One of the most striking features of today’s culture wars is that some victims of the cancel inquisition are nevertheless producing evidence which proves that their persecutors’ claims are the reverse of the truth.Nigel Biggar, professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford university, has been venomously attacked for suggesting that the British empire was not all bad. Now, in a magisterial review for The Critic of Dan Hicks’s book Brutish Museums, Biggar has punctured the myth of “brutish” British colonialism by educating his readers in facts which are all the more startling for being almost never acknowledged in general debate.
According to Biggar, the theme of Hicks’s book is that British and western museums give expression to a militaristic vision of white supremacy through their unembarrassed display of colonial loot seized by atrocious violence. To substantiate this claim, Hicks devotes most of his time to an account of the British seizure of the famous “Benin Bronzes”. But Biggar argues that this account, trotted out time and again by those intent on showing the unique perfidy of British colonialism, is the opposite of what actually happened.
What is unarguable is that in 1897 a British naval expedition removed the Bronzes and many other artefacts after the British force attacked Benin, the capital of the Edo people in west Africa.
The prevalent Victorian explanation, writes Biggar, was that this military operation was a “punitive” expedition, launched in retaliation for the massacre the previous month of a diplomatic mission whose nine white members had been deliberately left without armaments other than revolvers. Once Benin City had been taken, regime-change was justified in part because the old regime had been bound up with religious practices that included human sacrifice as well as with slavery.
By contrast, Hicks claims that the British had long been planning to invade Benin for economic reasons, and their invasion was marked by indiscriminate and wanton violence in which tens of thousands of Edo were slaughtered.
Biggar writes that, while Hicks is morally neutral and indulgent toward African culture, he is unforgiving towards Britain. He brushes aside the reports of human sacrifice in Benin, and gives no credit to the British for abolishing slavery in the empire. Writes Biggar:
The possibility that the eradication of African slavery might ever have required and justified British domination is never considered.
What is remarkable about this review is that Biggar then proceeds to shred Hicks’s claims through a methodical and scrupulous reading of the relevant sources. He shows, for example, that one such source cited by Hicks actually contradicts the book’s claim that the British had long planned an invasion of Benin, an assertion that Biggar further exposes as internally incoherent.
Hicks’s pooh-poohing of the reported prior massacre of the British diplomatic mission is contradicted, Biggar goes on, by first-hand testimony. As for the assertion that tens of thousands of Edo were massacred, Biggar writes that Hicks effectively “plucked” this figure from apparently nowhere. And the book’s claim that Benin was wantonly sacked through fire flies in the face of more first-hand testimony that the British had tried to avoid the conflagration that occurred. Biggar goes on:
As for the Bronzes, these were removed as “spoils of war”. But this was not “looting’” understood as the unauthorised seizure of items for private purposes by troops running amok, which was outlawed. At Benin Admiral Rawson took care to reserve all the major items as Government property.
As Biggar concludes:
We all have to make sense of data and construct a coherent story. And in constructing that story, our moral and political convictions are bound to play an organising role. But intellectual honesty obliges us not to avert our eyes from, or misrepresent, data that does not suit our prejudices.
Biggar’s crushing review is an example of the kind of rigorous scholarship which is being increasingly lost from academia. However, the replacement of evidence by propaganda isn’t just taking place on campus.
A few days after Biggar’s review was published, the American writer Heather MacDonald, who specialises in covering race and policing, provided a similar object- lesson in the rapidly disappearing discipline of evidence-based journalism. In an article for Quillette, MacDonald punctured the myth of white supremacy and racist police brutality that is remorselessly pumped out in the US by Democrat politicians, activists and their media patsies.
Analysing the reaction to two mass shootings within a few days of each other last month, one at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado where ten people were killed and the other in three massage parlours in Atlanta, Georgia, where eight people were killed, MacDonald wrote that both events triggered an instantaneous judgment by the media, Democratic politicians and activists — that the slaughters were the result of white supremacy, and that white Americans were the biggest threat facing the US.
All this was wildly wrong. The Boulder attacker was not a white supremacist but a Syrian-American. When this was discovered the Democrats, activists and media went strangely quiet. But over the Atlanta shootings, their false narrative persisted.
