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
Between twenty-five to thirty years ago the only political groupings that guaranteed a fair hearing for the Palestinian cause are those that were and are commonly referred to as the “far left”. The Labour Party had always been an overwhelmingly pro-Zionist organisation until very recently. For Muslim or Islamist groups, Palestine wasn’t a major rallying issue for them back in say the late 1980s or early 1990s.
But even within the so-called “far-left” especially amongst the multitude of Trotskyist organisations one constantly encountered strong pro-Israeli sentiment which continues to this very day. Anyway, it was within this political environment that I came across a magazine called “Living Marxism” published by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a Trotskyist organisation whose leading guru was Frank Furedi. This organisation had ultimately split from the parent Trotskyist organisation that was headed by Tony Cliffe called, Socialist Workers Party (formerly International Socialists). Living Marxism had stood out from the other Trotsky magazines or journals because it took up more pro-Palestinian or pro-Arab positions than the others vis-à-vis the Zionist occupying entity and also during the first war on Iraq in 1991. Continue reading
Part of the course of any black, brown or other person of colour rising to any position of leadership is to weather accusations made by the inevitable Western establishment detractors. Usually, if they can’t pin any financial discrepancy or moral impropriety then such leader will be accused to have a bigoted and irrational hostility to a demographic the West purports to be in love with, it’s usually the Jewish people but could be others.
Contempt towards the Jewish people is anti-Semitism. Historically, this evil is associated with European political culture which ultimately manifested in the European holocaust in the early 1940s and took the lives of millions of European Jews. Some European Jews had seen a solution to European political cultural contempt for them by aligning with European imperialist elites with a view to transfer European Jews to an imperially administered colony in Africa or Asia. These latter Jews are referred to Zionists. Obviously not all Jews were enamoured with this “solution” to a hitherto a European political-cultural condition.
In 1917, British imperialism found a role for European Jewish-Zionist and issued the ‘Balfour Declaration’ to colonise Palestine. It did so not because it had admiration for Jewish people, Continue reading
The recent remarks of the first ever and former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone supposedly in support of another British Labour politician, Naz Shah, who had shared a social media post depicting a map of Israel transferred to the United States has ignited a debate on the extent of anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party.
In defence of Shah, Livingstone felt compelled to remind people that certain Zionists in 1930’s Nazi Germany came into an agreement with elements in the Nazi regime to transfer German Jews to Palestine. And indeed there is nothing remotely mutually exclusive about being both anti-Semitic and pro-Zionist. But, why he needed to drag this minor episode of European Zionist history, the Haavara agreement, into the mix in a supposed defence of Shah is bewildering.
More bewildering when one considers the fact that British imperialism was the most consequential partner to the Zionist colonial settler project in Palestine in the inter-war period. In 1917 when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration there were between probably 70,000 Jews in Palestine as opposed to at least 700,000 Palestinians. The British Empire’s policy was to establish a “national home for the Jewish people” and use its “best endeavours to facilitate” this achievement. Continue reading
The covert alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Zionist entity of Israel should be no surprise to any student of British imperialism. The problem is the study of British imperialism has very few students. Indeed, one can peruse any undergraduate or post-graduate university prospectus and rarely find a module in a Politics degree on the British Empire let alone a dedicated degree or Masters degree. Of course if the European led imperialist carnage in the four years between 1914 – 1918 tickles your cerebral cells then it’s not too difficult to find an appropriate institution to teach this subject, but if you would like to delve into how and why the British Empire waged war on mankind for almost four hundred years you’re practically on your own in this endeavour. One must admit, that from the British establishment’s perspective, this is a remarkable achievement.
In late 2014, according to the American journal, “Foreign Affairs”, the Saudi petroleum Minister Ali al-Naimi is reported to have said “His Majesty King Abdullah has always been a model for good relations between Saudi Arabia and other states and the Jewish state is no exception.” Recently, Abdullah’s successor King Salman expressed similar concerns to those of Israel’s to the growing agreement between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme. This led some to report that Israel and KSA presented a “united front” in their opposition to the nuclear deal. This was not the first time the Zionists and Saudis have found themselves in the same corner in dealing with a common foe. In North Yemen in the 1960’s, the Saudis were financing a British imperialist led mercenary army campaign against revolutionary republicans who had assumed authority after overthrowing the authoritarian, Imam. Gamal Abdul-Nasser’s Egypt militarily backed the republicans, while the British induced the Saudis to support them in financing and arming remaining remnants of the Imam’s supporters to stretch Nasser’s forces. During this campaign, the British organised the Israelis to drop arms for the British proxies in North Yemen, 14 times. The British, in effect, militarily but covertly, brought the Zionists and Saudis together in 1960’s North Yemen against their common foe.
However, one must go back to the 1920’s to fully appreciate the origins of this informal and indirect alliance between KSA and the Zionist entity. Continue reading