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 Post subject: The British imperial legacy in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2006 1:58 am 
The British imperial legacy in Sri Lanka


22 February 2006
© 2005 Khaleej Times

THE News of the World video pictures showing British soldiers behaving like brutes shocked the world and provoked anger not only in Iraq but also throughout the Arab world and elsewhere. Soldiers are soldiers, whether they are British, American or Sri Lankan. They can be brutish and trigger-happy.

The shocking video pictures, which showed a group of British soldiers brutally beating and kicking defenceless Iraqi teenagers in a Basra army compound, exposed the true nature of a soldier. It also shows that things have not changed much since the British left the subcontinent more than half a century ago. They came and conquered us and justified their occupation on the basis that they were on a mission to civilise the uncivilised. "They were incapable of ruling themselves, so they should be ruled," was the motto of our colonisers.

But what really happened was something else. A famous African saying, which summed up the whole colonial drama and unmasked the European colonisers, has still not lost its validity. The saying which greets visitors to the Johannesburg apartheid museum goes like this: "When the white man came, they had the Bible and we had our land. Today, we have the Bible and they have our land."

Some may dismiss this statement as a thing of past, but given the neo-colonial agenda driven by the neocons who are preaching or propagating their concepts for exploitation and plunder under the cover of labels like liberal democracy or evangelical Christianity, we have to be on our guard. For unlike the colonial agenda, the neo-colonial plunder is unseen and subtle.

The colonial mentality of our past colonial masters is still alive as evident in the British soldiers’ behaviour in Basra. Whether it is the present day Iraq or the 19th century Sri Lanka, the Western mindset appears to be the same. Like in present day Iraq, the Western colonial powers (in our case Britain) came to Sri Lanka under the pretext of liberating the people from an autocratic ruler.

The Sri Lankan aristocrats backed the British in the belief that once the king was deposed, they would be the rulers. But the British stayed on for more than 13 centuries. When those who backed the British told them politely that "now you have deposed the king, you may leave us," — the way the Iraqi people are now telling the foreign powers — the British response came through the barrel of the gun. The manner in which they crushed the 1817 rebellion bears testimony to the imperial legacy of the British.

Governor Robert Brownrigg was in no mood to tolerate the disgrace of a great military nation being expelled by "a band of semi-barbarians without discipline and little courage" while one of his top military officers vowed, "We’ll track the savage to his den with famine, sword, and flame".

A poem penned by a British sentry sums up the imperialist mindset in these racist words:

"But British courage still prevailing,
Soon we made our foes to fly
And, their villages assailing,
Caused some hundreds to die.
See their villages a-burning,
And their temples soon laid low,
This the wretches get for joining
With the jungle rebel foe."

Such was the contempt with which they ruled us and what we saw in the Basra video clippings and the ongoing controversy over the despicable caricatures of the Prophet suggests that there has been little change in their attitude towards all that is not West.

When the British finally left Sri Lanka in 1948, we inherited many of their values — not only democracy and the rule of law but also the methods they employed in crushing rebellions and riots. Torture was rampant as the Sri Lankan state launched ruthless campaigns against the 1971 and 1988-90 insurrections by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Tamil Tigers.

A JVP friend of mine related to me how he was picked up by the Sri Lankan military and was tortured and kept naked in a cell where he could hardly stretch his legs to relieve the pain. The picture of this incident created in my mind is no different from the shocking Abu Ghraib pictures shown recently on the Australian SBS television.

When my friend was finally dumped outside his house in a village in southern Sri Lanka — as investigations and torture produced no evidence of his involvement in the violence — he was picked up by a pro-government death squad and subjected to another round of torture. Although the wounds have healed, my friend, a kind soul and social activist now, is living with the mental and physical scars, refusing to forgive his torturers.

It is not our renewed commitment to the fundamental rights enshrined in Sri Lankan constitution that ended the reign of terror but our dire need for foreign aid which the West linked to our human rights record. The West in the 1990s had the moral high ground to do that. But with the Iraq outrage bringing Britain and the United States to the level of what Sri Lanka was in the 1988-90 period, can the people living under dictatorships or far-from-perfect democracies have hopes of being saved by the Western nations, not so long ago regarded as the champions of human rights?

Ameen Izzadeen is a senior Sri Lankan journalist based in Colombo

 Post subject:
 Post Posted: Wed Aug 30, 2006 12:07 pm 

Joined: Wed Aug 30, 2006 11:46 am
Posts: 3
They will never change. Americans are no better either. What's wrong with these countries? Have they not had enough of colonial rule or colonial rulers? Why do the non-whites fall all over the feet of a white person the moment they lay their eyes on them? Does anyone believe even for one second they are still superior to the non-whites? It is time they were told they are not! They are the biggest threat to world peace, if you look at what they have done in the history of mankind, not only recently in Iraq or Afghanistan or even Vietnam but also in terms of their colonial past. Just look at the way they have anihilated the native Indians of Americas, the aborigines of Australia and the Maories of New Zealand and taken over their lands. :( Would anyone in their right minds describe this behaviour a behaviour of a civilized people? They disgust me and the the world is still asleep to their evil intentions. :roll:

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