Expansion Nationalism: Neo-colonialism in In The Light of What We Know and Brick Lane

This chapter explores the basic understanding of neo-colonialism which is a very crucial practice over the century. Neo-colonialism and nationalism are deeply connected to each other and this can be as Expansion Nationalism. If we try to keep nationalism out of Neo-colonialism, it will be naïve because the idea of colonialism came from the nationalistic agenda with what a nation gets benefit from other nations. It is the era of globalization where cultural and economic control brings enough profit for certain countries. It is difficult to continue with the old fashioned colonial practice but the benefit can be gained by newer versions of colonialism which is Neo-colonialism. This chapter will trace neo-colonialism in both In The Light of What We Know and Brick Lane and both the writers are from south Asia, presently living in the western world, so in that case these two diaspora writers introduce two protagonists as immigrants. These two literary pieces have neo-colonial effect which is obviously another creation of nationalistic agenda. By exploring various events and characters in these two novels, this chapter will attempt a neo-colonial analysis on the basis of Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism by Kwame Nkrumah to show how globalization, cultural hegemony, and humanitarian imperialism serve nationalistic agenda of America and other imperial powers. Zafar‟s visit to Afghanistan provides us enough information about various non-government organizations helping afflicted people in the ongoing “war on terror.” The given descriptions show us the actual agenda of the war. The post 9/11 world is involved in a massive war which kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people including women and children and termed as collateral damage. Ali‟s novel tells us about the condition of post 9/11 Britain where Muslim communities are discriminated and demonized because of their religious view. Both the novels share the common idea of racial discrimination which becomes a national concern for Britain and this is what the neo-colonial world presents others. Rahman scrutinizes the foli of western world thorough Zafar‟s narration while he describes Afghanistan. As it focuses on how the globalized geopolitical world implements neo-colonial agenda in Afghanistan to connect with the Nationalistic benefit of western neo-colonizers. It will also analyze how native Afghan‟s national values are beingd estroyed in the name of war against terror. On the other hand, Brick Lane shares an idea of neo-colonized diasporic immigrants living in Britain and will trace the Neo-colonial element in the novel, which will also be connected to Nationalism.

To define Neo-colonialism, we need to get back to the stage of colonialism, the concept of settling into another land by force. According to the definition of Oxford Dictionary Neo-colonialism is, “The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” From the European point of view, where each of the three modern day examples find their origin, it was European desire for more wealth which drove the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, and the French begin the search for colonies whether in the Americas, Africa, or Asia. Colonialism was almost a secondary concern at first. Though the early Portuguese and Spanish explorers were some of the first to see the possibility of what full colonies could do for their mother countries. Colonialism in the European example was born out of the desire for trade, goods, and resources which eventually led to imperialism, which was the full scale control of non-European lands. So that colonial interest was simply driven out of the nationalistic sense. Europeans, especially the British, French and Germans would believe that their nation has a superior standard on the face of the world and has full right to rule another land. Nationalism had its root in early European conquest and colonialism. Mrinalini Rajagopalan and Madhuri Shrikant Desai note that,

Nationalist imaginations in both colony and metropole were deeply influenced by these colonial process and categories. Visual cultures first established through the colonial project were reconfigured to support nationalist agendas… Father, the entwined origins of colonialism and nationalism as twin projects of modernity have persisted in the postcolonial condition, as colonial epistemologies consistently frame contemporary imaginations of various national pasts. (6)

Nationalism is the reason behind colonial desire and it is also the reason behind decolonization. When a colonized land starts rejecting the ideas and the teaching of the colonizer‟s, they must implement their own ideology so that the teaching of nationalism helps save the uniqueness of the culture and the national values rather than colonizers history. Rabindranath Tagore states that: “Europe has her past. Europe‟s strength therefore lies in her history. We, in India, must make up our minds that cannot borrow other people‟s history and that if we stifle our own we are committing suicide. When you borrow things that do not belong to your life, they only serve to crush your life” (496). So it is clear that the process of decolonization was another concern of nationalistic agenda. And both the agendas require a sense of political and psychological superiority. Cultural hegemony plays a great role of motivating people accepting western culture as superior but as Tagor implies, India needs its own culture to strengthen the Indian nationalism because nationalism needs a unique culture to establish a new national value which is borrowed from the British.

