December 25, 2015 – 9:22AM
Oxford risks ‘moral vanity’: Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Former prime minister Tony Abbott says the University of Oxford “will damage its standing as a great university” if it bows to pressure and removes a statue of African colonialist Cecil Rhodes.
The university’s Oriel College has agreed to remove a commemorative plaque to Rhodes following a campaign by a student group calling for the statue to be pulled down.
The students say the 19th century imperialist’s views are against the “inclusive culture which promotes equality” at the university.
But Mr Abbott, a former Rhodes scholar, has told British newspaper The Independent that Oxford would be “substituting moral vanity for fair-minded inquiry” if it allowed the statue to be pulled down.
Brian Kwoba, a doctoral student, told The Independent that Rhodes was responsible for “stealing land, massacring tens of thousands of black Africans, imposing a regime of unspeakable labour exploitation in the diamond mines and devising pro-apartheid policies.”
“The significance of taking down the statue is simple,” he added, “Cecil Rhodes is the Hitler of southern Africa. Would anyone countenance a statue to Hitler?”
RW Johnson, an author who is an emeritus fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford, compared the campaign to remove the monument to what al-Qaida and the Islamic State “are doing in places like Mali when destroying statues.”
“They are destroying historical artifacts and defacing them,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “I think you have got to respect history. In addition, there are many people in history that are far worse than Rhodes.”
Some British politicians have sought to depict the campaign as a demonstration of political correctness and an effort to erase history, a notion that supporters reject.
Instead, they argue that any commemoration to Rhodes sends out a hostile signal to some modern-day students. To an extent, the debate has also become caught up in a broader discussion about whether the university is attractive to minority students, and is sensitive to them.
Britons were already struggling to define their global role and facing other calls to confront the past, including demands from Caribbean countries that Britain pay reparations for its role in slavery.
Born in 1853, Rhodes attended Oriel College in the 1870s before founding the De Beers diamond empire in South Africa, where he rose to be premier of the then Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was named after Rhodes, but he is perhaps best remembered for beginning racial segregation in southern Africa and for his belief in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.
The campaign against the monument in Oxford, called Rhodes Must Fall, is modelled on a similar group in South Africa, which succeeded in having a statue pulled down at the University of Cape Town.
In a statement, Oriel College said that it was starting discussions with the local council about the removal of a plaque commemorating Rhodes, erected in 1906 by a private individual on a property it owns.
“Its wording is a political tribute, and the College believes its continuing display on Oriel property is inconsistent with our principles,” it said.
The statement added that the statue raised more complex issues and that “in the absence of any context or explanation, it can be seen as an uncritical celebration of a controversial figure, and the colonialism and the oppression of black communities he represents.”
The college said that it plans to start a six-month “listening exercise” in February to seek a range of views as it looks for “a positive way forward.”
AAP and The New York Times
Source : Canberra Times