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
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
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
A galactic contradiction simmers beneath the surface of the recent Star Wars franchise.
The franchise is in the midst of being extended with a further trilogy. The first of this new trilogy was Star Wars: The Force Awakens released a couple of years ago and now there is, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Central to the plot of all Star Wars franchises are group of people i.e. the so-called Resistance, who are pursued by the “dark side” as originally manifested by the Galactic Empire.
Remnants of the Empire survived military extinction in the final episode of the original trilogy are now referred to, in this new trilogy, as the ‘First Order’ and once again looking to establish Imperial supremacy. Continue reading
Now in its third year, the British co-ordinated Saudi Arabian led war on Yemen shows no sign of abating. Thousands of people have been indiscriminately killed and the northern part of Yemen is literally laid to waste as British made weaponry is tested on Yemenis. Last year there were reports of famines and now there are reports of hundreds of thousands of cases of cholera. The country which was already one of the poorest in the world is now further pulverised, impoverished and devastated.
The Saudis have been enthusiastically supported, primarily by the British establishment, from the very beginning of this attack on Yemen. Surreally and cruelly, one of the richest countries in the world is bombing the poorest country in the peninsula.
One of the most daunting aspects of the Saudi-British war on Yemen is the support it has received from most of the population of South Yemen. By South Yemen I mean the area that was formally known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. This support compels one to ask why have Southerners welcomed the Saudi-British led military campaign? Continue reading