Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fact-checking Johann Hari. Again.

Oh look, it’s Johann Hari again.  This turn reminding us that his propensity for being somewhat slapdash with facts is not limited to matters legal, but merrily embraces the historical.  Now, he’s certainly correct that Winston Churchill’s record is forever blemished by an attitude to racial politics that was outdated by 1920, and was archaic by post-war standards.  Churchill was as completely, utterly wrong about India and Africa as he was right about Germany.  But being (admittedly not exactly ground-breakingly) correct in the thrust of your argument does not excuse you from basic research.

George W Bush left a bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in an attempt to associate himself with the war leader's heroic stand against fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It's not hard to guess why: his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and was tortured on Churchill's watch, for resisting Churchill's empire…

Mau Mau was certainly a particularly painful episode in British imperial history – although Hari relies, again, entirely on Catherine Elkins’ book that provides, at best, one angle from which to view the conflict.  But comments are free and facts are sacred, as they say.  So let’s look at the facts shall we?

Was Hussein Onyango Obama connected with this [pre-Mau Mau] radical ginger group? It is impossible for us to know for sure, and it is doubtful that even his family would have been aware of the political machinations within the KAU at the time, but it does seem the most plausible reason for his arrest and trial in 1949.

Arrested in 1949, tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison (presumably for membership of a banned political group).  I’m sure that even Hari can work out that this is incompatible with “imprisoned without trial” but it might be necessary to spell out why it is also incompatible with “on Churchill’s watch, for Churchill’s empire.”  In 1949, as even a Cambridge graduate ought to be aware, Labour were in power.

Hussein Onyango Obama is unusual among Churchill's victims only in one respect

Presumably by actually being among Clement Atlee’s victims.

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