When one time burglar and sometime Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah turned down the OBE he had been offered, he claimed he did so largely on account of British involvement in the slave trade, and by so doing, the pompous poet he exposed an hypocrisy which few members of the sycophantic media thought to call him on. As a Jamaican, Mr Zephaniah may be able to trace his family back to British owned slaves some two hundred years ago, but as a Rastafarian he acknowledges as godlike The Emperor Haile Selassie and the land of Ethiopia where, as a direct result of not being part of any European Empire, the ownership of slaves was still legal, and an estimated 2 million people lived as slaves within living memory.
As I detailed in an earlier article, Britain and her Empire had a greater role than any other in bringing about the end of slavery in most of the world. Whereas, in Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, the black messiah of the Rastafarian faith, did not get around to ending slavery in the Rastafarian holy land of Ethiopia until 1932, and even then the “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia and Elect of God” was less motivated by the humanitarian zeal which drove the British abolitionists, but by the somewhat more practical consideration that the league of nations would not let him join if he didn't.
Benny Z may not like the fact, but to be a Rastafarian unless you are extremely stupid, or you have to accept that Africans owned Africans in Addis Ababa, not centuries ago but around the same time as your grandmother was trying on her first pair of T-strap pumps.
To be fair to Zephaniah he may have been lucky that most of the media was too politically correct to ask him how he reconciled rejecting a nation which produced the great abolitionists, and who's navy pursued and attacked slave traders. whilst revering a nation where slaves were openly owned less than 80 years ago, given that the only credible answers were likely to expose a level of instinctive racism which the left like to pretend only exists in reverse.
Of course, when that notoriously racist old hack,Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, proved yet again that the band wagon has not yet started rolling on which she would not be amongst the first to plant her ample haunches, and followed Zephjaniah's lead and sent her own medal back, it became clear not much truth was likely to be told about Britain's imperial past.
That brings us to the question, what is the truth about Empire, is it, as the Zephjaniahs and Alibhai-Browns would have us believe, a reason for feelings of shame and (white) guilt? or, as our grandfather's generation believed, a source of considerable national and patriotic pride? It may not surprise you to know that I have no plans to join Benny and Yasmin on their ramshackle, and heavily painted, bandwagon.
Ours was the greatest empire the world has ever know, it covered a quarter of the Earth's surface, an area which included almost every time zone and over which, as was famously, and often, said the sun never set. However, the Empire's greatness was not only in its size, for, although many politicians, media pundits, and almost all of the agenda driven Marxists, who teach our children would rather die than admit it, it was also one of the most benevolent forces for good in the history of mankind.
Of course it is impossible to ignore the commercial incentives for empire, and it would be disingenuous to deny that we did not briefly join the rest of the in trading slaves, (and, unlike out current national projects , back then we did such things quite efficiently) or indeed the opium trade as a result of which we ended up owning Hong Kong for over 150 years. However, it is also impossible to entirely separate the humanitarian motives from the commercial, certainly after the banning of the slave trade in 1807 leading up to Abolition in the 1830s and then the so called scramble for Africa humanitarianism was a major driving force.
I don't agree with everything John Derbyshire says but but he can sometimes produce some very prescient comments and, to quote from one of his various essays on the British Empire “When the Empire got properly into its stride, humanitarianism was a major driving force. Slavery was abolished throughout Britain's possessions in 1834, and much of the work of the Royal Navy through the middle decades of the 19th century was devoted to the suppression of slave trafficking by peoples of other nations- including this one (the USA). The British colony of Sierra Leone was founded as a refuge for freed slaves, a dozen years before Liberia. The drive to eliminate slavery was fueled by evangelical Christianity, which, in the form of missionary activity, continued to be an important element of the imperial thrust well into the 20th century, especially in Africa.”
Given the bizarre morality and values of our time there are some who try to suggest that very “Christian Missionary zeal” itself was a form of racism or imperial oppression cruelly suppressing local customs and traditions. However, that is all part of that doctrine which seeks find malevolence in all things western, and which attack western style Christianity for no better reason than that it is Western. Furthermore, although I believe passionately in the preservation of various ethnic cultures, I refuse to accept there is a moral equivalence between Christianity and those local customs such as Sati muti thuggee and female genital mutilation which were amongst the traditional which were suppressed. Neither do I feel that we should feel guilt for the fact that by suppressing them, countless thousands were spared the suffering they would otherwise have endured. (albeit in the case of muti and female mutilation, the victims were only spared until we left.)
Furthermore, before attacking Christianity, the proponents of white guilt should not forget that some of the most passionate and devout Christians are black Africans, a group they tend to avoid offending whenever possible.
This is not to deny that some horrors did occur during the four and a half centuries between the day Henry V11 sent John Cabot off to kind a new route to India, and Harold MacMillan's infamous and self serving “Wind of Change” speech in 1960. However, these were true “isolated incidents” usually involving single rogue individuals or nervous young soldiers firing upon aggressive crowds. Furthermore, even the worst outrages, such as the Amritsar (or Jallianwala Bagh) massacre although inexcusable, were extremely rare and resulted in a death toll roughly equivalent to bad 48 hours in Iraq.
