White man’s burden, again? (The International News, Pakistan)

By Amir Zia:

The flawed and twisted concept of “white man’s burden” was once used by imperial European nations as a justification to vanquish and rule the non-white people in the name of “progress and civilisation” in far-flung regions. This Western-centric viewpoint, which remained in vogue till the late 19th and early 20th centuries, justified colonisation and exploitation of mostly self-contained societies of Asia, Africa and North and South America. The credit of coining this phrase goes to the colonial-era English writer and poet Rudyard Kipling, who first used it in his poem in 1899, justifying imperialism as a noble cause.

Take up the White Man’s burden –

No tawdry rule of kings,

But toil of serf and sweeper –

The tale of common things.

The ports ye shall not enter,

The roads ye shall not tread,

Go mark them with your living,

And mark them with your dead.

Kipling advocated “savage wars of peace,” articulating the self-conceited gloss of morality given by European powers to their military campaigns. The colonial era is no more, but the false moral justifications to launch new wars have not changed in this age of neo-colonialism. The white man’s burden of yesteryears of carrying the cross in the name of progress and civilisation has now been replaced by the mantra of teaching virtues of democracy, freedom and human rights to the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America – through direct or indirect cold-blooded military interventions.

The latest victim is the North African nation of Libya, facing the combined might of France, Britain and the United States. The Western powers eye a regime change under the pretext of protecting civilian lives – read armed Libyan insurgents, who were at the verge of defeat. Through their aerial blitz, involving hundreds of aircraft and cruise missile attacks, the Western powers want to bestow upon the people of Libya the gift of democracy, soaked in the blood of their soldiers and civilians.

The United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, which called for a no fly-zone over Libya and “all necessary measures to protect civilians,” provided these Western nations a so-called justification to act as world goons and meddle in the affairs of a sovereign state, which should have been left on its own to decide its future. But the massive oil stakes in Libya motivated the Western nations to prop up armed rebels and get directly involved in the conflict, making it bloodier and messier.

The swift manner in which Security Council went into action on Libya stands in contrast to many other bigger conflicts on which the world body has been dragging its feet decade after decade. Israeli atrocities on Palestinians, especially in Gaza, in recent years, the continued Indian subjugation and repression of the people of Kashmir are two of the protracted conflicts on which the Security Council chose to play a limited role, despite all the killings and human rights abuses. However, the swift Security Council verdict on Libya should not come as a surprise. The US-led Western nations have a record of using the United Nations to advance their vested interests. The West-sponsored-armed revolt, which is more tribal in nature rather than a democratic or ideological movement, has provided Washington and its allies a chance to get rid of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi – who has been defying the West for a long time. The plan is now to install a subservient government in the name of protecting civilian lives – even though the same argument can be made about intervening in Bahrain or Yemen. The real goal, however, remains exploiting Libya’s vast oil wealth.

The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) have lived up to their reputation of being spineless blocs by blindly endorsing the Security Council resolution, which paved the way for the third Western military intervention in a Muslim country within a decade. The buzz of protest coming from them against aerial bombing is just eyewash. This third war on a Muslim country remains more blatant as it came without any provocation of the Sept 11-like terror strikes on the United States or fabricated charges of weapons of mass destruction as in the case of Iraq.

The Western media, particularly the electronic media, is playing like an orchestra by resorting to one-sided reporting and propaganda against Libya to justify the military intervention. CNN, Fox, and the BBC, all are following the script in totality. Programmes presented by the smiling anchors with their excited voices giving details of the “humanitarian” blitz on Libya are appalling to watch. One of the analysts was seen predicting Qaddafi’s assassination by someone from his close circle. Was it a prediction or instigation remains a question.

The Libyan conflict may not drag for long, given the small size of the population and the isolation of the Qaddafi regime, but this third Nato front against a Muslim country will have far-reaching consequences.

It will fuel Muslims’ anger against what they perceive as “arrogant” Western nations and further radicalise their societies and strengthens those forces, which get energy and life out of such conflicts. The narrative and the world view of “us versus them” propagated not just by puritan legal Islamic groups, but also by extremists, militant and terrorist organisations will gain more acceptance and fan anti-US and anti-West sentiment. It will provide radical group with new willing recruits, who see violence and terrorism as the only means to avenge what they perceive western injustices and atrocities.

The Libyan conflict also remains a bad news for moderate and pro-democracy forces, which are fighting against the tide of extremism and militancy in countries such as Pakistan. They stand weakened as the west continues to interfere and interrupt in the natural evolution of Muslim societies – most of which remain unprepared for the Western-style democracy because of their particular social, economic, political and religious background.

It is high time for the Western nations to come out of their mindset of “white man’s burden,” which can only intensify conflicts in this day and age of powerful individuals, who have the ability and capacity to take on the world powers and keep the pot on the boil. The rulers and the elite of majority of the Muslim countries may be in the pocket of the Western powers, but not the Muslim street. It will react and strike back.

The writer is business editor, The News. Email: amir.zia@gmail.com

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