Friday, December 25, 2015

RHODES: Oxford Monument-Trashing (Comment) (Updated Jan. 18, 2016)

Plaque that Oriel is planning to remove, under pressure from
the "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign. It was placed by Alfred
Mosely, whose bio is in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906).
Dec. 25, 2015–Earlier this year, in April, a statue of Cecil Rhodes was removed from the University of Capetown in South Africa.

Rhodes is the man after whom were named Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford and Rhodes University in South Africa.

Rhodes built the British African empire "from Capetown to Cairo". He was described by his contemporaries at the peak of his power in 1895 as the "Colossus" of Africa and the "King of Diamonds". (The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the wonders of the ancient Greek world, is ironically being rebuilt as the latter-day Rhodes monuments are moved and threatened with obliteration.)

Based on quotes from his writing, Rhodes could be described fairly as a racist. At the end of 1895 he helped start the Second Boer War (1899-1902) by supporting the disastrous attack by Sir Leander Starr Jameson on the Dutch-speaking Boers in the Transvaal. African tribespeople were killed in large numbers in the process of the creation of Rhodes' empire.

The campaign against Rhodes' memory has spread from Capetown to Britain and the United States. A petition to Oriel College has a goal of 2,500 signatures and is about 80 percent there.

The petition quotes Rhodes using bitter language that should offend anyone. So do some of the advocates for the petition. Jack Renshaw of Cambridge, for example, calls Rhodes a "racist shit".

The New York Times today notes that Oriel College is responding to this campaign, called "Rhodes Must Fall". The College has reportedly started a process with the Oxford City authorities to remove a plaque honoring Rhodes and has opened discussion on the fate of a statue of Rhodes (see below).

The plaque, shown above right, was erected in 1906 by Alfred Mosely on property that the College owns. Mosely's bio appears in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) as follows:
English financier; born at Clifton 1855. He was educated at the Bristol Grammar School, and afterward went to South Africa, where he became one of the earliest settlers in Kimberley [capital of the Northern Cape Province in central South Africa]. He equipped at his own expense the Princess Christian Base Hospital near Cape Town for the relief of the sick and wounded during the South-African war. In 1902 he conducted an industrial commission from England to the United States to study the cause of American trade prosperity, and in 1903 he headed a similar commission to study American methods of education. He was made a C.M.G. in 1900. Written by: Joseph Jacobs, Victor Rousseau Emanuel.
Rhodes attended Oriel College in 1873, for one term. It took him eight more years of study and multiple return visits to Oxford before he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1881. Meanwhile he founded the De Beers diamond company and then became Premier of the Cape Colony, as it then was called, in 1890-96. His term was ended by his support of an ill-fated attack on the Transvaal (the "Jameson Raid") that in subsequent years led to the Second Boer War. He initiated the practice of apartheid ("apartness" in the Dutch language of the Colony) that was continued in 1934 when South Africa became independent of Britain (i.e., when the Boers essentially took over), and ended in 1994 when South Africa became independent of minority rule by Europeans.

Daily Mail: Oriel College Engaged in "Craven Surrender"

The challenge to monuments of Rhodes may be summarized by a statement by doctoral student Brian Kwoba:
Cecil Rhodes is the Hitler of southern Africa. Would anyone countenance a statue to Hitler?
Rhodes has also been called the George Washington of southern Africa, which should give Americans pause. On December 24, Tony Abbott, former prime minister of Australia and one-time Rhodes Scholar, responded, in line with many other published comments:
Oxford would damage its standing as a great university if it were to substitute moral vanity for fair-minded inquiry.
,
Statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College.
Its future is being debated.
Oriel's dons, however, have responded to student protests at Rhodes' racist words and actions and have posted a statement disclaiming Rhodes' views and giving notice that the college plans to remove the plaque. Removal of the statue is a more complex issue, and Oriel says it will initiate a "listening exercise" to gather views, because the statue
can be seen as an uncritical celebration of a controversial figure, and the colonialism and the oppression of black communities he represents.
The American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, Elliot Gerson, expressed a hope that the statue not be removed:
Our values today are opposed to the views of the world held by Rhodes, and much of his generation, but his bequest is forever deserving of respect.
Meanwhile, Oriel College is described today by the Daily Mail as engaged in “craven surrender” to a "PC Mob".

