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The Empireland delusion Sathnam Sanghera can't escape the present


January 29, 2024   7 mins

Sathnam Sanghera is not fighting a “culture war”. The growing shelf of imperial history under his name might verge on the zone of engagement, and certainly emerged at a time of global reckoning over colonialism and race, but they are “not intended to be a salvo in the battle”. In the second paragraph of his new book Empireworld he is already complaining that he has been unfairly dragged into the “culture war” against his will. All he was ever trying to do, he insists, is “provide nuance” to the debate.

If the test of “nuance” is being criticised from all sides, then Sanghera’s books pass with flying colours. Critics on the Right panned his 2021 book Empireland for invoking “the Britain-loathing New York Times” and “that prodigious bore Fintan O’Toole”. On the Left, in a somewhat warmer review, Stanford’s Prof. Priya Satia admonished Sanghera for drawing upon works which have apparently been “debunked”, such as Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica trilogy (1973-8). Only on the shelves of Waterstones Dad are his books safe — but that remains a considerable and influential constituency, one that uses the genre of popular history to form its political worldview. So if that’s who’s reading him, what will they take away from these books? What does the Sanghera project amount to?

The breadth of his reading is part of the sell. A whopping 39% of Empireworld is notes and bibliography. And Sanghera is at pains to convince his readers that he is an honest broker, presenting himself as a blank slate, an autodidact, who having read as much as possible with an open mind has arrived at his own conclusions. He wrote Empireland not principally to edify his readers, but to “plug large gaps” in his own knowledge. Unlike the “culture warriors”, he comes with no axes to grind; he poses as a latter-day Leopold von Ranke, bravely telling the hard truths about British history “as it actually was”.

This rhetorical strategy has its advantages, but can make his books read like pell-mell compilations of quotations from various authors. Sometimes in Empireworld this works to launder ideas that strain credulity, such as the British Empire being responsible for last year’s floods in Pakistan, or the trauma of slavery in the Americas “epigenetically” disposing its modern-day descendants to workaholism and “the downplaying of achievements in public”. Other times, he ends up endorsing ideas which I doubt he sincerely holds. Notoriously, in Empireland he called for Britons to accept that “ultimately, multiculturalism is, in the words of the Jamaican poet Louise Bennett, just ‘colonizin’
 in reverse’”. Aside from sounding awfully like a shot fired in the “culture wars”, I suspect that this would do more harm than good for race relations in Britain; and given that Sanghera does not approve of “colonizin’” but does approve of “multiculturalism”, he most likely shares this view.

But the main shortcoming of Sanghera’s books is that they tell us much more about their author’s own psychology, itself a product of an epistemic ferment of which the “culture wars” are part, than “how imperialism has shaped modern Britain” or “how British imperialism has shaped the globe”. The world around him is a Rorschach test, and he only ever sees one thing. These books have a picaresque flavour: we follow our maverick hero on his adventures as he entertains us with his party-trick, his unrivalled mastery at the game of “spot the colonial inheritance”.

At the beginning of Empireworld, we join him on his journey from New Delhi back to London, “noting down every imperial legacy we happen across”. The sniffer dogs at the airport remind him that the “international trade in cocaine was influenced, indirectly, by British imperial politics”. Encountering some other passengers drinking at the airport bar, he thinks about how “British imperialists spread drunkenness across the planet”. No respite is to be found on his 10-hour flight. That the actors on the TV screen are skinny is a legacy of “imperial attitudes”. And watching Ralph Fiennes “do a half-decent job of making Lord Voldemort appear forbidding” makes him think about the Hollywood trope of the “British baddie” (it’s odd to make this point about a franchise where all the characters are British), a trope which — “let’s face it” — is also down to empire.

All this retreads ground already covered in Empireland, which opens with a suggestion for how empire education could be integrated into P.E. lessons: “Playing football? The perfect opportunity to tell students that ‘kop’, the colloquial name for rising single-tier terraces at football grounds, originally comes from Spion Kop” (a battle in the Second Boer War). It can feel a bit like reading the diary of an undercover Martian, whose only knowledge about our world comes from Zulu, a Kipling anthology, and the British Empire’s Wikipedia page. There is of course nothing wrong with having historical obsessions and lively imaginations. “Have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself, had their hobby-horses?”, as Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy once asked. But, as Shandy continues, a hobby-horse is to be indulged in only “so long as a man rides [it] peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him”.

