From the Englishman who captured the smiles of the Spanish Civil War to how Paul Robeson found his political voice in Wales, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
The young man looking shyly at the camera from behind his round glasses in Barcelona is Alec Wainman, an idealistic Englishman who came to Spain in September 1936 at the age of 23 to drive an ambulance for the British Medical Unit, one of the many international volunteers who fought against General Franco on the side of the Spanish Republic.
A man who described himself as “ an apolitical Quaker”, Wainman documented the Ebro Front and the arrival of the US volunteers from the Lincoln Brigade in Barcelona with his Leica camera, as well as making portraits of civilians whom he coaxed into smiling. [continue reading]
Sarah B. Snyder
Is the Trump administration abandoning human rights? Listening to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it sure sounds like it. In recent remarks to State Department employees, Tillerson argued that promoting values “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.” Tillerson outlined a challenge that has confronted U.S. presidents for decades: balancing values and national security.
Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and their successors each made calculated decisions about human rights. At times they placed other priorities ahead of human rights when formulating U.S. foreign policy. They also debated the best means of advancing human rights — a choice often reduced to “quiet diplomacy” versus public shaming. But over the course of their administrations, none of these presidents argued that human rights had no place in U.S. policy. [continue reading]
Nagothu Naresh Kumar
Toynbee Prize Foundation
It’s a good time to be a populist. Across the world, populism has made significant strides. Sanctimonious populism coupled with ironclad convictions seems to be the staple diet of contemporary politics. The emergence of right-wing populism, nationalism and anti-Muslim politics is not confined to Europe but is manifest in other regions as well. Likewise, illiberal nationalism is not exclusive to Muslim-majority states but is also evident in India in the form of the chauvinistic Hindutva movement–the Hindu nationalist ideology.
A concatenation of factors—including the threat of terrorism and anxiety over a massive wave of immigrants from the Middle East, combined with the strong belief in the inefficacy of the EU—has provided a fertile environment for right-wing populists in Europe. In India, the Hindu nationalist project has, since its inception, aspired toward sociocultural homogenization and claims that Hindu culture and religion form the nucleus of India. This project of political Hindutva is more than a century old and has undergone several different phases. Meanwhile in the United States, there has been a gradual increase in xenophobic and chauvinistic nationalism. [continue reading]
Theresa May wants British people to feel ‘pride’ in the Balfour Declaration. What exactly is there to be proud of?
Theresa May told us that Britain will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration this summer with “pride”. This was predictable. A British prime minister who would fawn to the head-chopping Arab autocrats of the Gulf in the hope of selling them more missiles – and then hold the hand of the insane new anti-Muslim president of the United States – was bound, I suppose, to feel “pride” in the most mendacious, deceitful and hypocritical document in modern British history.
As a woman who has set her heart against immigrants, it was also inevitable that May would display her most venal characteristics to foreigners – to wealthy Arab potentates, and to an American president whose momentary love of Britain might produce a life-saving post-Brexit trade agreement. It was to an audience of British lobbyists for Israel a couple of months ago that she expressed her “pride” in a century-old declaration which created millions of refugees. But to burnish the 1917 document which promised Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine but which would ultimately create that very refugee population – refugees being the target of her own anti-immigration policies – is little short of iniquitous. [continue reading]
Paul Robeson possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed stage actor. He could sing in more than 20 different languages; he held a law degree; he won prizes for oratory. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest American footballer of his generation. But he was also a political activist, who, in the 1930s and 1940s, exerted an influence comparable to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in a later era.
The son of an escaped slave, Robeson built his career despite the segregation of the Jim Crow laws – basically, an American apartheid system that controlled every aspect of African American life. He came to London with his wife Eslanda – known as Essie – partly to escape the crushing racism of his homeland. Yet later in life he always insisted that he became a radical as much because of his experiences in Britain as in America. In particular, he developed a deep bond with the labour movement – particularly with the miners of Wales. That was why, in 2016, I travelled from my home in Australia to visit the landscape that shaped Robeson’s politics. [continue reading]