Tuesday, June 14, 2005

He must have skipped the exhibit on Partition

In today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) Jeremy Hildreth reports on his visit to the private Empire and Commonwealth museum in Bristol. It's another example of the tone of colonial nostalgia that infects much of American conservatism. And since the only real model any of these chaps have for their linen-clad witty expat-amongst-the-natives is Christopher Hitchens, there are bound to be howlers:

[after WW2] ... So, to its credit, and unlike, say, France, Britain did not fight to keep its colonies. Instead, it freed them on the best terms it could get. India was the first to go in 1947, Hong Kong the last in 1997

A case where a little knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all. Yes, France tried to keep Vietnam and Algeria but they let just about everything else go without a fight by 1960. And that departure of India "on the best terms it could get" worked out pretty badly for the millions of All-India residents killed or dislocated by creation of Pakistan (E/W) and present-day India.

And since it's on the bookshelves at the moment, note how this account also omits the brutality of the repression in early 1950s Kenya, which many people only know of via the sanitised expression "to mau-mau" -- ironically, something that victimhood-loving right-wingers usually accuse others of doing. In case you're wondering, there's no way we can mention Partition without invoking its Irish counterpart as another non-success story of the Empire, so in describing Hong Kong as the "last" colony, Hildreth shows his lack of familiarity with the fine people at 1169 and counting.

In fact, this recurring blindspot that the reactionary right has for Partition makes us think that they're preparing us all for a new map of Middle East.

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