The Imperial and Global Forum is the blog of the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the History Department, University of Exeter. The Centre brings together the strong research expertise of the University's eminent imperial historians. It comprises of one of the largest groups of imperial and global historians currently working in the UK. Our blog offers a dynamic exploration of imperial history. Please also visit our homepage at http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/history/research/centres/imperialandglobal/
Iacopo Adda Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva
On 4 December 1675 (14 December in the Gregorian calendar), gunshots were fired into the air from the fortress of Nerchinsk. A conspicuous group of Cossacks had been approaching the fortress and they immediately answered the salute. It was a signal for the arrival of a special traveller, who had been sent by Tsar Alexis I to lead a Russian embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor. This special envoy was the Moldavian literary man Nicolae Milescu Spătaru, known in Russia as Nikolai Spatharii or Spafarii, who had taken up service as a diplomat of the Tsar a few years before.
Spătaru was not the first envoy whom Moscow had sent to Beijing to discuss the settlement of the border between Russia and China, but he was the first to take the internal Siberian route from Moscow to China. He was also the first to provide the tsarist court with a fairly detailed, though sometimes imprecise, description of the geography of the Russian imperial possessions east of the Urals, which was published as Journey through Siberia from Tobol’sk to Nerchinsk and the Chinese Border (see photo above). However, scientific exploration was not the primary goal of the expedition. As the Cossacks had only recently pushed down to the Amur valley, the border situation was unstable, but the Russians hoped to secure both a good strategic position on the Amur and a stable trade route to China. This would have meant reopening a sort of Russian-branded Silk Road, almost 300 years after the collapse of the one that had accompanied the pax mongolica between the 13th and 14th centuries. Continue reading “Memory Erasure of Trans-Imperial History in the City of Nerchinsk”→
I have reluctantly forborne to point out that during the war when Egypt was a Protectorate the Home Office used to treat Egyptians as alien extremists.
– Sir Robert Allason Furness, Oriental Secretary in Egypt, 1922 
12 February 2020 marks the five-year anniversary of the UK Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The bill – one in a series of acts passed since the Terrorism Act 2000 – was described as giving the UK ‘some of the toughest powers in the world to tackle the increasing threat from international terrorism.’ At the time it was condemned for providing the police with powers that were consequently exercised in an ‘overly-broad, discriminatory and ineffective manner.’
The Act introduced PREVENT, which places a statutory duty on public bodies to work with the police and local authorities to help prevent ‘vulnerable’ people from being drawn into terrorism. As reports and cases have shown, PREVENT works on a racialised and arbitrary logic which results in Muslim communities being suspected. In 2018 for example, a six-year-old child was referred to PREVENT for comments he had learned from the television programme ‘Horrible Histories’. The process caused great distress for the whole family. Wide powers such as these have been attributed in part to the definition of terrorism in the UK Terrorism Act 2000 being ‘one of the broadest in the world.’
The elasticity of the terms ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ of course did not appear with 9/11 or 7/7. Rather, they have a long historical use by imperial states justifying violence against anti-colonial resistance. Cases of British martial law and blacklisting in Egypt in the years surrounding the First World War illustrate the historical racialised and wide-reaching constructions of ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ underpinning contemporary British counter-terrorism legislation. Continue reading “From martial law to counter-terrorism law: lessons from British colonialism in Egypt”→