Mapping the world's opinions

convo top image

What is the intellectual framing of the UK statues debate?

In June 2020 Bristol protestors rioting against the murder of George Floyd tore down a statue of Edward Colston. Having hauled it from its plinth, they eventually abandoned the statue in the city's harbour. Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch, viewing this as a momentous step in the fight against racism. Colston is known as the man who built Bristol. He bequeathed his enormous fortune to the city upon his death. 300 years on, the scale of his legacy is visceral in Bristol's landmarks and architecture, and the names of its schools, concert halls, streets, restaurants, pubs and cathedral. Yet, his fortune was built on slavery, leading many to argue that the statue props up institutional racism in the UK. Since Colston's toppling, activists have circulated lists of hundreds more controversial statues they say must be removed to end racial inequality. Others call this type of campaigning problematic. They view the destruction of monuments as historical whitewashing. For them, this trend is an affront to British history that does not confront the real issues at play. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

"Taking the statues down is an 'iconoclasm of the Woke!'"

We should not celebrate the destruction of our history. Taking this approach is reductive. Blaming statues for perceived "injustice" is unproductive.

Toppling statues represents a juvenile understanding of history

While we might not agree with the decisions of our forebears, we cannot escape that we have been produced by them. These violent attacks come from an angry minority who wrongly see their individual opinions as representative of wider society. This obscures the more important issue at hand. That is an understanding of history. Of course, our interpretation of events and individuals changes over time. And maintaining our monuments sustains the conversation between past and present. That is as critical for progress as any other facet of public life. The current zeitgeist for destruction is therefore myopic and immature. What is needed now is not a social revolution, but a greater understanding of how we now want to see our past, and how that will inform our future. Proponents include author James Heartfield. Explore

We are witnessing a revolution against Western civilisation

Taking down statues is a violent attack on Western history and culture. This a dangerous assault on Western civilisation. It is a furious rampage that threatens the very fabric of our societies, borne out of the same violent madness characteristic of the Khmer Rouge. This type of behaviour has existed for millennia, and led to the devastation of countless civilisations and their histories. These endings are rarely happy. And have historically been symptomatic of growing social unrest and a climate of uncertainty. Yet, iconoclasm is not the answer. We should take our attention away from these statues. This is misplaced anger, which we would do better to examine. It is as journalist Sean Thomas writes, "Where will this bizarre fury end, and how might it change us: as nations, cultures, peoples? " Explore

The statues crisis typifies the rising tide of cancel culture

We must see this movement for what it is: the latest vitriolic attack on the "right" from cancel culture activists. The statues are simply the latest victim to be deemed offensive. That is to say, they do not conform to the exaggeratedly "woke" ideals held by a violent, iconoclastic minority desperate to shut down free speech. Proponents include Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, and UnHerd journalist Giles Fraser. Explore

This is the latest battleground in the West's desperate fight for moral authority

The West has been in decline for over a century. The Empire where once the sun never set, is now a tiny island nation frequently in thrall to those it ruled over. This has been a long time coming. We are now in the midst of a culture war between those who still hold an imperialist vision of Britain, and those who see it for what is now is. We are now at the climax of this battle. Removing these statues forces us all to acknowledge our struggle for Western moral and cultural authority. Hopefully, it will be the wake up call we need to adapt our current positions, and claw back what we are fast losing. Proponents include author Frank Furedi. Explore

The fight against injustice should focus on changing the present

There is no doubt that grave social injustices exist today, and that - like anything - these inequalities have been reproduced over centuries. However, focusing the redressing of these issues on taking down inanimate statues is ineffective. The realities that non-white communities face are not the result of their monuments. It is almost offensive to focus a battle for equality on this "issue", rather than seek change through policy, political representations and other channels that exist for this purpose. The danger posed by this current movement is in its short-sightedness. What are the real issues these people are hoping to elevate? That is where the mobilisation should be focused. Proponents include journalist Sharmini Brookes and Conservative party MP Simon Brookes. Explore

This is a racist attack on the UK's helpless white majority

Many argue the statues debate is not really about statues. And they are correct. Talk of monuments obscures the obvious racial undertones of this attack against its white majority. What is truly alarming is just how acceptable this campaign of racial hatred has become. Protesters use the language of social justice to haul monuments of our ancestors into rivers. And to organise themselves into vigilante mobs set on removing every trace of Great British history from our streets. We have become powerless to defend them. It is as author Alexander Adams writes, "The current accusation is that white people are culpable for past slavery and live off the inherited spoils of imperialism. So, all white British people are guilty. Yet how can one demonise a group that comprises over 80 per cent of the entire population?" All lives matter, not just black lives, and using the language of race makes clear white lives are not as important as others. Proponents include the EDL and UK hard right nationalist groups. Explore

"This crisis is an attack on the state!"

