Paul Treanor | 09.01.2003 11:10
Colonialism was wrong first time round, and it is still wrong. It is morally wrong for western powers to recolonise territory in this way, and their soldiers should refuse to engage in a war of recolonisation. British troops should refuse orders to invade Iraq, or to facilitate or support that invasion. A mutiny is the correct response to an order which is morally wrong, and which the political leadership refuses to withdraw.
Why is there now a trend to recolonisation, after a historically unique decolonisation in the 1950's and 1960's? Developments in the last 20 years have reversed western attitudes to colonisation, well before the September 11 attacks. These developments include:
- a strong feeling of cultural superiority in the west, and the belief that liberal values are universal
- the renewed western image of non-western countries as 'barbarian', a sea of atrocities
- the emergence (from the peace movement and Third-World movements) of intervention lobbies, usually NGO's with good access to the media
- the fusion of these lobbies with the traditional foreign-policy elites in western countries, symbolised by the appointment of Médecins sans Frontières founder Bernard Kouchner as UN governor of Kosovo
- the creation of a western-funded and usually English-speaking NGO elite in the target states, the so-called 'democratic forces'
- the acceptance of interventionist doctrines by the UN, and the abandonment of the doctrine of sovereignty
- the creation of interventionist international military strategy and tactics, to replace the traditional ceasefire-line presence of UN troops.
In contrast to earlier colonial practice, recolonisation is nominally international or multi-state, at least formally. Traditional colonies had one colonial power only. In practice a tendency already apparent in the League of Nations mandates is repeated: the nearest western power plays a dominant role (in Timor, that was Australia).
There is a strong visual image of colonialism, often from historical films, but it is surprisingly difficult to define it. I think a colonial relationship is defined by two things: first, there is an inequality of power and administration, and secondly this inequality is along ethnic lines. Colonial territories are sharply distinct from the nation state, because they reject a classic nationalist principle - namely that ethnic group, citizenship, state power, and state boundaries, should all coincide.
It is this fundamental colonial relationship which was so clearly visible in Timor during the Australian occupation. White Australian troops patrolled the streets of Dili, but the inhabitants of Timor were not allowed to send troops to patrol the streets of Canberra, and search white Australians for weapons. Timorese can not vote in Australian elections, or sit in the Australian parliament, or even permanently reside in Australia - but Australian electors took decisions affecting Timor. There is an asymmetric exercise of power in such protectorates, and the asymmetry is ethnic.
On this definition of colonialism, the French overseas departments (DOM) are no longer colonies. Their inhabitants now have French passports and full citizenship: they vote in French national elections, receive the same social security payments as in France, and are free to travel to France at any time. When the territories were true colonies, only Europeans and a tiny 'native elite' had such rights. No DOM status, or anything like it, is planned for Iraq. (Think of how Tony Blair would react, to the idea of paying British benefits to the Iraqi unemployed).
The Office of Tibet website gives a comprehensive definition of colonialism.
"Colonial rule is established in one or more of the following three ways: military conquest and subsequent annexation; the conclusion of a treaty or contract; the creation of merchant enclaves followed by settlement.
Colonialism always involves the migration of people from a metropolitan state to a satellite region, but the magnitude of settlement differs from case to case.
The original population of the colonised territory is not, or poorly, represented in the colonial government. The interests of the original inhabitants are largely determined by the metropolitan, colonial power.
Colonial rule superimposes national borders. In most cases these borders do not correspond to the local community structure(s) or to the political history of the colonised territory. Often the territory in question had not been organized as a nation state before the advent of the colonial power.
Economic development is planned and imposed by the colonial power and often benefits the metropolitan state at the expense of the satellite region. Resources located in the colony are transferred to or used for the benefit of the metropolitan state and for further processing and marketing by that state.
Civilising mission: the colonial power undertakes to 'civilise' the original inhabitants of a colony. The underlying presumption is that the colonial power possesses a culture/civilisation which is superior in relation to the culture/civilisation of the colonised population(s). In addition, the colonial power often claims that the original population of the colonised territory is unable to rule itself for reasons of political immaturity or economic backwardness.
Cultural exchange between settlers/representatives from the metropolitan state and the original inhabitants of the colony is asymmetrical. The latter adopt more aspects of the culture of the former than vice versa.
The maintenance of colonial authority involves a permanent military presence, consisting of soldiers from the metropolitan state or local soldiers under the command of officers from the metropolitan state.
