Thursday, July 29, 2010
When history becomes inconvenient
I'm highly amused to read that British Prime Minister David Cameron, currently visiting India, was 'ambushed' by a journalist during a TV interview. The journalist demanded to know whether Britain was prepared to return the Koh-i-Noor Diamond to India. Somewhat taken aback, Cameron muttered, "If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I think I'm afraid to say, to disappoint all your viewers, it's going to have to say put."
He's quite right, of course. So many of Britain's treasured national patrimony is the result of what can only be described as looting, diplomatic piracy and downright theft that if it were all to be returned, the cupboard would truly be left bare. The Elgin Marbles; the Rosetta Stone; the Black Prince's Ruby; they're all the fruit of 'aggressive collecting' (to put it as charitably as possible).
The fun part about the Koh-i-Noor, of course, would be to decide which country is entitled to it. India claims it on the grounds that it was historically Indian before being ceded to Britain. Pakistan, however, now occupies more than half of the Punjab, the state from which it was finally seized by Britain, and therefore has its own claim to the diamond. If it were given to one, but not the other, would it spark a fourth Indo-Pakistani War?
Colonialism and jingoism are very much out of fashion today . . . but the treasures they won aren't likely to be going home anytime soon.