Sunday, July 12, 2009

Consequences of Colonization

If, as I suggested on Thursday, we have lost our grip on the fundamentals of such concepts as governance, the nature of work, and economics in the world the Internet has made, then we must surely be even more befuddled by the concept of colonization, whose understanding sinks cultural roots that are so prior to the Internet that the only fault lies in our general ignorance of history. This is particularly evident in the analytic punditry that has tried to make sense of the unanticipated ethnic violence in Xinjiang. Once again we are on the turf of Burn After Reading, conditioned by mediocre managerial training to ask what we have learned from the episode and too muddled to get beyond I-guess-we-learned-not-to-do-it-again to have even a clue as to what "it" could be. My point is that the practice of colonization may be so deeply embedded in the human condition that we cannot conceive that "it" is something we should "not do again."

Think about it. Think about how much of the Old Testament is a chronicle of colonization in the course of which the Children of Israel experience both sides of the coin several times. Think of the imperial ambitions that provide focal points of the historical studies of both Europe and Asia. Where Xinjiang is concerned, think more specifically of the pejorative used of "imperialist" in Maoist rhetoric while the "people's republic" established authoritarian control over remote regions that were once autonomous. Colonization is an addictive habit that is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to kick. Perhaps the underlying human condition is that, when one has the potential to dominate, then one exercises that potential, lest one fall victim to someone else exercising it.

It would be nice to assume that China has learned to take a broader view of the problems the West has with the relations between Israel and its neighbors. All the elements are there, all the way down to the settlements of outsiders whose descendants have no idea about living anywhere else. Where colonization is concerned, nothing can be undone. At best, one can seek reconciliation for reprehensible actions of the past, which is basically what South Africa has tried to do. The Financial Times quoted a Han Chinese businessman from Urumqi saying, somewhat in the manner of Rodney King, "We need to live together." This is probably true. One cannot achieve separation without displacement, and displacement has a bad history of causing more problems than it resolves. However, one cannot translate that quote into, "We need to live together as we did in the past." That past cannot be recovered. Who in Xinjiang will start the conversation over how they will live together in the future?

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