The maintenance of authority is often strengthened by a policy of population transfer.
Colonised people(s) experience colonial rule as alien. Similarly, citizens from the metropolitan state continue to make a distinction between themselves and the original inhabitants of the colony."
The Office of Tibet definition was written to avoid the 'salt-water doctrine', which says colonies are well separated from the coloniser, usually by sea. (Since Tibet borders on China, it can not be a Chinese colony under that definition). Nevertheless, it accurately describes the future American-led and nominally UN-administered protectorate in Iraq.
The 'protectorate formerly ruled by Saddam' will be established by military conquest. As in Kosovo, an elite of 'internationals' (primarily from the USA and Europe) will migrate there to form an interim administration. They will be accompanied by aid workers, often indirectly funded by western governments - probably several tens of thousands in all.
The original population of Iraq will not be represented at all in this administration. In the first phase, Iraq will almost certainly be ruled by an American military governor, as in Japan after 1945. All decisions will indeed be made in the interests of the western powers. That applies above all to 'economic development', which will consist entirely of restarting oil flows to the West. The single exportable resource of Iraq - oil - will indeed be transferred to the western states, and will indeed be refined and marketed there.
The interim authority will indeed undertake to civilise the country, or 'democratise' it, as they now say. The underlying presumption is indeed that the western powers possess a superior system. In fact it is no longer a hidden presumption: President Bush and Tony Blair, and their right-wing supporters, all loudly proclaim that western values are superior. The most influential neoconservative commentator, Ann Coulter, wrote after September 11: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." No false modesty in the new civilising mission.
So the cultural exchange between the representatives of the western powers and the Iraqi inhabitants will indeed be asymmetrical. In fact it will be deliberately structured as a one-way street, with tens or perhaps hundreds of NGO's arriving, to introduce 'democratic values' and construct an Iraqi 'civil society'. Almost entirely in English, because only the intelligence services will take the trouble to learn the local languages.
As in Bosnia and Kosovo and Timor, the authority of the protectorate will rest entirely on an occupation force, which will indeed be controlled by the western powers - probably 100% by the US. It might encourage some population transfers, to undermine local power bases of the old regime, Tikrit especially. It will certainly try to prevent others, such as Kurdish refugee movement into Turkey. And most people in Iraq will indeed experience this administration as alien, and the citizens of the US and Britain will continue to see the Iraqi population as different, and generally inferior to themselves.
It is the differential exercise of power which makes recolonisation of this type immoral. As in Timor, there is no question of the Iraqi population being allowed any participation in the political life of their new rulers. Although their city might be occupied by British troops, and governed by a British administrator, they will get no vote in British elections. They will have no right to demonstrate in London, even if they could afford to travel there, In almost all cases, they will be excluded from entry to Britain and the USA anyway. They will have no rights with respect to the British population, but the British electorate can take any decision it likes about them. If the British and American electorates, for instance, want the Iraqi population implanted with tracking chips to control their movement, then it can probably enforce this. In any case, all fundamental decisions about the Iraqi population will be taken by a different and remote population, which regards them with contempt. This is clearly unfair, it is clearly an injustice, and no soldier should enforce this inequality of power.
It certainly can not be justified on the grounds of 'democracy', Tony Blair was elected in Britain, and George Bush was elected (fairly or not) in the United States. Neither of them has any democratic mandate to govern Iraq, and they will follow no political process of any kind, to acquire this power. They can rule Iraq purely by the exercise of military force. With respect to the Iraqi population, they are just as much a dictator as Saddam Hussein.
At its simplest, the future protectorate in Iraq is simply 'white rule'. The whites have the military power, they rule the natives, the natives have nothing to say - it's as simple as that. Unfortunately, this ethnic inequality is likely to be repeated in the coming years, as more countries are subjected to recolonisation. The ideology of recolonisation is complex. Its supporters believe in the absolute truth of their own values, with no scepticism or relativism. They believe in the geographical universality of these values, and feel they are part of a morally superior movement. They have a crusader mentality: they feel justified in imposing these values on the whole world, by force if necessary. They often see this as an inevitable historical development (historicism), and they have a contempt for other values, cultural and moral. At heart, however, the recolonisation movement is a repeat of the racism, jingoism, and imperialism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tony Blair wants British soldiers, once again, to lord over the Fuzzie-Wuzzies. British soldiers, if they have a conscience, should refuse.