‘To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life’ – Cecil Rhodes.
On one hand, this quote by one of the great Victorian empire-builders could be seen as an affirmation of imperial supremacy; on the other, it could be seen as a celebration of certain democratic liberties that enable the British to question the status quo, fight for their rights and embrace free speech without fear of imprisonment, contrary to many European nations in the nineteenth century. Two-hundred years on, a western sense of democracy that Britain has always regarded as one its great international exports has once again been implemented into societies with no previous history of it, but the consequences of this implementation have been pretty disastrous.
Sticking the colonial flag in a foreign field and establishing the same political and social structures of the mother country, run by trained ex-pats from the mother country itself, is one thing; imposing such structures and then expecting natives with no prior experience to make them into a success independently is different. The naive failings at the heart of twenty-first century colonialism have spawned an extreme antidote that has stretched much further than the Mau-Mau ever managed.
Intolerance of anyone who doesn’t share their nihilistic worldview and of symbols representing the old order has become a hallmark of ISIS or whatever the media chooses to call them today – and labelling them a Death Cult isn’t going to strike much fear into western hearts, especially those who recall the early 80s Goth band by the same name. ISIS don’t merely declare war on the west; they also declare war on their own religion, seeing their interpretation of Muhammad’s preaching as purer than the rest, as though each different branch of Islam was a soap powder and the ISIS brand washes whiter. To prove this, they behead their perceived enemies and also destroy the monuments erected to Islam in a more enlightened past. And to criticise that faith in any medium is regarded as the signing of one’s own death warrant. Speech isn’t free; it costs – and the price is life itself.
Bar the beheading bit, all of this resembles another crypto-fascist crusade taking place at the moment, one that would be horrified by the comparisons whilst simultaneously reinforcing them. Just as the far-left and the far-right have more in common with each other than the moderate wings of their respective ideologies, ISIS share a kinship with the secular militant Puritans currently polluting the campuses of this country and those across the pond (not to mention certain corners of the Labour party), indoctrinating a generation with intolerant fanaticism.
When Muhammad Ali addressed a gathering of the Ku-Klux Klan in the 60s as a Nation of Islam representative, his presence wasn’t as incongruous as it might seem; both extreme groups shared the belief that black and white should lead separate lives. Both ISIS and the nameless coalition of blinkered Feminazis and ultra-PC serial censors that devote their time to being permanently offended are united in their aim to destroy the democratic right of free speech, free thought and free opinion.
ISIS regard homosexuality as an abomination; the Puritans regard heterosexuality as an abomination. ISIS attack anyone who dares to disagree with their brand of Islam; the Puritans attack anyone who dares to disagree with their demands on behalf of everyone who isn’t a straight white male. An ISIS aim is to eradicate evidence of a past that promotes a different perspective on Islam; a Puritan aim is to eradicate evidence of a past that promotes a different perspective on democracy. ISIS would rather resort to the blade and the bomb than negotiate with the enemy; the Puritans would rather resort to online vendettas than negotiate with the enemy. ISIS create a climate in which everyone is afraid to criticise the Koran; the Puritans create a climate in which everyone is afraid to criticise any non-white, non-male individual or ‘community’. ISIS monopolise public perception of Islam so that anyone who questions it is in bed with Donald Trump; the Puritans monopolise public perception of liberalism so that anyone who questions it is in bed with Donald Trump. ISIS exploit the political naivety and limited life experience of their recruits; the Puritans exploit the political naivety and limited life experience of their recruits. ISIS infantilise their followers by inspiring a childlike slavish devotion to a celestial father figure and promising a Paradise abundant with virgins; the Puritans infantilise their followers by inspiring a childlike inability to cope with an opposing opinion and promise panic rooms to recover from taking offence. Both absolve their disciples from adult responsibility and the ability to utilise reason by inculcating an unswerving belief that their actions are justifiable because opposition is wrong.
The current target for Oxford wing of the secular militant Puritans is Cecil Rhodes. Yes, that’s right – someone who’s been dead for almost 114 years. There clearly aren’t enough living and breathing ‘villains’ around to get angry about today. The Puritans see Rhodes as embodying everything they find offensive, an old-school imperialist at the vanguard of the British Empire; a man of his time whose beliefs are at odds with contemporary thinking, as could be said of most that made their mark in previous centuries. In other words, an utterly irrelevant objection. They have honed in on a statue of Rhodes and a plaque dedicated to the man who bequeathed the majority of his estate to Oxford University and established the Rhodes scholarship, something many students from former colonies have benefitted from. They want both removed because they find them offensive, just as ISIS want all historic monuments to Islam removed.
This isn’t necessarily new. I recall attacks on a statue of Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris in the 80s, made by those who hadn’t lived through six years of war and had no concept of what the Luftwaffe had done to this country’s major metropolises and the people who lived in them; my great-grandmother, then in her 90s, responded to the graffiti sprayed over the head of RAF Bomber Command’s statue with barely-concealed contempt. Harris died as late as 1984, whereas Rhodes is a man nobody alive today will have known.
If we’re going to start taking offence at statues of long-dead men because their outlook doesn’t square with contemporary mores, then why not remove statues of Washington or Jefferson, early US Presidents who made a handsome profit from plantations manned by slaves? Where does one stop and how far back does one go? Ask ISIS; they took offence at the ancient antiquities of Nimrud and destroyed them. Best keep an eye on Stonehenge, then; those scum druids sacrificed innocent women, children and transgender eunuchs, so why are we still allowing the scene of their offensive crimes to stand?
Residing in a perpetual present, where there is nothing remaining from the past to offend or upset that present and where language, thought and behaviour are all subject to stringent monitoring, seriously undermines the prospect of a future in which mankind can progress and develop as it always has done bar those moments when it is overwhelmed by dark forces. After all, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition.
© The Editor