On the other hand, neo-colonialism is the latest product of colonial and imperial agenda following the foot print of imperial desire. Neo-colonialism is the direct or indirect control of one land by another which is the practice of using capitalism, globalization and cultural imperialism to influence a developing country in lieu of direct military control (imperialism) or
indirect political control (hegemony). Nkrumah notes,” The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside” (3). It is also said that Neo-colonialism is the final stage of imperialism and the most dangerous one. The old fashion colonial rule over another land is not apparently possible because the civilized world powers are conscious about the fact that the world is watching. According to old fashioned colonialism or imperialism, a distant land could be taken over by military power which is now replaced by neo-colonialism. In The Light of What We Know describes a lot about the economic system in America and how 9/11 has contributed to the American economy. Zafar notes that, “This stuff is so esoteric that the only people who understand it are in the business. . . Can you imagine the people on a march against finance? The guy on a megaphone shouting: What do we want? And everyone answering: Specific curbs on short selling in certain circumstances!” (267). The economic system has become corrupt in Afghanistan and the devastation of war put people in a dark financial system from where America earns huge amount of money. The agenda that America and other nations have is to uplift the economy of the west. The march against finance in In The Light of What We Know prompts the idea of financial imperialism which Afghani people want to stop. In Joseph O’Neill’s Nederland, Hans, the protagonist comments,

I could take a guess at the oil production capacity of an American-occupied Iraq . . . but I found myself unable to contribute to conversations about the value of international law or the feasibility of producing a dirty bomb. . . Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction that posed a real threat? I had no idea; and to be truthful, and this touched on my real difficulty, I had little interest. I didn‟t really care. (156).

After the 9/11 attack, America invaded Iraq claiming that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction so it was a war against the government of Iraq but was it only for the concern of the weapons of mass destruction? The invasion was for controlling the economic system of the country and by controlling the economic system, America gained her nationalistic benefited rather than stopping Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction.

Globalization is The New Form of Imperialism

Many argue that globalization is the natural consequence of colonialism and later an
imperialistic logic of modernism. The early colonizers established their colonies in the name of business and ended up establishing colonies for their own benefit. Recently, Sandra Lila and Maya Rota have argued that: “globalization is the consequence of the post colonial movement, therefore the latter is the cultural logic of the former on the basis of their shared common grammar of difference, hybridity, and diasporic movement (5). Globalization is a firmly established movement, which is the result of postcolonial movement. Globalization creates a world of politically accepted imperialism where the global market is controlled by the biggest power. Paul Jay argues that, “I argue that it is a mistake to approach globalization itself as a contemporary phenomenon and that it makes much more sense to take a historical view in which globalization is dated as beginning in at least the sixteenth century and covering a time span that includes the long histories of imperialism, colonization, decolonization, and post-colonialism”(5). So globalizalization is total package of the concept of imperialism. Rahman‟s insight to banking and trading are mysteriously globalized. There are characters like the narrator and Meena whose lives depend on trading. The moves from Zafar‟s childhood in rural Bangladesh to London and post 9/11 Afghanistan and continually come back to the moral understanding of financialization. Mark Mazower writes,

The UN emerged chiefly as a result of an agreement among the great powers led at that time by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. They concluded that the founding of a world organization was in the interests of their respective states. One should ask why they concluded this and then set those reasons alongside the idealism. (2009)

