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Britain's torture of Obama's grandfather
December 3, 2008 6:56 AM   Subscribe

The Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in Kenya lasted from 1952 to 1960. Although there were atrocities on both sides, there has been a movement in Kenya to claim compensation from the British government for their actions. Obama's grandfather took part in the uprising (some have labelled him an "insurgent") and was captured and brutally tortured by the British.

The UK press now asks what effect this family history will have on US policy towards Britain and terrorism: "he may draw the broader historical conclusion that the imposition of torture and repressive violence has a habit of undermining the political legitimacy of world-class powers".
posted by jonesor (21 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

"YEAH, bitches...who's *KRAK* holdin' *KRACK* the whip *KRAK* NOW?"
posted by chronkite at 7:12 AM on December 3, 2008

Wow, I'm surprised the right-wing crazies didn't talk about this during the election. They must not have known.
posted by delmoi at 7:14 AM on December 3, 2008

Ah, and Andy Martin dubbed Obama "the Mau Mau candidate", thereby mau-mauing him.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:14 AM on December 3, 2008

posted by Hachijuhachi at 7:18 AM on December 3, 2008

I'm surprised the right-wing crazies didn't talk about this during the election.

What're they going to say? "The brutal torture in Obama's family's past may predispose him to end the USA's policy of brutal torture. VOTE MCCAIN!"
posted by DU at 7:18 AM on December 3, 2008

Wow, I'm surprised the right-wing crazies didn't talk about this during the election. They must not have known.

Actually, I got one of those "Obama is a Muslim" e-mail forwards from one of my loony rural-fundamentalist-Christian relatives right before the election. Among other things, it claimed to have inside info from a missionary saying that Obama was secretly funding communist/socialist insurgents in Kenya. The whole letter was hilariously over-the-top; the sad thing is that many of my rural relatives believe it completely.
posted by D.C. at 7:28 AM on December 3, 2008

Feast of the Mau Mau.
posted by horsemuth at 7:31 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Where does the flak catching come in?
posted by Joe Beese at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2008

Feast of the Mau Mau.

Keep eatin', man!
posted by Joe Beese at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2008

Ah yes, Jones. Kindly file this under Things in Africa that Suddenly Matter Because They're Connected to Obama. Yes, that's the one. Down in the bottom cabinet, behind Things in Africa That Suddenly Matter Because Oprah Went There.
posted by bicyclefish at 8:06 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Clearly this was one of Britain's darkest hours, but I don't understand how this would negatively affect Obama. He's a well educated man, well educated enough to know that this was Britain's last colonial hurrah (please understand that I am not condoning what Britain did, just trying to put it into context) and that Britain today is a different country. Indeed, he has to understand this if he is to have any workable foreign policy. If it makes him think that torture is a bad idea, then good. Very good.
posted by ob at 8:07 AM on December 3, 2008

If it makes him think that torture is a bad idea, then good. Very good.
My thoughts exactly.

bicyclefish, you miss the point a little (and those must be the Sarcastic Capitals I've heard about).
This is far from being irrelevant as you suggest. This is about history, and the view of history that a powerful man has. History matters because it gives us perspective and allows us to learn from our mistakes. Many people see the US as another colonialist power and, whether you agree with that or not, at the very least it is a world power with a tendency to throw it's weight around and bend the rules.
I would argue that a president who has a direct connection to someone who has experienced the other side of that particular coin is likely to make different decisions than one who has not.
posted by jonesor at 8:27 AM on December 3, 2008

Actually, I wouldn't disagree with that at all. Your post makes perfect sense; I was just observing the effect of attaching celebrity to far-flung corners of the world.

Face-slapping moment: I chose the name "Jones" completely at random when I started that comment. (I was looking for a butler-type name.) I didn't actually take note of your handle, so my snark came off regrettably personal. Didn't mean it that way!
posted by bicyclefish at 8:32 AM on December 3, 2008

Hehe! That's OK. You sounded like my old teacher though... "Jones! See me after class..."
posted by jonesor at 8:39 AM on December 3, 2008

Considering the current president had the former PM whipped ....
posted by dhartung at 10:57 AM on December 3, 2008

What the article (and one next to it) suggest is that (because of his family history) Obama has no disillusions about what colonial rule was like. No white-washing of colonialism for him, no claims of "oh, but we brought railroads" to justify brutal and racist rule or the distorted economies and societies.

And no desire to start his own mission civilatrice, even if now the white man's burden is euphemized as "bringing democracy (with a gun, and so long as you vote how we like)".
posted by jb at 11:09 AM on December 3, 2008

Sorry - I meant to write ILLUSIONS, not disillusions.

In otherwords, he's totally disillusioned about colonialism.
posted by jb at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2008

And on a weirder note....
posted by dilettante at 3:37 PM on December 3, 2008

I'm not so sure about the direct link that people are talking about. Obama was not raised by his father, but by his mother and grandmother, of English decent.
posted by eye of newt at 11:29 PM on December 3, 2008

About "atrocities on both sides": The British set up a system of concentration camps that pretty much included all of the Kikuyu population of near 1.5 million people and caused at least 100.000 deaths (a story told in detail by Caroline Elkins in Imperial Reckoning), possibly more. It was black locals against white colonists. And the casualty numbers on each side weren't even in the same ballpark.
I mean, there are two sides to this, but in the same way that there were two sides in apartheid South Africa.
posted by talos at 9:39 AM on December 4, 2008

Thanks for the link to the book Talos, point taken.

From the review: Britain engaged in an amazingly brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that seemed to border on outright genocide. While only 32 white settlers were killed by Mau Mau insurgents, Elkins reports that tens of thousands of Kenyans were slaughtered, perhaps up to 300,000
posted by jonesor at 3:05 PM on December 4, 2008

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