"our far-flung battle-line"
posted by k (copied from a blog elsewhere)
Gordon Brown thinks the British Empire was a good thing. More than two years ago, he visited East Africa and called for a celebration of empire: for its ideas of freedom, tolerance and civic duty.
Some of the outposts of empire were the most beautiful parts of the world. In 1815, after Napoleon's defeat, the British took control of the little island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
It's the largest of the Chagos Islands - a small string of coral atolls with white sandy beaches. Twenty years later, slavery was abolished on the islands. Diego Garcia flourished: as a mixed race community it developed its own variety of French Creole. There were villages, a hospital, a church, a school, the means of livelihood by fishing and selling copra. By the early 1960s, there were plans for tourism.
Between 1964 and 1966, the Chagos islands were stolen from the islanders. The British government pretended they were uninhabited and leased them to the Pentagon. The United States military wanted a base in the area. With their usual attention to the meaning of words, they set up a camp there and called it "Camp Justice." In theory, it still comes under British law - or the law of the British Indian Ocean Territories.
You might expect British law to protect the islanders. But as the British government pretended the islanders didn't exist, they had to depopulate the islands. First the islanders were told to leave. But they didn't want to go. So the food ships were stopped. Men, women and children went hungry. It didn't work. The islanders wanted to stay in their homes. After that the British authorities had a better idea. They decided to scare the people by killing their dogs. The dogs were poisoned, beaten, gassed and even burnt alive - in front of the islanders. Children watched grown men torture their pets to death. That is what empire means.
At last the islanders boarded the boats that would take them from their homes. They were dumped on Mauritius in poverty. After some years (and some deaths) the islanders were offered a little compensation for the loss of their homes and way of life.
Labour and Conservative governments have systematically lied and tried to cover up the truth. They couldn't come to Britain to make their case. None of the islanders were allowed to live in Britain as citizens until a court ruling in the year 2000.
Ever since they were deported, the islanders have been trying to get back home. In the year 2000, the British courts also ruled that the islanders could return to the Chagos Islands, with the exception of Diego Garcia. Robin Cook, who was Foreign Secretary, said the government wouldn't fight the decision. But in 2004, after Robin Cook had resigned, the government used the royal prerogative to overturn the decision of the courts.
The islanders went back to court. Both the High Court and, today, the Court of Appeal have ruled that the government went beyond its powers and that the islanders should be allowed to return. But Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary won't let it go at that. She's appealing to the House of Lords.
After all, Diego Garcia was one of the bases for bombing Iraq and Afghanistan. Empire puts the interests of the ruling nation at war above the peaceable interests of colonised people.
The campaign of the Chagos Islanders goes on. So does the Empire. Freedom? Tolerance? Civil duty? ... Starving children. Killing dogs. Lying. Mr Brown, this was and is your government. What were you talking about?