COLOURFUL PICTURES: Development, racism, neo-liberalism and gender relations

02/18/2016 19:47

I had to do some errands at a couple of UN organisations here in Rome and then came to think about all those glossy and colourful pictures of working people, which are so common in international aid contexts. They adorn the corridors, meeting rooms and publications in almost any office for international development, throughout the Western world. Generally they present women and children, often in exotic outfits, working with agriculture, handicrafts or market sales, if they do not listen to an expert who lectures them within a rural setting. Most photographs seem to be captured outdoors in sunny weather and everyone in them seems to be pleased and happy.

Such images make me somewhat uncomfortable, even if it would be nice to see people happy and get a comfortable feeling that the World´s development is on track, at least in some fortunate places. Still, I have an awkward feeling that something is missing, that the glossy pictures are hiding something, keeping it out of sight. It is maybe something about the human touch, the proximity to others? I do not know.

It is maybe my point of view that bothers me. The images create a feeling of exclusion. The viewer is separated from the subject. Those pictures of working people in developing countries must have been placed where they are for a reason, probably to indicate that something good is achieved in meeting rooms and working modules. Here we work for the poor. It is our actions that make them happy and satisfied. Here on our walls you may find evidence of how good we are. But images are surface, they do not explain everything behind and around them. A picture presents the obvious, but not the less obvious. Like the visible part of an iceberg where the visible part is much smaller than what lies hidden beneath the surface.

We are told that there is a huge difference between being "developed" and "underdeveloped". Just like there is a difference between the viewer and what is viewed. I sense an underlying distance, even racism, in the entire concept of development.

In most European languages the exact meaning of the word “development” ​​is not, as many of us seem to believe – progress, i.e. a kind of movement from a lower to a higher state. Rather it means unfolding, bringing out latent possibilitis. Or, as Amartya Sen and other developing philosophers in recent years have described the concept - expand the opportunities people have to live the kind of life they aspire to. But referring to such concepts does apparently not change anything. The term “developing countries” continues to create associations to something that is "undeveloped", something that ought to grow and change into something better. In many people's mind-set "development" is equalled to biological evolution, i.e. a process by which the characteristics of living organisms change from one form to another.

To me the word "underdeveloped" emits an odour of racism, in the sense that it suggests a world where people are divided into separate entities - us and them. I am well aware that the national bigots, whose presence is felt all over Europe, and many others with them, avoid the word “race”. It is considered an outdated concept, which died with Nazism and Apartheid. But perhaps it is only so that racism has changed appearance The basic idea remains, that the difference between “us” from a glorious nation like Sweden, Germany or Great Britain (you may place any nation of your preference here) are so much better than poor people in other parts of the world, especially is the difference great between "us, the Europeans" and those of a darker complexion. They are definitely different. Racism is apparently being transformed from having been biologically based and is now hiding under the cover of "culture", where it thrives just as before. The “new” racism is now about insurmountable "cultural differences" and is becoming a racism without racism, something that does not at all mean that “biological” differences neither are forgotten nor counted out.

Scrape the surface, especially of people who should have been exempt from prejudices such as several of those teachers, aid workers and feminists that I have come in contact with, then you will to your own surprise encounter daunting and spontaneously expressed racist and gender biased perceptions. People from other countries foreign are sweepingly described as backward, corrupt and with no hope of improvement.

Through the years, I have sometimes dealt with gender issues and been confronted with a variety of beliefs about how hopelessly bigoted men are in the “Third World”. It is easy to get the impression that these men are just a bunch of oversexed, imperfectly tamed beasts in dire need of being civilized by assimilating enlightened, Western values. They are depicted as irrational and violent, lacking self-control and only striving to satisfy their appetites and passions at the expense of others.

Men´s promiscuity is contrasted to women's marital fidelity, their violence to women's subjugation, their irresponsibility to women's sense of responsibility. I certainly do not deny that machismo and patriarchal abuse of power are commonplace and everywhere limit women's and girls' freedom and rights, but the image easily turns into a distortion that glosses over structural causes of gender inequality. Like racism that transforms human behaviour to biologically preconditioned instincts making the tropical male specimen into a particularly troublesome example of a nature driven creature. Nevertheless, as Stephen Jay Gould has pointed out:

Why imagine that specific genes for aggression, dominance, or spite have any importance when we know that the brain's enormous flexibility permits us to be aggressive or peaceful, dominant or submissive, spiteful or generous? Violence, sexism, and general nastiness are biological since they represent one subset of a possible range of behaviours. But peacefulness, equality, and kindness are just as biological - and we may see their influence increase if we can create social structures that permit them to flourish.

