Wednesday, 16 March 2011

How to deal with al-Qaeda

Here's what the British tried in the early 20th century:

 in the 1920s on Afghanistan’s Northwest Frontier, the British planted loudspeakers in planes warning tribal peoples that God was angry with them for breaking the peace with India

It didn't work, of course - and the British can't stay away from Afghanistan. I wonder if this is where bin Laden got the idea of using planes to express god's wrath?

I have a children's book from the 1920s called Behind the Mountains by Wray Hunt (author of Boy Of The Indian Frontier and Satan's Daughter, aka Angus Joseph). It's a boys' adventure story set in Afghanistan. The two plucky young British boys crash in Afghanistan because the nice-but-stupid Hindu servants haven't put enough petrol in their tank. So they have to make their way back to India (then - Pakistan now), fighting off hordes of the 'hook-nosed savage' Muslims. It's a classic bit of imperialist racism (the illustrations are utterly racist, and the mystical Indian symbol we now know as the swastika is stamped on the spine, as many India-related books were), and fascinating in the way it racialises the Afghan Muslims in a different way to the Hindus, who are treated as wayward children or pets. I might bring it on one day and quote from it: there's nothing on the web.

Interestingly, the title comes from Robert Burns writing about Scotland - and there's plenty of British imperialist literature referring to the Celtic nations as children or savages to be tamed before they can contribute to the business of Empire-building. The Scots were known as Irish or Wild Irish into the 18th -century, for instance. The lesson is: the English used the same discourses or frameworks wherever they went. Given that Hunt's real name was Angus, it's likely he was Scottish and knew his Burns.

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