The power and any kind of benefits are for the greatest power on earth. Democratization of the world organization is only for the respective states who can manipulate the system to control other nations economically and systematically which is the neo-colonial agenda of West. In the name of globalization, the west has captured the economic system of developing nations like Afghanistan, Iraq and Bangladesh. In Brick Lane, Ali emphasized the garment sector where Hasina works for low payment. Hasina works in a factory where she does not make enough money to pay her rent. She says, “overtime at factory is finished. I think this month I have enough for rent” (127). The economic condition of garments workers is very poor hence they cannot pay house rent, even after the over time. Bangladesh is the second largest garment manufacturing nation and most of the products are made for the western countries. The garment workers live in a very poor condition because the production cost in Bangladesh is the lowest in entire world. Most of the profit goes in the pockets of western companies. So a significant portion of Bangladeshi economy depends on this sector which is controlled by western companies. Nkrumah quotes, “The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of this less developed parts of the world. Investment under neo-colonialism increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world” (4). The companies who are ordering those garments products are getting rich and the workers are getting poor day by day. Though it contributes to the Bangladeshi economy but the damage to the ecosystem and the environment are massive.

Land concern of Imperialism 

The main concern of imperialism is land, which is the only permanent thing to consider and if the land is invaded what is treasured under it will be easily gained. In The Light of What We Know introduces us to the Afghan war, the so called “War against Terrorism”. If we look into the Iraq invasion by the world‟s most powerful country, America and its allies, the media
was roaring about „the weapon of mass destruction‟ but was it there or was the invasion justifiable? So what was the basic intention behind the propagated idea that made America invade Iraq and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people out there? Said„s introduction to Culture and Imperialism (1994) talks about the effects of imperialism and the extent to which it influences once-colonized nations. The main battle of imperialism is over land” and this was said when he was talking about the nature of colonialism. This is a factual point of our understanding of what is happening in Afghanistan, on the basis of Said‟s note we can came up with a descent idea that the contemporary agenda of „ War against Terror‟ is an eye wash and there is a neo-colonial agenda working behind the invasion. The old colonialism of Britain has taken a new form under the shadow of „War on Terror‟. In American context it was just to give Afghanistan a support for rooting out „Taliban‟ which was considered as the national threat to America and its allies. John Eparjesi, commenting on Said‟s Orientalism notes that,

The biggest difference between the British and the American empires stems from the fact that the former was historically centered on India and the Middle East whereas the latter was centered on China, Japan, and Korea. And whereas England‟s relationship it its Orient was expressed in terms of direct colonialism for the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. (19)

The concept of colonization in a global world has taken a new imperialistic shape but the battle is still over the land and resources. However, the process of colonization in Afghanistan has become a gateway of many other opportunities that are complex and difficult to attain. A number of wealthy nations are getting its most benefits and destroying millions of life in the name of establishing peace and installing democratic power in Afghanistan. The dispute between the „Talibans‟ and international organizations is not a fight against evil and the establishment of good, rather it is about establishment of western power. Colonel Mushtaq in In The Light of What We Know says: “When you play chess, does it matter whether you were black or white in a previous game? In one game, you are white, in another black” (320). Colonialism and Neo-colonialism is like a chess game. And the total system is like the chess game, where colonialism and Neo-colonialism are the two systems that share a common agenda. The basic feature of colonialism is military control over another land where the military rules that country authorized by the colonial government. India was ruled by Britain for more than two decades and India did not have a government of her own. The basic difference between neo-colonialism and colonialism is, in neo-colonialism, the colonized nation has its government with the presence of foreign military. The government of that colonized state is merely a puppet chosen by the invaders.

