Britain has reached a bleak turning point. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that the very fabric of our civilisation is under threat.
By caving in to the censorious mob, and giving the green light to the removal of its statue of Cecil Rhodes, Oxford University has taken a wrecking ball to Britain’s traditions of pluralism, tolerance and freedom.
It is, of course, possible to make a perfectly rational argument for the demise of Rhodes’s statue outside Oriel College.
He was, after all, an aggressive colonialist and empire-builder, fixated by theories about white superiority.
Oxford University has taken a wrecking ball to Britain’s traditions of pluralism, tolerance and freedom by approving the removal of its Cecil Rhodes statue (pictured)
Yet the proposed removal of this statue has a significance far beyond the act itself.
For it is ultimately symbolic of a new climate of ideological fervour and bullying fanaticism which is wholly un-British.
In the vengeful quest to impose today’s progressive values by smashing relics of the past, there is more than a whiff of Cultural Revolution in the air.
The great 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke, commenting on the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, wrote that ‘rage and frenzy will tear down in half-an-hour more than prudence, deliberation and foresight can build in a hundred years’.
There is an echo of that destructive mood in Britain today. And it is informed by a profound sense of historical illiteracy.
Like Rhodes himself, the story of Britain is richly complex, featuring episodes of glory and shame.
It cannot be reduced to a simplistic narrative of oppression and exploitation in order to justify a wave of cultural vandalism.
Those who now see our past as nothing but a tale of ignominy should recognise that it was Britain that invented parliamentary democracy, pioneered the concept of equality before the law through Magna Carta – and abolished the slave trade.
Sadly, our education system is failing miserably in this task. Ignorance and indoctrination have replaced the mission to understand.
The climate of relentless censorship at our universities – reflected in so-called ‘trigger warnings’ about potentially ‘offensive’ texts, demands for ‘safe spaces’ on campuses, and the ‘no-platforming’ of speakers with supposedly heretical views – has now spread right across our civic life.
And don’t be fooled. The demolition crew will not be satiated with the removal of Rhodes’s statue. Drunk with power, they will move on to other targets.
Memorials to Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria and even the Fabian socialist HG Wells are already in the firing line.
Cecil Rhodes’ statue isn’t the only one in danger of being pulled down – Queen Victoria, Fabian socialist HG Wells and Winston Churchill (pictured)’s monuments are in the firing line
Meanwhile, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has set up a ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’ – a body that sounds like Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution – to review all the capital’s landmarks for their politically correct acceptability.
Already TV programmes such as Little Britain and films including Gone With The Wind have been dropped by channels due to their politically incorrect content. Books, paintings, journals and plays are certain to be targeted soon.
Today’s wreckers are just like the witchfinders of the 17th century, righteously searching for signs of dissent against their creed, or the commissars of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, rooting out thought crimes.
Such a sinister approach is the very antithesis of British democracy, which is meant to cherish open debate and freedom of speech.
But that hasn’t stopped far-Left rabbles from being allowed to set the political agenda, using the menace of intimidation and accusations of collective guilt to further their power.
Rather than question why the protests embrace every form of diversity but diversity of opinion, politicians endlessly appease instead of upholding democratic principles.
‘I celebrate these acts of resistance,’ cried Labour MP Nadia Whittome after the recent fall of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, as if Britain was under the rule of an occupying power.
Some senior police officers have even shown their subjugation by ‘taking the knee’, as Alan Pughsley, Chief Constable of Kent, did last week.
How do we counter this? We need far greater statesmanship from our leaders. If a Conservative Party with an 80-seat majority cannot bring itself to defend these foundational principles, it’s difficult to know in what way they are truly conservative.
More insidiously, it means that the ‘silent majority’ of the country remain voiceless and unsure of themselves in the face of this cultural onslaught.
What also depresses me is that, for all the virtuous zeal from activists, the physical erasure of statues like Rhodes’ will do nothing to address genuine social injustices.
Yes, the outrage of most students over discrimination or poverty or police brutality is heartfelt.
But not a single black life will be improved by the departure of Rhodes from Oxford’s civic landscape.
The outrage of most students over discrimination or poverty or police brutality is heartfelt, but not a single black life will be improved by the taking down of Rhodes’ statue
On the contrary, I fear this one-sided war on Britain’s past will actually poison race relations.
Using toxic identity politics to build an atmosphere of fear and resentment is a sure-fire recipe for division, not cohesion.
Today’s self-styled ‘progressives’ paint modern Britain as a land scarred by bigotry and hate. But just the opposite is true.
Over recent decades, this country has made tremendous advances in building a multi-racial society. That success is precisely why so many migrants want to settle here – 677,000 in the last year alone.
How grimly ironic that the biggest danger to continued progress now comes from the deluded social justice warriors and their petulant, divisive crusade.
Inaya Folarin Iman is a director of the Free Speech Union