The Daily Telegraph, 25 September, Robert Tombs
Something strange has been happening in the English speaking world for several years. We might call it “cultural appropriation”: rewriting our history to fit a new agenda. He who controls the present controls the past, as George Orwell noted; and he who controls the past controls the future. Orwell saw it happening under Stalin, a ruthless practitioner but not the inventor. The manipulation of history for political purposes is one of mankind’s oldest cultural practices. Priests and kings did it. So did political parties, especially the Whigs. And today, a progressive establishment is busily creating a new orthodoxy.
Sometimes the rewriting seems innocuous, even infantile. Claiming that soldiers from Rome’s North African provinces stationed on Hadrian’s Wall were black, or that black people were here during the Stone Age is doubtless a well-meaning attempt to make certain ethnic minorities feel at home, though surely there are less patronising ways to achieve it. But rewriting has a more sinister side. Political activism, careerism, and big money are linked.
In the words of Lord Sumption, the aim is “a political programme for the modern day, supported by a highly selective approach to the past which sees everything through the prism of race”. Perhaps the worst scandal has been in Canada, where claims that schools established a century ago for indigenous children engaged in “genocide” – accusations for which no proof has been produced — led to international humiliation, with the Chinese, of all people, condemning Canada’s human rights record.
Millions of dollars are being handed out to those claiming to be victims. Historians bold enough to investigate the accusations have been stigmatised by colleagues, and the justice minister has even hinted at criminalising “denialism”. In Australia, an almost identical allegation has just surfaced, again so far without evidence. In both cases, the political and financial interests of some activists and their patrons are advanced by extreme accusations that few dare to question.
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