 Like industrialization, urbanization and colonization, racism also grew strong during the 1800s. It was soon becoming evident that Britain's success as an industrial nation and world economic power had brought with it increased class differences and a shameless exploitation of labour. In his science-based settlement with exploitation of people, The Condition of the Working Class in England, written in 1845, Friedrich Engels explained:

... the victory of machine-work over hand-work in the chief branches of English industry [...] The consequences of this were, a rapid fall in price of all manufactured commodities, prosperity of commerce and manufacture, the conquest of nearly all unprotected foreign markets, the sudden multiplication of capital and national wealth; a still more rapid multiplication of the proletariat, the destruction of all property-holding and of all security of the working class, demoralisation, political excitement and all those facts so highly repugnant to Englishmen in comfortable circumstances ...

In his book Engels warns the wealthy of what can happen if they persist in being blind and deaf to the glaring inequalities that a skewed allocation of resources has created around them:

In spite of all of this, the English middle class, especially the manufacturing class, which is enriched directly by the poverty of the workers, persists in ignoring this poverty. This class, feeling itself the mighty representative class, is ashamed to lay the sore of England bare before the eyes of the world; it will not confess, even to itself, that the workers are in distress, because it, the property-holding, manufacturing class, must bear the moral responsibility for this distress. Hence the scornful smile which intelligent Englishmen (and they, the middle class, alone are known on the Continent) assume when anyone begins to speak of the working condition of the working class; hence the utter ignorance of the entire middle class of all things related to workers; hence the ridiculous blunders which men of this class,  in and out of  the Parliament, make when  the position of the proletariat comes under discussion;  hence the absurd freedom from anxiety, with which the middle class dwells upon a soil that is honeycombed, and may any day collapse ...

In every big city the Lumpenproletariat was painfully present, and its misery was so evident that an affluent person might doubt whether these destitute people could really be of the same human species as her/him. The confrontation with poverty and poor people´s lack of health, hygiene, decent clothing and “civilized” manners could be so extreme that it led to reflections like those Primo Levi describes in his horrifying book about the bottomless hell of Auschwitz, If this is a man, that is introduced by a poem which begins with the exhortation:

You who live safe
In your warm houses, 
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home. 
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud, 
Who knows no peace, 
Who fights for a crust of bread, 
Who dies by a yes or no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.

One who realized the danger of a widening gap between the classes in England was the politician Benjamin Disraeli, a dandy and charmer who began his career as a writer of novels and later became a close friend of Queen Victoria. The same year as Engels published The Condition of the Working Class in England Disraeli published his novel Sybil, or the Two Nations. In many ways a typical product of its time, with a too obviously designed plot and generally implausible characters. The heroine, Sybil, is too good to be true; a youthful, dazzling beauty, with a saint's heart, an angelic voice and despite her limited education capable to burst out in monologues in a language like an Oxford don. She lives under very modest circumstance as the daughter of an impoverished artisan and falls in love with a handsome aristocrat. But, as in a Dickens novel, in the end it turns out that her family actually is of aristocratic origin, but had been cheated out of their estates through blatant fraud.

Despite its shortcomings, the novel has occasional flashes action, wit and sophistication, especially when Disraeli unleashes his imagination and eloquence. As when he describes the misery of the poor, or when he lets one of Sybil's admirers, a young radical artisan, burst out in a speech in which he describes England as a sadly divided country:

Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws: the rich and the poor.

The novel was a great success and helped Disraeli's political career. When he was asked why he wrote it the witty Disraeli answered: "When I want to read a novel, I write it myself."

The idea that the rich and the poor constituted two separate nations was by the Social Conservative Disraeli interpreted in accordance with his political faith. Namely, that the Government had not taken its responsibility for all citizens, by legislating in such a manner that everyone could be guaranteed a decent standard of living. It was the task of politicians to integrate the workers in the national community, by ensuring minimum wages, combating hazardous work environments and diseases, safeguarding the nuclear family, and create social stability through laws that guaranteed equality, otherwise violent conflict and revolution threatened to destroy the growing prosperity.

But it was far from everyone who entertained opinions similar to those of Disraeli and several used science a tool for political purposes. Science has always been influenced by prevailing social conditions and vice versa. 1859 came Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species. In it he presented conclusive evidence that evolutionary development is the only possible scientific explanation for natural diversity. An unfortunate (mis)interpretation of Darwin´s revolutionary discoveries was an ideology that perceived social development as a competition between individuals, groups, nations, and ideas. Any attempt to prevent such competition by political intervention, for example by protecting the poor and weak in society, would prevent the development of higher, sturdier forms of social life.

