Sunday 23 October 2016

Leave the statues alone: they're part of our history

We should face down the historically illiterate young ideologues

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

Vandals: Students at a US college are demanding the removal of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, plastering the statue with sticky notes with phrases like 'racism is a choice'
Vandals: Students at a US college are demanding the removal of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, plastering the statue with sticky notes with phrases like 'racism is a choice'

At William and Mary College in Virginia, students are demanding the removal of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence who is regarded by many as America's best president. As an interim measure, they've plastered it with sticky notes saying things like "Racism is a choice" and "How dare you glorify him".

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Closer to home, Cherwell, a newspaper for Oxford students, has an article from a member of the 'Rhodes Must Fall' movement, which is demanding that Oriel College take down a statue of its benefactor, Cecil Rhodes, on the grounds that he was a racist. Charlotte Ezaz, who tweets that "'diversifying' won't address the racism and Islamaphobia I encounter at this institution", tells her readers: "If a community of students of colour stand in solidarity with allied support, demanding that a specific statue they believe to represent a colonial legacy that marginalises and alienates them should be taken down, is their suffering and their personal experience not sufficient enough 'evidence' for its removal?"

Nope, Charlotte. Sure, Germany doesn't want to be littered with statues of Hitler, but statues are our history and should mostly be left alone.

The reason for such campaigns has its roots in 'Intersectionality', which Wikipedia says is "an important paradigm in academic scholarship and broader contexts such as social justice work or demography", though "difficulties arise due to the many complexities involved in making 'multidimensional conceptualisations' that explain the way in which socially constructed categories of differentiation interact to create a social hierarchy".

Let me try to explain this gibberish, which is having a frightful effect on the gullible young. The virus is not yet raging in Ireland, but it'll be odd if it's not with us soon.

The term "intersectionality theory" was coined by Professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, an academic lawyer specialising in gender and race issues, whose mastery (sorry for the sexism, Prof) of gobbledegook has won her widespread respect among stupid academics. More than that, she has given wings to the self-abasing "we-are-all-guilty" concept so beloved by the left, for intersectionality is big on the interrelation of "racism, sexism, classism, ableism, biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, belief-based bigotry", and whatever you're furious about yourself.

Students are understandably a bit confused by the extent of this menu of potential grievances and are selecting a dish or two at a time. Trans stuff is hot, so we have a cacophony of hysterical demands to silence anyone who thinks it ridiculous that Caitlyn (formerly known as Bruce) Jenner, who was publicly self-identified as a woman in June and still has his male paraphernalia, was named Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year.

Rhodes and Jefferson are sitting ducks for tunnel-visioned anti-racists and anti-colonialists, for Rhodes thought the Anglo-Saxon race superior to all others and Jefferson had slaves. If they know, the agitators don't care that Rhodes judged peoples by how civilised they were (in 19th-century terms) and said he could never accept "that we should disqualify a human being on account of his colour". Nor that Jefferson was exceptionally enlightened for the 18th Century and that he did much to abolish international slave trade.

They don't come up to the 21st-century standards of social warriors like Charlotte so they must literally bite the dust.

Fans of John Mitchel, that enthusiastic champion of slavery worshipped by Patrick Pearse and generations of republicans for his fiery Anglophobia, should be worried. Could his statue in Newry be high on the list for culling by Irish intersectionalists?

For anyone considering what should be done about statues of people with embarrassing baggage, have a look on YouTube at that national treasure, my friend Professor John A Murphy, talking about the history of the Queen Victoria statue in University College Cork.

It was erected in 1849 on the highest gable of what was then Queen's College to mark the popular visit to Ireland of the 30-year-old queen. In 1934, as a result of nationalist pressure, it was taken down and replaced by St Finbarr, but the UCC authorities prudently put it in storage and later buried it in the President's Garden.

In 1995, Anglo-Irish relations having improved a lot, it was exhumed and displayed in an exhibition; in 2011, John A was given the job of telling her story to her great-great-granddaughter when she came to Cork as part of her state visit.

That this statue is back in the public sphere, is, as John A says, an important academic statement: "History is a record of the past, not a chronicle of grievances. In the words of the philosopher George Santayana, a civilised people does not tear out the pages of its history, it simply turns them over."

I hope that Charlotte Ezaz and those who think like her will come to realise that excising the bits of history you don't like just impoverishes culture and society. Otherwise, they risk being denounced by the next generation as ill-educated bigots and vandals.

Sunday Independent

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