April 02, 2015

Christopher Hitchens on partition

W.H. Auden
W. H. Auden wrote, "Two peoples fanatically at odds, With their different diets and incompatible gods." Marya Mannes wrote in 1959 
"Borders are scratched across the 
hearts of men

By strangers with a calm, judicial 
pen,

And when the borders bleed we 
watch with dread

The lines of ink across the map 
turn red."
Christopher Hitchens wrote:

"Religious partition is the worst kind. It’s going to lead one day to a thermo-nuclear war."
In 1994 Christopher Hitchens spoke on 'Why Bosnia Matters' and spoke about partition:
"[Partition] is the special gift of the British Foreign Office to the modern history of the world… Divide and quit is the logical corollary of divide and rule. Divide and rule is the principle upon which the British Empire was run and they would run it in that way and say "partition - that’s the last thing we would do." And then it would be the last thing that they’d do and then they would leave. And it’s a shining example, after it stops looking like coincidence. That’s how they got out of Ireland. That’s how they got out of India. That’s how they got out of Palestine. That’s how they got out of Cyprus. These are not encouraging precedents, comrades, friends, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. There are no encouraging precedents at all. There are lots of things wrong with partition. It looks like common sense doesn’t it? After all, you have people who just can’t get on. Fanatics. Swarthy very often, and superstitious. If they can’t get on what makes more sense than share it out between them. Everyone gets something. It’s not justice perfectly, but it’s a rough justice. It sounds good. Why then does it always lead to another war? Why doesn’t it always need another partition? Northern Ireland is going to have to be partitioned again real soon, I can tell you that. There’s going to be another war in Cyprus over the last partition. Everybody knows what happened in Bangladesh. Anyone who can read knows what is happening in Palestine. So it’s not even pragmatic good sense, which is the only claim that can be made for it. It’s also deeply and profoundly reactionary. It’s in fact the preparation of the grounds and territory for another war because it involves collusion with the partitionists. If you are for partition your only political allies will be those on the ground who also favour it. These will always be the extremists. These will always be the cultural nationalists. These will always be the fanatics who you are allegedly buying of with the partition. So far from buying them off you are entering into a Faustian, satanic pact with them. A pact of collusion. It will always be done against the majority of the inhabitants, none of whom in any of these cases have ever expressed, whether given the chance to vote or not, but certainly when given that chance to vote other than revulsion for the ideas that their countries should be amputated and the different branches placed under the control of the most deep and double-dyed sectarians and tribalists. So much therefore for partition."
He also wrote in 2006 in Atlantic Monthly, 'The Perils of Partition':
"The big losers [of partition across the world] were those of all creeds and of none who believed in modernity and had transcended tribalism."
And further said:
"It is the admixture of religion with the national question that has made the problem of partition so toxic. Whether consciously or not, British colonial authorities usually preferred to define and categorize their subjects according to confession… As a partially intended consequence, any secular or nonsectarian politician was at a peculiar disadvantage."
And on Ireland specifically he said:
"The 1921 partition of Ireland was not just a division of the island but a division of the northeastern province of Ulster. Historically this province contained nine counties. But only four—Antrim, Armagh, Derry, and Down—had anything like a stable Protestant majority. Three others—Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal—were overwhelmingly Catholic. The line of pro-British partition attempted to annex the maximum amount of territory with the minimum number of Catholic and nationalist voters. Two largely Catholic counties, Fermanagh and Tyrone, petitioned to be excluded from the “Unionist” project. But a mere four counties were thought to be incompatible with a separate state; so the partition of Ireland, into twenty-six counties versus six, was also the fracturing of Ulster."
And more on Ireland:
"In Northern Ireland the number of Catholic citizens now approaches the number of Protestant ones, so that the terms “minority” and “majority” will soon take on new meaning. When that time arrives, we can be sure that demands will be renewed for a redivision of the Six Counties, roughly east and west of the Bann River."
He also said it in 1994:
"Northern Ireland is going to have to be partitioned again real soon, I can tell you that."
In the 2006 Atlantic essay he wrote:
"Ever since Rome conquered and partitioned Gaul, the best-known colonial precept has been divide et impera — 'divide and rule'."
Hitchens also wrote about Freud and "the narcissism of the minor differences." He wrote:
"Sigmund Freud once wrote an essay concerning “the narcissism of the minor differences.” He pointed out that the most vicious and irreconcilable quarrels often arise between peoples who are to most outward appearances nearly identical. In Sri Lanka the distinction between Tamils and Sinhalese is barely noticeable to the visitor. But the Sinhalese can tell the difference, and the indigenous Tamils know as well the difference between themselves and the Tamils later imported from South India by the British to pick the tea. It is precisely the intimacy and inwardness of the partition impulse that makes it so tempting to demagogues and opportunists."
Read here where I've explored further the vanity of small differences. John A Murphy wrote in the Irish Times:
"In the insightful phrase of the late distinguished scholar and commentator Liam de Paor (no West Brit he!), partition was a condition of, rather than a flaw in, Irish independence."
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