An ideology that could easily be combined with economic liberalism, which wanted to distinguish between state and society. State power was considered as based on coercion, while society was a voluntary association where a free and healthy competition stimulated economic growth and thus the development of a superior human race. Had humankind not developed through competition and ruthlessness?  State interference in citizens' lives should be limited to an efficient police, military and judiciary. In 1776, Adam Smith had published his epochal An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in which he presented self-interest as a positive force. If citizens acted for their own good and followed the economic law of supply and demand, general welfare was created that benefitted the entire society. An "invisible hand" arranged the outcome to be the best for the entire community.

Adam Smith's book is not a particularly easy read, though sharp, clear-headed. Arguments are presented with an admirable clarity. Without hesitation Smith boldly exposes his opinions and thoughts on war and slavery, his historical digressions and observations of contemporary phenomena are often exciting, and many are still valid. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is a life's toil, it took more than thirty years to develop and consummate.

Adam Smith was far from a cynical bigot, this in spite of the fact that his theories have been used as a weapon by profit hungry capitalists and politicians in their fight against tolerance and human rights. His point of departure was the individual's unique abilities and constant efforts to improve hers/his wellbeing and he claimed that a privileged person of property was no better than those who had not been blessed by her/his good fortune. Smith advocated for peace and understanding, and not least everybody´s the right to education. Although his "invisible hand" has been used to defend the exploitation of fellow human beings, he sharply warned for malicious self-interest, which means that you tries to hinder the ability of others by depriving them of their rights and power of decision-making. Smith noted that plans and opinions of possessors of wealth and power

ought always to be listened to with great precaution and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public , who have generally  an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who  accordingly have , upon many occasions, both deceived it an oppressed it. 

Ideas about people's different qualifications and a healthy competition for the best seats by the troughs, had been in circulation before Social Darwinists based such notions on Darwin's discoveries. The French aristocrat and diplomat Joseph Arthur de Gobineau had in his historical and race theoretical work, Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines, which was published in four volumes between 1853-55, with great ingenuity, but fuzzy science, claimed “Aryan” racial superiority. Gobineau´s fantasies attracted people who considered their privileged position to be well-deserved, due to their superior biological nature. Not much could be done about other people's misery - after all it was hereditary, in accordance with implacable natural laws.

Gobineau differentiated not only between the superior "Aryan" race and the racially inferior riffraff outside the borders of the European continent, he also explained Europe's social differences along racial lines. For him, the "underdevelopment" of the proletariat of Europe was not caused by a lack of education, weak resource allocation and limited rights, but was simply due to the fact that they were "common people":

An inferior race which in [Europe's] southern parts was the result of miscegenation with Negroes and in the north with the Finns.

Such perceptions could with delight and relief be embraced by members of the privileged classes of society, who had come to the realization that an "invisible hand" had not benefitted all citizens. Instead of coming to the correct conclusion that the state, after all, should support health, education and guarantee human rights, they could now state that poor people's misery was hereditary. They were simply unable to assimilate the conditions that nature provided. It was no longer a question that "free entrepreneurship" would clean up the large urban ghettos, instead wealthy citizens had to be protected from a threatening underclass, which was kept in place by the police and military. Stephen Jay Gould again:

How convenient to blame the poor and the hungry for their own condition – lest we be forced not to blame our economic system and our government for an abject failure to secure a decent life for all people.

In some places, for example in the colonies occupied and subdued by European nations, was racial thinking becoming endemic and eventually the poison spread all over Europe, where skulls and all kinds of physical peculiarities were being measured with the intention to determine the racial superiority of the inhabitants of specific nations over other peoples. Such physical measuring, as part of officially sanctioned science became discredited when the disastrous consequences of its madness became evident after the collapse of the Nazi regime. But already before then physical race determination had started to be replaced by IQ measurements, which in the United States caused a eugenics zeal, which in 1924 accomplished an Immigration Act designed to restrict immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East, East Asia and India.

In his book The Mismeasurement of Man Stephen Jay Gould describes how skull -  and facial measurements systematized people and distinguished individuals from each other. From the outset, the dubious results were used to distinguish character traits and intellectual capacity. From having been used to identify criminals and mentally ill persons by their appearance, this "science" was increasingly used to categorize different races and above all establish the "Caucasian" race´s superiority, something that suited colonial ambitions to submit and economically exploit other people and at the same time defend their own behaviour.

The results were not fully satisfactory and riddled by blatant miscalculations and unsustainable claims. Gradually various test packets were elaborated to measure people's intelligence. The aims were the same as with the skull measurements - results were used to distinguish people, often on racial grounds. Something that was proved by the IQ measurements´ impact on the decisions behind the US Immigration Act of 1924. Gould's scepticism towards all these measurement techniques´ reliability is evident:

… what craniometry was to the nineteenth century, intelligence testing has been to the twentieth. [...] More recently, the IQ test has been (mis)used to infer genetic differences in intelligence between races and social classes - always, I must note, for the benefit of the particular group to which the author happens to belong.

