The terrible and tragic violence in Paris is France’s 9/11, commentators are saying. The reaction must ensure that the many precious lives lost and the suffering of the injured are not in vain. The scale of the tragedy should concentrate the mind to find a strategy to check and defeat the Islamic State. The first step is to understand the roots of the crisis, which lie both in the soil of France and far from it in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East and North Africa.
Behind the current uneasy relationship between Muslim immigrants in Europe and the host countries looms the history of European imperialism — a fact that is often overlooked in the analysis. Imperial Britain and imperial France between them ruled much of Africa and Asia and thus dominated three great civilizations: Indian, Chinese and the predominantly Muslim. Imperial attitudes reflected the racism of the era and the belief in Western superiority. Take the example of Winston Churchill, the “grand old man” of British imperialism in its most unrepentant form. Churchill made no secret of his racial opinions — the Hindus were a “foul race” for him — especially those who would challenge the world order. He reserved his choicest phrases for none other than the great Mahatma Gandhi himself. He called Gandhi the “half naked fakir,” and once said notoriously that Gandhi, “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant. ”
Churchill, a European of the late 19th and early half of the 20th century, was echoing the supreme arrogance of his time, which saw Europe as the mother continent of civilization itself. Yet a mere half-century after his passing another British prime minister, also of Churchill’s Conservative Party, expressed a dramatic reversal in the relationship between Britain and India. Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India on his first official visit to Britain on Nov. 12. The two made a trip to a new statue of Gandhi in London. Cameron followed Modi exactly in paying homage to Gandhi by walking up to the statue with his hands joined in the Hindu sign of supplication and bowed his head deeply, almost touching Gandhi’s feet, while he scattered flowers in tribute. Churchill would have been turning in his grave.
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