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

Intellectuals like Achebe always knew that there is a good chance they would not be alive but for the public health and nutrition improvements under colonialism. He was also deeply aware that it was the opportunities for publication, travel, income generation, and even residency in the West that had made their intellectual vocation possible. There was a certain maturity and humanity in their thinking about colonialism. Yet as time has passed, their children had become monomaniacal anti-colonial critics.

For radicals in the Third World, the psychological attractions of anti-colonialism are obvious. It builds group solidarity, offers a story of victimisation and entitlement, and distracts attention from the business at hand. Yet this “protest” identity, as the black St. Lucian economist W. Arthur Lewis called it, has slowly been losing ground to what he called the “creative” identity that views the colonial past as a resource and a proud inheritance. That was the topic of my previous article in the TWQ, “The Rise of the Creative Third World.” I suspect that much of the vitriol this time was not just the fear of uncorking the bottle of research that shows the many benefits of colonialism. It was the fear that these “loudmouthed minorities” are no longer able to bully their kinsmen into silence on the question of colonialism.

These contradictions are nowhere better illustrated than in the person of Vijay Prashad, a devoted Communist from Bengal and professor of international studies at Trinity College in Connecticut. Prashad was the member of the TWQ editorial board who led the revolutionary uprising demanding that the article be airbrushed and all involved punished. “I told the managing editor that if [the journal] does not retract this essay, I will resign from the editorial board,” he tweeted on September 11. After charges of censorship arose, he hummed and hawed. The TWQ, Prashad tweeted, “was started as an intellectual venue for anti-colonial thought, to build ideas against colonialism”. He also said it was “the home . . . of values against this essay”. The article could have been published elsewhere or sent to “the gutter”. Later: “Our ideas must be debated, but not in terms set by the imperialist mindset. We must set the terms of the debate.”

“We must set the terms of the debate.” This was Lenin’s view of the proper role of the party-run media. Like Dabashi, Prashad is happy to live in the West and make extensive use of its freedoms and its capitalist resources, all the while working feverishly to replace them with some failed experiment. The American magazine the Weekly Standard referred to the attacks on my article as the “thugs’ veto”. The word “thug” comes from the Hindi word “thuggees”, referring to the mobs who terrorised northern India after the collapse of the Mughal dynasty before British rule banned them in 1835 and created a stable framework for a new nation to emerge. India, of course, has been a major source of anti-colonial ideology since independence — its biggest export to the West as the joke goes. But it is the heirs of the money-grubbing lower castes who rather liked colonial rule that now rule the roost in Delhi.

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July 23rd, 2018
3:07 PM
@sam butler great blog. @Bruce Gilley: hero. You sir have given me a new direction in life. A new respect for my ancestors and myself. I am a proud barbarian and I will build the hoard. Fear us.

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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