A big thank you to all the Dawn readers who took the trouble to complete my Axis of Evil survey; many in some detail. There are some fascinating results, which I will report on separately once I have analysed them properly. At first glance, it is clear that an overwhelming majority of people formed their impressions of Iraq, Iran and North Korea from the news media. As an artist concerned with perceptions generated this way, I have no doubt that the results and comments will go on to be the basis of further work.
Israel, India, Pakistan and the USA scored highly in the suggestions for a new Axis of Evil in 2011. But as a former British diplomat concerned with public diplomacy and nation branding, I was curious to see that 15 per cent of respondents named Britain as categorically Evil.
Last month, Dawn writer, Eshwar Sundaresan took me by surprise in his piece Why we Enjoy an Ailing Britain in my response I perhaps revealed confused naivety – stating that inhabitants of the South Asian sub-continent had shown me “nothing but hospitality, grace, and warm spirit, regardless of my nationality”. As a result of my blog exchange with Mumbai based Eshwar, my inbox overflowed with Indians telling me that they really did like the British an awful lot more than Eshwar had indicated. Not convinced, I nevertheless quietly filed a request with the British Government to officially lobby them for an apology for the Amritsar massacre (mentioned in Eshwar’s article).
In the same week that British Foreign Secretary delivered a key speech on British Diplomacy, mentioning improved relations with India, I learned from the British Government that my application to e-petition the British Foreign Office had been successful. If I can get 100,000 British signatures in support of the statement below – it will be debated in British Parliament.
Whilst Amritsar may be old history, and, as many Indian correspondents indicated in recent weeks – the actions of a single madman (General Dyer) and “nothing to waste time on”, I feel even if an apology could make a small difference, it would be worth it (and really wouldn’t cost much). Now that I have learned about the events of Jallianwala Bagh, I feel moved to do something. As Martin Luther King said “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it”.
I entirely agree with one person who completed my Axis of Evil survey that “one cannot call any particular country evil” I also concur that it boils down to “some elements and people in the society who might have evil plans”. I write this article in a week when we are remembering the Evils of another madman, Osama Bin Laden, and myself and others are contemplating the “evil plans” which lead to the loss of thousands of innocent civilians, not just in the 9/11 attacks, but in the wars that followed. Amritsar is a gruesome reminder that Evils are nothing new to this world – a massacre on the instructions of one man, but carried out by many, who were part of a colonial power and a history that I feel very uncomfortable with. Whilst it may be too soon for Britain to address those in the world who consider them Evil as a result of their involvement in more recent conflicts, it is certainly a chance to revisit the perception of Britain generated by a legacy of oppressive violent colonialism.
This is an appeal for the UK Government to Issue an Apology to the People of Amritsar for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which took place on April 13th 1919. Hundreds of men, women and children were gunned down by British Indian Army soldiers under the command of General Dyer. The UK Government (and Queen) have issued other apologies for massacres committed in times past - for example The Bloody Sunday killings in Ireland. Plenty of people have demanded a full apology for the Amritsar killings - to do so could only bring our nations closer.
I appeal to readers in the UK to consider signing this e-petition and sending it on to others to do the same. Readers in the Asian sub-continent and beyond do please forward this article to friends and family in the UK who might be moved to put their name to this.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.