Easy to Pontificate at a Laptop, Less Easy to Be Fair and Honest…

By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

mahatma-gandhi-be-the-changeFirst thing that came up in my Facebook feed this morning: PEOPLE OF COLOUR SHOULD NOT BE GRATEFUL FOR COLONIALISM

Wow… Just, wow…. Not saying there isn’t a grain of truth in this, but so much anti-British, anti-European, propaganda and from a British/EU citizen no less! Not denying the British Empire committed crimes, excesses, and had an uncivilised side to it… But come on, unique? Then using that to claim virtually all British people living today are racist!

If you ask many Indians, especially of Hindu and other local backgrounds, they would point out the Mughals were invaders of Mongolian ancestry, not an indigenous Indian government. In the minds of many Indians, there is little difference between the Mughals and the Brits. Both were foreign invaders, both committed excesses and crimes against the Indian people, both kept slaves. Except that the terrible Brits did actually lay the foundations for modern India and Pakistan, tried to outlaw sati, built schools, railways and infrastructure that Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis still benefit from to this day.

Britain is one of the few nations in history where the people and establishment came to realise slavery was ethically and morally wrong, and later used it’s imperial resources to not only ban slavery within its borders, but strove to completely shut down the international slave trade using the Royal Navy.

Does that mean the British Empire was wonderful, utopian, and the colonised nations should feel forever grateful to the Brits. No, of course not! Nor am I suggesting it should. But what it does show is that we are not the monsters some make us out to be, even if there were some individuals who perhaps were, among the British establishment and colonisers during imperial times.

Reality is, the British Empire like the Spanish, Ottoman, French and other empires it shared history with, was very much a product of the times it existed in. Just as modern nation states, continental unions, United Nations, and other international bodies are products of the 20th and 21st centuries. Indeed, it is very easy to sit at a laptop today passing judgement on past empires and the people who had a share in them, but seriously what would anyone have done differently were they leaders living during those times?

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