Classification into social classes and different races have served economic interests and been the basis for policy decisions - such as restricting state support to education, empowerment, public health and legal rights. Similarly, categorizations of people into different groups with specific and genetically transfixed characteristics have been used as a defence for abuse of power, theft, exclusion and exploitation. Racism veils the structural causes to poverty, exclusion and disease, transferring the responsibility for their own misery and marginalization to individuals and entire populations, who are victims rather than perpetrators.

Racism is concerned with the surface, it is the exterior that determines inner qualities. To judge someone solely based on appearances is a serious violation of an individual´s integrity and personality, something that may be verified by anyone who has been judged because of her/his race. Being forced to submit to the prejudices of strangers is a painful and inhibiting experience that daily affects millions of people. Frantz Fanon writes in his book Black Skin White Masks from 1953:

A normal Negro child, having grown up within a normal Negro family, will become abnormal on the slightest contact with the white world.

Fanon, who was a psychiatrist, compared the feeling of being black with what it means to be a Jew. According to him, the two groups are victims of discrimination, but a Jew may choose to hide his Jewishness, while a black man immediately is revealed as black and directly exposed to the inquisitorial gaze that discloses the viewer´s condemnation and contempt, completely devoid of any interest in the personality of the despised Negro:

A Jew is disliked from the moment he is tracked down. But in my case everything takes on a new guise. I am given no chance. I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the “idea” that others have of me but of my own appearance.

I move slowly in the world, accustomed now to seek no longer for upheaval. I progress by crawling. And already I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am fixed. Having adjusted their microtomes, they objectively cut away slices of my reality. I am laid bare. I feel, I see in those white faces that is it not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man, a new genus. Why, it´s a Negro!

Racism blame the individual. A certain look categorizes him as "black and man." When I was working at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in Stockholm HIV/AIDS was holding large parts of sub-Saharan Africa in its deadly grip (it is still doing it, but many seem to have forgotten all about it now), but it was not spoken so much about that some of the causes of the plague might be found in colonialism and radical structural changes. Many of the worst affected areas had undergone "reforms" in the form of privatization of health care, something which in some cases had led to the introduction of health care fees and savings causing an increased use of unsterilized syringes and a deficient control of blood used for transfusion. The State's withdrawal had in some countries led to unemployment of former government employees - teachers, health workers and civil servants. In many areas, women were particularly hard hit and offering sexual services and prostitution could for some of them have been part of a survival strategy. The opening up of agriculture to global food markets caused an increase in debt, urbanization and unemployment. All this in areas where a pattern had developed during the colonial period, based on seasonal work in mines, or on plantations, forcing married couples to live apart for long periods. In short, HIV/AIDS affected places that underwent complicated economically and/or politically motivated changes.

During my time in Sida the talk was not about such issues. Instead it was quite often declared that HIV/AIDS was caused by "African" traditions; such as blood shift during sworn brotherhood ceremonies, polygamy, child marriage, ritual intercourse, repressive gender roles, male promiscuity, reluctance to use condoms, beliefs that having sex with a virgin could cure the disease, and other similar cultural explanations. Virtually all attention seemed to be focused on “traditional” behavioural patterns among different individuals and a keen interest in "African sexuality". As if promiscuity and "deviant" sexual behaviour, like frequent changes of partners, buying sex and itinerant labour did not exist in the European-American cultural sphere as well.

This does not mean that male sexual behaviour did not have an intimate connection with the spread of HIV, but an often one-sided interest in individual behaviour, blaming traditions instead of sweeping social changes, directed attention to the "at-risk groups" and "risk behaviour" instead of pursuing more comprehensive community-oriented solutions. Of course, both individuals and society cause of the spread of HIV. Likewise, criminal behaviour is fostered by certain social conditions, but the individual is nevertheless guilty of his actions.

War is caused by social conditions, yet it is the individuals who are responsible for war crimes. I once asked a judge who investigated sexual abuse during the Bosnian war if it was possible to read some of the investigative reports. "Why would you be interested in that?" she wondered. "I want to know why men are capable of committing such horrible acts," I replied. "I am a lawyer and not a sociologist," she explained. "I'm investigating and judging crimes. I condemn the guilty party for what he has done, not why he did it." That is often the case in war. The question is not what kind of social conditions that have created an enemy, the goal is to try to destroy him, even if you yourself have been part of the system that turned him into your enemy.

