Does Britain still have a colonial mind-set?

Published: September 7, 2016

A taxi driver holds a Union flag, as he celebrates following the result of the EU referendum, in central London, Britain June 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain, at the peak of its global reach, ruled over 1/3rd of the world and so it comes as no surprise that an element of colonial nostalgia secretly exists amongst Brits today. Following a rapturous Olympics outcome, various British celebrities and sports personalities made subtle hints to the days of the Empire on Twitter.

It could also be said that one of the reasons behind Brexit was the desire to return Britain to its former legacy of being a world superpower, instead of a country pandering to the whims of the EU Parliament and Commission. It stemmed from a desire to remind Britain of its former glory, even though those glory days were tainted by bloody uprisings, slavery, colonial looting and inflicting secret coups in desired territories.

Although Britain no longer rules over the countries it previously conquered, their presence and influence are far-reaching and still remain today. Canada, a bijural nation, gleans a lot of its political and judicial set up from Britain. India and Pakistan owe a tremendous amount of infrastructural and political set up from British colonial rule. Australia and New Zealand also emulate many significant institutions that already exist within Britain. Let’s also not forget to mention that roads, railways and every apparatus needed to mobilise a country were provided to South-East Asia by the British. However, these were usually more beneficial to the British than to the locals.

Colonisation and any connotations associated with it will always touch a raw nerve, but when it rears its ugly head through Brexit then alarm bells should start ringing. Jingoism and patriotic fervour are not, in themselves, problematic but celebrating a time where millions of those colonised were killed or sold into slavery is definitely ill-advised.

The British view the days of the Empire through rose-tinted sunglasses. They feel that they brought some semblance of civility and culture to the nations of ‘savages’ that they colonised. But those who lived under British rule tell a very different tale. Today, any mention of the British Empire is met with uncertainty, derision or ecstasy depending on the person’s experience and understanding of it.

This year Oxford University has faced demands to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a prolific imperialist and a big supporter of slavery, from the University’s premises. The #RhodesMustFall campaign has gained momentum after popular Ivy League universities in America were asked to rename those institutions which bear the name of slavery-supporting individuals.

For now, Oxford University has decided to keep the statue of Cecil Rhodes but the implications of such a protest cannot be ignored. Whilst Britain may still revel in its colonial past, not everyone shares the same celebratory sentiment that pervades a country high on sporting successes.

Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.