Sanghera wants us all to get atop his horse. When he plays his game of “spot the colonial inheritance”, he treats it as a terrible failing when others do not participate. Thus the “legacy of empire” must be taught more at school and university — at the expense of John Milton or the Ten Commandments if necessary. In the second chapter of Empireworld, we pace around Kew Gardens, our narrator lost in thought about the relationship between empire and botany. He is jolted by the “painfully polite”, “twee” atmosphere in the Kew Gardens cafĂ©: how are we to tally this, he asks, “with the racism of influential botanists”? It is unclear what exactly Sanghera wants: perhaps every family enjoying a day out at Kew should be made to reflect on the supposedly bloody history of their surroundings. In fact he comes close to supporting such a regime elsewhere in the book. One of his interlocutors recommends that “every European tourist to Jamaica be lectured on the history before being allowed to collect their bags”, and Sanghera’s only reservation (I suppose a valid one) is that this would “fuel the culture war over colonialism in the West”. Again, Sanghera is placed at a remove from that culture war, though I doubt this idea would please Jamaica’s tourism industry, either.

Why must we play this game with him? Sanghera offers a different answer in Empireworld to the one given in Empireland. Empireland was essentially making a moral argument: we should think and talk and teach more about the empire because it’s the right thing to do. In Empireworld, however, morality takes a back seat. We now find ourselves in the hard-edged world of geopolitics and multipolarity and soft power.

Some portents of this did surface towards the end of Empireland. Among the unsettling instances of “imperialism” that Sanghera finds in Boris Johnson’s rhetorical repertoire are references to London being “the greatest city on earth”, Britain having the “best universities”, and Britain being “the leading military player in western Europe”. A less imperially afflicted mind would recognise these for the banal platitudes they are. Even Borat boasts that Kazakhstan is the “number one exporter of potassium”. But what Sanghera dislikes about this “world-beating” bluster is that, by being so apparently tactless about the imperial past, it somehow diminishes Britain’s standing on the world stage. This argument, which becomes the central thesis of Empireworld, is never properly explained.

Britain, on Sanghera’s account, is now too puny a nation to get away with not constantly drawing out the imperial connotations of everything it says and does. We have no choice but to play the game of “spot the colonial inheritance”. India, after all, is a “burgeoning superpower that will shape our future in all sorts of ways”, and apparently would like for us to play along. To make matters worse, the “conversation” about reparations is swiftly “leaving us behind”: “we will look increasingly irrelevant and ignorant if we continue not to engage”. Presumably an “engagement” consisting of a sharp and simple “no” is not quite what Sanghera is after. One has to wonder how many pounds we shall have to cough up if we wish to maintain our “relevance” in the world.

This emphasis on how Britain “looks” animates every page of Empireworld. It mars, for example, an otherwise intriguing discussion of the imperial roots of Britain’s third sector, and the British enthusiasm for animal charities in particular. The first wildlife conservation charities were set up, perversely, by big game hunters; British imperialists were “pioneers in extinction”. This, Sanghera says, is an “important thing to acknowledge within our national obsession for animal conservation and protection” — for “if we forget it, we risk looking cynical and hypocritical as we go about lecturing the planet”. When the King and the Prince of Wales bleat on about saving the rhinos, they are “seemingly oblivious to the fact that their ancestors were at the forefront of destroying some of these species in the first place”. Perhaps, however, they are not “oblivious” to this fact at all, and simply do not think it relevant that (to use one of Sanghera’s examples) Edward VIII once shot a tiger.

For all these flaws, there is a worthwhile book buried deep in Empireworld, one which could have “provided nuance” to a heated and often ugly debate. Every now and then, Sanghera says the sort of thing that ought to feature more prominently in discussions of imperial history: that empire was “unplanned” and “nebulous”; that it had “areas of grey, where seemingly opposite things could be true at once”; that it was “messy” and “full of contradictions”; that it “instilled chaos and spread democracy”. Near the end of the book we get some much-needed self-reflection: for all his inveighing against the hoary old balance-sheet question of whether the empire was “good or bad”, he confesses that he had himself “participated in a micro form of balance-sheet thinking myself”. No prizes for guessing which side he tended to come down on.

Alas, this tease of the sort of book that Empireworld might have been is forever snatched away from us in the conclusion. On the final page, returning to his fixation on “optics”, Sanghera recites a litany of all the things Britain “cannot” do until it somehow faces up to its imperial past. “We cannot lecture nations about homophobia without accepting that we determinedly enforced homophobia upon large parts of the world.” “We cannot negotiate climate change treaties without acknowledging that we were pioneers in inflicting man-made climate change upon the planet.” One might quite reasonably say in response that yes, we can, and yes, we should. In any case, this screed on the sins of empire rather gives the game away. For no “nuance” is here to be found: only a rousing battle-cry in the “culture war”.


Samuel Rubinstein is a History student at Trinity College, Cambridge.
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David McKee
David McKee
5 months ago

Hmm, ok, I get the message. This book is best left on the shelf of Waterstone’s.

