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Race and History Forum

British Empire blamed for modern conflicts

Friday, 15 November, 2002

BBC - The UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has blamed Britain's imperial past for many of the modern political problems, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Kashmir dispute.

"A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now - I have to deal with now - are a consequence of our colonial past," he said.

In an interview with a British magazine, the New Statesman, Mr Straw spoke of quite serious mistakes made, especially during the last decades of the empire.

He said the Balfour Declaration of 1917 - in which Britain pledged support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine - and the contradictory assurances given to Palestinians, were not entirely honourable.

"The Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis - again, an interesting history for us, but not an honourable one," he said.

Mr Straw acknowledged "some quite serious mistakes" in India and Pakistan, jewels of the British empire before their 1947 independence, as well as Britain's "less than glorious role" in Afghanistan.

'Odd' borders

Mr Straw blamed many territorial disputes on the illogical borders created by colonial powers.

He mentioned Iraq, the region which was governed by Britain under the mandate of the League of Nations after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

"The odd lines for Iraq's borders were drawn by Brits," he said.

And he said the British Government had been complacent about Kashmir at the time of Indian independence, when it quickly became the most contentious issue between India and Pakistan.

'Sensible statement'

This is not the first time Mr Straw has made controversial remarks about British history.

In the past he has blamed the English of oppressing the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh.

Members of the main opposition Conservative Party accused Mr Straw of undermining British foreign policy, particularly in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has justified his campaign against white farmers as a way of righting the wrongs of colonialism.

But Downing Street said Mr Straw's remarks were "a sensible statement of history".


BBC's Diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason says that Mr Straw's critical remarks about British colonialism would be unsurprising coming from virtually anyone else.

Such views have been commonplace across the world and among left-wingers in Britain.

Our correspondent said 30 years ago, Mr Straw used to be an outspoken left winger himself.

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