Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Juan Cole, Mensch

Oh, I shouldn't be doing this, but there's so much going on I can't help it. Juan Cole has been on fire the last couple days, and shouldn't be missed (Blogger went on him and he has no permalinks; just read and scroll down for the last couple days posts). No one else writes with such authority on the situation and its ramifications for us:

"For American observers concerned with Iraq not to realize how truly awful the situation is, and to fail to understand that the US faces a grave crisis if key policies are not changed, makes them poor Americans. The United States is a democracy and a democracy only works if the citizens are informed and exercise their faculties of critical reason. Looking for token pro-American Iraqis to say nice things while ignoring all the evidence of US failure is pitiful. I sometimes get messages from readers who are excited by all the rebuilding work the US has done in Iraq and think it is unfair for it to be overlooked. This way of thinking is just wrong. The British in India built railroads and lots of infrastructure. By the 1940s, no Indians were grateful, and they just wanted the British out so that they could have their independent country. The railroads, they said, were after all mainly built to transport British troops and merchandise. When you mess with a people's independence, they stop being grateful for infrastructure. Ask King George III."
In the second half of his January 18 post, he skewers all the neocons with as much rage and bitterness as I've ever seen on his site.

Go read.


Anonymous said...

By 1940 there were enough Indians educated at British Universities (Ghandi, Nehru) to want to rule the country that the British formed out of numerous seperate "kingdoms" over the course of 2 centuries. There were few "free" Indians under the old caste system, and when they did get their independence, 2 million people were killed in the (primarily) religious war that created Pakistan.

There were terrible wrongs perpetrated by the British, and a paternal bigotry was the rule well into the 20th Century, but the largest democracy in the world is that way percisely because of 300 years of British law.

The first Indian constitution was written by Lord Cornwallis (the same one who surrendered to Washington) and gave the individual Indian more freedom and protection under the law then most Englishmen had at the time in England.

We have to take ALL of history, not just the parts that make our point. 19th Century American Manifest Destiny and 18th and 19th Century British Imperialism made us powerful enough to defeat 20th Century fascism and communism. I'll leave it up to you to decide whether we and today's Indians are better off.

Anonymous said...

I should ad that Juan Cole is absolutely correct about Iraq and our situation there today. It isn't the 18th, 19th or 20th Century any more.

Anonymous said...

Are the Indians better off as a result of British rule? I guess we'll never know. Perhaps the religious wars would have occured centuries earlier. We have only the actual events to judge. Elsewhere, China threw the British out early and they don't seem to be in much worse shape.

Even today there are plenty of Indians that are not enjoying the fruits of three centuries of British occupation and Ghandi certainly didn't see the benfits in its continuation.

Anonymous said...

That we only have the events that occurred is EXACTLY the point. Good and bad, it's what we have to work with. ALL of history. As far as China goes, the "success" of Hong Kong (A British colony for centuries)is forcing the communist rulers to allow more personal freedoms and enter the modern trade world at a much quicker pace than they otherwise might have done. What ifs don't really matter, and I'm not saying what happened is the best of all possible histories. I'm simply saying that you can't take history apart to prove a point.

And Ghandi was an British university trained lawyer. What he wanted for India was NOT a relapse to the old caste system, but a free India based on English law human rights.

Riggsveda said...

I think Cole's point was that no matter how beneficial the results of colonial rule, those ruled will always want independence over punctual railroads, and a certain resentment will always remain with them after their conquerers are gone. And most colony-nations did very poorly as a result. Much of Africa was run by Europeans for centuries, and the chaos, bloodshed and government-by-disaster we see there today can be traced to the exploitation of its people and resources much more than to the ancient tribal rivalries that fuel it now. What such rule does do is to keep tribal and ethnic warring at bay; but men have long memories, and the moment that rule is gone, all the old wounds start to bleed again and wars begin anew. We saw it after the USSR dissolved, and it was true in India, too.
It also seems to me that when ancient civilizations with rich histories of culture are overcome by the greater brute force of more modern ones, the loss of face and pride alone creates years of enmity. In the case of Iraq, we have neither brought them the benefits of infrastructure nor kept civil war at bay. Instead we unleashed complete anarchy, and to this day we can't help them get the electricity on in many places more than 2 hours a day---this, at a time when people are freezing to death as a result. We have laid waste to one of the most ancient places on earth without so much as an apology.
I'm only sorry that the real culprits behind this tragedy will never have to face the consequences of it, unlike the hundreds of thousands of soldiers they have sent in their places.