Colonial wars were often characterized by the fact that colonial powers rarely considered themselves to be guilty of creating their enemies. According to those in power, anomalies and grievances were not caused by an unfair regime turning oppressed people into fighters. They attacked you because they loathed your race, or because it was in their genes to react in anger, remorse and brutality and such an uncivilized and dangerous behaviour meant that they could be fought without normal scruples, or even be exterminated like vermin threatening your healthy way of life. Such ideas could surface during wars against the native populations of the US or Argentine, or against the Herero people of German West Africa. However, racist underpinnings were also present during more recent colonial wars.

The so-called Mau Mau uprising between 1952 and 1960, had disastrous consequences for Kenya. At that time, armed conflicts with colonized people were rarely designated as wars, but termed as “mutinies, riots, insurrections or emergencies”. The Mau Mau rebellion found its origin fifty years back in time, when the British East Africa had been established and migration of farmers from the UK was actively promoted by the colonial authorities. In 1914 several thousand British landowner had occupied fertile fields, cultivating mainly coffee with the help of cheap labour, mainly Kikuyus and Maasai who often had been deprived of their own land.

Native workers were quite often treated badly. There were several cases when workers had been beaten to death, without subsequent legal sanctions. It was generally accepted that settlers flogged their employees for minor offenses. Native labour was poorly served by colonial legislation and several rebellion attempts were mercilessly put down by British colonial troops.

When Kikuyus in the early fifties attacked white plantation owners, the reaction of the colonial administration was, to put it mildly, quite exaggerated. The official British explanation for the revolt was not based on insights gained from agronomists, sociologists, economists, or historians (nor by any opinions expressed by Kikuyus), but was based solely on the analysis of an "ethno-psychiatrist" who characterized the rebellion as "an irrational, evil force, dominated by bestial impulses and influenced by world Communism ".

Nairobi was considered to be the epi-centre of the Mau Mau movement, and in 1954, 25, 000 members of the British security forces barred and searched the city, sector by sector. All non-white Kenyans were incarcerated behind barbed wire fences. 20, 000 Kikuyus were eventually transferred to a concentration camp, while 30, 000 were deported to various "reserves". After 18 months, more than a million Kikuyus have been detained in 800 villages, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by members of the so-called Home Guard. 30, 000 suspected Mau Mau members had been transferred to "labour camps" with inadequate food rations and harsh punishments. Soon hunger and malnutrition were reported from the military-controlled villages and clandestine reports from the labour camps testified about brutal torture; prisoners had had their ears cut off, holes had been drilled into ear canals, boiling wax had been poured over bound victims, several had been castrated.

The brutality of the British authorities was motivated by the "fanatic, primitive and magically inspired" brutality with which the fighting was carried out by poorly armed Mau Mau warriors. Isolated white plantation owners felt defenceless in a sea of vicious, blood thirsty “blacks”. It was then I thought about what I assumed to be an underlying racism in many explanations of HIV/AIDS rampage in sub-Saharan Africa that I came to think about the Mau Mau uprising.

While I researched a more insignificant peasant movement that had been brutally supressed in the Dominican Republic, I found several press reports that revelled in descriptions of the peasants´ primitive and bloodthirsty voodoo cult, something that did not at all reflect any reality. I was in fact personally acquainted with several of the depicted "fanatics". As the movement I studied grew in significance in the late fifties, I came to read several domestic and foreign newspapers from that time and was then struck by how common it was to portray uprisings in the Third World as a blood-soaked spectacles, staged by a primitive rabble incited by superstitious rituals that had infantilised and brutalized rural dwellers, making them return to the uncivilized state they had found themselves in before wellbeing and civilization had been bestowed upon them through the blessings of development. Nowhere was this more evident than in exciting and sensational depictions of how the Mau Mau men raped and butchered innocent white people and brutalized their own. Something that was depicted in several films from the period.

The Kenyan historian Bethwell Ogot, who did not conceal the brutality of several Mau Mau warriors, pointed quite correctly to the fact that war has an escalating effect resulting in a process in which respect and compassion break down and is replaced by an uncontrollable destructiveness:

No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man´s inhumanity to man, there is no race distinction. The Africans were practicing it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides.

Statistics reveal, however, a violent overreaction and brutality from the side of British authorities, something that can hardly be explained without considering racist motivations for their actions. Between 320, 000 and 450, 000 suspected insurgents were forcibly detained, 12,000 were officially killed "in combat", while unofficial estimates generally indicate that more than 20,000 is more in line with reality. British military losses amounted to 200 dead, while 32 civilians "Europeans" were killed by the Mau Mau and 1, 850 "natives".