Brick Lane presents the postcolonial diaspora differently, though the novel has no description of the involvement of any character of the novel but a part of the community deals with the problem. Muslim communities in Britain are discriminated because of their religious ethnicity. 9/11 brings a horrendous nightmare for Muslims living in the Middle East and in Europe. Muslims are judged by the crime of a minority group who terrorize in the name of God. Bengal Tigers are responsible for the protection of Muslim rights in London but the racial
discrimination is crossing the limit. The neo-colonial agenda of America affected the entire world where innocent Muslims are victimized by the false acquisition of native European. The Muslim organizations are working for protesting the war on terror. Karim says, “It don‟t look right, think about it. The American President is preparing his Crusade. And we‟re preparing for party? It‟s not on”(311). Karim as an activist of the Bengal Tigers has a responsibility to talk about what is going to happen. He is angry at the other Muslims who are still silent about the
American and British action against Iraq. Organizations like Bengal Tigers campaign against the upcoming war that has been declared by American president and Britain agreed to join with America. Here we can see the process of decolonization which comes from the sense of nationalism. Though the war is not against Bangladesh but Bengali communities are fighting for the Muslims. Christians or the European natives are afraid of Muslims, and it inevitably comes from the nationalistic point of view. Chanu, at least after he quits his job, stops speaking of promotions and begins to address such varied issues as the legacy of colonialism, assimilation, and class conflict. Although these speeches are often intelligent and convincing, Ali seems to play them for laughs, when, for instance, Chanu talks about the colonial exploitation of Bengal, he is described somewhat pathetically as “playing to the gallery” and “rehearsing the evening‟s lesson” (185-6), as if he were an actor reciting a set of lines, not a man justifiably angered by imperialism. Another organization, Lion Heart goes against Muslims and demonizes Islam as a religion of terror. Lion Heart‟s leaflets comments, “All over the country, our children are taught that Islam is a great religion, but the truth is clear. Islam burns with hatred. It gives birth to evil mass murders abroad. In our towns, it spawns vicious rioters” (339). After 9/11 the hate crime went up where some organizations willingly flaunt the British community, saying Islam is the religion of war like the Lion Heart‟s do in Brick Lane. British people did not have enough knowledge about Islam before they demonize it. But for all this, media is responsible because it is neo-colonizer‟s imperialistic agenda to scare native people so that the government can invade another land with public support. Karim comments, “Man, they are going to live to regret it. They don‟t even know what they are saying. Islam lays down clear rules of engagement for war” (339). Karim defends Islam and talks like a “Jihadist”. But before September 11, he was totally a British and partially he was a British nationalist too. But his transformation is impressive after
the 9/11. Being a leader of an organization, he even talks about engaging in war because of the neo-colonizers cruelty in Iraq and in Britain. For Muslims every day is a battle in Britain.

On the other hand, In The Light of What We Know directly involves in war. And Zafar‟s
insight into the Afghan war brings the light to this novel as the title implies. Neo-colonialism is a diplomatic control over a land invaded by a superior nation. British and French were the colonialist a century ago because of their national greed and glory. And for this century America is the neo-colonialist. Nkrumah points out,

Where neo-colonialism exists the power exercising control is often the state which formerly ruled the territory in question, but this is not necessarily so. For example, in the case of South Vietnam the former imperial power was France, but neo-colonial control of the state has now gone to United States. It is possible that neo-colonial control may be exercised by a consortium of financial interests which are not specifically identifiable with any particular state. (3)

Neo-colonialist exercises their power on once colonialized land and Afghanistan is one of them. Expansion of America‟s neo-colonial territory brings financially benefit and 9/11 was a  propaganda for expanding its territory in Middle East, the ocean of oil. Jamie Doward points out  in an article in The Guardian that,” Economists go further. Many are now quietly suggesting that  if 11 September hadn’t happened America would not have recovered so quickly from its  recession. ‘On the one hand, 11 September was the last thing the economy needed, but with  hindsight it may well have accelerated the healing process, awful as it was.” It is clear that the  recession of 2000 put American economy in crises and it had to overcome. If there was no  September 11 may be America would not recover so quickly from the recession. The 9/11 which  damaged America‟s tallest skyscrapers, the World Tread Center, ironically was really a trade  center which gave America a trade license to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Rahman has pointed  out with Zafar‟s voice: “9/11? The financial crisis? External events, events that come out of the  blue” (131). Zafar‟s voice gives us the pure knowledge of US presence on the land and the land  iPps the prime concern of all colonizers. The western world wanted to deal with the land and to do  it in a legitimate way, they had to use a camouflage of “war on terror” and secondly, a desire for  establishing their presence in the land. Naomi Klein in her essay, “Baghdad Year Zero” writes,“I  couldn’t help but think about something Senator John McCain had said back in October. Iraq, he  said, is “a huge pot of honey that’s attracting a lot of flies.” This comment of John McCain  brings us to the understanding of the agenda of American invasion of Afghanistan. Developing  countries like Afghanistan are invaded because of their natural resources and 9/11 had nothing to  do with it. It is inconvenient that 9/11 brings American interest to invade Afghanistan and spend  billions of dollars for keeping Afghanistan safe form the evil. The US felt a national emergency to protect its own land and ended up invading Iraq and Afghanistan, is simply a lure to legitimize its national interest of economic and military control over the land.

