Churchill’s face on the new £5 note is an insult to the Commonwealth

Published: September 21, 2016
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Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney poses with a new polymer five pound note, at Whitecross Street Market, to promote the launch of the new bank note, in London, on September 13, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Like 2.5 million others from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal and millions more from Africa and South East Asia, my grandfather fought with the British military in World War II.

Tens of millions of others across the old British Empire gave precious resources to aid the war effort, many millions losing their lives in the process. They accepted the call to join the Allied forces to help defeat the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany at the door step of the United Kingdom.

Winston Churchill, the war time prime minister, told them to ‘brace themselves for their duties’ and this would be ‘their finest hour.’ It was only with the enormous sacrifice of the countries that became the Commonwealth that the Allied forces were victorious.

Churchill betrayed my grandfather and millions of others like him. He did not believe that the countries in the old British Empire should be given the same respect that they showed the UK. In fact, Churchill believed in white supremacy and was violently opposed to the prospect of those countries gaining independence.

Whilst Churchill was voted ‘greatest Briton of all time’ in the UK, many across the Commonwealth countries are aggrieved by the celebration of his memory. In 2016, the Bank of England sought to select a character to appear on the new £5 bank note. The policy was to select someone who would be ‘universally acceptable’ and not ‘unduly divisive.’ On April 26, 2016, they announced the character would be Winston Churchill and the notes began circulation on September 13, 2016.

It was no secret that Churchill thought very little of the native populations of the countries colonised by the UK. In conversation with the Secretary of State for India, Churchill proclaimed,

“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people, with a beastly religion.”

In 1943, Churchill helped engineer the Bengal Famine in which three million Indians died of starvation. In that year, the harvest of Bengal was hoarded for the exclusive benefit of the UK, despite dire warnings of the consequences on the native population. When notified of the mass starvation, Churchill’s only regret was that Gandhi was not amongst those who had perished. Even Britain’s Viceroy of India said,

“Churchill’s attitude towards India and the famine is negligent, hostile and contemptuous.”

And the Secretary of State said he “didn’t see much difference between his (Churchill) outlook and Hitler’s.”

Faced with the prospect of the UK losing rule over India, Churchill stated that he would “rather see them have a good civil war.” Despite the enormous sacrifices made by those in the old ‘British India’, Churchill’s attitude was one of sheer contempt for the people.

Although many other colonies gained independence after the Second World War, the British refused to grant independence to the people of Kenya as the substantial supply of tea and tobacco helped boost the British economy in the Post World War II period.

Churchill stated that Kenya’s fertile highlands should be the “preserve of white settlers,” approving the clearing out of the local “blackamoors” and describing the indigenous people as “brutish children.”

In 1952, a resistance movement commenced operation with the purpose of reclaiming land and gaining independence. Churchill’s response to the uprising entailed massive round-ups of suspected “Mau Mau” and supporters, with large numbers of people executed. From 1952 – 1960, the British established approximately 150 detention camps throughout Kenya, holding approximately 150,000 indigenous people – later dubbed “Britain’s Gulag” by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Caroline Elkins. In her book Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenyashe explains the tactics adopted under Churchill to crush the local drive for independence,

“Electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire … the screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects.”

Churchill’s actions in Kenya place in his league with history’s most prolific and detestable leaders.

Churchill believed in the essential superiority of white British people and their right to exterminate other races and cultures. In 1937, he told the Palestine Royal Commission,

“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.”

When, in South Africa, at least 115,000 black Africans were swept into British concentration camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his “irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men.” When the British used chemical weapons to quell the Iraq revolt against British rule in 1920, Churchill’s response was,

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.”

Churchill’s views on race, extermination and chemical weapons place him at odds with the UK’s government’s stated position of tolerance of diversity.

The Bank of England’s decision to celebrate Churchill as a man of ‘British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society’ by placing him on the £5 bank note is a flagrant insult to the millions of individuals across the Commonwealth whose freedom he bitterly detested and violently opposed.

Whilst my grandfather and millions of others accepted Churchill’s invitation to ‘offer blood, toil, tears and sweat’, Churchill’s response was to continue a policy oppression and domination of their countries.

In his statement announcing the new note, Mark Carney Governor of the Bank of England, quoted Churchill saying,

“A nation that forgets its past has no future.”

In 2016, the Bank of England has forgotten the sacrifices made by the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the Commonwealth will not be served by this fresh insult. For these reasons, I began a petition to urge the Bank of England to replace Churchill on the new £5 note, and urge readers to sign.

Ousman Noor

Ousman Noor

The author completed an LLB/Law degree at the University of London and MSc at the University of Oxford. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 2010 and has practiced as a human rights barrister in London since then. He is the Founder and Director of the Habeas Corpus Project. Born in the UK, Ousman frequently travels to Pakistan, the country of his heritage.

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