Monday, 5 March 2012

British and Commonwealth War Graves desecrated in Libya

Video footage has been released by people believed to be from an Islamist militia showing graves in a British and Commonwealth Military Cemetery being systematically desecrated by armed thugs.  One of the gang also climbed the Cenotaph and began smashing the cross on it with a mallet.

Having foreign war graves on your soil is one of the residues of Empire, although in this case Libya had not been a British colony - it belonged to Italy.  The soldiers whose remains are buried in the Benghazi Military Cemetery died fighting Rommel's Africa Corps.  This was apparently of no concern to the vandals, whose mission appears to have been some form of revenge for the burning of copies of the Koran by the American military in Afghanistan.

The desecration shows the split in post-dictatorial Libya between the secular supporters of western intervention, and the Islamist fundamentalist militias that are apparently able to operate with impunity in some parts of the country.  While the vandals may win some support for their actions from other Islamic fundamentalist extremists, the vast majority of people will no doubt be appalled.

The work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in preserving graves across the world is to be applauded, but they are only responsible for the graves and roll of honour for those that died during the two world wars.  According to an article on a website dedicated to Britain's small wars:

The graves of those who died in Palestine, Korea, Malaya, Aden, the Falklands, and many other places around the world, do not come under their control. These graves are usually looked after by associations, embassies or service units, but sometimes due to varying conditions in the country to which they are located it is difficult to get to them and maintain standards.

One of these locations, where the graves have been looked after since 1980, is now called: - 'God's Little Acre', which is in the Christian Cemetery in Batu Gajah not far from Ipoh, in the State of Perak, West Malaysia. In this cemetery are the graves of the rubber Planters', tin miners, police and members of our armed forces that died in the immediate area during the early stages of the Malayan Emergency. There are many other places around Malaysia, and indeed the world, where our servicemen and colonial police are buried but I have no report on their condition.

The Christian Cemetery at Batu Gajah is mentioned in Merdeka.  Thankfully it is now well-maintained, and it's setting is calm and peaceful.  Those buried there can lie in peace, unlike those who lie in the Benghazi Military Cemetery.

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