I’m sharing a poem I first came across in the 80s when I was studying a course with the Open University, UK, called, ‘Third World Studies.’ It was a brilliant multidisciplinary introduction to the North South divide. Hats off to the OU for that seminal moment in my life.
The 80s seem a distant memory but so much of what we see happening and complain about today has its roots in that time of transition, from widespread social democracy in the North, with Keynesian influenced economies holding Capital in check, to Neoliberalised economies in Northern nations, whose citizenry find themselves going through the same sorts of austerity strictures imposed decades earlier by the IMF on the South. The South could have told us what would happen and how it would feel.
Savvy Southerners have devised all sorts of strategies to survive. Colonisation in reverse is one of them. The logic of it goes something like this: “Since you invaded our lands, took us over, came in your thousands and squeezed yourselves in, stole our resources and rendered us destitute, we will do the same to you.”
I’ve reposted the poem from where it appeared in New Black Magazine, May 6, 2007. It is written in Patois. It’s hilarious, and I think we could do with a little laughter right now.
Colonisation in Reverse
(You can hear Louise Bennett tell her poem here – go to 4.48mins
Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in Reverse
Be the hundred, be de tousan
Fro country and from town,
By de ship-load, be the plane load
Jamaica is Englan boun.
Dem pour out a Jamaica,
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.
What an islan! What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jus a pack dem bag an baggage
An turn history upside dung!
Some people doan like travel,
But fe show dem loyalty
Dem all a open up cheap-fare-
An week by week dem shipping off
Dem countryman like fire,
Fe immigrate an populate
De seat a de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see da turnabout?
Jamaica live fe box bread
Out a English people mout’.
For wen dem ketch a Englan,
An start play dem different role,
Some will settle down to work
An some will settle fe de dole.
Jane says de dole is not too bad
Because dey paying she
Two pounds a week fe seek a job
dat suit her dignity
me say Jane will never fine work
At de rate how she dah look,
For all day she stay popn Aunt Fan couch
An read love-story book.
Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But me wondering how dem gwine stan
Colonizin in reverse.
Isobel’s first novel Asylum is available in paperback at Odyssey Books, Angus and Robertson, Amazon and the Book Depository. Ebook available through all major outlets.
Are we a world at war?
Surely for a world to be at war there should be some cohesion behind geographical lines. There should be advancing fronts. There should be a war office and sirens in the streets.
‘Where are the bomb shelters?’ we in Western nations cry. Go away and leave us be! We are at peace, not war!
But that doesn’t account for all of us. Maybe less than 1% is small, too small to care about, but not when it translates into 60 million.
60 million refugees. That’s according to the UNHCR; nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced in 2014.
One person in every 122 on the planet is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.
These are the highest levels since 1945.
So is the world at war? I think it is. I think that we are in the midst of a monumental crisis and we are for the most part blind to it.
Saying that world war exists starts the search for causes and solutions.
It could be argued that the main cause lies in history: in peoples lumped together with other peoples whom they may never have much liked or got along with as the globe was carved up under the auspices of Empire. It could be argued that each situation has its own unique history: The Rohingyas of Burma, the Kurds of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the Darfuri of Sudan, the Hazara of Afghanistan to name some on a long list.
And what of the African migrants in South Africa? That’s a different sort of ethnic cleansing. Workers pitted against workers.
What of the Haitian descendants in the Dominican Republic, who face expulsion back to Haiti? All 250,000 of them. Different again. This time it’s been legislated.
The victimisation of minority ethnicities has a long long history. It could be said that these examples show a world not at war but disunited.
But what of the cleaving in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia? A faith dispute between two versions of Islam? Or a manufactured cleaving feeding off the schism. A cleaving cultivated, funded, sought. To answer that we need to examine America’s interests. And Saudi Arabia’s. And Britain’s. In fact, the entire military complex that seeks war, especially when times are austere.
As they are now.
As they are now thanks to the biggest sting against the 99% the world has ever seen: the GFC.
Is it the case that, done with the casino, war is now sought by the banksters, by elements of big business, by the 1%ers whose ambition is only to acquire more wealth?
Or is it simply the case that the cankers of hatred festering in the body of many nations, cankers that have fed on fear and on poverty for decades, are bursting all at once?
Maybe it’s all these things.
My little blog post seeks only to ask questions. The answers would fill bookshelves.
It is my impression that a world at war is what we have. War invisible to those of us who deem ourselves unaffected by it. What a privilege that is! What a convenience! It gives us the power to thumb our noses at asylum seekers. To regard refugees as the scum of the earth.
This is Refugee Week. It’s about time we told ourselves over and again that those 60 million refugees on the planet are the casualties of various forms of ethnic cleansing in countries involved in some sort of war.
It’s about time we tell ourselves that just because the tanks are not rolling down our streets, doesn’t mean we are a world at peace.
It’s about time we tell ourselves that casualties of war are not collateral, are not so much garbage, are not takers and chancers.
They are people, people who bleed just like us.
Isobel Blackthorn’s first novel, ASYLUM, has been released by Odyssey Books and is available through all major booksellers.
I used to teach Religious Studies at a high school in the UK. Best subject ever, from trawling through world faiths in the lower years, getting hot under the collar following the GCSE curriculum where moral issues such as Wealth and Poverty were explored, all the way to A Level, when it morphed into Philosophy of Religion.
I was teaching in 2001. The day the twin towers fell I’d just come out of a class on Islam. I was teaching Islam to four classes of Year Eights at the time.
In those classes we explored some core beliefs such as the five pillars of Islam. We did a historical cook’s tour and we thought about what we as white non-believers could learn from the faith.
Bang! A light bulb switched off.
It was the day the Dark Age began.
I’m not getting into the whodunnit side of things. All I know is the pudding was already cooked and ready to serve.
Welcome to the era of the terror monger.
Before the dust had settled on the towers, ‘war or terror’ and ‘axis of evil’ were rolled out. War in Afghanistan and then, to the horror of the world at large, the invasion of Iraq. A sorry recent history full of bloodshed and fomenting hatreds.
Our New Dark Age has the stamp of terror all over it. A stamp of indelible ink wielded on soft skin by the anti-terrorists.
The New Dark Age is an age of Security and Surveillance.
The hordes of bloodthirsty nutters with guns are doing nothing but serving this agenda. I wish they could see their own complicity. I wish they could see that they are empowering the very beast they fight.
As for the rest of us, while we sit around hoping we don’t get caught in the crossfire, we’re already ensnared. Our freedoms constricted by a raft of new laws. Our journalists gagged.
Islam is a fine faith and I, as a non-believer, will always defend it. Islam teaches that within each of us is a divine spark, something pure and sacred and connected to God.
My wish is for that spark to flame and light this darkening world, light up the hearts of those consumed by hatred.
And as for the greedy who are behind everything that is wrong with this world, I have yet to figure out what’s to be done about them…
I was troubled this morning to read of the 10,000 people who lost their lives in the UK in 2013 as a result of fuel poverty. Fuel Poverty Action is taking action. ”They’re targeting Energy UK, the lobbyists for the tax dodging, huge profit making, Big Six energy companies.” http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/guest-blog-no-more-deaths-from-fuel-poverty/ And I was troubled for a second time in the face of the injustice that has caused citizens to take to the streets of Ferguson; in a nation where the police are in service of corporations and not the citizenry. https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=482387718569407 And at risk of bathos, here in Australia, our government has just axed the budget of our much loved and non-commercial ABC and it’s sister television station SBS, both known for their cutting edge news and documentaries, their efforts to present balanced and alternative views, and their coverage of serious issues.
All this news caused me to pause. I knew instinctively that all three dreadful bits of news were connected. I needed to do a reality check. I had to remind myself of why these things are happening and happening in Western democracies. I thought again of that fabulous book Democracy Inc by Sheldon S Wolin. I share with Chris Hedges a passion for Democracy Inc. for it explains what is happening to democracy and why. It isn’t a light read. But sometimes things are too damn important to treat lightly. The more of us who take the trouble to give the book a go the better, for it does more than offer an explanation. The book occupies the ground otherwise too easily labelled conspiracy theory and what is going on behind the scenes is in fact a conspiracy and not theoretical at all!!
Here’s the way I see the con.
1/ The Sting. The GFC was caused by the banks who were then bailed out by governments with tax payers’ money. Government is now in debt to the banks. Citizens pay the banks (again) via austerity measures. Bankers are laughing all the way to their own front doors. Read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia for a punchy and entertaining portrayal of what went on.
2/ The Second Sting. Behind the veil of budget deficit every small fragment of social democracy that can be privatised is being privatised. Once privatised the operating systems will be corporatised (asset stripped and so on) and services rendered both expensive and inadequate. The minimum will be provided, for the maximum profit. For an insight into how corporations operate as vulture capitalists read Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom.
In the corporatised scenario citizens often pay for services that used to be provided for by government. Citizens also pay for the same services through their taxes, which go into the government outsourcing coffers to pay the new corporate service providers. So we pay for the same service twice. And the corporations are dizzy with delight.
3/ The Third Sting is the corporatisation of government itself. Imagine that our elected representatives are not representing us at all. They have been swallowed by the corporate sector. They have been bought, groomed, placed or otherwise corrupted to serve the interests of Capital and not the people. They wear false cloaks and false smiles. They hold our babies and steal our wallets. The best encapsulation of this sting is the revolving door, where individuals move back and forth from plum jobs in government to plum jobs in the corporate sector.
Studies have shown that the Corporation is psychopathic The hallmark of a psychopath is a distinct lack of empathy. As an entity a corporation is also a breeding ground for psychopaths. For people who lie, who deceive, who con, who cheat; heartless bastards whose capacity for cruelty is vast, whose capacity for blithe indifference equally vast.
It’s been six years since the GFC turned the screws on social democracy and created this latest horror show. Dystopia is upon us and many are accusing their governments of blatant fascism. We can and we must fight this beast. Not by following the ruthless cruelty of organisations like Islamic State, which are both corporate democracy’s nemesis and mirror, ( in effect a Fourth Sting fomented by corporate democracy to engender widespread fear and tighten security and surveillance laws). Instead, we must protest and campaign and educate and keep on shining a spotlight on reality. To that end I will from time to time hold up my own thin candle and shout.
Hearing Obama outline his latest plan for the curtailment of ISIS it would be easy to believe that this group emerged spontaneously and entirely of its own accord out of the desert country of Syria and Iraq, filling a vacuum in the power shenanigans left when the US military pulled out of Iraq. That’s the propaganda. That is what the US and its allies would have us believe. And it isn’t true.
An elite of concentrated power bent on expansionism, such as found in Empire America today, will inevitably spawn its nemesis; groups of the disenfranchised, the alienated or the diametrically opposed in belief and ideology, those who contest both the expansionism and the elitism behind it. This sounds a logical and reasonable claim.
Empire America calls the nemesis terrorism.
Dig around and things begin to look quite different. Since the power elite of Empire America knows full well that such a nemesis will emerge, as inevitable as sunrise, they have set off with fertilizer and a watering can, encouraging their nemesis to grow and flourish, seizing the opportunity to further their own aim to render the Middle East a series of Failed States.
The nemesis has had other names. In the age of European expansionism, when Spain and Portugal and Britain were conquering new lands, the nemesis was piracy. In fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries piracy was rife. Renegades from all over Europe flocked to Algiers and Sale, (the pirate utopias of North Africa), many converting to Islam. Piracy was big and legitimate business. In Algiers, then the world’s slave capital and a sanctuary for a polyglot of renegades from all over Europe, ten per cent of the proceeds of a pirate attack went into the city coffers in exchange for the pirates’ protection. Sale, originally inhabited by Berbers and the only Moroccan Atlantic city not to have fallen to the rising powers of Spain and Portugal, became the home of exiled Spaniards that had fled King Phillip III’s anti-Moor ethnic cleansing. It was out of these exiled groups that the notorious Sally Rovers came into being. Ships sailing back from the Americas were especially vulnerable. The Canary Islands, situated en route to the Americas, were repeatedly sacked. And these piratical attacks were brutal. Whole villages and towns razed, people slaughtered, or taken as slaves to be sold back in Algiers. An entertaining and informative book on the matter is Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs and European Renegadoes, by Peter Lamborn Wilson, 1995.
Today the ideology of Jihad has replaced that of piracy as a repository for all the thugs, criminals and blood-lusting psychopaths eager to let loose their base impulses. Young men craving adventure, keen to cut loose and go wild, enamoured with rampage, glorying in brutality are drawn to join one or other of the many groups fighting the enemy Empire America, fighting to gain supremacy over competing groups, fighting to impose their own version of Islam, fighting for the hell of it.