The Mau Mau rebellion was not an isolated incident, at the same time fighting was waged for several years in the Malaysian jungles, in a war known as the Malayan Emergency. Between 1948 and 1960 the “crisis” officially led to 6, 710 guerrillas killed in combat, as well as an estimated 3, 000 civilians killed by both sides in the conflict. The English losses amounted to 519 British soldiers and 1, 346 Malaysian auxiliaries. At the end of the fifties 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops fought an estimated 8, 000 Communist guerrillas.

All that I had not had a clue about until I in the early nineties came across some romantic novels by a certain Noel Barber, which I found in a hotel room in Singapore. Among the books was his The War of the Running Dogs, which was a documentary description of the Malayan Emergency. Noel Barber was obviously a typical representative of what I would like to call "adventure journalists", who during the fifties and sixties were moving from one "exciting" crisis" to another, publishing accounts of their adventures as newspaper articles, fact books and novels. The War of the Running Dogs was not a particularly bad book, it depicted the hostilities in a well-informed, quite comprehensive manner though it suffered from the zeitgeist, basically describing most events with a British, justifying gaze.

The causes of the rebellion was to be found in British efforts after World War II to curb Malaysia's economy, especially through taxes that affected the traditional economy and a tight control of the country's tin and rubber industry, which was considered to be essential for England's reconstruction after the war, but at the same time that branch was affected by a violently fluctuating world market. The British measures caused increased poverty among certain population groups and protests were violently quenched by the colonial authorities, who responded with mass arrests and deportations. The protests were frequently organized by Communists, many of them migrant Chinese workers, with support from the mother party in China.

Soon, the British troops fought a complicated guerrilla war with insurgents scattered among inaccessible villages, deep in the jungle. The war had several similarities with the subsequent Vietnam War. The British used Orange B to remove the dense vegetation in battle zones. As the insurgents were moving among civilians, it was difficult to identify them, and innocent villagers were detained and tortured to obtain information about the enemy. Various forms of landmines, cluster bombs and similar weapons were used to "secure" areas and terrorize the civilian population, certain areas were bombed indiscriminately and in the final months 500,000 people (one-tenth of the country's population) were removed from the war zones and detained in guarded camps called "new villages ".

As in Kenya the enemy was both infantilised and demonized; Malayan peasants were depicted as simple-minded and superstitious victims of evil Communists, while white plantation owners and military were virtuous, strong men who fought for Western, democratic values, ​​selflessly helping the confused Malayan population. It was common to depict Malaysia as an exotic paradise under threat of World Communism, or as one of several feature films about the conflict, stated in its advertisement:

A strange land sleeps like a beautiful woman, so still, so mysterious, so untouched, until the first light of dawn awakens the passions of men and the furies of war!

Something that was hard to romanticize were the terrible massacres that hit Malaysia´s neighbour Indonesia, where in a few months´ time between half and one million people were slaughtered, accused of being Communists. A tragedy depicted in two merciless films by the in Denmark settled American director Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing from 2012 and The Look of Silence from 2014. These are strange and remarkable films where both the real victims and perpetrators orchestrate their crimes and suffering. Few of the perpetrators show any remorse, but in some a deeply hidden trepidation might be discerned.

Generally speaking, the psychological effect of the killings on survivors and perpetrators has been difficult to access. Of course, this has been due to the fact that the mass killings took place with the direct support of the military leadership, which since those times have controlled the nation. Moreover, the massacres seem to have been remarkably effective in eliminating those they were directed against, and an even larger number of these so-called "leftists" were punished hard during many of the years that followed the military coup that initiated the killings. For many of those who were detained, the Government has itself stated that a million and a half were interned, and for those who shared this experience of hunger, humiliation and beatings, it seems like these years of suffering have overshadowed the months of terror during which the organized killings took place.

Another reason for the ongoing silence about the mass murders is the fact that the Indonesian government assures that the killings was a necessary purge of Communist influence among Indonesia's population and it has never seriously denied that they took place. The Government has even been inclined to support higher numbers of victims than those presented by the few researchers who have tried to calculate them. A common feeling of guilt has also made societies reluctant to identify individual perpetrators, something which deliberately has been encouraged by the army, which made every effort to ensure that it alone does not have to bear the burden of blood.

A deep drilling into the psyche of criminals and those affected by their ruthless violence, which is apparent in Oppenheimer´s shocking films, is missing entirely in the superficial and aloof tribute Time Magazine conferred the architect behind the despicable carnage, Suharto, in an anonymously written article called Indonesia: Vengeance with a Smile.

Amid a boiling bloodbath that almost unnoticed took 400,000 lives, Indonesia, the sprawling giant of Southeast Asia, has done a complete about-face. It changed not only its government but its political direction, fundamentally, radically and unexpectedly. [...] A new regime has risen, backed by the army but scrupulously constitutional and commanding vociferous popular support. 

