A his­tor y ig­nored, a debt un­paid and the bar­bar­ians at the gate

South Florida Times - - NATION - Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May

Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May joined more than 2,000 oth­ers at West­min­ster Abbey in Lon­don on Fri­day to rec­og­nize the con­tri­bu­tions to the coun­try by im­mi­grants from the English-speak­ing Caribbean and else­where in­vited in 70 years ago to help re­build its war-rav­aged econ­omy. But it was more an act of con­tri­tion over the way the British govern­ment treated th­ese peo­ple dur­ing its own crackdown on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, giv­ing birth to the Win­drush scan­dal. The ship Em­pire Win­drush – yes, em­pire was flouted in those days – docked in Lon­don on June 22, 1948, with 1,027 pas­sen­gers, 802 of them from the Caribbean, but the “Win­drush gen­er­a­tion” even­tu­ally to­taled more than 50,000, com­ing from sev­eral other coun­tries, with a prom­ise that they could live and work in Bri­tain. But the “hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment” pol­icy im­posed in 2009 to de­ter il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion be­gan to en­snare the Win­drush gen­er­a­tion by 2013. Some were de­ported, many could not find jobs or ob­tain med­i­cal treat­ment; some who trav­eled abroad were de­nied re-en­try. Mas­sive protests led to the res­ig­na­tion of Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd, whom May re­placed in April with Sa­jid Javid, the first Mus­lim in such a se­nior post. The govern­ment also agreed to com­pen­sate those who were af­fected.

The Win­drush saga af­firmed the British govern­ment’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept when it is wrong and the con­tro­versy was de­fused, no doubt be­cause Javid, son of Pak­istani im­mi­grants, was now in charge. It also calls at­ten­tion to the fact that too of­ten the con­tri­bu­tions of im­mi­grants to their adopted coun­tries are over­looked or de­rided. The cur­rent refugee cri­sis re­flects that at­ti­tude. Re­gard­less of what the na­tivists are say­ing, there is a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion for the cur­rent mass ex­o­dus: the lop­sided im­bal­ance bal­ance be­tween the “third world” and in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions, rooted in a his­tory of colo­nial­ism, world wars, the “cold war” and neo­colo­nial­ism.

Small na­tions could not con­trol their own des­tinies dur­ing oc­cu­pa­tion by col­o­niz­ers or dur­ing the wars and the “cold war.”The clos­est they came was with the Non-Aligned Move­ment es­tab­lished in 1961 on the ini­tia­tive of Josip Broz Tito, pres­i­dent of then Yu­goslavia, the other founders be­ing Jawa­har­lal Nehru of In­dia, Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser of Egypt, Sukarno of In­done­sia and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The move­ment ex­panded to dozens of other coun­tries and posed a di­rect chal­lenge to the in­ter­na­tional or­der.

They wanted not just po­lit­i­cal non-align­ment but also their own in­sti­tu­tions sep­a­rate from the ones im­posed by the su­per­pow­ers, to cre­ate “south-south” link­ages in place of the ex­ploita­tive “north-south” ar­range­ments gov­ern­ing the world. Their en­thu­si­asm got a boost in 1973-1974 when Arab oil-pro­duc­ing na­tions im­posed an em­bargo on petroleum ex­ports to press for more roy­al­ties. The NonAligned Move­ment, which gave in­ter­na­tional cover to the em­bargo, hoped to be re­warded with petro-dol­lars to fi­nance their pro­posed new eco­nomic or­der. The fi­nanc­ing never ma­te­ri­al­ized and it took only a few years for the oil-pro­duc­ing na­tions to suc­cumb to pres­sure and the steam to be knocked out of the move­ment.

At the end of the 44-year cold war, the world, for the smaller na­tions, was one in which they lost the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic pa­tron­age from their re­spec­tive blocs. Their bor­ders were long ago drawn to suit the colo­nial masters, of­ten di­vid­ing tribes and states and set­ting the stage for never-end­ing crises and bloody in­ternecine wars fought with weapons for which they paid with much of their gross do­mes­tic prod­ucts while their peo­ples suf­fer; the British news­pa­per The In­de­pen­dent re­ported in 2014 that only 11 coun­tries were con­flict-free then – of a to­tal of 162 sur­veyed.

The in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions have not ac­knowl­edged a his­toric debt to the small na­tions and re­spon­si­bil­ity for their plight. They did not launch a Mar­shall Plan to help them, as they did for some na­tions af­ter WWII. So the world en­tered the 21st cen­tury with the su­per-rich, on one side, pos­sess­ing wealth be­yond imag­i­na­tion and all the trap­pings that come with it, and, on the other side, deadly wars, famine, dis­ease, ab­ject poverty and hope­less­ness. No amount of “zero tol­er­ance” and “hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment” can ob­scure the fact that, of the 7.6 bil­lion peo­ple who in­habit the planet, only about one bil­lion live in well-to-do coun­tries and about 50 per­cent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of one per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

But the evil you do can come back to haunt you. So long as this ab­ject in­equal­ity ex­ists and the re­sponse to the flight from the im­pov­er­ished na­tions is to turn them away, so long will the refugees from a his­tory of op­pres­sion, ex­ploita­tion, sup­pres­sion and in­sta­bil­ity con­tinue to come. The an­swer is ob­vi­ously to move rapidly to trans­form the poor na­tions into stable, hab­it­able places where their peo­ples want to stay at home, not erect­ing walls and turn­ing away the ships with hu­man cargo.

Un­til then, as al­ways, they will do any­thing to gain ac­cess to the seat of the em­pire and its glo­ri­ous prom­ise of a bet­ter fu­ture, their brown and black hands raised in sup­pli­ca­tion to the over­lords in the gleam­ing tow­ers ris­ing into the sun, the bar­bar­ians ar­rived at the gate – and still they come.

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