Still, if would be nice if revisionists like Sanghera were willing to take part in public debates with their critics. Alas, they do not. Which is why the imperial history wars (copyright: Dane Kennedy) are exercises in people shouting past each other, rather than engaging with each other.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

…too right Cap’n they don’t like it up’em you know.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

As a product of “Empireland” I can only say that I would possibly dislike the books the author referred to.
I can’t speak for the rest of ” Empire” but as far as India was concerned, the story was complex and nuanced. Certainly not deservous of reductionism.
There were twists and turns and baffling inconsistencies..the only cursory paradigm I can think of is of a passionate affair, with extreme ” highs”, many ” lows” and a later acceptance of its passage- sometimes with bitterness, but mostly with an acceptance of the fact that it wasn’t meant to last…but gave both concerned an experience which would always leave it’s mark.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago

Good comment and analogy. I’m not sure it’s completely “over” as far as India is concerned; as the burgeoning power, there may be a sense of seeking retribution – do you think?

And, that’s notwithstanding the result of the Hyderabad test!

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Depends on the generation concerned and the class background as well as the region. My parents and grandparents considered themselves ” children of Empire” and displayed a kind of Macaulay product attitude. Till their last days they swore by ” Empire”. This was true of many Anglophile middle class and elite Indians in the coastal Presidency cities- Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
My late Gen X generation was more critical but having been reared on heady doses of British history, Enid Blyton and PG Wodehouse to name just a few, were more nuanced.
After 1991 India became more Americanised while for my elders American English was as per Prof Higgins in Pygmalion!
Cricket and the English language remain lasting legacies of this not so ” brief encounter”!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

A certain irony that the Test was played in Hyderabad, and perhaps more crucially that Mr Verat Kohli wasn’t playing, as I am sure Ms Gupta would agree.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

After the” heartbreak” of last November, with or without Mr K, I have been giving the willowy game a miss!
Regarding the city of minarets my affections are indeed with a certain impressive building which needs to be renamed after one JK.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

After the” heartbreak” of last November, with or without Mr K, I have been giving the willowy game a miss!
Regarding the city of minarets my affections are quite limited to a certain impressive building which needs to be renamed after one JAK.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

Agreed, poor old James Achilles has been rather forgotten.
Still Mr Pope certainly “saved our bacon”.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago

The Indians will certainly be seeking sporting retribution, which they extracted in full measure on our last visit after we’d won the opening encounter. The latter three tests were in deed “brief”!

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
5 months ago

At least it wasn’t in the other Hyderabad, on the Indus and now in Pakistan…

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Retribution for the two Mughal empires, certainly. It wasnt Britain who tore down 40000 Hindu temples.

Andrew F
Andrew F
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Seeking retribution for what?
Without British Empire imposing common language and creating Indian Civil Service would united India even exist?
A lot of culture warriors forget that India was ruled by Moghuls when Clive started his empire building, so not exactly independent.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
5 months ago

One cannot view the Empire without setting it in the context of its time and comparing it to other imperial powers of the era and earlier times. It is frankly a delusion to imagine that India without the British would have been the unsullied, exotic paradise of some writers’ imaginations. If the British had not ruled India, then another power would.
The British weren’t the first, and were very far from the worst, rulers and plunderers of India. The British reputation among Indians (especially Hindus) is, as a result, far less toxic than that of earlier conquerors.
“the Britain-loathing New York Times” and “that prodigious bore Fintan O’Toole” all talk of Empire in terms of its relation to C21st cultural norms which leads them into taking up fatuous positions that don’t advance the debate one inch.
Much of the current fashion of supposedly “decolonising the curriculum” has in fact narrowed rather than broadened what is taught. It’s decades since any British children were taught that the Empire was a force of unalloyed good for the world, but the pendulum has swung far too far the other way. The current fashion is to teach that it was simply a 300 year carnival of atrocities and depredation. What lessons can be learned from History if it is shorn of all context and nuance?
Even writers as nominally well-versed in the history of the Raj as William Dalrymple now offer a revisionist view that gives viewers and readers a skewed version of the period. Dalrymple has called for the statue of Robert Clive to be torn down from its plinth outside the foreign office – I readily admit he makes a pretty good case for its removal, and describes Clive as â€œa vicious asset stripper”. Yet the same writer has written in far less trenchant tones about earlier Indian invaders.
Muslim warlord-led armies invaded the sub-continent in waves between the 8th and the 17th centuries. They sacked hundreds of cities and thousands of Hindu, Sikh and Jain temples and completely destroyed Buddhism in its birthplace. Afghanistan was a wholly Buddhist land before their arrival. Almost all of Buddha’s followers, and its monuments there, were obliterated.
The Arabs and Turks, inspired by Jihad, enslaved tens of millions of native “infidels” and the death toll – according to Indian historian KS Lal, – stood at â€œno fewer than 82 million persons”. Will Durant – a rather less partial historian than many – wrote: “The Muslim conquest of India is probably the bloodiest stay in history, 
.. 
.. the works of Stalin, Hitler and the Holocaust not excepted.” There are huge statues eulogising these warlords all over Pakistan and Muslim Central Asia – yet most historians of empire, don’t appear exercised by their existence. Do they hold the white British to a higher standard, or the non-white, non-British to a lower one? The progressive Left refer to such “problematic” ideas as the “soft bigotry of low expectations”
Whatever the bitterness of Indians about the British Raj is as nothing to their bitterness towards the equally foreign and much more appalling Muslim Raj that preceded it.
So yes, when discussing our imperial past, of course we should include the very real and terrible crimes of the British in India – but we must also set it in context.
You say of Sanghera that “for all his inveighing against the hoary old balance-sheet question of whether the empire was “good or bad”, he confesses that he had himself “participated in a micro form of balance-sheet thinking myself”
But take an honest look at the India of today: The Congress Party was founded by the British and the first democratic elections were held under their aegis. India’s democracy, its parliament, its constitution, its legal system, its army, its civil service, its judiciary, its police, not to mention its vast railway network, are entirely the creation of the British. They also introduced cricket, a pastime of which Indians are more than a little fond.
It is neither incorrect nor trite to recognise that the British did good as well as evil.
What did the preceding invaders – the ones Dalrymple and others hold in such regard – do that was good?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