That was because six of the eight victims of the white-skinned Atlanta shooter, Robert Aaron Long, were Asians. This immediately unleashed a predictable hue and cry about white supremacist racism against Asians in America. But as MacDonald wrote:
The problem with this interpretation was that there was no evidence to support it. Long told the police that he had targeted the three Atlanta spas to purge himself of his lust and his addiction to pornography. This explanation is wholly credible. All three establishments have been investigated for prostitution, and Long had frequented at least two of them. Customer reviews of the massage parlours attest to their provision of sexual services. Long has said nothing about Asian responsibility for the coronavirus. Indeed, if he were upset by a supposed connection between Asians and the pandemic, one would expect him to have avoided close contact with Asians.
By all accounts, Long was tormented by an inability to control his sexual thoughts and behaviour, which he believed to be a violation of his Christian faith. He also said nothing about hatred of Asians per se. Perhaps a revelation of anti-Asian animus will emerge, but for now, Long appears to have targeted presumed sex workers who happened, given the demographics of the massage trade in Atlanta, to be Asian. Long intended to target a business in Florida next that made pornography, he told police. The employees there were unlikely to be Asian.
Yet even when this was made known, the Democrats, activists and media continued to pump out the “white racism against Asians” line. As MacDonald wrote:
The most striking aspect of these untruths is the fact that they were fabricated in plain sight and in open defiance of reality.
Even more striking, however, was MacDonald’s own devastating coda. For as she observed, there had indeed been a string of street attacks on Asians, most of them elderly. The details of these attacks, which she laid out, were shocking and repellent. But here was the kicker:
In fact, the suspects in all of these cases were black; the news reports rarely mentioned that detail. Had the suspects been white, their race would have led each news report, as it did for Robert Aaron Long. A former member of the Oakland police department’s robbery undercover suppression team tells me that this racial pattern of attack and its lack of coverage is longstanding. No one cares about Asian robbery victims, he says. “We used to follow around elderly Asians, waiting for the bad guys to start circling. This has been one of my long-term frustrations. They are pretending to care now but ironically blaming it on white supremacy”— even though the suspects in Asian robbery attacks are almost exclusively, in this cop’s experience, black.
The New York Police Department compiles the most extensive data on hate crimes in the country. These data confirm the Oakland officer’s observation. A black New Yorker is over six times as likely to commit a hate crime against an Asian as a white New Yorker, according to New York Police Department data. In 2020, blacks made up 50 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in New York City, even though blacks are 24 percent of the city’s population. Whites made up 10 percent of all suspects in anti-Asian attacks in 2020 in New York City but account for 32 percent of the city’s population. If we include black Hispanics in the black category, blacks account for 60 percent of all anti-Asian attacks in 2020.
Yet these publicly available facts made not a dent in the claim that the Atlanta atrocity demonstrated white racism against American Asians.
In similar vein, I wrote here last week about the vilification of Tony Sewell, whose commission on racial prejudice in Britain had the effrontery to point out that, while racism still existed, there was scant evidence of “institutional racism”. Worse, it said that people of colour were not the most disadvantaged population group and had actually made enormous strides in British society.
So how could the commission possibly have arrived at such a conclusion, in defiance of what we are now told 24/7 is the unchallengeable truth about white privilege and black victimisation in Britain? Why, through the shocking tactic of studying the actual evidence!
For this shows that the numerically largest disadvantaged group in Britain are low-income white boys, and that some ethnic groups do better than others. When it comes to young people getting into higher education by age 19, the Chinese top the list followed by black Africans, Indians and those from mixed-race backgrounds, with black Caribbeans way down the list and white British at the very bottom.
At one fell swoop, therefore, the commission had destroyed the racial libel of “white privilege”.
Like Nigel Biggar and Heather MacDonald, Tony Sewell’s principal offence was to look honestly and objectively at the facts. If more people in positions of cultural and political authority had the courage and moral integrity to do the same thing, instead of parroting, endorsing or turning a blind eye to the propaganda that now masquerades as information and education, we’d quickly get back to scholarship, truth and sanity.
But they don’t; and so we won’t, not any time soon.
Melanie Phillips is a British journalist, broadcaster and author - you can follow her work on her website HERE.