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The Phenomenon of Andrew Marr

On the BBC Radio 4 show 'Start the Week,' Andrew Marr promoted Niall Ferguson's racist neo-imperialist book 'War of the World.' You can listen to the show here:


The show was followed by a phone-in which selectively chose callers who supported empire. This was not put online for obvious reasons.

You can read the BBC Radio4 Phone-in conversations here

Priyamvada Gopal who appeared on the show followed up such imperialist propaganda with an open letter to the BBC which was ignored:

Open Letter to Andrew Marr, Presenter, Start the Week on Radio 4, the BBC

Dear Andrew,

This is an open letter that I am going to ask the people--many of whom are
prominent academics-- I have copied in to circulate as widely as possible,
to draw the attention of people to the egregious manner in which you dealt
with the follow-up this morning's show on 'The Legacy of Empire'. I am
appalled and shocked at your biased introduction to the evening phone-in.
You use dismissive words like 'blarney', 'aggressive', and 'too much heat'
to describe an impassioned discussion of a painful and traumatic legacy
that didn't fit the genteel upper-class British converation over 'tea and
cucumber sandwiches'model. This then set the tenor for the phone-in that

But worst of all is the patent attempt to bring in a 'positively disposed
to Empire' Indian woman to neutralise what you saw as the 'aggression' of
the Indian woman you had invited to be on your morning programme. It is
obvious what that is trying to accomplish and completely unworthy of
someone in your position. It is, after all, an old colonial strategy: pick
the good native to neutralise the bad one quickly 'The British empire was
good on the whole,' she announces, to Andrew Marr's relief. What this
person's credentials are to opine on Empire and
India other than 'being' of
Indian descent and 'married to a white man' are completely unclear. Is
everyone of British descent qualified to discuss the Norman Conquest, the
Magna Carta or even the
Normandy landing? She tells us that the Empire
means a lot to Indians because her grandfather salutes her white husband
(!). Empire is 'anachronistic' for young Indians, apparently. Each of her
questions/comments to callers betrayed, I'm sorry to say, as a teacher,
ignorance and little other than a desire to smooth over any rough edges
from the morning. As though there were no connection between sectarian
violence and the Partition! And as though a critique of Empire precludes a
critique of the Indian state which often works with what it inherited from
the colonial state: please see the work of most people copied in on this
letter. We find it possible to do both self-criticism and a critique of
colonialism, and what is more, to see the connections in a complex
historical and political frame. Next time, at least find a scholar of/on
India--rather than a young woman from the office next dorr- if you want
some damage control done. That is, if you are bothered about being serious
at all rather than getting an agenda through.

I realised from your mode of operating today and how you handled the
programme (including the nervousness about real debate as opposed to some
facile smorgasbord 'point of view' dance) that your own pro-colonial biases
are pretty apparent. Nevertheless, I would have expected a more general
*show* of fairness (and that favourite BBC buzzword 'balance') from someone
in your position. Apparently not. Several have written to me condemning the
shameless plugging of
Ferguson's racist text and the way in which the whole
programme was not about the legacy of empire, but that text and its release
this week. People will be interested in the following nuggets from the text the
BBC wishes to launch as the definitive account of Empire:

'Like attracted and continues to attract like; those who are drawn to 'the
Other' may in fact be atypical in their sexual predilections'

'When a Chinse woman marries a European man, the chances are relatively
high that their blood groups may be incompatible, so that only the first
child they conceive will be viable'

'Human beings do seem predisposed to trust members of their own race as
traditionally defined'

We are supposed to react to this kind of thing with a lack of forcefulness
or passion, and just to the whole Oxbridge boys back-slapping tally-ho
routine. And if we don't, a nice native will be found and then wheeled on
to say 'No, no, guys, it was all great really!.

I regret coming on at the last minute. As an academic with serious
interests in the matter, I thought I'd be participating in a real
discussion, not a book plug, a sham and an apologia for the past. (Those of
you who are simpy copied in to this letter should know that the original
programme had three white scholars, two of whom are pretty openly
pro-empire, and one token black man, until the BBC were told at the last
minute that they should ferry in an Indian woman so they could look
'balanced' and 'fair'. Then they didn't like what they heard: the pliant
Oriental woman they had hoped for didn't turn up, so they quickly ferried
one in for the evening to recover lost ground.

Nevertheless, I shall take some heart from the scores of emails that have
flooded in to me thanking me for challenging
Ferguson's biases and
egregious theory. You really think that we should take two centuries of
exploitation, war, famines and immiseration and do some sort of clinical
'balance sheet'? Well, we did. And as Robert said, it came out negative.
Doing another 20 pro-empire programmes with a gaggle of Indian women
willing to echo what you want them to say aren't going to change that, but
do go ahead and give it your best.

I told Victoria I would be happy to come on again. Allow me to withdraw
that offer firmly and unconditionally. I'm an academic, not a paid monkey.

Shame on you!

Dr Priyamvada Gopal
University Senior Lecturer
Faculty of English

and an article in the Guardian:

Guardian Unlimited Special reports The story peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale

What the whole episode brought to light was the continuing need of informed academics to correct racist and neo-imperialist notions among the general public at a time when such feelings are on the rise.

Priyamvada Gopal also followed up her article with a site aiming to do precisely that: