Of benevolent civilizationists
By Nita Chicooree Mercier
Imagine a situation in which Mauritius were to join forces with another nation in a bid to conquer, say Madagascar. Suppose also that it would justify such an adventure by arguing that we needed to expand onto new lands for we are overpopulated and running short of space.
We could also argue that, anyway, Madagascar is permanently faced with political instability. We could claim to be an ingenious people brimming with ambition, what with all the democratic experience and expertise in all domains we have acquired over decades. So we would argue we can transform that hopeless place into a prosperous and thriving eldorado, given its vast lands and numerous resources.
Alas for us, the French army is in standby in the sister island next door, ready to check the expansionist ambition of any non-European entity in the region. So, we might as well bottle up our ingeniosity and ambition. We don’t have in our genes the spirit of conquest even though ingeniosity and ambition may be in our DNA. That is a good excuse to dismiss the imperialist idea altogether. We are used to acting the rôle of the good guys and we are expected to keep on being sweet and subservient.
In the « civilized » times we are living in, imperialism of the sort is the exclusive privilege of big and powerful countries. ‘Big democratic countries’ were not outraged by Britain’s ferocious battle, miles away from its shores, over Falklands. The United Nations looked away when France annexed Mayotte, a part of the Comoros archipelago. Apart from countries in the African Union and some others in Asia, no one cares for Comoros at the UN.
European countries’ vehement denunciation of Israel’s expansionist policy in Gaza is unconsciously tainted not only by an age-old anti-Semitic bias but also by the belief that domination and power are the birth-rights of big imperialist countries exclusively. They resent the audacity of a small country to stand up, fearlessly lay out its own course of history amid surrounding Arab hostility and gear its energy to achieve its goals. Small, democratic, prosperous, fearless and powerful. How can Israel dare copy the attitudes and behaviour of the ‘big democratic countries’?
Unlimited privileges forever
It looked shockingly immoral and undemocratic the way Britain punished Zimbabwe for a handful of White landowners. The latter had been attacked and deprived of their lands ; a handful of people of European descent owned 80% of lands in an African country where they imposed their presence for centuries and felt entitled to enjoy unlimited privileges forever. Just figure out an African tribe which had settled in a part of Europe some time back and started claiming it as part of its own land. An embargo was imposed, punishing pitilessly the destituted population of Zimbabwe. It did not matter if it ruthlessly brought down life expectancy of Zimbabweans and sent the President begging on his knees.
In contrast, recall the panic that took hold of western countries and sent them rallying behind the US overnight when Saddam Hussein invaded Koweit. Not one of them dilly-dallied a minute. To them, the Iraqi revolutionary leader had no right to redefine his territory which was artificially split up under British colonial rule. Saddam Hussein naïvely believed that the West would let him have his own way, after having supported and armed him against Iran in a first lap.
How major European countries coalesced with the US and threw themselves over a single country to reduce it to become a powerless puppet. Modern history is yet to assess all the implications of this catastrophic dominance of Iraq. For the western powers who donned the cowboy hat and marched on Iraq, it was also an opportunity for revenge. They had all been thrown out by Saddam in 1972, and they had lost their grip on Iraqi oil control. The issue was : how dared Saddam Hussein use the country’s resources for the benefit of his own people after throwing them out?
The ruthless embargo on Iraq left millions of Iraqi children, elderly people, men and women dead. Then came Bush and Blair with the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ theory. The rest of the world could just powerlessly watch the genocide which ensued. It should be clear that the international arena of world power has no place for small players. For centuries, it has remained the hunting ground of male-dominated values of aggression, domination and competition, and more precisely, the undisputed domain where the white male ego unleashes unlimited amount of adrenalin and testosterone. Ethnicity, race, skin colour and shared civilizational ‘superiority’ are what unite them against all other countries, a clear spirit of nou bannisme.
Undeniably, France is the luckiest among the imperialist powers in modern times. It surreptitiously managed to lay its hands on Mayotte while the rest of the world attended to their own business. Thus, it reinforced its territorial rights in the Indian Ocean. Its people known for its high-talk on human rights in international fora and shouting slogans such as ‘Free Tibet!’ yet it subscribes to the expansionist policy of the country. It knows that its government is fleecing them all in terms of taxes to maintain the DOM TOM POM empire.
The nou bannisme mindset
At the end of the day, French people are as sheepish as everyone else in the world. Actually, their self-view is dominated by the idea of benevolent civilizationists; they do not see themselves as imperialists at all. Racial and cultural superiotity support the ‘assimilationist’ theory which negates the worth, dignity and integrity of the people they rule over. In their general colonialist outlook, small tropical islands are not of much worth. The ultimate fate of such places is to be bound up with a biggger European country. It all smacks of the nou bannisme mindset.
The sense of superiority and the ‘assimilationist’ mindset are so deeply embedded that France quite naturally considers Mauritius, a sovereign country, as a most propitious ground to reinforce the French language. Don’t they refer to ‘métropole‘ when they talk to Mauritians? Without asking your consent, they bind you to their apron strings, unconsciously and most naturally.
Remember the outcry raised by people outside the Indo-Mauritian fold when SAJ tried to enhance the status of Oriental languages in Mauritius. Their ethnic counterparts and the French in Reunion joined in the angry chorus of protests against it, spitting venom in the press against the development of mainly Indian languages in Mauritius, which was none of their business, anyway.
They appear to have a ‘legitimate right’ to interfere in the affairs of others.The very idea of other ethnic groups having to learn Indian languages was insolent and outrageous in their view; it gave them sleepless nights. What matters to their colonizing minds is the European heritage, nothing else. Not much has changed until now. It all boils down to a form of blatant racism. To the average French nationals settling in the region and their supporters, it is unthinkable that Mauritius should have the audacity to be independent, stand on its own feet and dare to carve out its own cultural landscape. ‘How insolent are these Mauritians!’
Ethnicity, race, skin color and civilization are the criteria which will unite France to US interests with the support of Britain in case of a major conflict with other players in the Indian Ocean region There should be no doubt about that.
Those who believe in the civilized discourses on democracy, human rights and sovereignty loudmouthed by the still powerful countries are living in a dreamworld.
Those who, locally and from the diaspora in Australia, France, UK and Canada, permanently overflow online press blogs with self-flagellation and racist commentaries as regards current events hogging the headlines, run the risk of missing the right target and paving the way for bystanders to seize the opportunity for their self interest and concentration of power . They could instead have helped consolidate national unity for the common interest of all Mauritians. The DNA of traditional power-holders is not overburdened with the waiting-room attitude of neophytes in the arena of conquest.
* Published in print edition on 30 November 2012