Home > World events > Rock ‘n’ Roll Britannia

Rock ‘n’ Roll Britannia

I was going to share some thoughts on gun control laws but that would ruin the excellent mood I find myself in after watching the opening of the Olympic games in London. Danny Boyle’s messy and flamboyant show had the right mix of everything that makes Britain Britain. Now, I’m aware that any number of esprit chagrins, as the French call them–the mean-spirited and the dour–detest Britain with a passion. Not least in the part of the world I come from—the Middle East—and my country of origin, Iran. Britain is the greatest Satan, the source of all our ills, the evil power that has thrown us into perpetual victimhood, and “blame it on the British” is almost a more common mantra than allah-o-akbar.

What have the British done to earn this scorn? Along with the French, they divvied up the Middle East and drew artificial frontiers, creating, to a certain extent, the mess that continues in that part of the world–although, given my fellow Middle Easterners’ world vision, I would trust them to create misery for themselves and others even without outside help. Also, and we chalk this up to their innumerable sins, the British have always put their own interests first. Well, surprise, this is what governments do. I’ve yet to hear of one altruist enough or benevolent enough to put the interests of other countries before its own. Other crimes of the British? They didn’t like the Iranian prime minister brave enough to stand up to them and nationalize our oil in the fifties. Through British Petroleum, Britain had shamelessly exploited our underground wealth for half a century, but looking at it from their perspective, no one in Iran had objected till then and they were, after all, losing a big chunk of revenue. And it was a Brit, William Knox d’Arcy, who, in 1908, had first struck oil in Iran.

What else? The British empire subjugated many countries and spanned several continents but it was certainly more mindful of people composing it than other empires. Of course, like any reader of E.M. Forster or Paul Scott, I cringe remembering the sahib’s superior attitude toward locals, encapsulated in the joke of the sergeant standing at attention in front of his commanding officer and announcing, “Sir, the natives are revolting,” to hear the supercilious lout drawl, “Aren’t they!” There was brutality, there were massacres (Amritsar or Chandigargh come to mind). But compare the attitude of the Brits with the behavior of the French in North Africa, particularly in Algeria, or the even more abominable one of the Belgians in the Congo and other parts of their empire. It kind of balances the picture. Added to that, they withdrew when the time came, not happy but understanding the march of history better than most. Again, no comparison with other colonialist powers who practiced a scorched earth strategy on their way out. Dark pages mar the history of the dealings of strong countries with weaker ones but focusing on that and disregarding what that brave little island has given the world say more about the critics than about Britain itself.

Danny Boyle’s dizzying choreography reminded us of that: the wit, the spunk, the talent, the outrageous fashions, the history, the extraordinary talent, everything admirable, endearing, and exasperating about England—he gave us Kenneth Branagh reciting Shakespeare, introduced Queen Elizabeth as the new Bond girl, he gave us Mr. Bean and Harry Potter and Paul McCartney and… but you’ve seen the show.

  1. Narguesse Stevens
    July 30, 2012 at 9:04 am

    You’ve got it, spot on. As an American/Iranian who has lived in both countries (and having also tried France), but who has settled in England for past 40 or so, it’s really the only place for me to be for its quirkiness, individuality, that wonderful self-deprecating humour, and so many undefinable qualities of “Britishness”.


  2. M M Adibi
    July 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    It is iritating that in most articles “t” is wrtten as “l”.


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