Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Geometry of Imperialism

I have a globe on my desk. One of the tell-tale signs on such maps of the world is not the pink colour of colonies of the British Empire. That is so passé, and these maps are no longer published. Instead, the significant feature is the number of lengthy straight lines on the parts of the global map covering Africa and the Middle East. While there are straight lines elsewhere, these are the ones that stand out, the ones relating most clearly to the division of colonies in this region by the main European imperial powers.[1]

The straight lines are the product of colonial power that divided areas of influence, irrespective of the different ethnic and social groups that lived in them. The ruling groups in Arab countries were then determined by their relationship with the influential imperialist powers; Israel was, in a more complex way, established as a tool of imperialism to overlook the potentially less obedient Arabs. This means that political issues in these regions cannot be solved within the ‘countries’ concerned. A stable political deal between the different groups has not been established by agreement between them; rather the ascendancy of a particular group has been supported by imperialist influence. This is the basis for civil war, especially when the interests of imperialism change and the formerly leading group no longer has its previous power and support. Then a fragile peace, or a just-acceptable degree of terror or oppression, is no longer sustainable.

In this context, I recommend that you read the linked article/interview that gives an excellent account of the current situation in Syria. This shows, although implicitly, how solutions to the problems in a particular country cannot be resolved within that country, especially when these affect the balance of forces in the region and the interests of the imperialist powers.

Tony Norfield, 13 June 2012

[1] Just look on Wikipedia for the histories of the formation of African and Middle Eastern states. Britain and France are the main players, with a small role played by Italy, though many decisions on the continent were taken to limit German influence before World War 1. A topic not covered in these otherwise useful details is the way in which Britain’s colonial policy exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions, often with the classic policy of backing the minority faction in a country because they would be more dependent on the external power for support. One would not expect Wikipedia to be able to give a decent account of the role of Israel as a tool of imperialism.

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