Friday, May 18, 2012

Colonialism and World History

(Please don't run away from this post. It may not be terribly exciting but it does speak about things I'm learning.)

Sorry, I've been absent of late. I haven't had good blog fodder and my brain is kind of dull right now. I'm working on it. But the writing is slow and tedious right now.

I went to a lecture last night that blew my mind away. But first a little background. I used to look at history as compartmentalized. You study state history, then U.S. history, then dabble a bit in World history and that's that. I've always enjoyed history as it fascinates me, but have really only looked at it in pieces. But the more I learn about world history and the more I travel, I realize that looking at history in a compartmentalized fashion is incredibly blind and yes, stupid. Yes, it is good to learn about details, but looking at the big picture allows you to make connections about things that you would never understand if you only looked at the details.

I also like to look at history through the lens of literature. Authors write within context and especially when they write about their contemporary life, you get a glimpse into the reality of daily life. My last year at university, I took a Post-Colonial literature class that pretty much changed the way I looked at the world. I read books about Africa, India, even the U.S., through the lens of Post-colonial criticism and suddenly my perspective as a middle-class girl, growing up in a small town in Wyoming, seemed incredibly narrow.

Fast forward to yesterday (after 10+ years of travel and different countries) and I can see greater implications of the imperialistic policies of France and England. And I'm going to bold in saying that Colonialism--that stuff that happened between 1700 and 1918--with both France and England has created the situation of violence, volatile and unstable governments, and even Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Yep, that's right, I'm blaming the western world for what is happening in the Middle East right now. A lot of people often blame the U.S. for what is going on right now. And certainly they should shoulder a portion of the blame. But you need to look back further and look at the colonialism of England and France, and then the fallout and re-creation of boundaries following World War I. A big fat mess. A mess that no one wants to own, but is pretty much destroying a lot of lives in this part of the world.

What do you think about the colonialism of Europe? What do you think about what happened in the Middle East following World War I? Do you have answers for the challenges faced by the Arab countries in the Middle East?


  1. I recall a lecture series about the WWI Treaty of Paris that created much of the territory messes we still have today. Italy wanted to regain land it had not held since the Roman empire? And backroom deals everywhere. President Wilson was disgusted by it all.

  2. I served my mission in South my comment is colored by that. Wherever England or France or whomever has pulled out they have left destruction. In many cases they took local tribal rivals...chose a favorite (frequently for convenience sake (you are easier to work with, you came to us first, you are closer to the oil...) and started a lovely class system with breads violence and instability. (see rwanda for a lovely example of colonialism increasing tension between tribes) Almost universally education was very closely controlled and not generally granted. In many cases nutrition suffered when conquerers came. Diseases were freely shared, but medical knowledge was more closely guarded.

    Technology shared without education makes a very dependent lower class.

    I really think the key of South Africa at least is education and how they treat their women. It is critical that the people be willing to keep the law--even the nonsense ones like drive on the left side of the rode. They have to know that keeping the law benefits everyone. Years of colonialism teach you that keeping the law only protects you if you are the favored tribe.

  3. The Roman Empire inserted itself in other lands including the British Isles. When Rome fell the Moors, who were Arab and Muslim, dominated much of the former empire for 800 years. The Islamic resentment to the Western nations stretches back to the crusades when the Moors were overthrown and driven out of Europe. The Crusaders fought to regain possession of the Holy Land. Friction has continued since then.

    I have seen the film Lawrence of Arabia many times which depicts when the British decided to support the Arabs to keep them from helping the Germans during WWI. The movie examines their motivation and also their reservations. The main character, a British army officer who is emotionally close to the Arab people, becomes incensed when he realizes his army is exploiting his friends.

    So yes, the world would be a nicer place if everyone respected borders and coexisted peacefully. Too many people feel they are superior to other cultures. We are quick to judge what we feel is barbaric by our standards yet the conqueror is often the true barbarian.