulted in more migrant deaths as unseaworthy boats sank without their crews and passengers being rescued. This is all stuff the left has campaigned against for a long time. I remember learning in ‘A’ Level geography in school that Britain and Europe had erected tariff barriers to prevent their former colonies competing with them in the production of manufactured goods. This meant that the economies of the African nations, for example, were restricted to agriculture and mining. As for the withdrawal of the Italian navy and coastguard, and the consequent deaths of migrants, this was very much an issue a few years ago and I do remember signing internet petitions against it. But there was one argument she made regarding the issue of the granting of asylum that was weak and seriously annoyed me. She stated that we had to accept migrants because we had oppressed them under colonialism.

This actually doesn’t work as an argument for two reasons. I’m not disputing that we did oppress at least some of the indigenous peoples of our former colonies. The colour bar in White Rhodesia was notorious, and Black Africans in other countries, like Malawi, were treated as second class citizens quite apart from the horrific, genocidal atrocities committed against the Mao-Mao rebellion. The first problem with the argument from colonial oppression is that it raises the question why any self-respecting person from the Commonwealth would ever want to come to Britain, if we’re so racist and oppressive.

The other problem is that the British Empire is now, for the most part, a thing of the past. Former colonies across the globe formed nationalist movements and achieved their independence. They were supposed to benefit from the end of British rule. In some cases they have. But to return to Africa, since independence the continent has been dominated by a series of brutal dictators, who massacred and looted their people. There is an appalling level of corruption to the point where the FT said that many of them were kleptocracies, which were only called countries by the courtesy of the west. Western colonialism is responsible for many of the Developing World’s problems, but not all. I’ve heard from a couple of Brits, who have lived and worked in former colonies, that they have been asked by local people why we left. These were older people, but it shows that the end of British rule was not as beneficial as the nationalists claimed, and that some indigenous people continued to believe that things had been better under the Empire. But the culpability of the leaders of many developing nations for their brutal dictatorships and the poverty they helped to inflict on their people wasn’t mentioned by this angry young woman. And that’s a problem, because the counterargument to her is that the British Empire has vanished, and with the handover to indigenous rule British responsibility for these nations’ affairs ended. It is up to these countries to solve their problems, and we should be under no obligation to take in people fleeing oppression in these countries.

For me, a far better approach would be to stress old colonial ties and obligations with these nations. Part of the ideology of colonialism was that Britain held these countries in trust, and that these nations would only remain under British rule until they developed the ability to manage themselves. It was hypocritical, and I think there’s a quote from Lord Lugard, one of the architects of British rule in Africa, about how the British had only a few decades to despoil the country. Nevertheless, it was there, as was Kipling’s metaphor of the ‘White Man’s Burden’, in which Britain was to teach these nations proper self-government and civilisation. It’s patronising, because it assumes the superiority of western civilisation, but nevertheless it is one of paternal responsibility and guidance. And some British politicians and imperialists took this ideology very seriously. I was told by a friend of mine that before Enoch Powell became an avowed and implacable opponent of non-White immigration with his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, he sincerely believed that Britain did have an obligation to its subject peoples. He worked for a number of organisations set up to help non-White immigrants to Britain from her colonies.

It therefore seems to me that supporters of non-White migrants and asylum seekers would be far better arguing that they should be granted asylum because of old colonial ties and kinship in the Commonwealth and continuing paternal obligations, rather than allowed in as some kind of reparation for the oppression of the colonial past.

The first argument offers reconciliation and common links. The other only angry division between oppressed and oppressor.

Why the World Hates America and the West: We Bomb, Kill and Wreck their Countries

One of the issues William Blum repeatedly tackled in his books about the crimes of American imperialism was the complete failure of the American political establishment and the general public to understand why their country is so hated by the rest of the world. He produces quote after quote from American politicians, civil servants and senior military officers declaring that America has America’s actions have always been for the good of those nations they’ve attacked, whose politicians they’ve overthrown or assassinated and whose economies they’ve destroyed and plundered. In their opinion, it has always been done by a disinterested America for the benefit of other nations. America has been defending freedom from tyranny and trying to rebuild their economies through free trade capitalism. And American forces have never been responsible for the deliberate targeting of civilians and have been concerned to rebuild the countries afterwards.

Again and again Blum shows that this is all lies. America has overthrown and interfered with democratically elected regimes as well as dictatorships. It has installed vicious fascist dictators, mass murderers and torturers in their place. It has stolen countries’ industries so that they could be acquired by American multinationals. It has hypocritically deliberately targeted civilians, even while denouncing its enemies for doing so. And while it has signed contracts obliging it to pay compensation to the nations it has attacked, like Vietnam and Serbia, these treaties have never been honoured.

But the American state and public have absolutely no idea why America is so hated and resented, particularly in the Muslim world. They’ve set up think tanks to try to work out why this is, and hired public relations companies to find ways of persuading the rest of the world why America is a force for good. In their view, this hatred is due not to America’s vicious imperialism per se, but simply to their mistaken views of it. In 2005 the Smirking Chimp, George W. Bush, sent his Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy on a tour of the Middle East to correct these mistaken impressions. She did not have an easy time of it, particularly in Turkey, where they told her where the people of that country made their views very clear. She told the crowd that sometimes to preserve the peace, America believed war was necessary, and repeated the lie that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, women were being better treated in Iraq. She got angry replies from the women present, to which she responded that this was just a PR problem, just like America had in other places around the world. The Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper of the Arab world, described her performance as ‘Painfully clueless’.

See: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, p. 29.

But some sections of the American political and military establishment have a far better idea of the cause of this hatred. In 1997 a study by the Department of Defense concluded that ‘Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States’.

And former President Jimmy Carter also realised that American military action in Lebanon and the consequent killing of Lebanese civilians had cause the people to hate America. He told the New York Times in an interview in 1989 that

We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the immense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers – women and children and farmers and housewives – in those villages around Beirut…. As a result of that… we became kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.

See Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, pp. 34-5.

General Colin Powell in his memoir discusses the American military actions in Lebanon in 1983. Instead of blaming the terrorist attacks subsequently launched against America on Muslim hatred of western democracy and liberty, he recognised that they were only acting as America would if it were attacked.

‘The U.S.S. New Jersey started hurling 16-nch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would.’ (p. 35).

A 2004 poll by Zogby International of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates came to the following conclusion, as reported in the New York Times:

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: ‘What is the first thought when you hard “America?” respondents overwhelmingly said: ‘Unfair foreign policy’. And when asked what the United states could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were ‘stop supporting Israel’ and ‘Change your Middle East policy’…. Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule. The majority also said that they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world. (pp. 37-8).

Which is more or less true, as Greg Palast has also shown in his book, Armed Madhouse.

The Defense Sciences Board, which advises the Pentagon, partly confirmed these findings in a report published in November 2004:

“Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet Rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies-except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends…. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies…when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy…. [Muslims believe] American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” (p. 38).

Unfortunately, our government and public opinion shares the same attitude as the American imperialists. This was shown by the full backing of the Iraq invasion and, indeed, the whole neo-Conservative foreign policy by the unindicted war criminal, Tony Blair and the propaganda of the lamestream British media. If you believe Daily Mail hack, Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Philips, the cause of these attacks is simply Islam. It isn’t. It’s western foreign policy in the Middle East.

If we really want to do something to stop the terrorist attacks on our countries, we could start by stopping bombing, invading and looting other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, even with the accession of Biden to the presidency, I don’t see that happening any time soon.