After the death of Queen Elizebeth, some attempt to silence discussion of colonialism while others effectively limit it to the past
In the aftermath of the announcement of the death of the British Queen Elizabeth, Uju Anya tweeted: “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.”
(Anya is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, my alma mater, though the phrase literally means “nourishing mother” and I can’t say I got that from Carnegie Mellon. Some seem to feel that they somehow got that from the late monarch, and I can’t say that I see that either.)
Twitter deleted the tweet and Carnegie Mellon put out a statement effectively condemning Anya’s remarks, each of which I think are absurd and dubious as others have noted.
But then Anya retweeted a tweet from Eugene Scott, national political reporter at the Washington Post:
The answer to Scott’s question, “When is the appropriate time to talk about the negative impact of colonialism?” is everyday. You’re swimming in it.
Today, 9/11, is a good day to talk about the negative impacts of colonialism: How the U.S., British and French governments cut up the Mideast leading to the rise of a colonial Israel and oppressive monarchies; how the U.S. undermining the Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s and then attacking Iraq beginning in 1990 led inevitably to impoverishment, suffering and increasing instability in the region, including what is euphemistically called “blowback”.
The massive propaganda campaign that effectively began 20 years ago to invade Iraq should now be the focus of sustained attention if we had a cultural and media environment wanting to finally come to terms with its imperialist mindset, waging wars of aggression, occupying entire countries and employing systematic torture for those ends in the 21st Century.
In July, Michael Langley was tapped to become head of the United States Africa Command. Scott, over at the Washington Post, took this occasion to effectively celebrate him:
The Black Alliance for Peace meanwhile has been running a campaign against AFRICOM to the silence of many: “The purpose of AFRICOM is to use U.S. military power to impose U.S. control of African land, resources and labor to service the needs of U.S. multi-national corporations and the wealthy in the United States.”
The Black Alliance for Peace reports that African countries initially rejected AFRICOM, but with a more sophisticated approach by the Obama administration “corrupt African leaders began to allow AFRICOM forces to operate in their countries and establish military-to-military relations with the United States.”
Bringing up colonialism only in the context of the death of the nearly 100-year-old British monarch is actually functional at a certain level for the establishment. It pretends it’s a relic of the past rather than a force that continues to maliciously mold the world today.
Postings relating the late monarch and colonialism on various lefty, progressive and even mainstream websites have good information about horrific British oppression in Kenya, India and Yemen and elsewhere. Yet, they have a tendency to drop off in the 1960s or 1970s, as if various U.S. and British invasions and bombings since then have not been an effective continuation of the imperial project.
What is needed is the hard work of scrutinizing the mechanisms of power. Colonialism may not today provide the photo-op of a brazen sword in hand of a monarch, but there are entire military and economic systems as well as “soft power” mechanisms that have allowed colonialism to effectively mutate into more effective but deadly strains.
Consider for example that with the invasion of Iraq, the main U.S. government partner in crime was Britain. But in the case of bombing Syria and intervention there, the main U.S. government collaborator was France. Then consider that Iraq was a British colony and Syria was a French colony. Then consider that virtually no one in the U.S. pointed this out. (I attempted to do so repeatedly.)
Colonialism continues to not only cast a massive shadow, but to actively mold the world around us.
At times this is done by shallow rebranding, at times such tendencies are manifested through more subtle instruments.
The Kenyan activist Njoki Njoroge Njehû once told me: “After slavery and colonialism, the latest tool for imposing foreign interests on us is the lethal combination of debt and the economic conditions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
Sometimes it’s somewhat more brazen. Consider Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the Iran nuclear deal: "I don't see Iran as the partner in this agreement, I see Iran as the subject of this agreement."
Israel is a main continuation of actual settler colonialism. A critical point that even Queen Elizabeth, according to one recent report, seemed capable of seeing.
The Bank of England in 2018 announced a policy of refusing to release hundreds of millions of dollars of Venezuelan gold.
Currently, as Afghans face starvation, Biden is withholding $7 billion of their money.
Colonialism, or at least its rebranded oppressive offspring, is all around us and should be talked about Every. Single. Day.