Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Pink Bits by Jeremy Anderson

Things change, and one of my favourite things that change are maps. Maps change shape,and maps change colour. Empires rise and fall. Britannia ruled the waves; from her victory at Trafalgar in 1805, until the arrival of the German Dreadnoughts 113 years later, her Empire, her glorious achievements were all prettily mapped in pink. But, war changes maps more than empires or peace ever will. War creates new countries, and new colours. The newly created Low countries prevented Napoleon’s expansion and after both Great Wars of the twentieth century the map made way for many new countries and colours. But the language stayed the same. We still speak of The Far East, The Near East, and The Middle East. Names for places that don’t exist. We cannot resolve todays problems with yesterdays dead language.

These three Easts, are archaic, imperial and commercial mirages imagined when you gaze towards The Colonies, from London. The Near East, or what Hercule Poirot knew as the Orient,that part of Europe beyond the Danube towards the captial of Constantine’s relocated empire. It isn’t there any more. The Far East, an unseen exotica fragranced and lush, embraced then veiled by jasmine rain. You’re remembering inhaling the smouldering romance from a long extinguishedempire.

And of the Middle East? The Middle East has grown. I remember the Eastern Mediterranean being Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. It was defined by Israel’s wars. World War Two, The Six Day War, Yom Kippur, Black September, Munich and Entebbe. This was the Middle East of my adolesence. It now stretches from Islamabad through Kabul, both formerly pink, Teheran, Baghdad and up to Turkey. From coastal Lebanon to Palestine or The West Bank or Gaza or whatever the hell we now call the terror that the Palestinian people live in. Further afield the Middle East continues through Tunisia, Libya and forever westward on the shifting perfumed breeze of the Arab spring, towards the Western fringes of the North African coast. Rick would be astonished to think that his cafĂ© is that close to the Middle East.

The Imperial language has lingered too long after Imperial influence has long since receded. We need to name things as they are not as the half-remembered myths they represent. It is not helpful when twenty-first century geopolitical realities are talked about with words from a 19th century Empire. No-one benefits from these distortions. Almost one hundred years later we still refer to the intractable issues of Arab-Israeli confrontation using the labels on deceased pink maps coined by long dead rulers. No wonder we cannot find a resolution.

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