Empireland by Sangham Sanghera was read to me on audiobook by Homer Todiwala. The author is a journalist and a Sikh and has written this book as an attempt to show how the fact that Britain was an imperialist power and had a large empire affects its population, culture, politics and society today. It’s a lot more accessible than that description sounds and I found the author’s arguments easy to understand and logically presented.
It has to be said that the author’s view of the legacy of empire is not positive. He argues that even what is generally thought to be advantageous in previous colonies such as the civil service and the transport network were things which were designed for the good of the occupying British and not for the benefit of the local people. The evil influences of empire vastly outweigh any good that may be perceived. He has no time for those who try to counter his arguments by pointing out the evils committed by colony countries on their own and neighbouring peoples as if those somehow made imperialism less wrong.
This is not a history of empire but the author does explain how it came about and how power was used and abused. He mostly, but not exclusively, talks about the Indian sub-continent in his examples. He moves from the history to look at today’s culture in Britain to show how empire influences many walks of life and how it results in racism and white supremacy movements. His book includes some thoughts on the removal of statues connected with slavery and oppression which has occurred in many of our cities.
The author shows how the removal of resources from colonised countries caused Britain to gain more power and wealth. He talks about some horrendous acts of cruelty and injustice but is quick to show how many people at the time were not in support of activities such as the slave trade and massacres in India. He also considers the issue of the looting of colonies for artistic and cultural artefacts and the ongoing discussion about whether these should be repatriated to their original homes.
It’s not a long or exhaustive study of the effects of empire but it will cause you to think and maybe to read further in the subject.
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