Friday, November 11, 2005

Rashid Khalidi, 'Resurrecting Empire'

I am reading this book courtesy verbalprivilege, who has left half her books with me (so go read her blog first in gratitude), and I am reading it because I'm meant to be doing a workshop on humanitarian intervention for 6th form kids tomorrow and I know Iraq will come up and I don't know enough about Iraq, so...

First of all, progressive academics - like all good academics - love, and dwell on, complexity so much, that policymakers have no interest in reading them. It isn't just that policymakers have short attention spans, it's also that they read with a view to framing policy - 'so what do we do?' is always a central preoccupation. This is why people like Bernard Lewis who simplify relentlessly, get a much better hearing than anyone who talks about the complexity and construction and politicisation of identity. Khalidi is good because he is trying to offer an equally accessible counterpoint to the likes of Lewis, but obviously from an entirely different political vantagepoint.

The book has pointed me in the direction of reading this - look at the authors and, most importantly, at the date. No further comment.

Then there are juicy historical titbits, one of which I cannot resist sharing. The context is the various plans that different branches of the British government were discussing for the governance of Mesopotamia (now, Iraq) - HMG's left hand often not just out of synch with the right hand, but actually arm-wrestling with it (not too different from the Bush administration today) - (p. 96)

The firmly held view of the British Indian government was that Iraq should be ruled directly by British officials, that no attentioin whatsoever should be given to the wishes of the Arab population, and that the potentially rich territory of Iraq should become a field for Indian business, enterprise, and possibly colonisation by landless Indian peasants [ed. !!!!!]. In effect, some of them wanted Iraq to be a full-blown possession of Britain's colony, India, or as Colonel A. T. Wilson, later senior political officer in Iraq, put it early in the war: 'I should like to see it announced that Mesopotamia was to be annexed to India as a colony of India and Indians.' This was an expression of 'the desire of Indian officials to receive their due, India's due, for sacrifices made in Mesopotamia.' They thus meant Iraq to be a sort of 'reward' for India's sacrifices in World War I, when hundreds of thousands of Indian troops fought and many died (for the greater glory of the British Empire, of course). There was not a little of the traditional attempt to aggrandise the sphere controlled by British officials in India in all of this, talk of rewarding the Indians themselves notwithstanding.

If you're in Bangalore, the next time you walk down Residency Road past St. Patrick's Complex on your right (remember Indiana restaurant?) go look at the war memorial in the traffic triangle between Residency and Brigade roads and you will see a dedication to the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in Mesopotamia and Afghanistan (I think) in the Great War.

Comments:
i am glad they are providing more than decorative value. ...khalidi is one of those making a real effort to insert himself in the debate & reach a non-ivorytowerish audience. if you want more you need to read Toby Dodge on British empire in Iraq. it's called "inventing iraq: the failure of nation building and a history denied"....reading the title you'd not even guess it was a history book.

how old are 6th formers? i hope they treat you gently.

and finally, i think there are some very interesting research projects that could emerge on the interpenetration of colonial policy & knowledge in S. Asia and the Middle East...like the fact that the foriegn office wanted "an India hand" to help with the LoN negotiations on the sanjak of alexandretta because of a supposed parallel between caste/religious diversity in India and the ethnic/religious/linguistic patchwork of the Sanjak. The India Office seems to have such a powerful effect on FO practice & worldview in general.... Also, I keep wondering if partition planning had any links to Lausanne, either in terms of people or simply precendent. maybe i should go back to grad school so I can answer all my speculations....
 
To the dead of the Indian armies who fell honoured in France and Flanders Mesopotamia and Persia East Africa Gallipoli and elsewhere in the near and the far-east and in sacred memory also of those whose names are recorded and who fell in India or the north-west frontier and during the Third Afgan War.

That's on the India Gate.
 
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