Mark Steyn has a great piece about the benefits of British imperialism (from his August 13th, 2005, article in The Spectator).
In the Telegraph the other week, Boris Johnson mentioned Mary Seacole, a 19th-century black nurse from Jamaica who was in her day as famous as Florence Nightingale. And, reading of her, I was reminded for the umpteenth time of why the British, of all people, should never have fallen for the neo-apartheid of multiculturalism. ‘British’ was the prototype multiethnic nationality: if you were a doctor from Kingston-on-Thames or a nurse from Kingston, Jamaica, or an assistant choreographer from Kingston, Ontario, you were British — and, unlike the Germans, race didn’t come into it. ‘The British,’ wrote Colin Powell of his Jamaican background, ‘told my ancestors that they were now British citizens with all the rights of any subject of the Crown.’ That’s correct: in law, there was no distinction between a British subject in Wales and a British subject in Tobago. Britishness was far more of a genuinely multicultural identity than the yawning we-are-the-world nullity of modern multiculturalism. I’m still a wee young thing but my earliest passports bore in bold print on page three the words ‘A Canadian citizen is a British subject.’ It requires a perverse ahistorical fanaticism to decide that Britishness is some shrivelled Little-Englander thing that should never be passed on to our children. It’s always been the great outward, global, embracing identity.
Conversely, I don’t see why we should pretend that self-evidently deficient cultures are our moral equal. In so far as I understand the Arabist mindset of the FCO, it would seem to be something to do with the old Lawrence-of-Arabia routine, dressing up in robes and singing ‘The Desert Song calling/ Its voice enthralling/ Will make you mine...’. I’m sympathetic to the romance of the noble Bedouin riding his Arab on the moonlit sands, just as, apropos the Innu, I can see the attraction of seal and bear hunting. But both cultures seem to have a difficulty accommodating contemporary life. Even in corners of the Arab world that have the veneer of modernity, people say nutty stuff to you all the time. Not misfit weirdsmobiles in loser jobs, but fellows at the very heart of the community. To pluck at random, take Abd Al-Sabour Shahin, respected Egyptian professor, lecturer at Cairo University and head of the Sharia faculty at Al-Azhar university, the Harvard of Sunni Islam. On Monday on Saudi Channel One, Dr Shahin told viewers:
‘Our enemies weave many lies about us, which we are not necessarily aware of. For example: one day, we awoke to the crime of 9/11, which hit the tallest buildings in New York, the Empire State Building. There is no doubt that not a single Arab or Muslim had anything to do with these events. The incident was fabricated as a pretext to attack Islam and Muslims.’
Er, OK. So if no Muslim hit the, um, Empire State Building, who did? On that, Dr Shahin was in no doubt: ‘I believe a dirty Zionist hand carried out this act.’
And so on, read the whole thing. It should be pretty evident that, although most cultures have some interesting qualities, most cultures also suck and are stupid. Seriously. Most cultures, thoughout all history, have permitted slavery, have oppressed women, have been tyrannical dictatorships, and have contributed nothing to the technological advancement that is gradually lifting all humanity from the muck and mire of the natural world.
We should be eager to preserve knowledge about failed and failing cultures, but we should also be quick to encourage their children to abandon them. Save the artwork, the stories, the styles, but don't try to justify and preserve the primitive dogmas that doom future generations to short, miserable lives.