A right royal own goal

From dreaming spire to football pitch, muddled folk are losing the cultural plot

Yet another academic institution has revealed the alarming erosion of its students’ capacity to think intelligently and their corresponding eagerness to replace evidence by propaganda.

The “middle common room” (MCR) at Magdalen college, Oxford, which serves the college’s graduate students, has decided to remove a colourised print of a 1952 portrait of the Queen, which has hung on its walls since 2013, because she “represents recent colonial history”. 

The common room’s committee supported a motion put forward by the MCR’s American president Matthew Katzmann, who previously attended Stanford university and the exclusive Sidwell Friends high school. The motion, whose minutes were obtained by the Guido Fawkes website, said:  

The Queen represents an institution responsible for much of colonialism throughout history and the modern era, and these depictions cause some students discomfort.

Katzmann said later that the picture was being taken down to create 

a welcoming, neutral place for all members regardless of background, demographic, or views. 

Clearly, Matthew Katzmann doesn’t understand the first thing about the British monarchy, colonialism or the world.

The British empire ran from the 17th century to around halfway through the 20th century, when British colonialism ended.  The world has been ruled by empires and colonisers throughout its history. Have these Magdalen students never heard of the Roman Empire? Or the Ottoman empire? Or the colonial empires of Spain and Portugal? To say the British monarchy was “responsible for much of colonialism throughout history” is ignorance on stilts.

The Queen has nothing to do with colonialism. Instead she leads the Commonwealth, an association of independent sovereign nations. As monarch of the United Kingdom, she is above politics and the ideological debates that so rile us. Indeed, the monarchy is truly neutral because it represents the entire nation. As the supreme symbol of unity, the Queen is the very embodiment of inclusivity. Yet an Oxford college common room has said some of its members won’t feel welcome as a result of having to see this symbol of the nation.

Katzmann’s motion is thus not only ignorant but an act of gross disrespect, not just to the Queen but to the nation she embodies and whose ultimate symbol it has thus slandered.

Although the motion was reportedly passed by a substantial majority, some students at the meeting warned:  

…it is culturally insensitive for a common room so heavily comprised of international students to seek to remove a national symbol from a British institution. The cultural heritage of all nations has the right to be respected, and a common room that does not do so cannot claim to be inclusive.

So at least some of these graduate students haven’t lost the cultural plot.

The common room’s action reflects badly on Magdalen itself, and the reaction by the college has made this even worse. Its president, Dinah Rose QC, has tweeted that the MCR’s graduate students 

don’t represent the college,

that both the decision to put the picture up and take it down

are their own to take 

and that  

being a student is about more than studying. It’s about exploring and debating ideas. It’s sometimes about provoking the older generation.

Does anyone think Magdalen would take such a laid-back, hands-off approach if the MCR had put up a grossly racially offensive picture? Would that be smiled upon as “provoking” people, or would it be viewed with horror as reflecting badly on the college itself?

I think we know the answer to that.

Of course students are entitled to their views. Of course they are entitled to decorate their common room as they wish. 

And the rest of us are of course entitled to conclude from this episode that the elite education of such people is worse than worthless; and that a college which fails to call out this behaviour as stupid, ignorant and offensive itself deserves contempt (but not the threats and obscenities that have been coming its way as a result of this row). 

Cancelling the Queen’s picture is just one more spasm from those intent on demonising Britain and the west as being colonialist and imperialist, intrinsically and for ever and all time. Damning all westerners as guilty of “white privilege” as a consequence, this attitude — posing in Orwellian fashion as “anti-racism” — itself represents pure racial bigotry in slandering an entire ethnic group on the basis of the colour of their skin.

This poisonous confusion has spread to football. Last Sunday, there were boos and jeers from some home fans as England’s football squad “took the knee” to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement before the Euros’ warm-up games against Romania and Austria.

This gesture, which the England side intends to repeat, has been strongly defended by the team’s manager, Gareth Southgate. On the back of that controversy, he has written a disingenuous piece which is ostensibly a patriotic paean to England, which he appears to elide with Britain.

He reflects on the importance to himself of “Queen and country”, his pride in his country and his affinity to the military service in its name. There’s no reason to doubt his sincerity.

But what he is advocating, as an extension of that pride, is something very different. He is advocating the politicisation of football. 

England players, he says, are role models. And so they should not just “stick to football”. Instead, it seems, they should turn themselves into social justice warriors. He writes: 

It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.

But every one of these concepts is deeply contested. The England football team is a force for uniting people. Putting these debates on the table, as Southgate advocates, is inescapably to divide people. These are concepts that properly belong in the political and cultural bear-pit. What on earth have they got to do with football?

Displaying similar shallowness and confusion, Southgate seems to think that “taking the knee” is merely to express support for anti-racism. There should indeed be no place whatever for racism in sport — such as the disgusting, racially bigoted and antisemitic chants that disfigure too many football terraces. 

But “taking the knee” is not a gesture against racial bigotry at all. It’s a gesture of support for Black Lives Matter. This is an organisation pledged to destroy the west — the activist front of a wider movement which accuses westerners of “white privilege,” and behaves like a combination of the Spanish Inquisition and the Soviet Union in requiring white people to confess to the crime of their very existence. This way of thinking is not “anti-racist”. It is profoundly racially prejudiced and totalitarian.

As a result of these gestures, both Magdalen college and the England team have been subjected to social media harassment and threats. This behaviour is utterly reprehensible. Unfortunately, however, it is now standard practice in what passes today for public discourse, and is suffered by virtually anyone who puts his or her head above a contentious parapet.

Despite this fact, there is a tendency for some who find themselves in an indefensible position through their own actions to leverage the resulting attacks upon them to pose as righteous victims and thus deflect uncomfortable scrutiny. 

Appalling as these social media attacks are, they should not be used to silence legitimate and necessary criticism of people who are eroding rationality and decency, thus helping to close still further the western mind.

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