Let’s be frank: ours is a history of extremism. But pause: the we I am using now is not in reference to my adopted religious identity. This is the we of nationhood. I am talking about the extremism of the British in our political actions interfacing with other nations and peoples.

It is pertinent to mention this now, for seventy-five years ago this week, the British Raj marked the dissolution of two centuries of colonial rule by carving India up into separate nations, with complete disregard to realities on the ground, ending millennia of co-existence and cultural exchange.

Partition was a British project, and a huge mistake, indicative of our arrogance and extremism towards other peoples. By some estimates, it resulted in the deaths of two million people, while displacing millions more. Women on all sides bore the brunt of the violence.

It should not be considered a crime to talk about the unpalatable aspects of British history — as one wannabe prime minister would have it. All people have a duty to confront their past and take themselves to account. But most of us are fostered on a kind of jingoistic quietude instead, nodding our heads in agreement with the noisiest social commentators insistent of self-praise.

Self-praise is never a good trait, though. We should always look critically at ourselves, individually and collectively. At least, that was the parable I was raised on and took to heart in my youth:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s.

Gospel of Matthew 7:3-5

The British project has its good aspects too. In every nation, there is good and bad, or a tension between those working for good and those pursuing evil ends. Individually, we should always side with those striving to do good. We embrace what is good in our culture. Blindness towards either is most unhelpful. Shun extremism and embrace the middle way.

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