Excuse the pun, but I was weary about reading David Wearing’s “AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain”. This weariness was born out of the way he is positively referenced on social media by a new peculiar breed of intellectual that has recently emerged in British academia. This peculiarity is defined by the Edward Said-quoting intellectual in question being sympathetic towards past anti-imperialist revolts, resistance and revolutionaries yet mysteriously silent on, manufacture consent for and even endorse contemporary British imperialist interventions such as in Libya or Syria. I’m thinking of an intellectual such as Professor Priyamvada Gopal and, I’m sure there are many others who morally juggle this perverse dichotomy, that is making a living researching past struggles against the Empire yet at the same time are at the very least silent on contemporary Western military interventions in the Global South. Indeed, Wearing informs the reader in the ‘Acknowledgements’ that Professor Gibert Achcar (who was in favour of the Libyan intervention) is “an invaluable mentor and a formative intellectual influence.”
“AngloArabia” is an examination of the relationship between the British state and the Gulf Arab States that make up the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) in the post Cold War era. However, the first chapter, “Empire’s Legacy” which aims to provide a historical account of how the Arab tribes that came to rule the Gulf from the nineteenth century leading up to the Cold War, confirmed my expectations. First of all, Wearing claims that “by the end of the nineteenth century, the Gulf was firmly under British control, with the British resident (London’s chief regional diplomat) able to call in naval support…under the overall command of the Bombay government.”[i] This is very confusing and tells us nothing about the role of the “resident” and what his role was. The ‘resident’ was not an innocuous role, post or title. Far from it. The “resident” was a central figure of the imperial ruling system called “Indirect Rule” the British Empire conclusively established after the Indian uprising of 1857 was finally crushed. After this revolt, the Empire concluded that going forward it would be best to govern India through regional puppets with a British resident in the background pulling the strings and calling the shots. One of the reasons for this strategy is if there were upheavals then any popular ire will be aimed at the puppet rather than the Empire. The nineteenth century Gulf rulers answered to the Resident in Bushire (which is in Iran) who was directly appointed and accountable to the British Empire in India. It was this Resident in Bushire more than anyone else who established the rulers in the Gulf.[ii] Continue reading
The War on Terror is like any other war in that there are inevitable twists and turns. An enemy at the start of a war may for some remarkable reason be an ally by the gruesome end of the war. The War on Terror began as a war specifically against al-Qaeda, (which had its origins in Western support for fighters in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s), after they had allegedly attacked the United States in September 2001. Lately, in Syria the West was in a de-facto alliance with Islamist groups closely linked with al-Qaeda. It is within this inevitable context that one needs to appreciate the fate of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg since his release from the notorious Caribbean detention camp in 2005.
In February 2014 he was detained and held on remand in Belmarsh by the British authorities only to be released in October of the same year uncharged. The previous years had seen him travelling to the war zone in Syria on ostensibly humanitarian pretexts. But according to a BBC report, British authorities alleged that Begg had attended a terrorist training camp between October 2012 and April 2013. Upon his release from Belmarsh he gave an interview to Channel 4 News where he acknowledged that British domestic intelligence, MI5, green lighted his journey to war torn Syria. When the reporter, Darshna Soni asked him whether he fought or trained anyone to fight, Begg replied, Continue reading
Britain has no anti-imperialist tradition. There may have been the occasional outburst from this or that literary, cultural or political figure but such outbursts have always had very limited public appeal. In recent years opinion polls have shown the British public has an overwhelming positive view of the days when the British imperialist writ ran supreme over a very good proportion of mankind. Tens of millions of souls may have perished in slavery and destitution; hundreds and thousands of millions of pounds may have been looted from what is now referred to as the Global South. But hey, let’s look on the positive side of Empire: we did eventually abolish slavery and build the railroads in India.
The Cambridge University academic, Priyamvada Gopal over the last several years has become known as a critic of British imperialism, imperial nostalgia and also of contemporary British racism. Her latest book, Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent is apparently informed by her admiration of Edward Said. As she states, the “late Edward Said’s work continues to nourish my mind and the impact of his thought will, hopefully, be evident throughout this book.”[i] Professor Edward Said distinguished himself as one of the world’s most preeminent intellectuals in the study of imperialism. Among his much esteemed books are Orientalism, The Question of Palestine and Culture and Imperialism. His writing was no doubt influenced by his status as a refugee as a result of British imperialism’s policies in his native Palestine.
The hypothesis that drives Gopal’s book is that anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist resistance in the British Empire influenced political dissent in Britain itself. In the introduction of the book there are numerous repetitions of this claim. For example, struggles in the Global South, “were not without impact on metropolitan ideologies and practices.”[ii] And more forthrightly: Continue reading
The unvarnished truth about the war in Syria can inadvertently seep out even in the most unlikely places. That is, among the regime-change peddlers and propagandists. Admittedly, one needs to be highly attentive but it’s right there in front of one’s eyes for any objective observer. So if we turn to one of Britain’s leading regime-change propagandists, Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author with a certain Leila al-Shami of the much praised apologia for the Western backed insurgency in Syria, “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, he clearly states that the uprising was militarised and weaponised from the beginning. In fact, he writes that all Syrians were purchasing smuggled weapons “since the crisis began. These were ubiquitous in the Lebanese, Turkish and Iraqi border areas where the black market thrived and the armed conflict burned earliest.”[i]
Needless to say, it isn’t the first time that external actors have attempted to use Syria’s borders as a pathway to overthrow its government. In 1957, British and American intelligence planned “to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion by Syria’s pro-western neighbours.” This 1957 plot, according to The Guardian, called for funding of a “Free Syria Committee” and the arming of “political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities.” If this plot had materialised, the Free Syria Committee, no doubt, would have had an army.
For some strange reason, Yassin-Kassab neglects to mention in his propaganda book the other border through which arms flowed, namely Israel’s. Throughout the war against Syria there have been rumours that Israel has been supporting and arming Syrian fighters, collectively known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The official story now is that Israel began supporting militants in 2013 and not when the insurgency began in 2011. The first time Yassin-Kassab even hints at Israeli involvement in the war on Syria appears well into the second half of his book where he recounts an act of brutal sectarianism committed by al-Qaeda’s franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra in 2015 in southern Syria on the border with Zionist entity. In retaliation, for the sectarian killing of 23 Druze inhabitants by al-Qaeda rebels, local Druze in the occupied Golan attacked an ambulance carrying wounded and rescued Syrian rebel fighters being transferred to Israel for hospitalisation. But according to Yassin-Kassab, it is nothing but “Assadist media conspiracy theories which imagine Israel and Nusra in alliance”.[ii] Continue reading
A conventional understanding of George Orwell’s political legacy more often than not begins with a studious appreciation of his classic novels, Animal Farm or 1984 rather than his first-hand detestation and rejection of the British Empire. His tenure serving in the Imperial Police Force in 1920s in a part of British occupied India, that was known as Burma, and now called Myanmar provided him with the unvarnished and ugly truth of Empire. The five years spent here imposing the Empire’s will on a subject people had made him realise the Empire was a grandiose self-deception rooted in brutal fraudulence. This realisation found literary expression in the first novel he wrote, Burmese Days. The main character, Mr. Flory, formulates the raison d’etre of the British Empire as such: Continue reading