The damage caused by European colonialism

“ … the southern Moslem states of Thailand might logically belong with Malaysia. Does the Buddhist nation of Thailand rule the southern states according to Buddhist teachings? Are the Moslem peoples in the southern regions of the Philippines rightly ruled by the Spanish blood-infused Christians of that nation? Should therefore the national boundaries laid by colonial marauders be set in concrete?

In the case of Indonesia, with its official cultural tolerance set out in its praise-worthy principle ‘Panchasila,’ the very wide diversity of its ethno-religious peoples spread over so many islands may mitigate against equitable and efficient governance. Tribalism can be expected to over-ride a shared hoped-for nationalism, especially if the Roman Catholic priesthood has any influence.

When one considers what the British did to the Indian sub-continent, after bringing together a great variety of peoples previously ruled as independent entities, one can only wonder at the seemingly unlimited capacity of the relatively tiny (and now unimportant) nations of Europe to create inter-tribal mayhem elsewhere. That their chickens are now coming home to roost, in the form of their former subject peoples now claiming a home with their former ruler, may be seen as cosmic justice. Or, will cheap labour compensate for the presence of the unrespected ‘other’ of yesteryear?

A major issue in colonial heritage is whether the modernisation which inevitably occurred in the colonies benefited the subject peoples. Although the improvements in transport, education and health facilities were established as necessary infrastructure in the occupied territories, there were clearly some benefits to a few. But the downside was the destruction of the traditional economy, especially the loss of skilled artisans.

Nehru pointed out in his letters to his daughter, while he had been imprisoned by the British (simply because of his wish to achieve the independence of India), that the economies of Egypt and India had been destroyed by the British; and, worse still, that in each of the four famines of India in the nineteenth century, twenty million were estimated to have starved to death. Of what use was the infrastructure to the poor?

A recent academic study shows that modernisation in the Middle East by the ‘great powers’ Britain and France (which played merry hell with boundaries and rulers there too) did not result in the consequent expected inflow of new technologies as had occurred in Europe. There, modernisation in the form of new political and social structures, the inculcation of new values and modified approaches to governance, trade and commerce, enabled the introduction of new technologies as available, subject to the recalcitrance of religious and other community leaders.

What was the modernisation in the Middle East? A new administrative middle class which dressed and spoke like the foreign rulers? Did that aid the economic development of their peoples? Not on the basis of evidence. It was post-independence investment by both foreigners and locals which rebuilt some former colonial nations.”

(One might accept that any investment by the colonial governments was directed to developments which suited the rulers back home; any benefits to the ‘natives’ were incidental. That 20 million Indians starved to death in each of 4 famines under the British says it all. That local industries were destroyed is also undeniable. The damage done to the peoples in the Middle East continues.

Why place Muslim districts in East Asia under Christian or Buddhist rulers? Why grant Hindu lands to Buddhist rulers? Why split the Indian sub-continent on the basis of religion? Why rush around converting the lowest social groups to Christianity? Why create a ‘creole’ Christian people wherever they reigned? And back home, the rulers lived in splendiferous style, thanks to the spoils of colonial rule.

Hopefully, the events described in the above extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ will never ever be repeated. Would it not be nice if Western politicians and priests allowed people in other countries to live as they wish?)

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