The Queen is dead: Reactions vary

·4-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

SEPT 11 — The Queen is dead.

Somehow there was no need to specify which one as it is understood I am referring to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

As a Singaporean born in the 80s, this woman was never my queen but in some ways she was the world’s Queen.

For decades when people around the world said the Queen attended this or wore that, it was clear they were referring to the principal inhabitant of Buckingham Palace.

That’s really a testament to the influence and cultural power this diminutive woman from England held.

Though politically her role was limited to that of constitutional monarch, she was a cultural icon known in every corner of the world.

Of course more negatively she was a symbol of the British Empire. Elizabeth was crowned in 1952 and at the time she was still the ruler of a vast remnant empire.

Malaya only became independent of British rule in 1957 so while I was never a subject, my parents were.

Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Yemen were all British colonies at the time of her coronation.

While most of these countries would become independent during the early days of the Queen’s reign, she was still heir to a powerful empire — one that did a great deal of harm to people around the world.

More than the direct atrocities which had largely (but not entirely) ceased by the 1950s, the empire was still one based on vast inequality and exploitation. A system where millions in Asia and Africa toiled largely for the benefit of a few elites in London.

It’s impossible to separate the institution of the British monarchy from that legacy of violent conflicts which extends to modern-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British monarchy, even after the official end of the empire, did virtually nothing to atone for or even acknowledge some very unpleasant chapters in its history.

From the Bengal famines and heinous Opium Wars to the brutal handling of the Mau Mau rebellion which took place in the not-so-distant 1950s.

There is an enormous amount of unpleasantness the monarchy has to reckon with.

But that legacy doesn’t necessarily erase the achievements of the Queen herself — as an individual.

Inheriting this complex and rather toxic legacy at a young age, she played her role as a constitutional monarch and really a modern cultural ambassador extremely well.

She stood in the public gaze for seven decades and committed no major gaffes, never overstepped the boundaries of her role and seemed patient and pleasant at the truly innumerable public appearances she had to make over the years.

She also managed her fractious and less disciplined family members as they transitioned from a reserved elite to public figures and modern celebrities filling tabloids and TV air-time with their antics.

By the latter days of her reign, her family was more like the Kardashians than the stiff upper lipped rulers of half the world they had been just 50 or 60 years before.

And the Queen coped with these changes admirably.

While members of her family would generate various unsavoury headlines, she was never touched by any rumours of impropriety and for her remarkable self control, she earned the respect of people in the UK and around the world.

Personally I feel no particular connection to the British monarchy. The institution is rather outdated and even distasteful.

The amount of privilege and land held by these few individuals seems absolutely excessive.

But the Queen herself appeared to be an impressive person exercising a degree of self control and discipline that is just too rare among other prominent figures.

Sadly a lot of coverage regarding her death seems to either be extremely sycophantic — nostalgic and unquestioning — or unnecessarily aggressive rants focusing on the evils of colonialism and empire.

The reality for me at least is somewhere in between.

There is a lot wrong with the institution of the monarchy but the Queen was just a human being; she conducted herself with great dignity for basically her entire adult life and that is not an easy feat.

I don’t think we will have a global icon of similar stature again.

The Queen is dead. Long live her corgis.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.