Imperial auxiliaries, refugee status and cynical political expediency

The fiftieth anniversary of the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community by the Amin regime should make us pause and reflect on two things. Firstly, whom we classify as refugees, and how the refugee policies of the imperialist nations are driven by cynical political considerations. Secondly, people such as Idi Amin, rather than being evil aberrations of nature, are products of deliberate and calculated policies of the imperialist nations.

On August 4, 1972, General Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian (mostly Indian) community. He gave them 90 days to leave the country. His decision was part of a marked deterioration in Kampala’s relations with the British government. Idi Amin himself, was a career British soldier.

Idi Amin was very much a creation of the British military. As a young man, he fought with distinction in the King’s African Rifles, a unit made up of African recruits and deployed to fight anti-colonial insurgents. He made his bones fighting for the British empire in various conflicts in Africa. He fought against the Kenyan nationalist insurgency of the 1950s, sometimes called the Mau Mau uprising. He also fought against anti-British Somali secessionists during the Shifta war in the 1960s.

During his service in the King’s African Rifles, Amin was promoted through the ranks by the British. After Uganda gained independence in 1962, Amin rose rapidly through the Ugandan military, becoming Commander of the Ugandan armed forces in 1970. Britain was not the only nation which deliberately cultivated relations with Amin – the other nation which supplied armaments and support for the newly independent Uganda was Israel.

During the presidency of Milton Obote, Uganda’s first President, the Americans and Israelis kept informed of developments inside Uganda, and cultivated close links with General Amin. Obote had been planning on nationalising foreign-owned assets, such as mines, in Uganda. In 1971, Obote was overthrown in a coup d’état, carried out by the Ugandan armed forces, with the surreptitious cooperation of the Israelis and British.

The 1971 coup by Amin was welcomed by ruling circles in London, and Tel Aviv. Amin had long-standing ties to Israeli intelligence, and participated a paratrooper training course run by the Israeli military. Another nation which accepted the rise of Amin in Uganda was Canada. While Amin’s expulsion of the Ugandan Asian community caused friction between Kampala and Ottawa, the Canadian government never actually broke off diplomatic relations with the Amin regime.

Ottawa had become increasingly concerned that Obote, Amin’s predecessor, had planned to nationalise Canadian owned mines in the nation. A copper and cobalt mine, Kilembe had reaped its Canadian owners millions of dollars in profits. After Obote’s overthrow, Amin pledged to maintain Canadian majority ownership of the mine. In another unsurprising move, Amin promises to break the African embargo of apartheid South Africa, selling armaments to the white supremacist regime in defiance of the majority of African nations.

It is important to keep these machinations in mind, because Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, when commemorating the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community, lauded the alleged generosity of Canada in accepting thousands of Asians from that nation. Trudeau wilfully omitted any mention of Ottawa’s continued business dealings with the Amin regime, and played up the supposed compassion of Canada’s ruling circles. Trudeau’s cynical posturing as a generous benefactor of desperate refugees falls flat in the face of the documentary evidence.

Amin may have been ‘deranged’, but this alleged condition was not recognised until after the Amin regime became a disobedient and troublesome child for British interests. The image of Amin as this onerous, mentally ill lunatic with no friends – the stereotype of the ‘cannibalistic’ African – does not stand up to scrutiny. The purpose of this propaganda campaign turning Amin into an ‘evil’ monster is to dismiss the capability of African nations to govern themselves independently. The ‘look what happens when you give Africans power’ is a historically ignorant and cynically deployed claim to undermine African attempts at self-governance.

The UK took in around 27 000 Ugandan Asian refugees. While this has been upheld as an act of generosity, there were definitive political calculations behind the move. Gaining economically prosperous groups of refugees is a financial boon to a flailing economy. Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary and of Ugandan Asian heritage herself, launched the Britain-Rwanda relocation scheme, forcibly sending refugees to the African nation of Rwanda.

Britain’s refugee policy has never been about compassion, but about providing for imperial service refugees. Let’s not pretend, fifty years after the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community, that the UK has suddenly adopted a spirit of generosity.