Invading a country requires a massive amount of information which helps the neo- colonizers to understand the local land and making a fruitful strategy and humanitarian  imperialism through foreign NGO‟s is the easiest way to get what they are desired to get. The  western power gets most of the information about third world or developing countries through  international NGO‟s. In Brick Lane, Organizations like Lion Heart helps controlling and brain  washing the mind of natives so that the government get the support for intervention. Noam  Chomsky comments, “Such notions as “humanitarian intervention” and “the responsibility to  protect” soon came to be salient features of Western discourse on policy, commonly described as  establishing a “new norm” in international affairs”(2). Humanitarian intervention intends to  finish inhumanity and takes responsibility to protect the people of an afflicted country like  Afghanistan. As America is concerned, they believe it is their responsibility to protect human  rights in every corner of the world and with the idea of humanitarian aid they gain knowledge  about the nation. In The Light of What We Know explores the secret agenda of America as a neo- colonialist. The establishment of AfDARI, a well-funded Australian NGO working in  Afghanistan to promote human rights but under the shadow it controls the Afghani president  with the help of US and English diplomats. Because, America needs political support of the local  government for a long lasting power on the land. This is how the neo-colonialism operates. But  neo-colonialism is the worst form of colonialism. Nkrumah notes, “Neo-colonialism is also the  worst form of imperialism. For those who practice it, it means power without responsibility and  for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress” (5). In Afghanistan hundreds  of thousands of innocent people are killed in the name of war on terror and termed as collateral  damage. In this globalized world America exploits people for their national benefit. Though they spend billions of dollars to aid victims of the war thorough organizations like AfDARI but the war brings nothing to the people of Afghanistan except destruction and mass killing. Eventually the economic control that America desired for is established by killing millions of people in the name of war on terror.


To conclude, we can say that neo-colonialism is the latest form of imperialism which is the reincarnation of colonial power strategy. Colonialism requires a direct control over economy
and land of a nation state but in neo-colonialism, the imperialist indirectly rules over the land and the economy without taking any responsibility and the local government supports the intervention. In The Light of What We Know takes us in a journey of a very complex power nexus of west established in Afghanistan. America and its allies invade the land in the name of
war on terror and 9/11 massively helps to propagate the war successfully. This novel explores the secret of the national agenda of America. Brick Lane shares the post 9/11 Britain where Muslim immigrants are demonized because of a minority group of Muslims attacked the World Trade center. The racial discrimination raises to the top in Britain and organization like Bengal tigers takes stand for protecting Islamic value. The effect of 9/11 shakes the world so badly and the Iraq and Afghan invasion turned into profit making agenda of the western. Neo-colonialism is the worst form of imperialism where colonialist invades without taking any responsibility. AfDARI controls the President of the country directed by American diplomats to gain economic control over Afghanistan for a long standing power. Humanitarian imperialism is just a way of expanding imperial territory which we can emphasize as an expansion nationalism of America in this modern world. So the neo-colonial agenda serves national benefit.

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