“What did the preceding invaders – the ones Dalrymple and others hold in such regard – do that was good?”

Rather like that other great killer Genghis Khan
..NIHIL – NOTHING.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
5 months ago

Willy Dalrymple is besotted with Mughal architecture and poetry.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  JOHN KANEFSKY

Fatehpur Sikri has a certain charm as does the Taj. although very obviously of Persian origin.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Needless to say some of the defenders of the British Empire go too far in the other direction. The Mughal Empire did have quite a lot to be said for it, and was mostly quite tolerant of Hindus. (You could argue that such was the numerical superiority of the latter they had little choice, but still….

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Only really Akbar, whilst Aurangzeb was a disaster.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Your first mention of “democratic elections” (albeit with separate voter lists for Hindus and Muslims) is correct – at regional level from 1931. These were the result of important reforms but of course had no influence at all on the Governor General. India was certainly not a democracy under the British.

Your second that “Indian democracy” (for the nation as a whole) is however wrong. The first democratic national elections took place in 1951.

The other main criticism of the British Raj was that until near the end, it as a matter of policy suppressed Indian industrial development. Economic growth was near zero for many decades. Why wouldn’t this be the case? The aim was to assist British manufacturers – Empires aren’t primarily acquired for the benefit of their native inhabitants and generally favour the imperial metropolis. This certainly doesn’t mean the British Empire was a litany of evil, but the opposite position overstates how beneficent it was.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

You might have mentioned the Simon Commission of 1928-29, whose driving force was Clement Attlee MP, and which ultimately produced the Government of India Act, 1935.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Andrew,
I think I allowed that “when discussing our imperial past, of course we should include the very real and terrible crimes of the British in India – but we must also set it in context.”
I am certainly not a blind cheerleader for the Empire, but I will push back on those who see only the plunder and refuse to acknowledge that the legacy of Empire brought Democracy and a system of Governance to India that the country has subsequently benefitted from.
Quite some years ago, my wife and I stayed with a delightful gentleman in Goa who laid out the difference in the legacy of British India, when compared to what the Goans were left with by the Portuguese.
As I laid out at the top of my original post If the British had not ruled India, then another power would,” in which case, do you think that legacy would have been markedly different? Better? Or Worse?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Often these Woke versions of Indian history forget that the most brutal European colonisers in India were the Portuguese in Goa..of which only recently there has been an attempt to come to terms.
British rule was hardly comparable in violence as compared to that.
There is also a counter to the economic impact of “drain” etc in recent work like that of Tirthankar Roy.
As I said, nuance is needed to the analysis.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
5 months ago

It’s quite simple.
I’m not responsible for *anything* that happened before I was born, and only tangentially for the last 70 plus years, to the extent that I could have done more to be a nicer and kinder person.
Nothing polemicists pretending to be historians will ever get me to change that view. I have no Colonial guilt.
As I’m now in the twilight of a longish and reasonably OK life with enough money to see out my days, I can read about the muddled rambling of this and other writers without any rancour. Though of course someone must be buying this stuff.
Kerching!
In the words of Neil Young:
“You’re all just pissing in the wind, you don’t know it but you are.
“And ain’t it good to have a friend, who can tell you you’re just pissing in the wind”.
Have a nice day, y’all.

