The Menezes Syndrome
05 August, 2005
By Anwaar Hussain
In a small red tiled home at the end of a rutted road in the Brazilian town of Gonzaga, Jean Charles de Menezes's parents cry silently each night over the tragic demise of their murdered son. The mother holds a recent photo of her smiling son during this ritual, her tears cascading over her weather beaten face onto the framed photograph. The mango and orange trees in the nearby farms are the wordless partners in this mourning since Friday the 22nd July when life was snuffed out of their innocent son by the London Police.
A journey that started as routine for De Menezes ended up in the never never land courtesy Her Majesty’s armed police who were given shoot to kill orders for all Asian looking suspects in the wake of recent bombing attacks in London. With five shots from point lank range to the back of pinned down Menezes’s head, a blameless man was deprived of his youth and his dreams.
Is it a one-off incident or is it indicative of the resurgence of a once thriving attitude towards people of color when the white man ruled supreme on a large swath of planet earth--an illness that was never really cured: the Menezes Syndrome.
Perhaps it is not possible for the white man to get over the bygone days when the British Empire rose to its pinnacle in showers of colored people’s blood. That the imperialistic genes are surging again in the white man’s veins is amply demonstrated by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to tag on to the coattails of the latest Empire seeker, the USA, and the decision of his people to reelect him to his office giving a seal of approval to these imperialistic ventures.
As the British lead their American cousins to the vacuum that was left behind by them, the world must come to grips with the white man’s method to understand better the new Imperial master. With the season declared open on men of color and the world cringing at each new atrocity that these international cousins commit on non-Europeans still found sitting on some leftover resources of the earth, it would be worth our while to have a brief look at white man’s Imperial past.
The British, who now chaperon the Americans, did not massacre their subjects because they wanted to make the world safe for democracy decades later. It happened, as all imperial massacres do, in the frenzy of absolute power. It happened in the sick conviction that all colonial masters have toward their subjects--that they have the god given right to decide the course of history for them while at the same time gorging themselves on the loot from the very same subjects.
Perhaps more urgent is the fact that the British Empire is the most commonly cited model for the global power currently brandished by the United States. America is the successor to the Empire in both senses: offspring in the colonial era, heir today. Since the United States in 2005 formally controls a far smaller area of the world than the United Kingdom did in 1905, it will leave no stone unturned in extending its writ to a slice of the earth almost as large, if not larger, than its former master did. The British Empire came to greatness by killing millions of defenseless people. The next Empire will not be found wanting if the Empire building dream is to be fulfilled.
For centuries, the white man from Europe has plundered & terrorized the non-European world treating with contempt the people of different skin color, cultures, philosophies, religions, languages, and way of life. The conquered nations were expected to give up their own culture, their religions, even their languages, and convert to his set of beliefs and values that he defined as “civilized”. In the process, he tolerated no opposition. Any kind of expression of opposition was brutally suppressed. Today’s terrorist groups are like a bunch of kindergarten kids when compared to Europe's colonial armies. Using those armies, the white man killed the people of color, and terrorized the survivors, with a careless abandon justifying it at various times by calling those killed as pagans, heathens, savages, cannibals etc.
Just one harrowing illustration of this attitude is the treatment of Aboriginal people at the turn of the 19th century. The near extermination of the Aboriginal people started with an incident near Hobart in Tasmania in 1804 when British soldiers fired on a party of Aboriginal men, women, and children. Some of the 50 or so killed that day were reported to have been salted down and sent to Sydney as anthropological curiosities.
Perhaps the worst example of white man’s contempt for people of color is the biggest human tragedy of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Tens of millions of Africans were exported to the Americas by Europeans and many perished before reaching the destinations. The Atlantic slave trade was a barbarity of stunning proportions.
In ''Bury the Chains'' Adam Hochschild says: ''So rapidly were slaves worked to death, above all on the brutal sugar plantations of the Caribbean, that between 1660 and 1807, ships brought well over three times as many Africans across the ocean to British colonies as they did Europeans. ……the Atlantic was a vast conveyor belt to early death in the fields of an immense swath of plantations that stretched from Baltimore to Rio de Janeiro and beyond.'' Ironically, when a movement to set them free was started in Britain, "the air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe in'' was a phrase coined by the detractors to thwart such efforts.
All European empires built their fortunes by looting the colonies. From gold and silver to spices and precious stones and human beings, no resource of these lands was left unplundered. The magnificent European palaces, the museums and theatres, the cathedrals and municipal buildings – all are built at the expense of the rest of the planet. All are founded on slavery, nourished with the blood of slaves. The smiling, well fed façade of Europe has been built with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races. Jean Charles de Menezes was just the latest brick in the façade.
As the new Robinson Crusoes continue to pulverize other nations creating fiefdoms for themselves in distant lands populated with lesser people of a dark hue and open to their intervention, let the fact not be forgotten that every aspect of colonial rule, including even the outwardly earnest efforts by the Empire builders to study and understand native cultures, is ultimately designed to maximize the loot and plunder of the subject peoples’ resources. Towering ambition and greed are twin evils joined at the hip. The Empire and the Empire building, therefore, can never be philanthropic.
As the United States does its Fallujahs on the world in its Empire building passion, with Britain acting as its gundog, the words of one of its past generals ring truer by the day. Retaliating against a Filipino raid on an American encampment, General Jake Smith told his men to turn the island into a “howling wilderness” so that “even birds could not live there.” “Kill and burn! The more you kill and burn, the better you will please me,'' he ordered. Asked to clarify who the troops' targets were among the population, the general replied: “Everything over 10.”
Ironically, the white man continues to be called ‘cultured’ and the rest as ‘hadjis’, ‘brutes’, and ‘ragheads’. This incongruity cannot be clearer than in the answer of an Indian to a taunting European settler. The Indian said, “White man, you have wiped us out, you stole our lands, you destroyed our homes, and you raped our women and brought deadly diseases to our people. You have done all the unthinkable crimes anyone can imagine. It does not hurt me any more. What truly hurts my people and me is that despite all these crimes you have committed against my people, we are considered savages and you the "civilized" people. That truly hurts me the most!"
To the people of color, the British are the embodiment of white men and therefore the symbolic flag carriers of what is best and worst in the white man. The tendency shown in the casual killing of De Menezes is a dark omen of a revival of superior attitudes in the white man towards people of color. It seems that the white man has not really been able to immunize himself from this unfortunate, contemptible and skewed mind-set towards people of color—a curse of the white man’s imperial legacy.
The killing of innocent Jean Charles de Menezes of Gonzaga is not an isolated incident. A chain of incidents in campaigns Iraq and Afghanistan, including the campaigns themselves, are sufficient proof that the Menezes Syndrome is back and back with full force. It shows beyond any doubt that the white man continues to remain convinced that his actions are above reproof, his cause the only just one, his religion the only right religion and his God the only true God.
"I'm begging God for justice," wails Menezes’s mother in floods of tears. That the God seems to be white too--she forgets in her grief.
Copyrights : Anwaar Hussain