Friday, August 01, 2008


Reading the Guardian on a cramped charter flight is not the most comfortable experience especially when you come across an awful apologia by Martin Jacques. His theme is familiar, the "comprehensive failure" of liberal interventionism, lifted straight from the Douglas Hurd school of conservative thought and bolstered by a highly selective reading of recent history.

This section is typical of the genre.

… we seem to think that we have some unalienable right to lecture Zimbabwe on its iniquities. Yet Britain's culpability for the country's plight - from tolerating Ian Smith's declaration of independence to the disgraceful land deal that guaranteed the privileged position of white settlers - is second to none. Notwithstanding all of this, the British feel they enjoy incomparable moral virtue on Zimbabwe.

"Second to none" eh? So the last 28 years of Mugabe is of nothing compared the egregious effects of British colonialism. So it was the British who pushed inflation into millions of percentage points, led to widespread starvation, falsified the election results, tortured and murdered ordinary voters for the crime of voting MDC, and has reduced the country to desperation. I am so sorry. What wicked people we must be. And, of course, the diplomatic triumph, so "patronisingly scorned", is Thabo Mbeki's!

Whenever I read pieces like this I am struck by the tone of reasonableness and the constant calls for understanding. However, what we are being asked to 'understand' are the desires of governments, not of their beaten, tortured, starved, cheated and desperate people.


Anonymous said...

Is it possible that Mr Jacques' line derives from the relationship between the regime in Zimbabwe and that in China, which he seems to be "understanding"/boosting in the press these days? This is an interesting question for historians in that the two movements active against minority rule in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in the 70s were aligned with different regimes - the ZAPU with Moscow and ZANU with Peking. I'll leave you to join up the dots....

Anonymous said...

Growing older has definite advantages. Here it is in chiefly having been alive when Ian Smith declared independence from the United Kingdom. Mr Jacques is wrong about the level of British opposition, headed by Harold Wilson, which was swift. Only the Liberals, then led by Jeremy Thorpe, wished to make military moves against white settler rule however. This was unrealistic at a time Wilson was stoutly resisting being drawn into Washington's Vietnam War. But clearly it suits Jacques argument that Britain is responsible for the present state of affairs in Zimbabwe to pretend otherwise. This is the current leftist interpretation of Africa's woes writ small: It is all the fault of the old colonialist powers.

Actually, this is true. What the old colonialist powers did was take a generation of Africans and turn them in to intellectuals at European universities and infuse in them the themes and ideas of the Enlightenment – and more. These same Africans subsequently returned to take control of the newly independent colonies with catastrophic results. Failure was certain and one by one they have been elbowed aside by corporate crooks.

It was not meant to be like this. Some of us have learnt a bitter lesson. From what you say it appears Mr Jacques, for complex reasons to do with the uncomfortable outcomes of history, needs to explain this and chooses wilfulness over facts.

Anonymous said...

"...from tolerating Ian Smith's declaration of independence..."

So it shouldn't have been tolerated. The British should have intervened. Which I thought was wrong.