The dark side of Winston Churchill's legacy no one should forget

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    The dark side of Winston Churchill's legacy no one should forget

    February 4, 2015 -

    Churchill's detractors point to his well-documented bigotry, articulated often with shocking callousness and contempt. "I hate Indians," he once trumpeted. "They are a beastly people with a beastly religion."

    ** He referred to Palestinians as "barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung". When quashing insurgents in Sudan in the earlier days of his imperial career, Churchill boasted of killing three "savages".

    ** Contemplating restive populations in northwest Asia, he infamously lamented the "squeamishness" of his colleagues, who were not in "favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes"...

    ** As a junior member of parliament, Churchill had cheered on Britain's plan for more conquests, insisting that its "Aryan stock is bound to triumph"...

    ** India, Britain's most important colonial possession, most animated Churchill. He despised the Indian independence movement and its spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, whom he described as "half-naked" and labelled a "seditious fakir", or holy man. Most notoriously, Churchill presided over the hideous 1943 famine in Bengal, where some 3 million Indians perished, largely as a result of British imperial mismanagement. Churchill was both indifferent to the Indian plight and even mocked the millions suffering, chuckling over the culling of a population that bred "like rabbits"....

    ** When Churchill did apply his attention to the subcontinent, it had other dire effects. As the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra explains in The New Yorker, Churchill was one of a coterie of imperial rulers who worked to create sectarian fissures within India's independence movement between Indian Hindus and Muslims, which led to the brutal partition of India when the former colony finally did win its freedom in 1947. Millions died or were displaced in an orgy of bloodshed that still echoes in the region's tense politics to this day. (India, it should be noted, was far from the only corner of the British empire victim to such divide-and-rule tactics.)

    ** "The rival nationalisms and politicised religions the British Empire brought into being now clash in an enlarged geopolitical arena," writes Mishra, gesturing to the spread and growth of political Islam in parts of South Asia and the Middle East. "And the human costs of imperial overreaching seem unlikely to attain a final tally for many more decades."

    ** When measuring up Churchill's legacy, that tally must be taken into account.
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