There was a time when to be a great national power meant having colonies under ones thumb. European powers such as Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium viewed them as a source of immense prestige. It meant having a powerful military that could colonize far away lands and turn them around to the ways of the colonizing power. The colonies were a source of raw materials, food and labour.
It would be an understatement to say that the people in the lands that were colonized were often very poorly treated. In the case of Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, the Hutu people were considered to have worse physical features than the Tutsi’s and were generally more poorly treated. This discrimination was one of the underlying causes of the massive blood letting that was the 1994 genocide.
That subjugated peoples fought back is no surprise at all, except to the Governors of the colonies, unable to understand how and why supposedly inferior peoples and cultures should be resisting. That the injustices committed, which the former imperial powers by and large refuse to acknowledge, should still be the source of angst two centuries later should not come as a surprise either – just like Europeans, these peoples have oral histories that passed on down stories of mistreatment, and instilled a quest for justice.
Now let us be very clear. Two wrongs have never made a right, and will not in the future. But when peoples trying to seek redress for long held injustices are systemically ignored, put down and sometimes even subjected to further injustice, no one should be surprised if resistance switches from diplomacy to armed confrontation.
After World War One, the British and French began a grand political experiment in the Middle East. They annexed the lands that would become Iraq and Syria and installed governors to oversee the birth of new colonies. With total disregard for the geographical boundaries of ethnic groups, lines in the baking sands became borders and the people within those borders became Iraqi’s and Syrians. They were expected to learn languages and have new ways imposed on them. Cultural norms were thrown out the window. Widespread resistance broke out across Syria which was not put down until 1927.
Colonization ended with the end of World War Two. A vast power vacuum began creeping into the colonies of the major World War Two participants who suddenly had much bigger problems than their far flung territories. In the case of French colonies, Algeria, Tunisia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and others, France has been reluctant to fully let go of them. It took the Japanese occupation to force the French to leave Cambodia and Laos. Their attempts to retake Vietnam ended in a military disaster at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 that characterised how the struggle in the Vietnam War would be fought.
Even today, France is still reluctant to stop interfering in the affairs of Algeria. Its intelligence agencies have been collaborating with Algerian authorities to arrest or crack down on the civil liberties of its civilians, causing some to seek asylum in other countries, including New Zealand, knowing that if they stay, they might be made to disappear.
The ordinary French civilian is in no way to blame for the horrors subjected to their nation and countrymen by Islamic State. For them this is a train wreck of horrors whose origins began to take shape before they were even born, and which might continue even after they die – without doubt a horrible thought, but one that is equally horribly realistic.
What is to blame are successive French Governments that have continued to interfere in the former French colonies, unsettling any democratically elected Governments that look like being resistant to French interests. These same French governments have failed to plan for the large scale immigration that has resulted from these countries remaining poor and unstable, thereby letting in over the course of decades, hundreds of people of undesirable character. They have then compounded this by failing to address concerns raised by French citizens, which has unfortunately led to the rise of the Front Nationale and caused a surge in hate attacks.
France can end this. It will have to end this, lest it find the hate-mongering Front Nationale winning an election, and inflaming the situation further. But until it does, this is the bloody price that gets paid for being an imperial power and not accepting the consequences of ones actions.
Nasty, but true.