The Anglic Reach, Part II

The Alipore Bombing

The British Empire governed its dominions loosely. Imperial India originated as a commercial operation, and when the East India Company was disbanded and reorganized as a Crown Colony, the rulers of India continued to run the colony in a way that facilitated profitable commerce.

To this end Britain delegated a relative autonomy to its local representatives, and organized the education and advancement of natives of India so as to make them capable functioning in a modern state. The schools, government, and cultural institutions of India today still reflect the enormous influence Britain exerted for more than two centuries.

As India became a modern industrial state with a relatively well-educated elite, it took part in the awakening nationalism that emerged in Europe and other parts of the world in the late 19th century. In the birth of the Congress Party, India embarked upon the course that led eventually to its independence in 1947.

As the members of native elite became educated, they also became restive under their colonial masters. In 1905 the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, announced that Bengal would be divided into two province. Ostensibly this was for administrative reasons, but its intended effect was to impede Indian nationalism.

Indians objected strongly to Curzon’s decision, and in 1908, after strikes and boycotts, the situation came to a head:

…the unrest also manifested itself in a series of terrorist attacks on British officials, culminating in a bomb attack on a British judge on 30 April 1908 that misfired and killed two British women. There was a police crackdown, and investigators found out that the terrorists were not mere disaffected lowlife thugs, but prominent Bengali officials, the Indian elite. The investigation led to the arrest of 26 young men, all of them highly educated and of elite backgrounds. One, Aurobindo Ghose, had gone through the university system back in Britain and achieved stellar honors.

The 26 were put on trial in Alipore. The trial demonstrated the way the British mind was becoming more and more conflicted over colonialism. As mentioned earlier in this series, in some ways the British Empire was the “wrong empire”, based on colonial dominance and not on the British system of rights and democracy. In fact, even the wrong empire couldn’t shut out those ideals completely, and instead of a quick sham trial leading to swift executions, the Alipore trial dragged out for almost seven months. Aurobindo Ghose was acquitted, and even though the ringleader of the group, Aurobindo Ghose’s brother Barendra Kumar Ghose, was sentenced to death, the sentence was later commuted.

The Ghoses could be seen as early 20th century versions of Mohammed Atta. They was not a poverty-stricken victims of imperialist oppression, driven by despair and anomie to strike out at their white oppressors, but the children of privilege, whose families benefited enormously from British rule.

Unlike the September 11th hijackers, the Ghose brothers acted not primarily from religious motives, though Hinduism played a large part in the nationalist movement in India. Nationalism itself was the issue; having learned the concept of human rights from the British, they wished it to be applied to their own people.

This is where Mohammed Atta was different. The culture of the West contributed to his education and economic well-being, but, as he became aware of the principles and ideals inherent in Western civilization, it was global Islamofascist ideology, rather than nationalism, that caused him to reject those principles and ideals emphatically.

2 thoughts on “The Anglic Reach, Part II

  1. From what I remember, most of the leadership of the mid 20th century anti-colonialist struggles everywhere was drawn from classes who had significant exposure to western thought via the colonial power, and in many cases actually benefitted from colonial rule.

    Similarly, the great revolutions of the 20th Century, Russia, China, and (to some degree) in Iran drew their most important support out of economic and intellectual groupings that had done well out of the supplanted regimes.

    Given the millenarian aspirations of Islamofascism, perhaps it would have been better if Nasserist nationalism had done better in the Middle East.

  2. Your last point is a good one. My next post will be about (among other things) the deliberate awakening of Arab nationalism by the British in WWI. The question remains: Will Arab nationalism lead inevitably to The Great Jihad? I don’t have an answer to that one.

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