A couple of days ago we watched the 2018 film ‘Black 47’.
It tells about the Irish Famine through the story of one Irish returned soldier. He comes back from India (another British colony) after fighting for the ‘Empire’ only to find the preventable devastation brought on Ireland by the British colonisers and enforced by the very same army he fought for.
It is an incredibly well made film and I highly recommend it. It isn’t easy to watch but watching it honours the memory of the victims and ensures we do not forget crimes against humanity.
One of the most important messages from this film is that big events are not some abstract thing that happens and that can be looked at as ‘out there’. It is very personal for the people who are a part of it both victims and perpetrators. For those looking at events from outside or from the distance of time, it is can be easy to look at things in the abstract. This film warns us not to do that. Those were people, human beings like us. Even if we didn’t know them, each one of us can imagine what it would be like if it happened to us. What would it be like to be so poor that you have nothing, to have no shoes, no warm clothes, to not be able to feed yourself and your children, to watch them die of starvation. What would it be like to be treated like you are piece of garbage by someone who is so much more powerful than you that it can do anything it wants to you. It isn’t that hard to imagine and this is the reality right now for many people including the Palesintinian people.
It is called the ‘Irish Famine’ but it really was genocide that saw millions die horribly of starvation, disease and exposure and millions leave Ireland never to return. Britain took advantage of a natural disaster that caused the failure of potato crops not only in Ireland but elsewhere in Europe. This preventable genocide saw the Brits ship food out of Ireland while the local people were starving, poor already starving people being evicted out of their already poor dwellings into the harsh and cold countryside because they were too poor to pay rent to English landlords who lived in luxury and warmth. Millions, whole families with children were made homeless for no reason at all, thrown out as if they were useless bit of rubbish with nothing to eat until they died.
Britain felt contempt for the indigenous Irish and didn’t even look at Irish people as human beings. This is another common tactic of colonisers and settler-colonisers. It is necessary to dehumanise the victims so the job of killing them becomes easier. People can’t would harm one another when they feel empathy and relate to each other’s experience. Colonisers manage to shut down the empathy switch if they even have one to start with. They convince themselves that the indigenous people they are killing are not like them, that they are not human and that if they do feel pain and suffer it doesn’t really matter. We treat animals like this. Britain managed to reduce the indigenous population of Ireland by half and even after the worst of it was over, the population of Ireland kept declining.
Britain did fail in the end and Ireland freed itself from British colonialism. It did however take hundreds of years of ongoing resistance to horrible cruelty, brutality, injustice and unbelievable amount of suffering of an untold number of people.
Halving the population of a country that you colonise is one effective way to try to prevent resistance. England wanted Ireland not for natural resources but for strategic advantage. Whatever the reasons are for one country to invade another for the purpose of colonising it, olonisers and settler-colonisers are abusive and parasitical opportunists. They invade, they take over, they turn people against one another, they steal what isn’t theirs and discard of the host or at least try to.
And in the end, the spoils of colonialism are only meant to line the coffers of the ruling classes of coloniser societies. The less privilege who do their dirty work for them are told they would benefit. The ‘trickledown’ idea isn’t a recent one. If the king is happy then the ‘happiness would spread’… But it does not. Ruling classes of coloniser societies treat their own people with the same contempt they treat indigenous people.
This deception has to be called. It is not about strategy, military or geopolitics. This is about humans who believe they have more rights than other humans and who take privilege for themselves while conning others to do the dirty work for them. It can happen in any society unless we decide that we believe all humans are equal in their value and that everyone deserves the opportunity to make the most out of their life regardless of where they were born or who they were born to.
It took so long for a film like this to be made. I wonder when someone will make a film like this about the Nakba.