Navy

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

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.