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How the hate mob tried to silence me
December 2017 / January 2018

My home institution did not acquit itself well. This is not surprising. Whole departments — especially our new “School of Gender, Race, and Nations” — are already branded with a certain ideological stamp. The question for them is not whether but how to attack colonialism and “decolonise” everything they can lay hands on. Yet in recent years, as the bioethicist Alice Dreger has written, this ideological branding has extended to universities as a whole. This creates problems when off-message faculty slip through the hiring and tenure process unnoticed and then go on to publish research with diverse viewpoints. My university’s first response was to quote contract language to the effect that I could not be fired. When I self-censored, they rushed to thank me. It is no small irony that our new president is an exile of the Iranian Revolution saved from being returned by Jimmy Carter’s amnesty for students studying in the US. You’d think he would have spoken up.

Predictably, the critics decided that I was a racist and white supremacist. This has become something of a compliment, as it was a compliment for a moderate liberal to be labelled a “Commie” by a fanatic of the Right during the Cold War. In today’s coded language, a white supremacist is someone who believes that what Naipaul called the “universal civilisation currently led by the West” is the cornerstone of global human flourishing. Count me in. Also count in hundreds of public intellectuals in the Third World who have long espoused a closer integration with the West as the best pathway to modernity. The Great Chief of Luanda told the governor of the Belgian Congo in 1959 to resist the “loud-mouthed minorities” who would “again plunge our country into the poverty and misery of the past” with their demands for sudden independence. I guess the Great Chief of Luanda was a white supremacist too.

Most of all, it was the intellectual vacuity of the mobs that surprised, and discouraged. The colonial encounter was huge, epochal, varied and complex. To reduce it to a bumper sticker is worse than wrong, it is dull. Any great intellectual who actually lived through that period — like Achebe — rendered it in varied hues. They understood that it was not a tweet, an act; it was a confluence of world-historical forces that no one could control. The rise of the West; the Stone Age development of much of the Rest; the impossible interactions; the bitterness; the attempt to work together; the enduring rift. To say, as I did, that colonialism was mostly good, in the economic and social sense of the word, is merely to state the obvious. The University of Edinburgh’s Neil Thin wrote that anti-colonial ideologues have lost the ability to actually learn from history — “appreciative history” as he calls it — so intent they are on whipping it into submission.

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January 6th, 2018
5:01 PM
According to the journal website the article went through double blind peer review. HELLER DOES NOT MENTION THIS IN HIS COMMENT ABOVE.

Prof. Kevin Heller
December 27th, 2017
11:12 AM
Not surprisingly, the author fails to mention that, according to the 15 members of TWQ's Editorial Board that resigned, the article did not pass peer review, but was in fact rejected by three separate reviewers, including one that was given the essay after it had already been rejected by the editors of the Special issue in question.

Prof. Kevin Jon Heller
December 27th, 2017
8:12 AM
Call me crazy, but ignoring all of the substantive criticism of the essay and arguing "some of my best friends are colonial peoples" might not be the most effective rhetorical strategy.

Sam Butler
December 20th, 2017
3:12 PM
I'm grateful to Bruce Gilley for his bravery. Here's a minor contribution to the debate:

Lawrence Jamess
December 5th, 2017
8:12 AM
I have encountered many Indians who appreciate the value of British rule. Its denigrators are most Indian academics who have created a cosy myth of a stable progressive pre-imperial sib-continent. One assumes, perhaps wickedly, that they would be happy to see the return of dacoits, the cults of thagi and sati, and the rule of a Muslim dynasty,

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