Sunday, September 12, 2010

The destructive energies of the Newt who would be King

If you need further proof that the people the Republican Party is touting for 2012 are a truly repulsive lot, you need look no further than Newt Gingrich's musings that perhaps Obama 'is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?' as quoted in the National Review. Like the anti-colonial Kenyan, Obama 'is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works'. For someone who studies colonial history, Gingrich's comment, based on an article written by Dinesh D'Souza in Forbes, is horrifying. He brings together the trope of the irrational and dangerous African (something best left to long-dead Victorians), the genre of imperial apologia (in which colonial powers, Western or otherwise, are excused for their excesses), and the GOP habit of rendering Obama, in one form or another, menacingly foreign.

'Anticolonialism', D'Souza explains patronisingly, 'is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America'. Well, sort of...anticolonialism is a reaction to the very real, verifiable, factual invading, occupying and looting (and lets add murder and thuggery to the list while we're about it) of poor countries in Asia, Africa, South America and the Pacific. Britain's world order was built on the horrific Atlantic Slave Trade (which people like Gingrich want us to call the Triangular Trade), an empire in India that depended on the subjugation of a subcontinent, the creation of the antecedents to apartheid in South Africa, the dispossession of entire populations in the highlands of central Kenya, and the virtual extirpation of Australian aboriginals. The U.S. fought a war of conquest in the Philippines that killed between 50,000 and 1,000,000 Filipinos, and required practises sufficiently brutal of its soldiers that many of them balked at what they were asked to do and spoke passionately against it on returning home.

But let's take a look at the Kenyans who Gingrich and D'Souza dismiss as so irrationally angry at their British overlords and the world that was forced upon them. In the Pipeline, the system of internment camps devised by the British in 1950s Kenya, 'persons to be screened are handcuffed with their hands on their backs, then water starts to be poured on them 4 debes at a time in every hour's time'. So far, no problem. Gingrich has supported the use of water boarding (on the word--savour the irony!--of a British court). 'Then at 12 midnight soap is smeared on the head and by pouring water it gets to the eyes of the detainees punished, paining as anything when it gets into the eyes. At the same time pliers is also applied to work as the apparatus of castrating the testicles, and also the ears'. Officers set their dogs on some of the quarter million detainees, and others were starved into confessions. These detainees were part of the Kikuyu population which was dislocated as a whole by the colonial government during what was euphemistically termed 'the Emergency'.*

Nationalist leaders were locked up after the most shameful of show-trials. Beatings were regular occurrences, 'electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire. Bottles (often broken), gun barrels, knives, snakes, vermin, and hot eggs were thrust up men's rectums and women's vaginas. The screening teams whipped, shot, burned and mutilated Mau Mau suspects, ostensibly to gather intelligence for military operations, and as court evidence'.** And these were men and women whose crime was to challenge the same colonial authority that America's founding heroes (so venerated by Gingrich) fought against, after the land that they lived upon, owned, and worked was taken from them. These are unpleasant things to think and write about, but they are also the facts of colonialism, the experiences of still-living Kenyans who Gingrich is trying to casually dismiss. On 9/11 and December 7, Americans are enjoined to remember their past. Why are Kenyans so persistently told to forget theirs?

D'Souza expresses shock that anyone could '[come] to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation'. But for an Iraqi whose life was turned upside-down by our invasion in 2003, an Afghan whose family member was killed by an unmanned drone, a Salvadoran (or Nicaraguan or Guatemalan) who had family members murdered by U.S.-backed death squads, families of Filipino activists shot down by a regime that enjoys the moral and material backing of the United States, the Congolese who saw an idealistic young (and yes, perhaps socialist--but since when has political affiliation been an excuse for killing?) Prime Minister murdered by a U.S.-backed Belgian firing squad, who then cut up his body and dissolved it in acid, Gazans who see UN efforts to reprimand Israel constantly frustrated by the U.S., Iranians who saw U.S. support granted to the 'terrorist' regime of Saddam Hussein who gassed them in their thousands...for these people, the rosy view of U.S. military intervention around the world is difficult to sustain.

And if these aren't reasons enough, there are plenty of others for Americans to be less than thrilled with the antics of the military and its civilian masters. After all, part of the reason for our immense national debt is the wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. A prime example of political corruption in Congress is the military appropriations process. And if the proximate causes of the deaths of Americans on September 11 were the actions of murderous fundamentalists, the ultimate causes lie in the abuse of American military and economic power around the world. Colonialism is not, as D'Souza tritely pronounces, a 'dead issue' today.

Until people like Gingrich manage to wrap their heads around this, until they express even a modicum of respect for and interest in understanding the perspectives of other people, I suppose we can continue to expect them to spout this utter tripe that demeans and demonises people across the world, touts an utterly warped and deformed view of history, and plays on the fears of people.

A large part of me wishes that Obama were half as bold as Gingrich suggests, and that he was pushing an agenda centred on equality, the redistribution of wealth and the transmission of justice to oppressed people in the world. But Gingrich has created a spectacular straw man at which to tilt. No one wins...Obama faces still more ungrounded accusations about his origins, the Republicans lurch into obscene idiocy, history gets written by the chronically ill-informed, and we fail to debate what should be more pressing issues. Newt, frankly, is an odious little man of slight moral stature who needs, at this point, to slither away into the dustbins of history.

*Caroline Elkins, Imperial reckoning: the untold story of Britain's gulag in Kenya, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005): xiii, 66, 207, 210. David Anderson, Histories of the hanged: Britain's dirty war in Kenya and the end of the Empire (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005), 204, 296.
** Ibid.

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