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COLONIALISM

I am reading a book called Colonialism by Nigel Biggar, an Oxford theologian and ethicist, and also a Christian. If you want a fair and reasoned view on this subject from an historical as well as an ethical point of view, then you could not do better than this.

The current fashion is to condemn colonialism, especially British colonialism, and everything about it. From the 18th century African slave trade to the 19th century rule of India, we are accused of greed, cruelty and violence, exploiting and dominating indigenous peoples in our unbridled lust for wealth and power.

It is a travesty. We, the British, never set out to conquer or rule the world, nor did we ignore the interests of those with whom we traded nor those whom we governed. The history of the Empire is much more complicated and nuanced than that. Of course, colonial expansion was often motivated by the desire to make money through trade and the development of the natural resources, but then much of human life everywhere is motivated by the desire for increased prosperity, both for ourselves and for others. Likewise, migration and settlement in a different country has always been, and still is, a feature of human life, whether that settlement is done with or without the consent of the previous inhabitants. There is good and bad in all of this, and in all of us, but there was much that was good and beneficial in the years of British colonisation and rule: good and beneficial for us but also for the peoples we employed and governed.

There are two striking things about post-colonial Britain that give the lie to our supposedly oppressive and obnoxious past. The first is the Commonwealth (so much loved and nurtured by our late Queen). The Commonwealth consists of 56 nations from every continent that share our values, and wish to preserve and promote development, democracy, and peace throughout the world. If our governance of the old Empire was so oppressive and hated, why are so many of our former Dominions and Colonies eager to maintain and foster their relationship with us through this Commonwealth link? And indeed, why do other countries, that were never even part of our Empire, want to join us and this multi-coloured and multi-cultural association of nations?

Secondly, if we were such hated intruders and oppressors in these other countries, why are so many of the citizens of those countries now so keen to emigrate to this country, to live and work and settle among us: West Indian descendants of slaves, Indians, Africans, and, again, not only people from our former colonies, but even people from countries which we never colonised or ruled in the first place? They all seem to like us.

You could even say that the wheel has now come full circle. There are many more Indians and Pakistanis for example who have settled in this country than British people who ever settled in the Indian empire. The vast majority of us came home when our years of service there ended, but there is no sign of these immigrants going home. You could say that we are now the ones who are being colonised. You could even say that we are now the ones being ruled by these immigrants: our Prime Minister, after all, is Rishi Sunak of Indian heritage, our Foreign Secretary is James Cleverly of African heritage, and our Home Secretary is Suella Braverman also of Indian heritage!

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