Andrew R
Andrew R
5 months ago

He’s read some books on Critical Theory and like many others has found it a useful grift.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
5 months ago

I suppose we are supposed to feel a crushing sense of guilt every time we drink tea or coffee, or use sugar, all historically connected with empire. Am I also entitled to hold all modern Indians culpable for suttee, or wife burning? It is racist and wrong to hold Britain uniquely responsible for global sins. India has enough evils of caste and misogyny to preoccupy it.

D Glover
D Glover
5 months ago

Indeed. How can we ever forgive the Mughals for their conquest of northern India?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Clive and Sir Hector Munro got rid of them quickly enough.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
5 months ago

Suttee was pretty much eradicated by mid 19th century, mostly thanks to Indian reformers. And the first thing India did after independence was to crack down on the evils of caste – today it’s beloved prime minister and president both are “lower caste”.

And that crushing sense of guilt is mostly down to white liberals here in the West or certain other “POC” groups.

Most Indians will happily tell you that fixing our problems is down to us. The reason Indians do so well on Western countries, is because there is very little genuine racism anymore in these countries, despite all the hand wringing and guilt from white libs, and because the Indian community doesn’t wallow in self pity.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
5 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

There are enormous levels of inequality and corruption in India that would shame another country. It isn’t wallowing in self pity: that is patronising. It’s guilt for past sins, many if which are small by historical standards. Other countries have much more jingoistic textbooks and politicians and think their countries were purely victims. That is their immaturity. But I agree the left, often pushed by resentful minorities, or too fond of rubbishing this country that has do much to be proud of.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
5 months ago

Firstly, yes there is corruption, but just like crimes against women, it’s exaggerated. India is around middle of the pack in both respects,, not as good as the best but also much better than a lot of countries.
Most Indians would happily admit that it’s a problem. But statements like “would shame another country” is just hyperbole.

Just like the UK has a lot to be proud of, agreed, while colonialism and slavery is a blot on its history, but you would agree Britain wasn’t the worst of the lot. Similar hyperbole, and by the same parties who specialise in negative stories about India, which probably tells you something.

Inequality exists, but it is not the problem in India – if anything, a lot of the poverty still existing in the country is because India was too socialist. Rather have economic growth than “equality”.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Samir, thank you for pointing this exaggeration out. I find an ill-effect of the Woke version of history which is so popular now in the Western academe and public sphere, is to unleash a backlash against the present realities of India often with the most ignorant stereotyping.
I am an Indian based in India, and this only feeds a counter- reaction of similar exaggerated proportions in social media out here-when various puff pieces from the British media and the NYT- Washington Post- WSJ stable-are quoted in reverse reaction about British envy and prejudice against a strong India.
This makes it additionally difficult for people from my generation who were brought up to admire the British rule for its good points, while acknowledging its shortcomings.
Even on UH – supposedly a balanced and centrist site, I find lots of ignorance.I would like to think that its a problem of omission and not of deliberate commision.
Every situation has nuance, complexity and context.
My earnest plea is to study and sift through various sites and histories, before jumping to conclusions about both Indian history and the present.
The author of this article takes a swipe at Sanghera for not being the Rankean he professes to be.
As an avid Rankean, attempting a history of the last days of the British Raj, I would hope to see greater understanding and empathy, and a dedication to the “facts as they are and were”.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Indians still live under a backward-looking self-imposed caste system. That’s why India will never be more than it is. A big market for China.

Lesley Keay
Lesley Keay
5 months ago

Maybe Mr Sanghera should go away and do some reading about other empires which have existed across the world through the history of mankind. He might find that the British Empire was not responsible for all of the ills in the world. I rather think that hunting for sport was carried, for example was carried out long before the British arrived anywhere.

Alan Tonkyn
Alan Tonkyn
5 months ago
Reply to  Lesley Keay

Yes, Lesley; a good point. I feel the same about the slave trade in all its forms. The transatlantic slave trade (not only conducted by the British, of course), was particularly cruel, but was one amongst countless other examples, many of which persisted after the British had banned the trade and acted to suppress it.

Jeff Dudgeon
Jeff Dudgeon
5 months ago

This of course is the standard issue Tatchell view:
“We cannot lecture nations about homophobia without accepting that we determinedly enforced homophobia upon large parts of the world.”
However it takes no account of how the various territories enforced or ignored their British-inspired laws. And still do, having retained them, in most cases for decades, after independence.

