As a Muslim, I rail against the whitewashing of Muslim history. As an Englishman I rail against the whitewashing of British history too. Some are willing to acknowledge the wrongs perpetuated in the name of empires, friend or foe, but most prefer to overlook realities, and instead invest in varnished histories.
One’s own side is always fundamentally good — saving a few odd aberrations — whilst the enemy is always the embodiment of evil. Six hundred years of war without pause can be glossed over if perpetrated by our glorious predecessors, acting on divine writ to liberate man from oppression — and celebrated even, by romantic believers, dreaming of their return to grandeur. But for enemies engaged in wars without end, purportedly to battle despotism and impending aggression, we are uncompromising, denouncing their actions thoroughly.
And so to this great imbalance. France’s militant secularists, obsessing over the alleged threat that political Islam poses to their Republic today, remain wilfully indifferent to their recent and brutal colonial past. In their projected self-image, they are always victims of the foreign other, which aims to overrun them and install a theocratic dictatorship in their place. Never do they see the other as victims of their own aggression, whose identity was violently assaulted in the name of secular dictatorships.
Britain does not acknowledge the mark it left on the lands it ruled and divided up, nor does Italy dare face its past. In place of introspection, the deaths of millions are exploited annually to obscure the historical narrative of our nation. Pious believers, meanwhile, invest in idolised renditions of a long-forgotten past, wherein all men were just, ruling with compassion and pride, to the glory of God. While condemning the evil empires of their enemies on the one hand, they dream of the resurrection of their own fine empire on the other.
Such are our memories: selective in our own favour. We remember not to honour those who lived before us. We remember to justify our present and to build a new vision of our future. If we whitewash our past, it is only because in stands in the way of our dreams. And we cannot allow history to defeat us.