The article consists of an extreme blackening of Indonesia's former, Communist leaning President Sukarno and a convivial celebration of its new leader, Suharto, whose "purge" of Communists possibly had been a little too drastic, but basically with much needed and commendable results:

The greatest problem of all — and the one that Suharto is most immediately concerned about — is Indonesia's shattered economy — if it can be called an economy. [...] On with the Job. It is General Suharto's intention that things will never get that bad. Economic recovery is the principal goal of Suharto's administration. "He personally doesn't understand the complexities of the economic problems facing the country," says a foreign diplomat who knows him well, "but he inspires confidence and has clear objectives. He wants to get on with the job of nation building." [...] Indonesia's dramatic new stance needs no additional push to make it more than what it is: the West's best news for years in Asia.

A joyous news reporting that included the slaughter of over half a million people in a homage to a man who had ordered the indiscriminate butchering. An example as good as any of the West's chilly glance at the "Third World", which all too often seems to be far away from us, in any case, if we are to believe the decision makers who do not seem to have a clue about all the suffering that a war entails.

For example, these all-knowing experts who seem to be involved in directing the fate of the world, like Sir Robert Francis Cooper, who served as foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair and now is one of the leaders of The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), an influential European think tank dealing mainly with how EU foreign policies can be made "more efficient". More than ten years ago Sir Cooper wrote an article in which he disclosed perceptions that still seem to have some influence.

Sir Cooper divides the world into failed states, modern states and post-modern states. According to him, in the "ancient world" there prevailed order, culture and civilization (he probably means the Roman Empire) while outside this realm barbarism, chaos and disorder roamed. "The notion of peace and order, guaranteed by a hegemonic power centre has since then been influential." Now there are new forms of government, like countries, often former colonies, "where the state has ceased to exist,” then there is the “modern "states that function like the old nation-states, being ruled by a strong, centralized power elite, such as China, India and Pakistan. And then we have the “postmodern” state where liberalism and true democracy prevail and which no longer harbours any imperial ambitions - guess where we find such states?

The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open co-operative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the 19th century world of “every state for itself”. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.

The “jungle” is areas where chaos and war have become a way of life, where life is controlled by drug barons and self-styled warlords. The most logical way to deal with such chaos is what in the past used to be called colonization. But colonization has now become unacceptable.

What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle.

Oh, I did not know that achieving order and organisation was the prime objective of imperialism. I assumed it was profit for the power centre that was idea behind it all. But, I can of course be wrong. According to Sir Cooper, organizations such as the IMF and World Bank safeguard a benevolent globalization based on open markets and democracy. A state that relies on their benevolent support will find its way into the global economy and its virtuous circle of investment and prosperity.

To me all that make an impression of being extremely simplistic, worthy of a secondary school student, but quite worrying if expressed by an influential theorist. A double talk that confuses peace with violence and freedom with coercion, and not least - the old familiar view of "the other", i.e. those who need our guidance and support for finding a way out of the tangle of their own making.

I suspect that it was Sir Cooper´s "order-promoting" imperialism that was instrumental in creating today's chaos in the failed states, an unpleasant history marked by pillage, slavery and sexual violence, which has left behind a power elite that enriched itself through the benevolence of its former masters and continued to enrich itself within the framework of global neoliberalism, under which guise racism and elitism continue to thrive.

Please, do not get me wrong, it is very possible that deregulated markets and globalization eventually lead to increased global prosperity, but to pretend that "development" usually takes place and is planned in consultation with equal partners, acting freely and independently, is a misconception. And here I come back to the happy women on the photos I found in the corridors of FAO and IFAD. I consider them as being an integrated part of a neoliberal celebration of women as constantly, diligently and happily investing their efforts in small-scale, close-to-nature, but productive and profitable work for the world market - the ultimate way out of poverty and inequality.

Adorned and stylish like "noble savages", romanticized, but with dignity and simplicity, they are the role models for women who are exploited by their oppressive men, or by cunning and greedy strangers. Women who engage in "good spending" promoting family and community, unlike men´s "bad spending" that benefit only themselves. Ideas which seem to reflect Victorian notions about "deserving and undeserving" poor. Reliable, hard-working and enterprising women who incarnate the World Bank's slogan that “Gender Equality is Smart Economics”, because women are better borrowers and better parents than men. Liberated women constitute a mighty contrast to the veiled and gender mutilated beings who are currently oppressed by patriarchal male society. Women on their way to the West's blissful haven for free, independent women.

I do not at all object to this world picture, it is perhaps even correct. However, its one-sidedness worries me. Once again the world is considered through the West's gaze. The images of happy, working women make me think of the happily working women who did not work for any globalized, neoliberal market, but exploitive colonizers.

Instead of observing the pictures I would like to listen to and meet the people they depict, learn from them, learn from their experiences. I do not want to stare at them through a Western filter or forcing my ideas upon them, instead I appreciate an opportunity to take part of and learn from their opinions and desires. Therefore, I sympathize with William Easterly´s division of donors in planners and searchers. Planners believe that the application of centrally designed, big plans will improve the condition of poor countries, while searchers are looking for “bottom-up” future solutions to specific needs.

Easterly perceives planners as modern reflections of colonial self-overestimation. He believes that it would be best to focus on the poorest people's needs, such as education and efficient health care. The poor are not in need of alms, but education and good health will allow them to independently try to improve their lives.

Development is too focused on material well-being. "Experts" are masters at finding technical solutions, hailed as pathways out of poverty, but still they often fail to address the problems´ centre, i.e. the lack of individual rights that prevent the poor from spontaneously find viable solutions to their problems and from defending their interests from various stakeholders. It is often racism and gender-based prejudices, paired with self-possessed presumptions, which prevent us from seeing reality as it really is.

Anderson, David (2005). Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Anonymous (1966) “Indonesia: Vengeance with a Smile,” in Time no. 3, July 15. Barber, Noel (1971) The War of the Running DogsThe Malayan Emergency, 1948–1960. New York: Weybright and Talley. Cooper, Robert (2002) “The Post Modern State” in Leonard, Mark (ed.) Re-ordering the world: The long-term implications of September 11th. London: Foreign Policy Centre. Cribb, Robert (1997) "The Indonesian Massacres", in Totten, Samuel Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views. New York/London: Garland Publishing. Disraeli, Benjamin (1980) Sybil: Or the Two Nations. London: Penguin Classics. Easterly, William (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Harm and So Little Good. London: Penguin. Engels, Friedrich (2002) The Condition of the Working Class in England. London: Penguin Classics. Fanon, Frantz (1971) Black Skin White Masks. London: Paladin. Gould, Stephen Jay (1977) Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. New York/London: W.W. Norton. Gould, Stephen Jay (1981) The Mismeasurement of Man. New York/London: W.W. Norton. Kohn, Marek (1996) The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science. London: Vintage. Levi, Primo (1991) If This is a Man/The Truce. London: Abacus. Smith, Adam (1979) The Wealth of Nations, Books I-III, with an introduction by Andrew Skinner. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Wilson, Kalpana (2012) Race, Racism and Development: Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice. London/New York: Zed Books.


My childhood´s landscape was forests, meadows and lakes. The sea low farther away, though I was at least so well acquainted with it that I cannot recall the first time I saw its vast expanse. Maybe it was in the Stockholm archipelago I experienced together it together with my grandparents? I don't...
Min barndoms landskap bestod av skogar, ängar och insjöar. Havet låg längre bort, men jag kände även det, i varje fall så väl att jag inte minns första gången jag såg det. Kanske var det Stockholms skärgård tillsammans med mina morföräldrar? Jag vet inte om det finns några gener kvar hos mig från...
The Swedish artist Sven Ljungberg was, among other things, headmaster for the Academy of Fine Arts, created quite a number of monumental frescoes and mosaics, designed Nobel Prize diplomas, was a friend of several famous authors and illustrated their books. Even he shared much of his time...
Konstnären Sven Ljungberg var bland annat rektor på Konsthögskolan, gjorde en mängd monumentalmålningar, formgav nobelprisdiplom, var vän med flera kända författare och illustrerade deras böcker, bland andra Ivar Lo-Johansson och Pär Lagerkvist. Trots att han under flera år delade sin tid mellan...
The older I get, the clearer I realize the meaning of what the somewhat peculiar book publisher Bo Cavefors told me when I agreed he could publish my first novel: ”You are still a young man, but you have already now an impressive experience reserve.” I do not know if ”experience reserve” is a...
Ju äldre jag blir, desto klarare inser jag innebörden i vad den märklige bokförläggaren Bo Cavefors sa till mig då jag gick med på att han publicerade min första roman: ”Du är fortfarande mycket ung, men du har redan nu en rik erfarenhetsreserv.” Jag vet inte om ”erfarenhetsreserv” är ett vanligt...
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My blog is among other things a Memory Palace  where I store whatever fascinates me. What I like to delve into; thoughts and opinions I like to share and above all it serves as an appendix to my often confused, forgetful and disordered brain. I am a hoarder; a collector of books,...
At the very first glimmer of a brightening dawn there rose on the horizon a dark cloud of black,   The stillness of the Storm God passed over the sky, and all was bright then turned into darkness. He charged the land like a bull on the rampage, he smashed it in pieces like a vessel of...
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