William Cameron
William Cameron
5 months ago

Readings his works one is left with the impression of someone choosing to find fault with his country – while ignoring the faults of later developments.
Africa has been ravaged by corruption by its post colonial leaders – and colonisation is more than sixty years ago. Sanghera seeks to suggest that every current failing is all down to Britain. And this doesnt stand up to any examination.
Britain colonised. It built roads schools and hospitals and installed the rule of law.
The inhabitants asked for independence . Britain agreed and bloodlessly handed over power and left .
How well did that work for today’s inhabitants in Africa ?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago

Arab slavery continues? I doubt that. The French abolished slavery jn Algeria and then Morocco

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Slavery was officially abolished in Saudi Arabia in November 1962.

The family I was staying with at the time in Riyadh had quite a few. Mainly Sudanese as I recall, but there were also plenty of n*groes around.

Sources tell me it is still practiced, albeit clandestinely.

POSTED AT 16.26 GMT and immediately SIN BINNED.

RELEASED AT 17.10 GMT.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago

Charles, there is somethign very odd with the editing of Un herd. My posts immediately go to ”awaiting approval” – then sometiems they vanish completely, and then – long after I have forgotten about posting – some then come back.
I have asked Unherd whats going on, but regrettebly I dont get a reply. I have said to Paul Marshall its an extroadinary and rather random situation. Once (if?) I get to the bottom of it – I will let him know its been resolved (hopefully).

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

Thank you.
Well at least we are exercising our inalienable right to FREE SPEECH!

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago

It’s about time an article such as this was written. Too many people find a tenuous connection (non connection) with Britain and blame it for everything that goes wrong in the world.

What about spelling out some of the other side of the coin?

50,000 miles of railways built – and used today – to carry supplies and grain etc around the vast country.

India was only ever united as a single nation under The British – do check the history before the Brits.

Legal – judicial – education and administration were all introduced by Britain and survive today.

What price on all of these. What price on the English language being bequeathed? How much is it worth to be able to speak and understand people from the world over.

Amritsar was a disgusting tragedy but the officer in charge (General Dower) was born in India and he gave the orders to non English / UK soldiers (Burmese or similar I believe) to fire. He too was fired for his non authorised actions.

India today is a fantastic country with much potential – but I ask how many tens of millions were executed by the INDIAN army in the immediate aftermath of independence?

Check it out – as much as you can since unlike in the days of the Raj – few records were kept.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

TWO corrections I was not able to edit previusly are:
1) It was General Dyer who was india Born – as were the vast majority of ”The British India Army”
2) The part of the British India Army that carried out the massacre were The Gkurkas – (not the Burmese as I guessed earlier)
So, not onyl were none of the people that carried out this attrocity born in Britian – but Dyer, himself born in now Pakistan/Punjab (as mentioned) was not acting on anyones orders but his own. He should have been executed for his appalling deed.
I accept both 1 & 2 above had connections to Britian/British Army.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

If you want to execute Dyer what would you want to do to NETANYAHU?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

GURKHAS.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago

thank you Charles

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

“but I ask how many tens of millions were executed by the INDIAN army in the immediate aftermath of independence?

Answer: Not very many, we let them get on with it and got out asap.
Remember most of the troops were Labour voting conscripts who wanted to get home to Blighty to enjoy the Socialist paradise that had just been created.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago

Perhaps I didnt make my point clearly.
The Indian armyafter independence – was owned and operated by the new state of India.
You say ‘not many’ – Not true I am afraid, what history there is shows us that the independent India Army massacred tens of millions of citizens moving from the new India to the new states of Pakistan and East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh), such was the pent up anger between largely Hindu and Muslim groups (and a small minority of Christians in the mix) – it all spilled out after the Brits left.
In fact, it was all spilling over in any case and not even The Brits could keep it all together any longer.
The Brits were negotiating its exit from the Indian sub-continent, before WW2 started.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

Completely wrong. And a-historical. If you have a peeve against India that’s different but please don’t tar the Indian army of independent India.
If anything the Muslim League conducted ethnic cleansing in Calcutta in 1946 under HS Suhrawardy and Qasim Razvi and the Razakars did something similar in 1948.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

I stand corrected, thank you.
I did think that you were referring to the (British) Indian Army and also the British Army in India if that makes any sense.
I had no idea that the post Independence Indian Army:-
“massacred tens of millions of citizens moving from the new India to the new states of Pakistan and East Pakistan”.
Are you quite sure about that expression “tens of millions”? I does seem rather high!

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

That exposition on the Indian army is a muddled and factually wrong statement. I have countered. The only planned massacres were of the League in Calcutta in 1946- Direct Action Day and the Nizam’s SS inspired Razakars in Hyderabad in 1948.
The rest of the Partition violence was tragic but unplanned.
The creme de la creme of Sandhurst were headed for the British Indian army. In 1947 and right till the millennium many of those men were trained in Sandhurst and IMA Doon or NDA Poona traditions.
Truth be told, the Indian armed forces were Britain’s greatest contribution. Sullying it with sweeping factual inaccuracies is really unnecessary.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

I couldn’t agree more.
It is simply astonishing how these ‘myths’ become facts!