Sir Michael Howard, an Honorary Fellow of Oriel and former Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford calls the campaign an "attempt to rewrite the history of the college and the university" and "fanatical iconoclasm", comparable to the destruction of historical sites by ISIS in Syria.

Comment

An alumnus of Oriel College, Jonathan Craven, wrote to me about this early on and I have obtained his permission to quote him, since he seems to speak for others:
Horrified. If political correctness is a prerequisite for being a donor to the college they can count me out of the 1326 Society. I've started writing a fuller explanation of why I feel this way which I'll be sending the college as part of their listening process; I'll probably post it in the blog as well since I'm interested to hear what my classmates think about it. I'm happy to see already though that a lot of people much more eloquent and influential than me have already begun making these arguments, so I am fairly confident that the statue will remain in the end. Erasing all traces of anyone we disagree with is a tactic more worthy of the Islamic State.
My own reactions to all this are:
  • The idea of a "listening period" appeals to me, even though at Oriel it applies primarily to the statue, not the plaque. The question is whether it is just buying time and whether the issue is in danger of festering rather than being discussed.
  • The plaque erected by Alfred Mosely seems to have some merit, reminding us at very least of Mr. Mosely, who seems to have done some important humanitarian work in South Africa and England.
  • Destroying monuments should not be a form of speech, although it seems sometimes to be perceived as such. In the 1950s I lived for three years in Dublin. The central monument was Nelson's Pillar, a tall Doric column topped by a statue of a great Englishman, Admiral Lord (Horatio) Nelson. It was the terminus for the green CIE buses that I used to take from Blackrock and then Dalkey. Irish Nationalists never liked having an English naval hero at the center of Dublin and in 1966–nearly 50 years ago, and 50 years after the Easter Rising–the Irish Republicans blew it up. I can fully understand Irish sentiment against the Pillar, but condoning extra-legal violence on the basis of one's sympathy for the objective is dangerous. I am glad that the monument-toppling at Oxford is proceeding within a framework of law.
  • When the statues of Kwame Nkrumah and Vladimir Ulyanov Lenin were toppled, on the other hand, few tears were shed. These were rarely of any artistic or historical merit, although I am told some Lenin statues are now worth real money because of their scarcity.
  • The Islamic State (aka ISIS) is doing something much worse than blowing up propaganda statues. It is destroying ancient monuments of great artistic and historical importance, like the Palmyra Temple, in the name of their ideology. One hopes that if the Rhodes monuments are indeed removed from Oriel, they will find a home in a museum.
  • At Harvard Law School, students are proposing something much more cautious than at Oxford. They are asking their officials to remove the wheatsheafs from the Law School shield, on the basis that the arms are derived from a donor to the Law School who was a slaveholder.  
  • If Americans were to go all the way down that road, we would endanger the future of the Jefferson and Washington monuments and even the name of the nation's capital, since our Virginia forebears were slaveholders.
  • But I wouldn't mind replacing a few of the long-forgotten men on horseback who grace some Washington, D.C. parks and replacing them with fresher candidates. For example, why not put a statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Stanton Park on Capitol Hill? 
Morality-based trashing of national heroes can be based on ignorance of the importance of their positive contributions, anachronistic application of modern standards, and failure to appreciate deep flaws in alternative heroes who are suggested as new icons. Above all, we should be cautious about destroying any monuments of artistic merit or historical significance. To these ends, Oriel College's proposed "listening period" makes some sense.

Postscripts

Oriel College has heard enough. The statue will stay. Also, Oriel's decision has been tied to the Yale University free speech incidents. University administrations are sorting out where the lines should be drawn. If free speech becomes a license for A to bully B, what has happened to the free-speech rights of B?

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