This is not a fight about history. Nor one about injustice. The battleground here is the nation, and how it is being systematically undermined by a vigilante mob. If we give in to this brutish idealism, we lose our most precious possession: Britishness.

The toppling of statues is an aggressive attack from liberal imperialism

There is a political trend amongst liberal imperialists - those who claim that nationalism is the greatest threat of the moment - to undermine their enemies. Statues are the latest victims of their attacks. Our attention should turn to the strategic value of this latest campaign. That is to strengthen the ongoing "liberal" crusade to destabilise the nation and everything it stands for. Proponents include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Explore

The crisis is an affront to the British values we hold dear

The events unfolding now are a direct attack on the noble values the UK stands for. Tolerance, free speech and a plurality of opinion are at the very heart of what it means to be British. The fanaticism fuelling this campaign of terror is not. Reducing our long and complex national history to a story of oppression is dangerous. It it not only a false understanding of the past, but it suggests a world in which things can only ever be right or wrong. This passionate historically illiteracy is overturning British ideals. And replacing them with a wilfully ignorant culture of fear. Proponents include Director of the Free Speech Union Inaya Folarin Iman. Explore

"Taking down the statues redresses protracted injustice"

We cannot claim to stand against racial injustice, if we make no attempt to redress it.

Statues do not offer opportunity for nuanced debate

Statues cannot offer a nuanced examination of the past. They are an artwork intended to venerate. We cannot choose simply to re-imagine which aspects of a person's life these monuments celebrate. Their value in public life also makes this clear - they are decorative. Any exercise in changing their role is therefore futile as long as they remain on our streets, honouring those that built their fortunes on decimating others. It is far easier to remove these figures than expect a politicised shift in the national psyche. One which many groups will never accept. Proponents of this group include Metro journalist Namitha Aravind. Explore

The crisis forces us to confront the scourge of racism

Those who think statues do not need to be taken down are complicit in upholding institutional racism. Statues are a performance of soft power. Having them up in our streets sends a clear message to the citizens of this country about their relative importance. Their impact on race relations is felt in the lived experience of our minority communities, and the everyday micro aggressions they suffer at the hands of white communities. It is also felt in the lopsided poverty, police profiling, imprisonment and abuse faced by minority groups. Proponents include Black Lives Matter. Explore

Statues should not distract us from the real issue at hand

The statues symbolise injustice. The tearing down of Coulston's image was important, and necessary to open up a long overdue debate. We should now turn our attention to finding ways to turn those that still stand, into educational tools. There are more effective ways to do this than going from plinth to plinth dismantling past heroes. The purpose of statues is to educate. We must change the narrative around how these are perceived, by introducing plaques that tell the full stories of these controversial figures. History is valuable when it is full. Not when it is wiped out. We must not lose sight of this, and instead move towards enriching what we know. Rewriting incomplete narratives benefits no one. Proponents include Guardian columnist Martin Kettle and historian David Olusoga. Explore

We are experiencing a long overdue political resistance

For too long we have allowed institutional racism to breed in our politics and our society. Democracy has failed us. This is why we must now create alternative routes to create positive change. Taking down the statues signals an emerging resistance to this insidious problem. The call is not for revolution, it is for action. It is telling that a country whose vast wealth is built on colonisation and policies of divide and rule, has not acknowledged its past in any meaningful way until now. That is the first step to reimagining a more equal future. Explore

"We should re-imagine what these statues stand for!"

There are more productive ways to treat our statues, which neither venerate evil, nor promote a vigilante culture.

Vandalism is art

The obvious solution that stops history from being wiped out, yet highlights the wrongdoing of controversial figures, is turning them into pieces of art. That is, the vandalism itself should be seen as a piece of performative history, in which the heroes of the past face the morality of the present. Explore
This page was last edited on Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020 at 11:16 UTC