The Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford's Oriel College
FPI / June 30, 2020
What would Rhodes scholars like former President Bill Clinton think?
A letter allegedly written in the name of Oriel College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford, excoriating students involved in the movement to remove the college's statue of Cecil Rhodes is circulating on social media and by email.
The letter, posted on a public Facebook group called Jacob Rees-Mogg Back-Up Group, opposes the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and Black Lives Matter movement.
Several news articles debunking the letter have been featured by Google but did not publish its content. The OxfordMail reached out in vain to the college for comment.
The complete letter appears below.
It says in part: "This ludicrous notion you have that a bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed from Oriel College, because it’s symbolic of 'institutional racism' and 'white slavery.' Well even if it is – which we dispute – so bloody what?' "
It also states: "Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to squander your time at Oxford on silly, vexatious, single-issue political campaigns.... We are well used to seeing undergraduates – or, in your case – postgraduates, making idiots of themselves. Just don’t expect us to indulge your idiocy, let alone genuflect before it."
Rhodes was a mining magnate who founded the De Beers Group diamond company.
As well as funding Oriel College, he also bankrolled the Rhodes Trust, which has offered scholarships to generations of students from the U.S. and elsewhere to study at Oxford. Notable Rhodes scholars include former President Bill Clinton, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and writer Naomi Wolf.
Rhodes attended Oriel in the 1870s and left a large sum of money to the college in his will. Each year, 83 international students are selected to study at Oxford under the scholarship that bears his name.
Chris Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, has told students involved in the campaign to remove the Rhodes statue that they must be prepared to embrace freedom of thought or "think about being educated elsewhere."
The governors of Oriel College want the statue removed. Thousands of people, inspired by global Black Lives Matter demonstrations, have protested in front of the statue, arguing it is a symbol of racism that should be removed, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"In South Africa, he [Rhodes] built a vastly profitable industry in part through exploiting African miners. Two British territories were named after him, becoming Zambia and Zimbabwe after independence. Upon his death he gave a large chunk of his wealth away," the Journal noted.
Some donors to the college and senior members of the university have pushed back, saying it is hypocritical to tear down the statue while benefiting from Rhodes’s financial legacy.
“We need to keep the pressure up to ensure the decision translates into action,” said Mia Liyanage, an Oxford student who campaigns against the statue and wants it placed in a museum. "Rhodes is the first icon to fall."
Patten accused students who had criticized Rhodes of trying to shut down debate. He said that by failing to face up to historical facts which they did not like, students were not abiding by the values of a liberal, open society that "tolerates freedom of speech across the board."
Patten told the Today program on BBC Radio 4: "But if people at a university are not prepared to demonstrate the sort of generosity of spirit which Nelson Mandela showed towards Rhodes and towards history, if they are not prepared to embrace all those values which are contained in the most important book for any undergraduate, Karl Popper’s Open Society, if they are not prepared to embrace those issues then maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere. But I hope they will embrace those issues and engage in debate."
Patten styled the objections to Rhodes as along the lines of the “safe spaces” policies adopted on many university campuses in Britain and the U.S., which critics have said are used to suppress debate on a range of issues.
“That focus on Rhodes is unfortunate but it’s an example of what’s happening in American campuses and British campuses,” Patten said. “One of the points of a university – which is not to tolerate intolerance, to engage in free inquiry and debate – is being denied. People have to face up to facts in history which they don’t like and talk about them and debate them.”
He added: “Can you imagine a university where there is no platform? I mean a bland diet of bran to feed people, it’s an absolutely terrible idea. If you want universities like that you go to China where they are not allowed to talk about western values, which I regard as global values. No, it’s not the way a university should operate.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attended Oxford, hasn’t weighed in on the debate about Rhodes specifically but recently tweeted that tearing down statues “would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”
Daniel Hannan, a former politician who attended Oriel College, accused it of “an act of stunning ingratitude,” adding that the protesters don’t fully understand Rhodes’s legacy and are simply rebelling against him as a symbol of something they don’t like. “It is pretty unacceptable when a university humors that approach,” he said. He said he had canceled his regular donation to the college because it backed removing the statue.
Oxford graduate Husayn Kassai, who founded tech company Onfido, wants the statue gone and said he would make up any shortfall of donations that arises from ripping it down. “I don’t want them to worry about sponsors retaliating if they do take action,” he said.
On his death in 1902, Rhodes left Oriel College £100,000 in his will — worth millions today — part of which was used to construct a new building on Oxford’s main street. In 1911, the building was completed with a number of statues, including one of Rhodes himself. A plaque was also placed outside a house in Oxford where Rhodes once lived. Rhodes’s will didn’t stipulate a statue or plaque be put up.
The Wall Street Journal noted: "Rhodes’s legacy isn’t clear-cut. Critics say he embedded racial segregation in South Africa that laid the foundations of its apartheid system. In 1877 he wrote, 'I contend that [the British] are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.' But he established the Rhodes scholarships on the basis that no one could be excluded 'on account of race or religious opinion.' Nelson Mandela joined forces with the Rhodes Trust in 2003 to form a foundation to help disadvantaged South Africans."