The cult of Winston Churchill, racist legacies and Anglophone colonial nostalgia

No other British prime minister is lionised to the point of deification as Winston Churchill. Libraries are chock full of Churchill biographies, multiple documentaries have been made about his life. Numerous biopics have been produced – the latest being the 2017 movie Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman joined a long list of British actors who have portrayed Churchill on the silver screen.

However, the lionisation of Churchill should not blind us to the fact that he advocated a worldview based on white supremacy and British empire-building. Indeed, Churchill came of age at a time when the maintenance of the British empire was paramount. The myth of Churchill – the British bulldog ever defiant in the face of tremendous obstacles – is not based on his wartime record. It is in fact a deliberately constructed cult, from the 1980s onwards, to justify Britain’s role as an imperial overlord.

Tariq Ali, in a new book about Churchill, writes that the manufactured adulation of him dates from well after World War 2, and serves distinct political purposes. Colonial nostalgia – a hankering for the ‘good old days’ of empire – is deftly buttressed by the cult of Churchill. The latter was an unrepentant empire loyalist, supportive of the criminal policies that sustained the British empire, and contemptuous of those the empire ruled.

The 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, when the British government of Thatcher fought to hang on to its colonial possession in the south Atlantic, was the crucial turning point in the construction of the Churchill cult. Thatcher positioned herself as a new Churchill, confronting a ‘new Hitler’, Argentine military ruler Galtieri. The Conservative party, along with its Labour counterparts, participated eagerly in this new cultural construction of Churchillism.

Churchill’s racism and advocacy of mass violence

Churchill himself made numerous racist statements – which informed his worldview. The British empire was everything, governing over millions of people. Any challenge to the authority of the empire, and the financial aristocracy that ruled it, was to be met with salutary violence. In his submission to the 1937 Peel Commission, which was tasked with making recommendations for the governance of Mandatory Palestine, Churchill stated that:

I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

His eugenicist viewpoint came through strongly when expressing his contempt for the non-white peoples of the world. His hatred of Indians was widely known, and he called them a beastly people with an equally beastly religion. When informed that the Bengal famine required urgent food supplies, Churchill refused to help thus condemning millions of Bengalis to die of starvation. He rationalised his refusal to help on Malthusian grounds – Indians ‘breed like rabbits’ and would consequently outstrip the food supply.

As Tariq Ali points out, if we hold Stalin personally responsible for the policies of enforced collectivisation, and Mao for the Great Leap Forward, then we should be ethically consistent and place the blame for the fatalities of the Bengal famine at Churchill’s doorstep.

While Churchill is celebrated for his foresight in opposing Nazi Germany, his opposition was not so much on fascism’s domestic methods, but on its external ambitions. Churchill fulsomely admired Mussolini’s Italy, and praised the Italian dictator’s use of savage violence in dealing with socialist, communist and trade union opponents of the regime. Franco’s Spain, a fascistic remnant from World War 2, was also an object of admiration in Churchill’s eyes.

Churchill was a vociferous supporter of Zionism, and advocated the establishment of a Zionist outpost in the Middle East friendly to British interests. It was in his enthusiasm in the development and use of the latest military weapons where Churchill’s fondness for empire shines through. Advocating the mass use of poison gas in Iraq in 1920, in order to suppress a nationalist revolt, Churchill dismissed criticisms of such tactics. In fact, he rationalised the use of barbaric weapons as necessary to ‘save lives’ in the long run.

The logic of the empire builder can be seen in Churchill’s way of thinking; uncivilised tribes, in his view, can be decimated by the use of the latest weapons, and thus save British lives. Such justifications have been deployed to soothe the conscience; the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were similarly rationalised as acts of mercy killing in order to save American lives.

During his second stint as Prime Minister (1951 – 55), Churchill had no hesitation in using mass violence, torture and concentration camps against the Kikuyu uprising against colonialism in Kenya. One of the victims of British policy in Kenya was Hussein Onyango Obama, the paternal grandfather of Barack Obama. Churchill long regarded Africa as an imperial playground.

It is more than time to reevaluate the legacy of Churchill, and deconstruct the false edifice of Churchillism. The latter is only a propaganda tool which obscures the crimes of Empire.

