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August 6, 2016

The Bloody Colonial History of Britain and America

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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"Commenced on Tuesday July 11, 1882 at seven o'clock in the morning from where the Tanjor was anchored we could see the whole thing quite clearly through our glasses. To a civilian who had never seen warfare the spectacle was magnificent."

So reads the eyewitness report of an Englishman on Britain’s bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt. Within two days the city had been reduced to rubble and ash.

Dr. Timothy Mitchell cites this chilling account in his book Colonizing Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 1988). The 1882 attack on Alexandria marked the beginning of Britain’s occupation of my birth country, an occupation that would last until 1954.

The pretext used to justify so much death and destruction was the alleged mistreatment by Egyptians of Europeans living in Alexandria: “The patience of the British public was exhausted,” the government argued, “and something effectual had to be done.”

Following the bombardment, marines were sent ashore with late-19th century state-of-the-art armament. After just a week of street fighting they took over the city, then the country.

In 1956, just two years after leaving Egypt, Britain (with the help of France and Israel) invaded again, this time in retaliation for Egypt nationalizing the Suez Canal, which belonged to it in the first place.

Although the invasion was short-lived, it caused enormous death and destruction. I was 12 years old at the time and my family was displaced as a result, becoming refugees within our own country.

The bloody 72-year history of British occupation in Egypt is painful to this day; the invaders committed war crimes and genocide against both our people and our culture.

Tragically, Egypt is only one victim of Britain’s long legacy of colonial rule, under which millions have suffered. This bloody history has included the crime of genocide against Aboriginal peoples in North America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Burma, Iraq, Palestine and vast areas of Africa. 

The racist entitlement of Britain and other colonist nations became embedded in Western culture and still endures today, particularly in the United States, where no respect for the “other” (any non-white) seems to have become the rule rather than the exception.

When America fabricated intelligence reports about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, for example, Britain was more than willing to go along with the lie.

Its leaders and military supported a war that claimed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, destroyed the country’s infrastructure along with its ancient civilization, instigated spin-off civil wars in neighboring states (notably Syria), and created fertile ground for the rise of terrorism and extremism. The resulting untold human misery continues to make daily headlines around the globe.

The American and British mindsets are fixated on the notion that the death, destruction and suffering inflicted by their ambitions only affect “the other” – those who are not like us, and are therefore of less value.

Moreover, those who were sacrificed from these self-entitled Western powers have been “the other” within their own populations, primarily poor and non-white.

So the negative reactions of former British PM Tony Blair and former US president George W. Bush to the recent release of the Chilcot Report (or Iraq Inquiry), which after more than six years of investigation revealed major deficiencies and illegalities, could hardly be called surprising.

What else should one expect in the light of Britain’s 500 years of colonial oppression and America’s racist treatment of all non-whites from its founding to the present day?

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called his party’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 the most serious foreign policy calamity of the last 60 years and “a stain on our party and country.” But he did not go far enough.

He did not label it a war crime for which Blair, along with his Cabinet, who carry collective responsibility as chief perpetrators, must be tried. Blair apologized only for the loss of British soldiers’ lives.

Similarly, George W. Bush also did not offer a word of apology for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the ongoing misery of millions more, and the irreparable destruction of states in the Middle East that continues to this day.

But Bush did show up recently at the funeral of white police officers in Dallas, killed by a black man (an ex-marine with two tours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Also in attendance was the first US black President, who has been consistently ineffectual in advancing peace at home and abroad, despite having received the Nobel Peace Prize after only a few months in office. It is a sad irony for Barack Obama, and an even sadder legacy for the world.

The United States and Britain have much to answer for, but no will to make it right.

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