The letter in its entirety:
Dear Scrotty Students,
Cecil Rhode's generous bequest has contributed greatly to the comfort and well being of many generations of Oxford students--a good many of them--dare we say it, better, brighter and more deserving than you. This does not necessarily mean we approve of everything Rhodes did in his lifetime--but then we don't have to. Cecil Rhodes died over a century ago. Autres temps, autres mouers. If you don't understand what this means--and it would not remotely surprise us if that were the case--then we really think you should ask yourself: "Why am I at Oxford?"
Oxford, let us remind you, is the world's second oldest extant university. Scholars have been studying here since at least the 11th century. We've played a major part in the invention of Western civilization, from the 12th century intellectual Renaissance through the Enlightenment and beyond. O u r alumni include William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, William Tyndale, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, Erasmus, Sir Christopher Wren, William Penn, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Samuel Johnson, Robert Hooke, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, Emily Davison, Cardinal Newman, Julie Cocks. We're a big deal. And most of the people privileged to come and study here are conscious of what a big deal we are. Oxford is their alma mater--their dear mother--and they respect and revere her accordingly.
And what were your ancestors doing in the period? Living in mud huts, mainly. Sure, we'll concede to you the short-lived Southern African civilisation of Great Zimbabwe. But let's be brutally honest here. The contribution of the Bantu tribes to modern civilisation has been as near "damn it" as to "zilch."
You'll probably say that's "racist." But it's what we at Oxford prefer to call "truth." Perhaps rules are different at other universities. In fact, we know things are different at other universities. We've watched with horror at what has been happening across the pond from the University of Missouri to the University of Virginia and even to revered institutions like Harvard and Yale: the "safe spaces"; the? #? blacklivesmatter; the creeping cultural relativism, the stifling political correctness; and what Allan Bloom rightly called "the closing of the American mind." At Oxford, however, we will always prefer facts and free, open debate to petty grievance-mongering identity politics and empty sloganeering. The day we cease to do so is the day we lose the right to call ourselves the world's greatest university.
Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to squander your time at Oxford on silly, vexatious, single-issue political campaigns. (Though it does make us wonder how stringent the vetting procedure is these days for Rhodes scholarships, and even more so for Mandela Rhodes scholarships). We are well used to seeing undergraduates--or in your case, postgraduates, making idiots of themselves. Just don't expect us to indulge in your idiocy, let alone genuflect before it.
You may be black--"BME" as the modern terminology has it--but we are colour blind. We have been educating gifted undergraduates from our former colonies, our Empire, our Commonwealth and beyond for many generations. We do not discriminate over sex, race, colour, or creed. We do, however, discriminate according to intellect.
This means, inter alia, that when our undergrads or postgrads come up with fatuous ideas, we don't pat them on the back and say, "Ooh, you're from South Africa. What a clever chap you are!" No we prefer to see the quality of those ideas tested in the crucible of public debate. That's another key part of the Oxford intellectual tradition: you can argue any damn thing you like but you need to be able to justify it with facts and logic--otherwise your idea is worthless.
Your ludicrous notion that a bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed from Oriel College because it's a symbol of "institutionalized racism" and "white slavery"--well, even if it is--which we dispute--so bloody what??? Any undergraduate so feeble that they can't pass by a bronze statue without having their "safe space" violated does not deserve to be here. And besides, if we were to remove Rhodes' statue on the premise that his life wasn't blemish free, where would we stop?
As one of our alumni, Dan Hannan, has pointed out, Oriel's other benefactors include two kings so awful--Edward II and Charles I--that their subjects had them killed. The college opposite--Christ Church--was built by a murderous, thieving bully who bumped off two of his wives. Thomas Jefferson kept slaves: does that invalidate the US Constitution? Winston Churchill had unenlightened views about Malians and India: was he then the the wrong man to lead Britain in the war?
Actually, we'll go further than that. Your "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign is not merely fatuous but ugly, vandalistic and dangerous. We agree with Oxford historian RW Johnson that what you are trying to do here is no different from what ISIS and the Al-Qaeda have been doing to artifacts in places like Mali and Syria. You are murdering history!
And who are you anyway to be lecturing Oxford University on how it should order its affairs? Your "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign, we understand, originates in South Africa and was initiated by a black activist who lectured "whites have to be killed." One of you --Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh--is the privileged son of a rich politician and a member of a party whose slogan is "Kill the Boer; Kill the Farmer." Another of you, Ntokozo Qwabe, who is only in Oxford as a beneficiary of an Oxford scholarship, boasts about the need for "socially conscious black students" to "dominate white universities ruthlessly and decisively!"
Great. That's just what Oxford University needs--some cultural enrichment from the land of Winnie Mandela, burning tyre necklaces and an AIDS epidemic almost entirely the result of government indifference and ignorance, one of the world's highest per capita murder rates, institutionalised corruption, tribal politics, anti-white racism, and a collapsing economy. Which of the above items will enhance the lives of the 22,000 students studying here at Oxford?
And then please explain what it is that makes your attention-grabbing campaign to remove a listed statue from an Oxford college more urgent, more deserving than the desire of at least 20,000 of the 22,000 Oxford students to enjoy their time here unhampered by the irritation of spoilt, ungrateful little tossers on scholarships they clearly don't merit while trying to win the life and fabric of our beloved university.
Understand us and understand this clearly: you have everything to learn from us; we have nothing to learn from you!
Oriel College, Oxford
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