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The imperialist murals in Britain's Foreign Office represent a legacy that must be dismantled

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22.06.2020

As the Black Lives Matter movement forces Britain to confront its imperial history, the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, has highlighted a set of murals on display in the Foreign Office (FCO). The murals depict, in the words of American historian Alexander Mirkovic, “the racial world” of the British empire, with the virile, heroic Anglo-Saxons lording it over their infantilised colonial subjects.

Nandy is understood to have asked the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, whether this is still the face Britain wants to present to visiting dignitaries. But as with the current debate over historical statues, what is really at stake here is not public relations or the causing of offence but the ways in which the imperial past shapes our persistently racist present. The FCO murals express a chauvinistic sense of collective self and a derogatory sense of others, which our political class has never really shaken off, and that still influences the dominant discourse around British foreign relations.

The most significant scholarship on this topic was produced by the Palestinian academic Edward Said, whose analysis of 19th- and 20th-century European texts concerning the Middle East revealed a common thread of racialisation. The west was consistently presented as enlightened, rational and morally upstanding, in contrast with an east that was backward, irrational and dishonest. It was through the production and reproduction of such myths that the European elite was able to convince itself of the rightness of its imperial endeavours.

In the........

© The Guardian


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