I came across the map below a few weeks ago. It’s fascinating. All those countries with a shade of red? They are countries that have had, at some stage or another, British troops marching through them. It’s certainly a lot easier, and quicker, to count off the countries that haven’t been intruded upon. There’s twenty two of them, if you are interested. To a certain degree the map is a little misleading. A goodly number of these countries were trampled upon by soldiers who were en route elsewhere. And others are huge countries, such as Russia and the US, which had British troops romping around on just a few small(ish) patches. There’s one big and obvious question that just screams at you when looking at this map though. How the hell did Luxembourg get away with it?!?! So close to the UK, and yet never had so much as a single redcoat put a foot over the border…
There’s (still) an awful lot of discussion on multiculturalism and its effects on the world. The issues are real. The results of the UK census in 2011 have recently been published, which has tongues wagging a little more furiously than usual. Some of the right wing nuts in the US still haven’t quite gotten to grips with having a black president. Most of the commentary is nonsense. People are moving. They always have. Let’s blame the Africans. If they’d jolly well stayed put in the first place, the other continents would be peaceful and entirely trouble free. And devoid of people, of course. Shall we quit arguing about multiculturalism and get back on to easier territory…how are we going to get all that toothpaste back into the tube?
Back to the map. The world is full of different people and different cultures. But why did the map turn red? Were the British, and to a lesser extent (if we’re just going by coloured maps) our European cousins just superior to other races and/or cultures. I do not have all the answers. I suggest anyone who has is probably full of BS. But we don’t have to look too far back into history to see that there wasn’t an awful lot to choose between many of these cultures. Whilst the Europeans were buried in the ‘Dark Ages’, the Islamic world lead the way in science and had a very vibrant literary and art scene. Most of the Islamic discoveries and the importance they have played in the development of civilizations around the world goes largely unreported. The video below is part one of a three part series. Highly recommended.
So what went wrong for the Islamic nations, and what went so right for the Europeans? It’s complicated, I’m sure. But I’m going to have a stab at it. Firstly, killing, kontrol and kleansing. I know. Awful use of spelling to make a cheap point. Mea culpa. But the three K’s are pretty poignant. Belief in racial superiority was a key part. Britain had everything going for it in a few key areas. As an island nation, we had developed a sizeable and well equipped maritime force. As a long time warmongering nation, we’d developed decent weaponry. And, when industrialisation came around, we discovered we had an abundance of easily mined coal relatively near the surface. We were fully equipped to travel, to overcome indigenous populations when we came across them, enslave those who were ‘worthy’ and get shot of the ones who were ‘squatting’ on territory we fancied.
Secondly, wealth and education. Empire brought money, money brought education, education brought better governance. A cycle. Vast sums poured into the UK. It made us what we are today. All the while, countries around the world had havoc wreaked upon them. Divisions were forged that exist today. The rich got richer. The poorer got poorer. Unrestrained capitalism at work. Colonialism did wonders for us. Not so much for the colonised. In Northern Ireland, there are night after night of riots over how many days a flag is flown over a single building. In Kenya, tribes are being cleared from forests, because they are damaging the ecology. These tribes know about being moved along. They found themselves shunted into the forests when British settlers took a fancy to the lands they had occupied for millennia. Israel, founded in the ashes of World War Two, is a colony. There is no doubt about that.
I find the differences between cultures fascinating. But there is no getting away from the fact that there wasn’t much between most of us a few centuries ago. There’s no getting away from the fact that the ‘superior’ nations of today got there through killing, colonising, slavery, genocide and ethnic cleansing. That is the foundation of our success and the lives we in the West enjoy. We shot and stole our way to the top. That’s why the map is red. You could be forgiven for thinking that Islamic terrorists are the scourge of all the world’s ills. Yet, European countries and the US have ultimately killed more people in the last two hundred years, directly or indirectly, than all of the other cultures combined. We’re still at it, on an industrial scale. We’re still ‘out-killing’ the rest.
Absolutely none of this justifies any murder or atrocity of any sort. Whether committed by a suicide bomber or a smart bomb. I’m just stating a few facts and mixing in a few opinions to point out that the world is an awful lot more complicated than often assumed. Or reported. There is no turning back time. Israel, for example, exists and the Palestinians are going to have to accept that. The Palestinians exist and Israel will have to accept that. How they come to this acceptance is anyone’s guess. But I suspect it will come through shared values and prosperity, not exchanged munitions. Every bullet fired, every bomb detonated – whether justified or not – is a step backward.
The West needs to look at the world through the context of history, not through false constructs of racial or cultural superiority. Islam needs to grow up. Many other peoples and nations have problems they need to deal with. And as a footnote I’d just like to make one last point. Huge resources around the world are being poured into these issues. Issues that often are a fabrication of our imagination. And yet the real issues – poverty, global warming and food/water/energy resource management – are getting about as much real attention as they are in this post. A footnote.