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I am a public health doctor who is cynically optimistic about most things.

The inescapable colonial legacy

I have despairingly tried to remain optimistic about the new Tory regime in Whitehall. Positive thoughts such as the coalition failing, a new Lib Dem rent-boy saga, George Osborne squeaking himself to suffocation or chain-smoking Ken Clark as new health minister occupy the recesses of my mind as I muddle through the new Cameronite dawn.

However the  news that Michael Gove, eerily school-boyish Tory Education minister, has apparently hired the right-wing colonial apologist, Niall Ferguson to rewrite schoolchildren’s history books is an insult too far. The historian has previously gone out of his way to align himself to the neo-conservative project and suggests that the US can emulate the successes of the British Empire.  He believes UK schoolchildren should learn about “the rise of western domination of the world” as the “big story” of the last 500 years when talking at the Guardian Hay Festival a few weeks ago.

Now I’m no hemp-smoking hippie but from a Anglo-Iraqi perspective, the idea that children get a sanitised version of largely brutal and destructive European colonial project is concerning to say the least. It’s ironic that the two major conflicts that Britain is still involved in are where it has had a major role in forcibly altering the political and socio-economic landscape a century or so earlier.

While you can trace a lot of Iraq’s current problems to the fundamental alteration of the power dynamic during British colonial rule, where do you stop? Is there Iraqi culpability since then? How far back do you go?

You may want to lay the blame a bit earlier with the Ottomans or if you have a religious bent, you may trace Iraq’s troubles from the brutal slaying of Imam Hussain in Kerbela or from his father’s reported disappointment with its people. If you’re a fan of the Classical Age then you may suggest that the geographic region of Iraq has been subject to competing regional empires whether it is the Greek, Byzantine, Arab or Persian and the present situation is a continuation of this historic trend.

What is annoying though, is the way subjects like these mess with our fragile identity. How do we come to terms with the fact that we are here as a result of the turmoil generated by Britain’s colonial legacy but have benefited from its education and a standard of life? Or the fact that the UK helped the US to keep sanctions on Iraq in those heart-wrenching years and then went in again, causing untold amount of pain and suffering, but removed one of the most brutal dictators and helped provide Iraq with a democratic chance?

As with most of these questions, I succeed in batting them away knowing that any of them could spark an identity meltdown. So in the meantime, I may have to believe in Rooney and cling on to the completely delusional dream of England winning the World Cup.

One Comment on “The inescapable colonial legacy”

  1. Al Verdi June 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Education is to the development and prosperity of our community; from apprenticeship to Phd’s. I have always found the issue of colonial Britain a troubling one with all the issues you mentioned in the later part of your speech:

    “Britain’s colonial legacy but have benefited from its education …… Iraq with a democratic chance?”

    However, I have come to a conclusion that HM Foreign Office has a duty towards Britain’s former protectorate countries, it must continue to play a key role. This is only due to the expectation of other countries from Britain, and from our need for a peaceful relationship based on economics, education and diplomacy with those countries. Its a continuous almost never-ending endeavor. From this I would support the role of Niall in writing that part of history in the form proposed, only so that we can always be able to fully understand our responsibility towards these countries, as opposed to our need keep our Britain a ruling weak Empire. Times have changed, the internet and communications are the new Emperors with its corporations ruling all. So Niall role would only be there to show us how we could be, and the world to show us how we can be.

    However I maybe proven wrong when I read the new rewritten publication he produces.

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