Tetrapods, walking ‘fishapods,’ Tiktaalik, Qikiqtania and transitioning from water to land

The transition from water-based living to land is one of the most pivotal moments in the history of life on Earth. A number of fossils, discovered by a team of researchers in the Canadian Arctic, sheds light on this crucial question. In 2004, a team of researchers lead by Neil Shubin from the University of Chicago, discovered a series of fossils which help answer the questions surrounding this transition.

Tiktaalik – from fish to land-dwelling vertebrates

The fossils were discovered on Ellesmere Island, northern Canada, in 2004. Named Tiktaalik roseae, the genus name meaning “large shallow water fish” in the indigenous language of Canada’s Nunavut Territory nations, is a transitional extinct species possessing features of fish and also tetrapods – four-limbed vertebrates. Tiktaalik used its frontal fins to move itself in a walking fashion in shallow waters, straddling the transition to amphibious living.

Tetrapods are four-limbed vertebrates – amphibians, reptiles, mammals, me, you – it includes an extensive series of animal phyla. This body form first appeared in the Devonian geologic period. The Devonian is known by palaeontologists as the age of fishes. Amphibious animals, emerging in the Devonian, came to be the dominant form of life in the next geologic period, the Carboniferous.

Tiktaalik demonstrates the transition from swimming fish to land-based locomotion for vertebrates. Tiktaalik, while possessing fish characteristics, also had wrist bones, so it could propel itself with its front limbs. Wrist bones are lacking in fossils earlier than the Tiktaalik. Located in sediment beds dating back to 375 million years ago, this stratigraphy layer is located in Devonian geological period.

Qikiqtania – the ‘fishapod’ which went back to the water

The amphibians, the first true tetrapods, evolved from the lobe-finned fishes, but finding the transition from the fishy ancestors of amphibians and true tetrapods has been challenging until now. Related to the discovery of Tiktaalik is another fossil cousin, Qikiqtania wakei, named from the indigenous Inuit languages where the fossil was found.

Another ‘fishapod’ – no, that word is not a scientific classification, but a portmanteau made up by writers. Actually, Qikiqtania is a type of elpistostegalian, a prehistoric species of lobe-finned fish. Qikiqtania’s pectoral fin contains a humerus bone. However, Qikiqtania was more suited to life in the water, and returned there soon after its land-dwelling phase. Neil Shubin, a palaeontologist from the University of Chicago, stated about Qikiqtania that:

The specimen includes partial upper and lower jaws, portions of the neck, and scales,”

“Mostly importantly, it also features a complete pectoral fin with a distinct humerus bone that lacks the ridges that would indicate where muscles and joints would be on a limb geared toward walking on land.”

The media release about these findings from the University of Chicago make the following important point:

We tend to think animals evolved in a straight line that connects their prehistoric forms to some living creature today, but Qikiqtania shows that some animals stayed on a different path that ultimately didn’t work out. Maybe that’s a lesson for those wishing Tiktaalik had stayed in the water with it.

While Tiktaalik’s front fins contained bones which correspond to our humerus, wrist, ulna and radius bones, the later Qikiqtania only had a corresponding humerus bone. Qikiqtania, while closely related to Tiktaalik, took on a different evolutionary pathway. Tiktaalik, in contrast to Qikiqtania, had a mobile neck, allowing it to support its head out of the water and adjust to gravity. The fish-to-tetrapod transition marked the beginning of the vertebrate dwelling in terrestrial ecosystems.

Nowhere in the scientific literature is there any reference to a ‘social Darwinist’ competition between emergent species, nor any ‘struggle for existence’. The tetrapods did not emerge by smashing their competitors, or becoming the strongest ‘king’ of their ecosystem. Neither is there any reference to a supernatural creator, or teleological direction in the evolutionary process. If you want to discuss philosophical issues of theism, or a faith-based natural history of life on Earth, please save that for another blog article.

Evolution, rather than proceeding in a straight linear fashion, moves in a series of branching tree-like pathways. Tiktaalik, and Qikiqtania, are not merely ‘stepping stones’ on the way to the eventual emergence of vertebrate organisms.

