Political Prisoners

When Empires Fade

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Two things brought me to this topic—the fading of empires.

First, reading an article on the heyday of the British Empire, and their efforts to suppress popular resistance to their rule in parts of Asia; and secondly, the reception of U.S. President George W. Bush, when he recently ventured to the Middle East in search of lower oil prices and relevancy.

Both were eye opening. The former for what it revealed about the lengths to which empires will go to hold on to power; the latter for how quickly power and influence can slip away.

Ostensibly, an American President is a kind of temporary global monarch, for his power is so vast that, as Iraq showed, whole societies can be upended, their lives, economy, politics and culture shattered—quite literally—on one person’s whim.

Yet, as we’ve also seen, that power is not absolute, and can be challenged by the most unlikely of opponents.

It has costs, some of which are the precipitous decline
in Bush’s popularity, and the corresponding fall in
American prestige.

One instance was when Bush begged the Saudis for a break in oil prices and a loosening in supplies. The Saudi princes coolly declined his requests; nothing personal—it’s just business.

Then the president was scheduled to meet with Lebanon’s embattled Prime Minister, Fuad Saniora, but Saniora called to cancel the meeting. He apparently had a more important meeting planned with high-ranking members of Hezbollah.

Such sights aren’t seen everyday. They are markers of how the U.S. is seen—often by it’s “friends!”

Egyptian journalist Hisham Qassem observed, on the latest Bush visit and his reception, “It was clear that America is neither loved nor feared,” a remarkable statement that would’ve hardly been heard some eight years ago. *

When the British Empire was trying to hold on to its imperial properties in Asia, it formed treacherous military units called the Special Operation Volunteer Force (SOVF) in Malaysia, composed of ex-communists who hunted down their former comrades and butchered them for bucks.

After their dirty deeds, they were paid blood money, their crimes were written off the books, they were given false identities, and they were released into Malaysian society, some doubtless forming criminal networks.

The U.S. performed similar tricks during Operation Phoenix in Vietnam during the war. Few of us know, even now, the full dimensions of Operation Phoenix and how it ravaged Vietnamese society. We know, of course, how the Vietnam War turned out.

If these events tell us anything, it is that empires are capable of immense violence, but there comes a time when even their influence fades.

No empire can last forever.

I think we are witnessing the fading of this one.

*Sources: Levinson, Charles, “Bush’s Mideast words go over hot, cold: Trip ends in Egypt with a bit of a thud, analysts say,” USA Today, Mon., May 19, 2008, p.6A.; Williams, Gwydion M., “Notes On the News,” Labour & Trade Union Review. (No. 180: March 2008) pp.13-14; (, May 21, 2008