Then as now the holy war and its defeat are glamourised and revered. Tragedies mourned, heroes celebrated. Pomp and ceremony in abundance. Then as now it is big business that profits. Then as now it is the innocent who suffer.
Now, as then, the fall of ISIS will mirror the retreat of Empire. Or its collapse.
Back in the 1980s I enrolled in a course as part of my undergraduate degree with the Open University (UK) entitled Third World Studies. I was twenty-four and full of awe and amazement and outrage as I learnt about India’s Green Revolution, issues for the Tuareg of Niger, and of the economies of the newly-industrialised countries (NICs) of south-east Asia. I learnt about the problems created for poor economies by big business. I learnt about the IMF and the World Bank. I studied the socialism of governments in Tanzania and Mozambique. I read novels by Buchi Emecheta and the poetry of Louise Bennett. The course was multi-disciplinary (perhaps the first of its kind) and all-encompassing, or so I thought.
Now I am reading Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, 2012) and I realise that the course title ‘Third World Studies’ was a misnomer. The title created the illusion that there was a First World, perhaps a Second World (Russia) and a Third or Poor to Very Poor World. Other notions have come along since, such as North and South, notions that also perpetuate the illusion. For upon reading Hedge’s text, it has struck me squarely that apparent third world conditions (slavery, corruption, severe inequality) have always existed and persist in America today.
Being from Australia it is fairly easy to say that our indigenous Australians have been condemned to exist as impoverished others in their own land, conditions normally associated with the very poorest of the poor in the ”Third World.” John Pilger’s Utopia suffices as an introduction to that view. Perhaps I have for too many decades been naive, or perhaps somewhat in the dark as regards poverty in America. I have known about low wages, trailer parks, food stamps, the state of Detroit, African American and Hispanic and Mexican poverty. I have known of the ludicrously high incarceration rate in America, mostly of African American men. And I knew, vaguely, that America’s First People are horribly oppressed and marginalised. I knew all of this, but only vaguely. I knew about the voracious appetite of American corporations too, of their corruption of democracy and the judiciary, and the casino-style hustlers in the world of American finance.
What I have not known, not contemplated, not engaged with so deeply it turns my stomach and makes me want to holler with outrage and weep for the suffering – tears I had spilled decades earlier for many an African nation – Hedges portrays with unrelenting honesty. A laying bare of America’s underbelly, from the native Americans of Pine Ridge, the enormous widespread and utterly unjust suffering of the poor of Camden, the devastation of the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia (500 mountains so far bombed into oblivion to extract their coal), and the Mexican slave workers in tomato fields in Immokalee, Florida.
That the American Elite (corporations in cahoots with duly corrupted and compliant political and judicial systems) can so devastate its own nation in such a ruthless manner, bodes so ill for the rest of us, for this is the package it persists in exporting to the rest of the world in the guise of development.
As I have indicated above, I have long known the dreadful environmental and social consequences of Big Mining. The struggles of the working classes and the poor around the world are so often bound up with the mining giants, along with the oil and gas giants. If not, they are bound up in agribusiness. It is a case of same old same old.
So when I read calls from the apparently awake for others to wake up, I ask myself of the islanders of Bougainville – Are they awake? – Yes, I have to say yes they are. What of Papua New Guinea? – Are the people there awake to the shenanigans of corporate greed? – In large part I would say they are? What of the villagers of India whose valleys are being flooded by Big Dams? Are they awake? – I would say most definitely, judging by their protests.
What of the native Americans at Pine Ridge? Are they awake? Yes, I have to say mostly yes, for the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the suicides, the violence, surely they are a recognition of and a response to the consuming misery they are forced to endure. They are awake, to a nightmare.
So I ask of those who make the awake call, wake up who exactly? The privileged middle classes struggling to maintain expensive lifestyles and fat mortgages? Do they slumber? Or are they imprisoned by the system too, riven with fear of losing everything in an economic and social climate of uncertainty.
Sure there are those who are not so much asleep as rendered catatonic by consumerism with all its glamour, sure there are those whose hearts are riven by hatred and bigotry, those prejudiced against the many who are not themselves. I don’t think there is much to be done about them, or at least, I don’t have a solution. All I know is that those who are catatonic and those who hate will most likely never ”wake up.”
