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[casi] "‘Casual’ imperialism"

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Subject: [NIPGtalk] "‘Casual’ imperialism"
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 18:29:02 -0500

‘Casual’ imperialism

By Vijay Prashad

This article was reprinted from the August 16, 2003, issue of the
*People's Weekly World*. For subscription information see below. All
rights reserved - may be used with PWW credits.

The U.S. and British governments admit that they have occupied Iraq, but
they categorically deny that their pursuit is imperial. They say that
they are there to liberate the country and hand it back as quickly as
possible to the Iraqis. After the fierce anticolonial movements of the
past century, "imperialism" has become an irredeemably bad word. That
imperialism has such a soiled name is one of the major achievements of
anticolonial nationalism.

 The U.S.-UK disavowal of imperialism is made in bad faith, however. The
governments can do this because most of us do not have a good sense of
imperialism, believing perhaps that it was direct rule by European
powers. This is not the case. One of the enduring questions of Indian
history is this: Why did a handful of British troops gain hegemony over
300 million Indians for over a century?

 The answer comes in three parts and, as you will see, each of these
principles has its reflection in the current Iraq situation.

 1. Divide and rule. British colonial officialdom exacerbated religous
and racial divides, pushing what may have been sometime problems into
intractable ones best managed by the imperial umpire. Claiming that the
problem of India was the civil war between Hindus and Muslims allowed the
British to gain some legitimacy from sections of the conquered

 In Iraq we hear ceaselessly about the inflexible divide between the
Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds, and the several other minorities. However,
those who live between Basra and Mosul have taken shelter in the broad
identity of Iraqi nationalism as a sub-species of Arab nationalism that
predates Saddam Hussein and the Baath.

 In Afghanistan, too, the U.S. has played the game of divide and rule,
favoring one set of people against another, and ignoring those who want
to mobilize the population based on a broader, perhaps linguistic-based,

 2. Manufacturing a bureaucracy. To manage the millions, imperial
officials selected members of an emergent middle class for higher
education in Britain, where many took law degrees or else studied for the
Imperial Civil Service – the bureaucracy that ran the Empire. These
people, during their trips to Britain, formed cultural bonds with the
center of the Empire and they remained emotionally tied to it, as well as
to the money they received for their services (paid from land revenue
raised within India, but nonetheless paid out by the British). Such
acculturation meant that such people remained beholden to the British
rather than to Indian freedom.

 The U.S. administration builds such loyalties by at least two different
strategies: by the funding of a section of the world population to come
and study within the U.S., and by the funding of strategically placed
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by private foundations and the U.S.
government. On the latter point, when the Internal Revenue Service
forbids foundations to finance political groups, it thereby undercuts the
ability of activists who enter the NGO sector to do more than
"service providing." The NGO, in sum, becomes an arm of the international
bureaucracy that ends up, consciously or unconsciously, doing the work of
U.S. imperialism.

 3. Indirect colonialism. Most of the British Empire was not ruled
directly by those from the British Isles, but it was left in the hands of
older rulers or else manufactured rulers who did the bidding of their
paymasters. In India, almost half the landmass remained in the hands of
Native Princes. China and South America remained nominally independent,
and the British foisted monarchs on Jordan and Iraq from the Arabian
Hashemite family.

 Just after the British secured Iraq in the 1920s, a Foreign Office
memorandum put the case for indirect colonialism squarely: "What we want
is some administration with Arab institutions which we can safely leave
while pulling the strings ourselves; something that won’t cost very much
but under which our economic and political interests will be secure."
This is Paul Bremer’s task in Baghdad today and the Governing Council, if
Chalabi and others take control of it, will end up as the marionette
of the Pentagon.

 On April 7, 2003, in the Iraqi town of Amara, long-time rebels against
the Baath led by Abu Hatem took control of the city. This is the only
known instance of liberation without direct U.S. intervention. The CIA
gave Abu Hatem and his people 24 hours to withdraw its authority. Such
is the game of "liberation."

 Don’t be fooled by the short-sleeves, by the exaggerated bonhomie for
the Iraqis, by the apparent leniency of U.S. imperialism. This is rule
without pageantry, empire in shirtsleeves, casualness, but casual
imperialism nonetheless.

 Vijay Prashad is associate professor at Trinity College. His latest book
is titled Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare, South
End Press, 2003.

Sub info:
People's Weekly World
235 W. 23rd St.
New York, NY 10011
$20/yr - $1 for 2 month trial sub

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