Fisk, Colonialism and Mapmaking
Robert Fisk’s column in last Saturday’s Independent, complaining about what he saw as France’s self-serving interest in maintaining Lebanese independence, includes the following passage about colonialism and mapmaking:
Amid such geopolitical uncertainties, it is easy for westerners to see these people in the borders and colours in which we have chosen to define them. Hence all those newspaper maps of Lebanon — Shias at the bottom and on the right, the Sunnis and Druze in the middle and at the top, and the Christians uneasily wedged between Beirut and the northern Mediterranean coast. We draw the same sectarian maps of Iraq — Shias at the bottom, Sunnis in the middle (the famous “Sunni triangle” though it is not triangular at all) and Kurds at the top.
The British army adopted the same cynical colonial attitude in its cartography of Belfast. I still possess their sectarian maps of the 1970s in which Protestant areas were coloured orange (of course) and Catholic districts were green (of course) while the mixed, middle-class area around Malone Road appeared as a dull brown, the colour of a fine, dry sherry. But we do not draw these maps of our own British or American cities. I could draw a map of Bradford’s ethnic districts — but we would never print it. I could draw a black-white ethnic map of Washington — but the Washington Post would never dream of publishing it. […] And by the way, when did we ever see an ethnic map of Paris and its banlieues?