The Role Of Colonialism In Europe's Terror Attacks
Inquests opened Tuesday into the deaths of five of the eight victims killed in this month’s London Bridge attack. ISIS claimed responsibility for the deadly event, but there are also underlying cultural issues to consider, including Europe’s colonial history.
Here & Now‘s Robin Young looks back on that history with Michael Provence, professor of Middle East history at the University of California San Diego, and author of the forthcoming book “The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East.”
On the colonial history of European countries
“Of course Britain and France dominated a lot of the world as colonial empires from the 19th century into about the middle of the last century, the 20th century. So all of North Africa, much of central Africa, were French colonies, and much of the Middle East — Syria, Lebanon — French colonies. British colonies in Palestine, today’s Israel, Jordan, Iraq, informal colony in Iran, of course, all of south Asia — Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma.”
On the connection between imperialism and today’s world
“Maybe not a direct tie, but there are things that I think are important. Colonial governments don’t colonize countries based on consent. And in a situation in continual crisis of legitimacy, colonial governments dominate their populations by violence and recourse to different types of corruption. And so, these kinds of habits, I think, have a long afterlife, and we see that in the Middle East today and in other regions as well. There’s a habit of corruption and of dealing with internal dissent in a violent way. So that’s the main legacy, I would say, of the colonial governments.
“The real carve up of the Middle East, of course, was after the first world war … So the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the conflict between Kurdistan and the surrounding states, the Lebanese civil war, and in a way, the Syrian civil war today, all of these things have their roots directly in that period and those kinds of decisions that were made by British and French policymakers at that time. So when people are fleeing the continual conflicts, they’re fleeing the colonial legacy itself.”
On the lasting effects of colonial rule
“The colonial counterinsurgencies that Britain and France waged, people haven’t dealt with them. They haven’t discussed them — it’s not part of the public discourse on a very serious level in these countries. So, the wounds that continue to fester over the colonial history are undealt with, are undiscussed.”
“Colonialism … can only really happen in a situation where people in the colonizing country, in the militarily dominant country imagine that the people of other countries don’t have the same rights or even the same consciousness or same race that they have. So there’s an idea that they are entitled to dominate other people, and this is kind of the first step for a colonizing country. Once those people come and try to gain full citizenship in the countries that used to colonize them, that racial rift, that cleavage, doesn’t just go away. So, those people are disenfranchised and not offered the same kind of employment, or the same kind of educational facilities, or the same housing, or the same rights to participate and to represent themselves in the countries where they find themselves.”
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