The Diamond Jubilee, the extravagant international celebration throughout 2012 marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year at the helm of the declining British Empire, is finally here. British medals galore! Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Knight Commander of The Order of the British Empire (KBE). Companion of The Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Did you know that more than 275 big names snubbed these honors between the years 1951 and 1999? And, apparently, most of them rejected the honors on moral grounds. Call them moral insurrectionists.
The list of rebels, made public through a freedom of information request, is impressive. Legendary direct The Birds and Psycho films, Alfred Hitchcock. In 1952, The Chronicles of Narnia author, C.S. Lewis, rejected a CBE. Beatles musician John Lennon returned his MBE to protest British involvement in the Nigerian civil war in 1966.
Rasta and English dub poet Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah had the following reaction on learning that he’d been chosen for one of the honors in 1999:
Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. It is because of this concept of empire that my British education led me to believe that the history of black people started with slavery and that we were born slaves, and should therefore be grateful that we were given freedom by our caring white masters.
It is because of this idea of empire that black people like myself don’t even know our true names or our true historical culture. I am not one of those who are obsessed with their roots, and I’m certainly not suffering from a crisis of identity; my obsession is about the future and the political rights of all people. Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.
How about a few words on double standards? In 1994, the Queen knighted Robert Mugabe, the genocidal dictator of Zimbabwe. That was ten years after he slaughtered an estimated 10 000 blacks belonging to a rival politician. The knighthood was revoked in 2008, after the dictator had butchered 300 or so Zimbabweans. Only this time, the victims included a dozen or so whites. The dictator had also confiscated “white-owned” farms, which whites colonists grabbed from black Africans during the beginning of their murderous colonial rule.
Still, expect some real lavish state-sponsored celebrations across the British Commonwealth. The Monarchy’s universal appeal is undeniable. Contagious too, in some countries. Case in point: Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have made clear their intention to return the great white north to its Royal yesterday. Last August Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced Ottawa’s decision to restore the “Royal” moniker to the Canadian navy and air force. All in the name of embracing Canada’s “heritage”.