Detail from a lovely map of Africa if European colonialism had not occurred, as imagined by Nikolaj Con, via WaPo. Some other interesting Middle Eastern maps there too. Click on the excerpted crop for the full map.
There's a strange cultural phenomenon — perhaps part of the return of conservatism in the West following the social revolutions symbolized by May 1968 — that has made apologia for colonialism popular again among liberals. I know where it once came from: my maternal grandfather, a man I loved dearly, came from a Belgian colonial family (his father was among the first Europeans to go into deep inner Congo, looking for gold and diamonds in Katanga) would often complain that critics of colonialism forget that Europeans built hospitals and roads and so on where none existed — but would rarely mention the hundreds of thousands of people killed or the exploitation that took place. I didn't like what he said and attributed to his age and conservative mindset, as well as his own experience as a settler in Morocco, which was not at all the exploitative model seen in Congo.
I'm a bit puzzled to read this tidbit in Nick Kristof's latest column:
Many Arabs have an alternative theory about the reason for the region’s backwardness: Western colonialism. But that seems equally specious and has the sequencing wrong. “For all its discontents, the Middle East’s colonial period brought fundamental transformation, not stagnation; rising literacy and education, not spreading ignorance; and enrichment at unprecedented rates, not immiserization,” writes Timur Kuran, a Duke University economic historian, in a meticulously researched new book, “The Long pergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East.”
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