Contrary to the anti British propaganda taught in out schools, there was nothing remotely approaching the brutality of other empires, such as the Ottoman empire, let alone the type of officially sanctioned genocide which characterised the great communist empires such as Russia and China regimes so close to the hearts of so many in today's UAF, or certainly their fathers.
In fact the only real example any major atrocity committed by imperial Britain was against the white tribe of Southern Africa, during the Boer war. How odd then that nobody is urging us to accept white Boer asylum seekers as recompense for how badly our great grandparents treated them, despite how desperate their current situation is becoming.
A common accusation against the British is that we “plundered” other countries, however it is surely a strangely British form of plundering, where a world power moves into a country which has no infrastructure, is without health cover, without law, without education, and with a dismally low life expectancy, and, without exception left them with a world renowned system of law, a healthy and educated population, a 20th Century infrastructure, together with functioning industry and agricultural systems enabling them to be potentially self supporting. The fact that the Infrastructure has been destroyed, agriculture devastated and the industrial wealth pillaged, does not change the fact that it was bequeathed to our colonial subjects when we left them.
To quote John Derbyshire again “The British Empire was, in fact, for all its faults and occasional horrors, a net force for good. I cannot think of any place that Britain left worse- less healthy, less prosperous, less well-educated-than she found it.”
That is the truth, not the huge lie now being told to excuse what some ex-colonies have done to their inheritance particularly in Africa, that Colonialism, especially British colonialism was the cause of the dire situations in which some ex-colonial countries now find themselves. A calumny which is easily exposed as the lie it is.
Firstly it is disproved by the fact that it is primarily only the Africa colonies which are suffering, whereas many of those in Asia are booming, India for instance, looks set to become one of the major economies in the 21st Century. The Asians, for all their faults, took what we left them, ran with it and may soon overtake us. Of course, as older readers may have noticed, the advocates of white guilt focus almost exclusively on Africa these days, whilst ignoring the successful ex-colonies in Asia, like India and especially Hong Kong, which as a British protectorate became one the premier financial centres in the world, and remains so over a decade into Chinese rule.
However, if Africa is what our critics want to focus on, I'll take the challenge, lets look to Africa, including those African states such as Ethiopia and Liberia which were never colonised by any European power, are they any better off? ..er..nope! in many ways they are in a worse state than their ex-colonial neighbours.
The tragedy of Africa does not have its roots in Colonialism, indeed you only need to watch as their situations get worse the further they are away from British rule, to see the real causes of Africa's plight. Far from oppressing the people of Africa, Colonial rule may well have been their brief day in the sun, and a day which is sadly over.
There is no comparison between the Kenya we left in 1964 or the Rhodesia before it handed over to Mugabbe in 1980, and the corrupt, crime ridden mega slums they became within a generation of our departure.
Today the average African earns less than they did 50 years ago, when still living under under alleged their cruel white oppressors, life expectancy is plummeting (not only due to AIDS) their infrastructure is crumbling around them, and as we have seen recently in Kenya, tribal violence, which, apart from a brief reappearance during the Mau Mau outrages of the 1950's (long portrayed by our media a a liberation struggle but essentially tribal), had been long suppressed is making a reappearance.
Journalists from the Independent, the Guardian or the New York Times may faint at the suggestion, but it is becoming progressively more common to hear Africans state openly that life was better of under Colonial rule, even the current South African President's brother Moeletsi Mbeki recently admitted that “The average African is worse off now than during the colonial era”and he is certainly not alone
So, tell me again, just why are we supposed to feel guilty?
The nation which played that major and pivotal role in ending the slave trade, not only in the North Atlantic but also driving out the Arab slave traders which had previously plagued Africa and Asia for thousands of years, is, instead of taking well deserved credit for that great achievement, expected to accept primary responsibility for the evils of slavery?
A country which spread law, education, health care and civilization to a quarter of the Earth's population is supposed to feel guilty for oppressing those we were educating, protecting and healing?
A people who built gleaming, 20th century cities, which would stand proud in the centre of Europe, in the African bush and bequeathed them together with fully functional infrastructures and thriving economies to people who have shown themselves incapable of maintaining what was handed to them, let alone building for themselves, are required to meekly accept the allegation that we plundered those countries which we left in so much better condition than that which we found them in?
I think not.
In our schools, two generations of our children have been taught lies by politically motivated liars, whilst our media, our politicians and agenda driven historians present us with a entirely fictionalised version of our history. Yet, the myths behind white guilt, certainly as they apply to Great Britain, do not stand up against even the most cursory of of analysis, in terms of our Imperial past we have very little to feel guilty about.
It is not jingoistic to state that, as a people, we the British have created more good in this world and done more for the benefit of mankind than almost any of the races with whom we share this planet, it is a truth and one easily supported by the facts. Any honest, and unbiased study of our history and our empire, far from justifying guilt, should be the source of tremendous national pride.
Link to part one