Responding to an NYT report on whether former colonial powers should pay reparations for slavery?
For all that modern jargon in Human rights and insistence of European Powers to follow them, it will be a surprise for someone to hear it for the first time that it is none other than Europeans who invented “Slavery” and oppressed almost more than half of the planet.One thing is for sure. Being a former brutal oppressor and colonizer does not mean they have no right to talk about Human rights or some higher ideals.
But European powers in a way are indeed polluters of humanity and must be obliged to pay reparations. To borrow a principle which is relied on environmental suits mostly in India ie., “Polluter Pays Principle” and use it in this context as an analogy or as a metaphor might help. This principle more or less says he who pollutes and/or has a direct role in perpetuating pollution should pay for it. In that sense former colonial powers are liable to pay the compensation. It is no doubt that people in African and Caribbean countries are the most oppressed who could never fully recover from the atrocities committed by the European countries. China & US, they asserted themselves since beginning, who were the only two former colonized countries/regions went on to become major economies in the world, thanks to their resolve, but not everybody is that fortunate.
Arguments like whether we can bring in people in to courts who were actually oppressed does not stand, their legal heirs and next generation must be compensated. And the reaction of Lauterpacht Center forInternational Law is understandable.Reparations such as these will definitely put Jihadist apologists in a spot, because oppression by the Christian world was always shown as a justification for the atrocities they have committed and still committing.
Richard Dawkins some time ago in his twitter conversation said that yes, Christians have committed innumerable atrocities by killing & maiming millions but they have moved on and realized their mistakes.
The spiritual giant of India Sri Aurobindo too supported Colonial powers especially British because in his opinion though British is a colonizer and oppressor it also propagated many good ideals like democracy and freedom etc., hence he supported the colonial powers in their war effort against axis powers, who then called colonial powers as advanced and progressive forces.
So in that context when juxtaposed with axis powers, the colonial powers were considered either angels or lesser evils. You cannot imagine a world after World War II with axis powers winning it; civilizations must have been made to endure highest forms of slavery.
An extract from Volume 36 of Aurobindo’s writings “Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest” Pages – 459 & 467 could help us understand the argument.
It is hardly possible that after the war the old order of things can survive unchanged; if that happened, there would again be a repetition of unrest, chaos, economic disorder and armed strife till the necessary change is made. The reason is that the life of mankind has become in fact a large though loosely complex unit and a world-order recognizing this fact is inevitable. It is ceasing to be possible for national egoisms to entrench themselves in their isolated independence and be sufficient for themselves, for all are now dependent on the whole. The professed separate self-sufficiency of Germany ended in a push for life-room which threatens all other peoples; nations which tried to isolate themselves in a self-regarding neutrality have paid the penalty of their blindness and the others who still maintain that attitude are likely sooner or later to share the same fate; either they must become the slaves or subservient vassals of three or four greater Powers, or a world-order must be found in which all can be safe in their freedom and yet united for the common good. It will be well for India, if in spite of the absorption of her pressing need, she recognizes that national egoism is no longer sufficient. She must claim freedom and equality for herself in whatever new order is to come or any post-war arrangement, but recognize also that the international idea and its realization are something that is becoming equally insistent, necessary and inevitable. If the totalitarian Powers win, there will indeed be a new world-order,—it may be in the end, a unification; but it will be a new order of naked brute Force, repression and exploitation, and for the people of Asia and Africa a subjection worse than anything they had experienced before. This has been recognized even by the Arabs who were fighting England in Palestine before the war; they have turned to her side. Not only Europe, Asia and Africa, but distant America with all her power and resources is no longer safe, and she has shown that she knows it; she has felt the peril and is arming herself in haste to meet it. In the other contingency, there will be not only the necessity for a freer new order, but every possibility of its formation; for the idea is growing; it is already recognized as an actual program by advanced progressive forces in England and elsewhere.
We should remember that conquest and rule over subject peoples were not regarded as wrong either in ancient or mediaeval or quite recent times, but as something great and glorious; men did not see any special wickedness in conquerors or conquering nations. Just government of subject peoples was envisaged but nothing more—exploitation was not excluded. The modern ideas on the subject, the right of all to liberty, both individuals and nations, the immorality of conquest and empire, or such compromises as the British idea of training subject races for democratic freedom, are new values, an evolutionary movement; this is a new Dharma which has only begun slowly and initially to influence practice,—an infant Dharma which would have been throttled for good if Hitler succeeded in his “Avataric” mission and established his new “religion” over all the earth. Subject nations naturally accept the new Dharma and severely criticize the old imperialisms; it is to be hoped that they will practice what they now preach when they themselves become strong and rich and powerful. But the best will be if a new world-order evolves, even if at first stumblingly or incompletely, which will make the old things impossible—a difficult task, but not absolutely impossible.
The victims of European colonization must be satisfied with one thing that at least their former colonizers agree and apologize that their crimes are deplorable. But, the victims of Islamic Imperialism are not that fortunate enough. The way forward should be that either through political or legal means the victims must be compensated that would add more credibility to European’s current status and equating international aids with compensation is completely misleading.
May be it is time to codify in international law that nation states which are economically weak and backward must be allowed to seek compensation from their former oppressors for crimes like slavery and must not be restricted only to slavery. Probably if this case is taken up and it wins in ICJ that would certainly set some kind of precedent which shall withstand assertions like calling the whole exercise as legal fantasy.
India must also explore such options for the atrocities committed by England in TamilNadu, India where native Tamils were migrated to plantations of Srilanka and made to work as slaves, not sure if we can ask the same to the oppressors of Persia.