Saturday, 13 August 2016



‘Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism’, Lenin wrote. Maybe. But imperial ambitions can also be the symptoms of a disease. A lingering syndrome possessing those whose empire is as dead as a dodo.

In 1956 Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. Promptly, British PM Anthony Eden (the handsomest statesman Britain ever had, they say), in cahoots with France and Israel, invaded Egypt. An ignominious debacle followed, as the Yanks refused to back the aggressors. The invaders pulled out and Eden’s political career was over. So were the last shreds of perfidious Albion’s worldwide domination.

A mighty European power long before, Britain’s imperial title was formalised in 1877 when Tory PM Benjamin Disraeli, a Sephardi Jew and accomplished novelist, proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India. It endured until 1947, when the British Raj came to an end. The ill-fated Suez adventure was Brit imperialism’s desperate backlash, before the final stiffness of rigor mortis set in.

Oddly, scattered and pathetic bits of empire survive, here and there, like flotsam and jetsam after a shipwreck. From Gibraltar to the Falklands. Some are lucrative financial havens for crooks of all ilk, like the Cayman Islands. (Imperialism, according to Lenin, was essentially an economic and financial affair.) Looking at the map, it doesn’t really make sense that Britain should claim sovereignty over them but…those are bagatelles. More serious is that the bellicose imperial syndrome refuses to die. Militarism is an index. Since 2000 Britain has undertaken at least three major aggressive wars: Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Countries which posed no threats whatsoever to Britain’s mainland. Yet they were invaded, wrecked and ruined. America took the lead of course and the former British lion, poodle-like, eagerly followed.

Britain’s military imperialism can also be indirect. Use useful proxies. Like the House of Saud. The unsavoury rulers of the only country in the world named after its dynasty: Saudi Arabia. Consider Bahrain. A former British colony and a tiny nation on the Arab-Persian Gulf, Bahrain gained its independence on 15 August 1971. But it does not celebrate that as National Day. It observes 16 December instead. Why? Because it is the accession day of the al-Khalifa ‘King’ of Bahrain. A monarch cordially detested by the majority of his people. Most Bahrainis are Shia Muslims whilst the ruler is a Sunni. But it is not primarily a sectarian thing. Anyway, the people demand their human rights, negated by the King, not an Islamic state. They have been in uprising against their despot for years. Unable to quell popular resistance al-Khalifa called on the Saudis. The huge neighbour’s troops in 2011 swarmed into the small archipelago, to subdue the popular will. Talk of a sledgehammer to
crack a nut!

Since last year the Saudis and other Sunni ‘Gulfies’ have also intervened militarily in Yemen. A ferocious bombing campaign, aimed at subjugating the Houthi fighters. Numberless innocent civilian casualties. Again, the sectarian argument is invoked. Houthis are Zaidis - kind of Shia - and Iran is supposed to be their friend. But it is a charade. The Saudis are the bad guys, period. To be fair, it is the Yanks who bear the greater guilt in Yemen, not the Brits. Well, who said there is only one imperialism about?

A notorious canard traces the origins of the Saudi clique to a British spy. A certain Mr Hempher. The shadowy agent who would have nursed and coached – or virtually created – extremist preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab, the forerunner of the poisonous Wahhabi sect in league with the House of Saud. Most likely it is a fantasy, sheer conspiratology. Mr Hempher never existed but, looking at the last century, he might as well have been real. It is the British who backed al-Saud against the rival al-Rashid Amir. It is Britain who supplies bombers, arms and experts to the Saudi regime. It is the British Royals, such as Prince Charles, who delight in cosying up to the Saudi princes. Apparently the heir to the throne has ‘close ties’ to the Saudi rulers. What kind of ties, I wonder? (Seeing Charles kitted out like Lawrence of Arabia and dancing the sword dance amidst his grinning Saudi hosts was droll but also rather weird…)

Imperialism of any kind, even the democratic variety, itches for war, yes. Is that why PM ‘Unholy’ Theresa May has stated in Parliament that she is ready to incinerate millions of innocent human beings, women and children, with a nuclear strike? Unholy Theresa must love the bomb, methinks. When all pretence is dropped, it comes down to this: she loves the idea of mass murder. That’s sanguinary, inhuman imperialism in a nutshell, folks!

OK, you can’t tar all Brits with the same imperialist brush. Politicians like Jeremy Corbyn and his radical followers are at the other end of the spectrum. Corbyn stands for the poor and the oppressed. He is also a friend of the Bahraini people. Problem is, Corbyn is too good. Not willing to play the British pseudo-lion and imperialist. Not keen on beating the war drums. He is a genuine anti-imperialist. That is why he is unlikely to gain high office. Sad.

What is to be done, bad old Lenin asked? The words of a glorious hymn provide the answer. Going back to an infinitely better man than Lenin. Indeed, a holy man, St Paul: ‘Fight the good fight, with all your might!’

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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