Saturday 10 September 2022

Shame on the haters


When Mikhail Gorbachev died recently, I didn’t notice any anti-Russian or anti-Soviet sentiment on Twitter or in the newspapers. Even those who have good reason to resent Soviet or Russian expansionism kept silent or offered only mild criticism. But somehow the death of a 96-year-old lady, very frail and much loved by most in Britain set off a torrent of abuse the like of which I have never seen.

Governments and heads of state around the world have been respectful and sometimes more than that generous. At the state funeral will appear many of the most important world leaders. But there is a festering hatred in some of the people they represent. Why should they hate the Queen quite so much?

It may be that the vast majority of Irish citizens have nothing against Britain and are mourning the Queen as befits a friend and an ally of the UK. But it didn’t look like that on what they called Irish Twitter.

It may be that the vast majority of Scottish nationalists would love King Charles III to be king of Scots and for the beloved monarchy to continue after independence. After all this is official SNP policy.

It may be that the overwhelming majority of Welsh people are delighted that William will be Prince of Wales. It is hard to tell who is representative and who is not.

It may also be the case that the woke African American professor who disgraced herself by wishing agony on a 96-year-old was unique, but Black Twitter showed any number of people going on about slavery and empire as if the Queen was responsible for both.

So, with the qualification that such people may or may not be representative and without trying to be unfair to Irish people, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and Black Americans who loved the Queen, it might be worth trying to understand this hatred.

Some Irish people resent that Ireland used to be part of the UK. They blame the British for occupying their island and for everything bad that happened there including Oliver Cromwell and the famine.

But the Queen was born in 1926. Ireland left the UK before that and the Queen like every other British person living today is not in any way responsible for famine or for Oliver Cromwell.

The history of both Ireland and Britain is one of colonisation and settlement. We would not be what we are today if we had not been colonised by waves of settlers from Europe including the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. To describe Ireland as being occupied for a thousand years is the equivalent of saying Britain was occupied by the Angles, Saxons and Normans and that we still are. It is an absurd interpretation of history.

An Irish person living today, just the same as a British person is the product of these migrations. It is for this reason that we speak English. If no one had come to our two islands in the past thousands of years we would both speak a form of Celtic or the unknown language of whoever lived here before Celts.

To blame the British for destroying the Irish language and culture is the equivalent of the British blaming the Germans and Scandinavians for forcing us to speak English.

An Irish person living today, just like a British person, is the descendant of all of these migrants. To hate the British is to hate yourself, because none of you are purely Irish. Who do you think taught you English, if not your British ancestors?

The same goes for Wales and Scotland. Poland kept its language while it was partitioned. Polish people do not hate Austrians for hundreds of years of occupation. Nor do they generally hate Germans for killing 17% of their population in World War II, nor Russians for occupying their country afterwards. But some Scots, Welsh, and Irish resent the fact that we generally found it more convenient to speak English. There was nothing like the oppression of Polish in Britain or Ireland. Your parents or grandparents chose not to pass their language on. No one prevented them from doing so in their own homes. So, who is really to blame?

Bad things happened in the past. There were dreadful wars, horrible diseases and famines. But no one sensible in Europe today blames famine on a present head of state or bangs on about a war or a conquest that happened in the Middle Ages.

The British Government made mistakes in the 1840s. It failed to do enough to alleviate the famine in Ireland. But it was Irish landowners, most of whom had been born and bred in Ireland who chose to export their grain. The British Government in the 1840s was responsible for horrible conditions in factories and the existence of workhouses, but it would be absurd for the descendants of those who suffered from stupid governments of that time and stupid policies to blame a leader living today.

The hatred of some Irish, Welsh and Scottish nationalists for the past actions of Britain is unbalanced. No one else in Europe has such hatred for other people. Every country in Europe invaded its neighbours. It’s what medieval kings and queens did. But no one today blames anyone else for the 30 Years War, even though it killed far more than any war in our two islands. It’s only us that obsess about 1314, Owain Glyndŵr or the plantation of Ireland and the Battle of the Boyne.

What it ignores is our good fortune to have two neighbouring states Ireland and the UK that are both prosperous, free and democratic. Our shared history dealt us some bad hands as it did everyone else, but it also was the foundation of what we have now.

Neither Scotland, Wales, England nor Ireland were democracies when we all came together, but somehow the combination of migration and mutual settlement gave rise to the free societies we have now. Ireland became a democracy on independence because democracy had developed slowly in the UK for centuries. Most other newly independent states in twentieth century Europe struggled to remain free from tyranny. Ireland only had a flourishing free market economy because it had developed one as part of the UK. Developing free markets out of nothing is not easy. Look at Russia if you doubt this.

But nationalists across the two islands give no credit whatsoever for our shared history only blame. Hating Britain and hating the British Queen is self-hatred, because every Welsh, Scottish and Irish nationalist is full to the brim with British ancestors.

I regret the British Empire because although it may have brought Britain short term gain, it gave us long term harm. European countries that had no empire are no worse off than us today, but avoided the legacy that we had to accept.

But would it have been better for those who were once part of the empire if Britain had never gone there? Perhaps but someone else would have.

If we had never sailed from our island, someone would have settled in what is now the USA. It may have ended up like South America. Australia may have been settled by Indonesia. Canada by the Russians.

It is impossible to know what would have happened if India and Africa had been settled by someone else. But we can be sure that they would not have been left alone. When one people have a technological advantage over another they have always migrated and conquered.

Perhaps Australia would have been better if the British had never gone there. But if the whole world had left Australia in isolation with no contact whatsoever it would be like one of those undiscovered tribes in the Amazon using blow pipes to shoot down helicopters. Even if you think that would be an improvement, it was never going to happen. Someone would arrive and conquer eventually even if it had not been the British.

Woke African American professors then have a choice. Their ancestors could have stayed in Africa in which case they would not right now be citizens of the richest state in the world. If you fancy that there is nothing stopping you applying for a teaching job in Chad or Malawi. You are free and rich and you can get on a flight.

The British did not invent slavery. Every country in the world I think at one point or another had slaves. Long before the Atlantic slave trade the Arab slave trade was transporting Black Africans to Arabia and beyond, only each of these was castrated, for which reason they have no descendants. Perhaps the woke professor would prefer that this had happened to her ancestor.

The people who brought slaves to America did so for the same short-term reasons as empire. But long term it was a mistake. By the time of the Civil War the northern states which had abolished slavery had an economic advantage over the southern states, precisely because they did not have slavery and were much more productive and populous. This is why they won.

But although both British people and Americans traded in slaves like everyone else did in the past, the British did more to stop the slave trade than anyone else and the Americans fought the bloodiest war in its history to abolish it there.

But woke African-American professors give no credit to either Britain or the USA for stopping slavery, they only blame us for their own ancestry giving them the good fortune to be living in a free, democratic society rather than living in a place they would not even wish to visit.

For good or ill African Americans are the product of American history. Their DNA is a mixture of the oppressed and the oppressor. Their own ancestors oppressed them, bought and sold them. So, who is really to blame?

The Queen was not just our monarch, she was the personification of our country a part of all of us. That's why her loss feels personal. People who hate the Queen and celebrate her death, hate us personally.  

Perhaps they are a tiny minority, but there is something horribly unjust and unfair about attacking a frail elderly lady who has just died. It reminded me of the Question Time audience after 9/11 who told the American Ambassador that his country deserved it.

If you joined in, if you opened a bottle of champagne, I view your vileness with disgust. What is wrong with you?