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
5 months ago

Empires, over millennias have driven progress, to pretend they are all good or all bad or something in between is of little consequence, it’s history.

tom j
tom j
5 months ago

My take is that Sathnam Sanghera is ashamed that his ancestors were conquered by the British.

John Murray
John Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  tom j

I don’t know if it is shame, so much as wanting their ancestors to matter. He wants to feel his ancestors experience was central to British history and how Britain came to be. Less Alfred and the Normans, more slave plantations in the Caribbean and the Raj. I think that in an odd way it comes from a place of people who know themselves to be British, but do not find themselves in British history for whatever reason in a way that satisfies them psychologically.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Slave plantations in the Raj? Oh please.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Plenty of trading in slaves, in the days of the good old EIC*, particularly in Calcutta, but no plantations West Indian style.
A much quoted figure is 1.2 million slaves in territory controlled by the EIC in 1830, a tiny percentage of the total population it must be said.

(*East India Company.)

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

Not ” slavery”as in North America, more indentured labour movements to East Africa, the Caribbean and some Pacific islands, mostly from Bihar and United Provinces.

John Murray
John Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

“slave plantations in the Cartibbean and the Raj.” Two things. Two very well-known things. Hence the use of the conjunction “and.” That’s how the English language works, not my problem if you can’t read it.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Pity about “ Cartibbean”!

John Murray
John Murray
5 months ago

Oh, a typo. Boy, howdy, you sure showed me. You’re going to really own the internet with that amazing rhetorical technique.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Thanks to your previous post “you had it coming” as WE say over here.
No hard feelings!

M To the Tea
M To the Tea
5 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

That’s precisely my point. The influence that the British once exerted could easily be replicated today by organized immigrant groups seeking to impact the culture. As a result, it’s Europe that is vulnerable now, not India. What do you propose we do, instead of simply sitting back and thinking we have achieved something, while our doors remain wide open? In my opinion, immigration can no longer be a one-way process. We should open it in both directions by equalizing resource and financial markets. We cannot continue to exploit their resources, steal their brains and insult them and if they talk too much, bomb them! I mean this cannot be going on forever right?
Our power is blinding us but power makes people stupid and lazy…nothing to strive for.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
5 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

I understand your point, but Britain conquered a quarter of the planet. Are we to incorporate the history of every province in our education? It won’t leave time for much else.
Meanwhile, working-class white boys (the casually ignored losers of our education system) could probably do without yet more lectures on how terrible, culpable and privileged they are.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago
Reply to  tom j

The landmass we now call INDIA – was never a Country as such in its entire history.
The landmass has been of one empire or another (to a greater or lesser extent) for thousands of years – the Brits and Mughals are but two of many.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

Yes but ‘we’ made modern India, no if, no buts.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago

Correct.
in the teeth of opposition of the naieve Mr Ghandi, a very great man for sure – but the plan for ”his” India was doomed and that was recognised by many, before it came to pass.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

India is fine thank you very much. Nothing about it has ” come to pass” other than in the fevered fantasy of Marxist globalists

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

India existed as a civilization and a sacred geography since times immemorial. The Mughal Empire was not as big as made out- the Marathas, Guptas and Kushanas were bigger. Only Magadha matched the British Empire in its zenith.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

British colonization, whatever its defects, was the best thing that ever happened to most of the colonized countries.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
5 months ago

Of course, all the places the British colonised existed in a pre-lapsarian idyll until we arrived.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

In particular Ireland.

rob drummond
rob drummond
5 months ago

Its also veyr strange that The Irish never make any reference to the colonisation of Ireland – which lasted for many centuries – by The Catholic Church.

What was the cost of THAT Colonisation?

Simon Gould
Simon Gould
5 months ago

One of the concerns I have with Sanghera’s inferences is that when it comes to any possible long lasting influence of the Empire he puts too much emphasis on legacy and not enough on agency. In other words, anything negative people living in old parts of the Empire in the 21st century are still doing is only because it was introduced to their ancestors by the British hundreds of years ago.

