There is a small courthouse from the 'British era', standing right in the center of Hong Kong. It is neat, well-built, remarkably organized and some would even say -- elegant.
Earlier this year I visited there with an Afghan-British lawyer, who had been touring East Asia for several months. Hong Kong was her last destination; afterwards she was planning to return home to London. The Orient clearly confused and overwhelmed her, and no matter how 'anti-imperialist' she tried to look, most of her references were clearly going back to the adoptive homeland -- the United Kingdom.
"It looks like England," she exclaimed when standing in the middle of Hong Kong. There was clearly excitement and nostalgia in her voice.
To cheer her up even more, I took her to the courthouse. My good intentions backfired: as we were leaving, she uttered words that I expected but also feared for quite some time:
"You know, there are actually many good things that can be said about the British legal system."
I thought about that short episode in Hong Kong now, as I drove all around her devastated country of childhood, Afghanistan. As always, I worked without protection, with no bulletproof vests, armored vehicles or military escorts, just with my Afghan driver who doubled as my interpreter and also as my friend. It was Ramadan and to let him rest, I periodically got behind the wheel. We were facing countless detentions, arrests and interrogations by police, military and who knows what security forces, but we were moving forward, always forward, despite all obstacles.
From that great distance, from the heights of the mountains of Afghanistan, the courthouse in Hong Kong kept falling into proportion and meaningful perspective.
It was surrounded by an enormous city, once usurped and sodomized by the British Crown. A city where 'unruly locals' were being killed, tortured, flogged and regularly imprisoned.
And it was not only Hong Kong that has suffered: the entire enormous country of China with one of the oldest and greatest cultures on Earth had been brutally ransacked, including its splendid capital -- Beijing -- that was invaded and almost totally destroyed by the French and British troops. For a long period, China was divided, humiliated, impoverished and tormented.
But the courthouse, a little neat temple of colonialist justice, now stood in the middle of the once occupied city, whispering about the days when it offered certainty and pride to all those who came to Hong Kong as colonizers, as well as to all those who served and licked the boots of their British masters.
The courthouse was providing confidence to people who were longing for one, just as they did during the grotesque and perverse days, as well as now.
Behind its walls ruled clearly defined and meticulously obeyed spirit of fairness: if one's chicken got slaughtered, or if one's tricycle god smashed by a hammer of a mad shopkeeper, the legendary British justice was administered promptly and properly.
Some people would argue, of course, that the entire colonialism was unjust, that the killing of tens of millions of people in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere was much more noteworthy than settling fairly and justly some domestic or real estate dispute. Such voices, however, have been always quickly silenced, or bought (with money, diplomas, or other means).