There are enough of us around the globe who know more or less exactly what is going on. There are definitely enough of us who are awake to make a difference if and only if, we all decide to do something, to realise that what we face in the world today is a state of emergency akin to that of a world war, and we must resist at every turn.
I am a non-violent person. Which was why I was shocked when I woke this morning to the thought that someone should drop something big and heavy on Bohemia Grove at an opportune moment. Then I thought, no, that would make little difference. But I do know that we must make great personal sacrifices if we are to stave off the march of the corporations. We must preoccupy ourselves with the spirit of Occupy. And if ever there was a book to rouse the heart to action, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is it.
Waking at four every morning seems to provide me with a reflective perspective on life, as if the pre-dawn hours are meant for contemplation. While the world around me sleeps and only the cock crows prematurely, I can think. And my thoughts have settled today on the will-to-empire. For it occurs to me that humanity has now entered a new era, certainly the new age has dawned but not on a lovely sunny day, more on a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
This morning I realised that the limits of empire are always the whole perceivable world. Empire will always expand as far as it can reach, as far as what is known. The whole world for the Incans, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Egyptians or the Ancient Greeks was most likely smaller than that conceived of by the Romans, the Chinese or the Ottomans. The Spanish world was larger still, thanks to the invention, by the Portuguese, of the ocean faring caravel. Then at last the British Empire came along and took control of far off distant lands. The British saw the whole world and wanted it. But even the British had to concede that there were rival nations and empires competing for territory. Britain could not rule the whole world in its entirety even if it managed to gain and maintain supreme power across a vast spread of nations for around four hundred years.
Empire is always contested. There will always be nations who are non-compliant and nations with a will-to-empire of their own. So where there is empire there will also be war. And there will always be human suffering.
One empire supplants another. As one empire falls another rises to take its place. And humanity has not transcended the dynamic. But it seems too many of us are incapable or unwilling to face the reality of empire, the consequences of empire, the sheer destructive stupidity of empire. And so we are doomed to repetition.
After WWII and upon the invention of the Cold War it appeared there were two competing Superpowers on the world stage, America and Russia, with a third, China, in wings waiting for its big chance. Today this appears no longer the case. While China and Russia will continually contest and seek to undermine the power of America, it is America that is the single Superpower of our age. It has attained Empire status and is on a quest for complete global domination by any means. In keeping with the aims, objectives and methods of empire, the domination it seeks is economic, the means used are both ideological and military (There is perhaps only one difference between the American empire and the empires of the past. It is formed of corporate rather than state (whether born of government or monarchy) interests). And today we witness the consequences of American Imperialism’s will-to empire in conflict with those who oppose it in Iraq, in Palestine, in the Ukraine.
So far I don’t think I have mentioned anything that is not obvious and not the point I seek to make here. What hit me this morning is that Empire has a tendency to run its course. It has a lifespan generally of hundreds of years. In other words, this is only the beginning of the American empire, we are still in the early stages of its life. Even if I track the genesis of the American empire to the beginnings of the Cold War, decades, not centuries, have since passed.
I think of empire as humanity’s greatest evil. I think when empire is the grail in the hearts of humankind, the suffering of others is guaranteed.
Empire always fails. Empire seems always to self-destruct as if its expansionism were a bubble that will finally burst. I fear, however, that we have a very long way to go along the trajectory of the current empire. And there is every chance that when this empire does self-destruct it will bring us all down with it.
Why would the American empire seek its own destruction? For it must realise the probability of its destruction, it cannot possibly believe otherwise in the face of limited natural resources and the severe dangers of climate change. One answer lies not in the insane myopia that clouds the vision of the elite, but rather in the adherence of parts of this elite and large sections of ordinary Americans as well, to a Last Days fundamentalist Christianity. That for some at least, the destruction of the world is sought so that the chosen few may rise again. When I first heard of such beliefs, that Reagan supported Rapture back in the 80s, it seemed to me ludicrous, surely an isolated example. Now I know otherwise.
Meanwhile, since this empire will likely go out with a bloody big bang soon enough and in the interim things will be business as usual and go on and on and on along the same path, then so will I. I shall continue to wake at four and have my say.