When it comes to eugenics, the Nazis were inspired by the example of the United States

Eugenics is normally associated with the barbarity of Nazi Germany and its perversion of science. It is regarded as something of a historical curiosity, as we dust off the cobwebs in the archives. However, when we examine eugenics more closely, we can find the one country which inspired the Nazi party with its eugenicist practices – the United States.

Let’s start with a very basic definition; eugenics (good breeding) is a belief that the quality of human beings can be improved by selectively breeding those with superior traits. If it can be done with animals, why not with humans? This idea is nothing new; the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato advocated the selective procreation of those with superior qualities as part of his plan for renewal in The Republic.

It was in the nineteenth century, with scientific advances in agriculture and human biology, that eugenics as a social movement began to take off. Francis Galton (1822 – 1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term eugenics and did his utmost to develop the pseudoscience of social Darwinism. Earlier, the Reverend Thomas Malthus, concerned about the rising numbers of the poor – including Irish immigration – proposed population control measures directed at restricting the dispossessed from reproducing.

It is important to note that Darwin never endorsed the Victorian-era perversion of evolutionary biology into the pseudoscientific detour of eugenics. The purported ‘survival of the fittest’ motivation was an expression of the English ruling class’ desire that the lower classes and poor would die off, and thus remove any threat to the unequal status quo. Providing a scientific veneer to the status quo became a hobby horse of the English intellectual community.

In Britain, the church along with industrial leaders were supportive of eugenics. However, it was in the United States that eugenicist thinking received enormous corporate philanthropy – the Rockefeller foundation, the Carnegie Institution and financial magnates, provided strong backing for the development of eugenics pseudoscience.

Malthus was worried about the pressures of an increased population on the food supply – he directed his ire at the Irish immigrant community. Blaming migrants for socioeconomic problems was not unique to Britain. Madison Grant (1865 – 1937), American conservationist and lawyer, worried that by allowing the genetically inferior races to settle in the US – such as Jews, Eastern and Southern Europeans – the US was committing ‘race suicide’.

Racially restrictive immigration laws were passed at the national level. Numerous individual states in the US passed forcible sterilisation laws impacting the disabled, the so-called ‘feeble-minded’ and prison populations. Americans were attempting to breed a ‘better race’; numerous competitions for finding ‘better babies’ were based on eugenicist principles.

Madison Grant’s book, The Passing of the Great Race (1916), found a receptive audience in Germany (and throughout Europe for that matter). Reissued numerous times in the 1920s, none other than Adolf Hitler, writing a fan letter to Grant, stated that ‘your book was my bible.’ The theory of a superior Nordic white race did not originate with the Nazi party.

The Nazi hierarchy, and the wider German scientific community, closely studied, and found inspiration in, the eugenics movement in the US. American laws restricting the breeding of those with ‘defective’ genes were templates for similar laws in Germany. The Carnegie Institution developed close links with German race scientists in the 1920s. The Germans noted that the US Supreme Court, in 1927, sanctioned involuntary sterilisation. The US state of Virginia, the Germans observed, passed laws that explicitly stated the preservation of the white race as their goal.

The pseudoscience of eugenics provided a veneer of legitimacy for the policies of exclusion and legalised discrimination. The indigenous Americans, similarly to European Jews, were subjected to a multistage programme of annihilation – compulsory detention, increased pressures to emigrate and/or deportation, enforced resettlement, cultural exclusion and physical liquidation.

The parallels between the Nazi policy of lebensraum – living space for Germans and the liquidation of the genetically ‘inferior’ races – and the American policy of dispossession and extermination of indigenous nations – are striking. It may be uncomfortable to learn of the similarities – notwithstanding the differences between the Third Reich and the United States.

We are all well aware that the Nazi party regarded the Jews as genetically inferior. Anne Frank, German-Dutch Jewish diarist, died in a Nazi-run concentration camp because of that belief. When the United States, in its eugenicist crusade to ‘preserve the white race’, refused entry to European Jews fleeing the Nazis, their refusal was also based on that belief. So, we can say that Anne Frank died, not only because she was deemed genetically inferior by the Nazi party, but also because the US political establishment believed that as well.