Saturday, 1 May 2010

The White Man Burdened

A Muslim who defaced a war memorial with the words “Islam Will Rule the World” walks free. The internet overflows with warnings that the Western World will be up to its gunwales in Muslims. Might my dream in last week's blog, our invasion by an innumerate Amazonian tribe, come true?

The internet warnings are intended to frighten. And they do. No one can view with equanimity the loss of our tribal customs, can they? Towns, even cities, drowned in an alien cultural tsunami must upset us, must it not?

Well, no. Not really. I do not feel any of that.

At my age I do not even have to worry which party wins the next election.The coming bankruptcy of Britain is of no concern. I am not even worried at having to suffer another Christmas. Whatever age one lives to, one dies at 78. After 78 nothing matters beyond personal comfort and selfish gratification. One is armoured against disappointment, untroubled by hope. On TV I will watch anything, or equally happily miss anything. Only three thing matter. Breakfast, lunch and supper. Diets? Let those who will carry the coffin worry about my weight. Breakfast for me now is Overfull English; lunch, substantial; supper, a pint of home made soup.

Many years ago I lived in an isolated manor house, Picton Hall, alone save for a housekeeper and miles from any shops. I was dismayed that no newsagent would undertake the daily safari. In consequence, I was forced to get my newspapers by post, a day late. In those days we seemed to have daily crises.They all missed me. By the time my paper arrived they were over.

So let the muezzin ring. Bring on Sharia law. I will take as little notice of it as I have over the past 80 years of the Western variety.

I remember how envious I was in his last days of Frank Sinatra. Whilst, in his house, his unattractive family squabbled over his riches, he sat by his pool, unconcerned, happily eating endless ice cream. In my case, substitute the ice cream with my Sony E Book and visualise a rather smaller pool. You will find me in sparkling mid-season form. Even secretly amused that the West has been hoist by its own petard. Do as you would be done by? In a mad craving for land and riches, we not only wiped out the tribal customs and faiths of the lands we invaded: we wiped out the tribes.

I have been led down these interesting by-ways by two books. The first, a novel “Manta Yo”, an account of a year in the life of a Dakotah Sioux tribe written by an American scholar, Ruth Beebe Hill. To make it authentic she asked a Dakotah-born academic to translate it into archaic Dakotah and then back into English with no loss of tribal idiom. The result is a haunting book which tells the story of a benign and ordered nomad society where the power is structured from the grandfathers to a council drawn from elected tribal members. Boys leave their mothers at the age of ten, to be instructed in manhood by their fathers. Even hunting the buffalo is controlled so that the herds are never depleted. It was an ancient society which US Government policy, aided by preachers, destroyed in one man's lifetime. Britain invaded China expressly to flood that country with opium. No wonder someone said “The reason the sun never sets on the British Empire is that you cannot trust the British in the dark.”

In India the destroyer was the East India Company. William Dalrymple's book “The Last Mughal” shows that company at its worst. The last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar 11 was a serious mystical poet, a calligrapher and a creator of gardens. He presided over a society of cultured poets, painters and musicians. His ancestors had ruled most of India but by the time he came to the throne most of it was annexed by the Company and his kingdom was reduced to the city of Delhi. After the Indian mutiny, which he had headed unwillingly after his city was occupied by the mutineers, Delhi was flattened, its inhabitants made homeless. The Royal Family was wiped out like an eastern Lidice. Emperor Zafar spent the rest of his short life in prison, known only as Prisoner Number One. The glory that was the Mughal Empire ended in an unmarked grave.

Though we tried hard in Africa, no other Western power could equal the monstrous rule of Leopold of the Belgians who treated the Congo as his private estate. He turned his "Congo Free State" into a massive labour camp, made a fortune for himself from the harvest of its wild rubber, and contributed in a large way to the death of perhaps 10 million innocent people. Children and adults had right hands hacked off by his agents.The agents kept the hands to prove to their superiors that they had not been "wasting" their bullets on animals.

Add our betrayal of the entire Arab race when we stole their country at Versailles and remember Edmund Burke. He said that those who failed to profit by history ended up repeating it, or, as Justin Timberlake sings, “What goes around comes around”.


Most people agree it would be a waste of money to buy a new Trident. But come to think of it, so was buying the old one. My chum Lady Williams said Russians talk a good war but they are too lazy to start one and usually win by fighting as little as possible, leaving the Russian winter as a killing machine. It certainly worked with Napoleon and Hitler.

Masha Williams was a Russian princess. One of her ancestors started a revolution in Russia in the 19th century which meant that though her family fled to Britain in 1916 in fear of their lives, she was given the Soviet equivalent of a red carpet on frequent returns to that country. At the end of the war she was appointed Chief Interpreter to Red Army High Command in Vienna when it was run by the Four Powers. She always said that the Cold War was largely the resut of the snobbish way the British treated the Russians.

Masha's family had lived in abject poverty when they arrived in Britain. From owning estates which stretched from horizon to horizon they found themselves drinking from jam jars, seated on orange boxes. Her mother told her father he would have to get a job.

“A job? I cannot do anything except be a prince."

“You can be a servant. We have had enough; you must know what they do.”

A neighbour told them where to look for jobs and in the newspaper he loaned them
they saw a vacancy for a butler.

Masha's father went round to the house. To the front door, of course, because the concept of a tradesman's entrance was foreign to him. The maid who answered the door assumed he was a luncheon guest and showed him into the drawing room.
He assumed this was the way the British interviewed servants and set out to charm everyone in sight. He succeeded so brilliantly that no one liked to ask who he was.
Over coffee, Masha's dad thought it time he asked about the job.

The family was shocked. "We couldn't employ YOU," his host said when he learned the prince's story. "We aren't grand enough. But I would be honoured to be your friend."

It was the end of their poverty. The luncheon host gave the family an allowance and paid for the education of the children at public schools. Masha won an Oxford scholarship, married an ambassador and lived happily ever after. In her retirement she wrote three books about her life in Vienna and subsequent ambassadorial postings. They are at my bedside as I write.