M To the Tea
M To the Tea
5 months ago

From my perspective, this article presents a paradox: welcoming immigrants while engaging in conflicts in their home regions seems contradictory and dangerous idea that I often wonder why no one is talking about it especially with the technology…it is just too weird.
Currently, many new immigrants struggle with basic needs and discrimination while their home countries suffer from war, creating psychological dilemmas and the expectation they should remain loyal to us is ludicrous. the irony of not a single word on Immigration in his article and its comments was shocking to me.
As an immigrant who climbed to the upper class from hard work and a bit of luck, I have the privilege of a beautiful homeland to return to for retirement, a luxury many white Europeans don’t have. They complain but do not make a real sense what their complaint is. You cannot complain to keep power in the past and the financial present and yet demand immigrants stay loyal. Why? Give me a good reason why an immigrant would not think like a colonizer?
The exclusion of continents like Africa, Asia, and South America from global financial markets is a critical issue, especially as their talents are absorbed by the West. This could lead to loyalty divisions within Western countries and the marginalization of native populations in very near future if not already here. The West’s current strategy seems short-sighted, illogical and honestly stupid.
Colonization and slavery were effective in the past because human consciousness was less evolved. However, continuing these practices through financial power, while selectively inviting the best immigrants and mistreating the unwanted ones, is akin to berating a slave and then expecting them to cook a delicious dinner.
Why cannot we share the earth?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago

Great satirical essay. The Borat reference alone makes it stand out

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
5 months ago

“he confesses that he had himself “participated in a micro form of balance-sheet thinking myself”. No prizes for guessing which side he tended to come down on.”

Indeed. Satnav is nothing more than an out and out racist. one who’s ugandan family would be dead without Britain.

Mike MacCormack
Mike MacCormack
5 months ago

I’ve read tis article through, twice, and feel that the author’s criticisms don’t match up to his conclusion. He doesn’t accuse Sanghera of anything crucially wrong, just says he’s going on a bit and is a bit of a bore. My kids are of mixed ancestry – English, Indian, Irish, Scottish, Sri Lankan – and fully recognise the colonial footprints all over the lives of their relations who still live there, never mind here. My own ancestors were military men in India for several generations, including my father who was there in 1945/6 as British rule fell apart. The idea that Sanghera is getting this all out of balance is not right, however well it plays out with the culture warriors of the right.

Andrew R
Andrew R
5 months ago

The “culture war” is entirely of the left’s own making, created through the idiocy of Critical Theory. A cult worthy of neurotic, inadequate people who enjoy basking in victimhood. Someone from the right just gave it a name.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
5 months ago

I think he’s taking Sanghera to task for hypocrisy: for pretending to be neutral in the culture wars when, patently, he isn’t.
I happen to be a Thatcherite who detests socialism, for example. That’s perfectly fine, provided I don’t pretend to be an impartial umpire between the two ideologies.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

I think I am with you on this one. Somewhat. Though victimhood and blame gaming are not to be condoned, the colonial experience is a kaleidoscope and can be seen from various angles.
I am attempting a history of the period of when your father was in India and if you have any inputs please feel free to share.

Mike MacCormack
Mike MacCormack
5 months ago

I’d be happy to share. How do I contact you directly? I’m a bit wary of sharing my email address with all and sundry but if we can establish a link initially postally that would be fine!

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
5 months ago

Write me at sayantani15@gmail.com
Your postal add

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
5 months ago

The author’s thesis plays on the current fashion for self-flagellation amongst the chattering classes of Britain. It receives a welcoming reception by those of the power elites because it helps to soothe their conscience about a “shameful” imperial past as they virtue-signal and continue to wield power over a majority they view as unenlightened.
But they ignore the impact this has on a discouraged and increasingly rudderless British public, who are being asked to surrender their culture and country to uncontrolled mass immigration. Why? Because their history is “bad” and so it is their duty, their obligation, to support as many people from around the globe who demand their “human right” to live in Britain – many at the expense of the shrinking working population. Where the elites think this will end is anyone’s guess, but it well not end well for Britain.

Yalini G
Yalini G
5 months ago

When my Indian grandfather decided to join calls for workers in Mauritius at the start of the 20th century, he started a process that would lead to the enrichment of his descendents who now live in a paradise. My father later heeded the call for nurses from Mauritius in the UK. He came here on a British passport in the 50s, full of love for the Queen and pride at joining the Land of Hope and Glory. He never tried to teach me Hindi or create a little India in London. He integrated and worked. He ended up as a Civil Servant, easily rising through the ranks, until the day came when his staff decided they didn’t want to take leadership from a brown man. He left and did other things – he NEVER blamed the local for that predicament, and just got on and made a life in other ways. I in turn have never looked for racism (or seen it) and blamed my own shortcomings or bad luck on any failings in my life. I think most Indians and East Asians are still like this, instilling a love of work and education, and self-betterment in their kids, which stands them in good stead, rather than expecting special treatment from anyone. It is well-known now the white working class are the most underprivileged class of people in the country, so it’s just not a good look for Satnam to whine the way he does. Time to grow up Satnam, life’s a b***h, and nobody owes you anything – and nobody likes a whiner.