One of the few things that are truly great about Great Britain is its amazing ability to tell the rest of the world a great story, a grandiose fairytale. Even greater is the rainy little nation’s ability to amend its story as it goes along. Right now, Mauritius has the dubious honour of figuring in Great Britain’s preferred bedtime story. It’s a tale about bravery, selflessness and the self-proclaimed need to steal a territory – Chagos – from a country that supposedly didn’t matter – Mauritius.
The great stories told by Great Britain are always top notch. Although there are a myriad different versions of the Chagos story, the core message remains the same. Once upon a time, all nations in the beautiful west feared attacks from evil forces. Then along came the heroes, Lord Britain and General America. They sat down and enjoyed a hot beverage in each other’s company – a cuppa tea and a Starbucks latte respectively – and took the brave decision to save the civilised world from destruction.
They were the only knights in shining armour who could do it, you see. No other heroes were brave enough, powerful enough, or altruistic enough. But since none of the heroes had a suitable place for a majestic fortress, they went ahead and stole an archipelago from a subordinate. A subordinate that ought to be grateful that the heroes were taking over.
The bedtime story about the Chagos is not the first great tale that Great Britain has written. A few generations ago, our bedtime story was about racism. Once upon a time, you see, a noble nation realised that there were people out there who needed their help. They were savages with inferior brains and dark skin. These people were in need but they had strong bodies suitable for manual labour. It was only natural that the civilised Britons should provide the leadership the savages so craved, wasn’t it?
Of course, we know now that racism wasn’t the central motive of imperialism but merely a useful adjunct, as political analyst Michael Parenti writes in his book The Cultural Struggle. The real motive, of course, was something infinitively less admirable – oppression as a means of obtaining free labour. It was, by no means, a great motive. But it was a great story, just like the Chagos tale that is going around now.
It’s astonishing that the world’s greatest storyteller and its readers have learnt so little over the years. Why do certain nations still get to describe themselves as heroes, as defenders of all that is good and well in the world when, historically speaking, they often played the exact opposite role?
We don’t know about you, but we prefer going to sleep without a bedtime story tonight.
For more views and in-depth analysis of current issues, Weekly magazine (Price: Rs 25) or subscribe to Weekly for Rs110 a month. (Free delivery to your doorstep). Email us on: [email protected]