The Way It Was: Indeed what has changed?

Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

In the past the Allied Powers fought Fascism. Today they fight Terrorism. Yesterday they fought for democracy against communism and “dictators”, who were popular third world leaders, for capitalist barons. Today they are fighting for human rights against the Axis of Evil, for the monarchs of multi-national capitalism

Everyone says the world has changed. Indeed, what has changed? I ask. The world seems to be the same. Let us just look back at the last hundred years. At the turn of the last century the industrialised countries fought with each other to carve the globe into their colonies as if it was a roast turkey.

On the eve of 1914 the division of the world among industrialised powers was almost complete. Africa except for the Republics of Liberia and Ethiopia was completely occupied. Turkey, China and Persia the only remaining free countries of Asia were threatened with rival ambitions.

The main causes for colonisation were economic. National markets were shrinking and there was determination to capture weak countries that could provide, a) naval base for territorial expansion and protection of access to their economic interests, b) source for raw materials, c) market for industrial products and investment. As someone aptly said, “Colonial policy is the daughter of industrial policy.” There was consequently a great race to occupy territories. “No time must be lost,” said King Leopold II of Belgium, “otherwise we shall see nations more enterprising than us taking up the best positions, and such positions are few in numbers already.”

These European powers that lost the First War soon took to arms again, which led to the Second World War. The control over the colonies was imperative, in word of HG Wells, for “strategic strength and world wide trade.” Defenders of colonisation have however asserted that there were the ideological forces, which motivated colonisation. They argue that colonisation introduced the light of reason, democratic principles and the benefits of science and medicine. The present day multinational forces are demonstrating the same spirit and commitment to progress, which was demonstrated by their ancestors. The manner in which the world was colonised by European powers is a long tragic tale, which began with the heroic age of navigation, continued through the industrial revolution and its bloody aftermath into the 20th century. In the process three Continents were stolen from the indigenous people: the Continents of North and South America and Australia. The Continents of Africa and Asia except for Japan had not industrialised or developed mercantile economies. They were inward looking and had self-sustaining economies. They were neither economically impelled to plunder, nor driven to develop lethal weapons or retain an armed force necessary to subjugate others for exploiting their resources. While the Americas and Australia were completely possessed by the European colonial powers and the indigenous cultures and economies brutally annihilated, Africa and Asia were divided and colonised.

Africa in particular was divided with callous indifference to the ethnic identities or cultural diversity of tribes and nations, which had lived there for centuries. In several cases people who spoke the same language and shared a common memory and history were parcelled out to different contenders. While surveying the colonial map of Africa, it is evident that the borders of many colonies were drawn without taking into consideration, not only the ethnic or linguistic boundaries but also natural boundaries established by rivers or mountains.

During the Second World War, we South Asians being a British colony were made to side with the Allied Forces. We were told that the Germans were bad, who being fascist obviously couldn’t possibly have been good. However we had little choice in the matter. We fought against the Germans in freezing winters of Europe, against the Italians in the scorching sands of North Africa and against the Japanese in the cobra-infested steaming bamboo forests of Burma. What did we get in return? In spite of all this we had to struggle for our independence and got our Freedom at Midnight. It is common knowledge now that there were a number of unsettled issues between the two new states, about disputed territories and concerning division, sharing and transference of resources, which could have been better addressed at daytime.

They say that the world has changed. Indeed, what has changed?

Have we learned anything from the past? For the European industrial barons the two World Wars were in reality not wars about Fascism or democracy but about capturing world resources. This was first achieved by direct occupation and then later when direct colonisation had become unsustainable through suppliant governments and states. Today we find that in spite of their vehement insistence for strengthening democracy and defending human rights, the industrialised countries led by US today are doing exactly what they were doing during the last century. In order to capture world markets and resources especially oil they are shamelessly invading other countries on gross pretexts. The war against terrorism, the struggle for Democracy and Human Rights is a hoax. They have becomes tools in the hands of the aggressors. They are selectively used where they serve their best interest.

Indeed what has changed today?

In the past the Allied Powers fought Fascism. Today they fight Terrorism. Yesterday they fought for democracy against communism and “dictators”, who were popular third world leaders, for capitalist barons. Today they are fighting for human rights against the Axis of Evil, for the monarchs of multi-national capitalism. In the first half of twentieth century, German Nazi’s were responsible for the inhuman atrocities inflicted on the Jews. Today the Israeli Zionists with similar brutality are slaughtering the Palestinians and trying to deprive them of their homeland like the Jews were deprived of theirs.

The arrogance with which President Bush has been singling out countries, which he intends to devour, brings to memory Adolf Hitler with his funny moustache mouthing vengeance on his neighbours. It is a list, which encompasses North Africa, Near Asia to Far East Asia and can be extended if the Caesar so desires even to the Polar Regions. Peace loving and God-fearing people can only pray that Bush is not set on fire with his own anger. Let us pray that God’s mercy and his own better sense abate it. It is also a matter of common sense that if the world is “Bushed” it is not unlikely that Bush will not be ambushed in return. In any war whether you win or loose there will be inevitable collateral damage which tragically the innocent people have to suffer. This I have on the authority of Madeline Albright who in innumerable television appearances has so ably defended the pain, suffering and death caused by the government she served through collateral damage. Actually in a war anything can happen. And actually in the end, unless you wish to be carried away with your own verbosity, no one is a winner. On the other hand, if powerful nations work to eliminate mutual cause of fear and overcome their anger and avaricious appetite for more and more at the cost of others, everyone can be a winner. The world would change only when that happens.

But today, indeed, what has changed?

Prof Ijaz-ul-Hassan is a painter, author and a political activist