If you still think we live in a free country, you are an incurable romantic. This isn’t an accusation that’s often levelled against me, but even I sometimes sound unduly optimistic.
For example, I often say that Britain is moving towards totalitarianism. Wrong tense, ladies and gentlemen. Totalitarianism isn’t coming. As the treatment of Prof. Starkey shows, it’s already here.
The eminent Tudor historian has lost all his academic positions and publishing contracts (including for two books about to come out) over his video link interview on BLM.
“You cannot decolonise the curriculum because you, Black Lives Matter, are wholly and entirely a product of white colonisation,” said Prof. Starkey, which alone would have sufficed to nail him to the woke cross. But he didn’t stop there.
The viewing public, and the institutions that kowtow to it, were also appalled by another statement: “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?”.
Hysterical shrieks greeted both the substance of this statement and its form. But then of course spittle-sputtering convulsions have become the preferred tool of intellectual debate.
Do his detractors think that even if the British Empire had never existed, or collapsed, we’d still have some seven million people of African or Asian origin living here? Taking paroxysms of shamanistic, ideological fury out of it, this part of Prof. Starkey’s interview seems factually unassailable.
Or do those publishers and academics believe slavery actually was genocide? One would think that those chaps would display more intellectual rigour than that.
All genocide is mass murder, but not all mass murder is genocide. The relevant terminology and the thinking behind it were introduced by the late Prof. Rummel in his seminal books Lethal Politics and Murder by Government.
He distinguishes between democide and genocide. The former is ideological mass murder by category, usually class or political affiliation. The latter is mass murder by ethnic, racial or religious category, with mere belonging to one such qualifying people for annihilation.
First, neither slavery nor colonialism involved mass murder by definition, either democide or genocide. Regardless of how reprehensible they may be in other respects, both exercises mostly aimed at using cheap labour for pecuniary gain.
Murdering cheap labour en masse would have rather defeated the purpose, don’t you think? That would be akin to buying a stable full of Arab thoroughbreds and then slaughtering them all.
There’s no doubt that many Africans died in, for example, the Zulu Wars, but those were indeed wars, and people do get killed. We may regard those wars as unjust, but they’re still a far cry from systematic murder by category.
Genocides in Africa have always been committed by other Africans. For example, in 1972 the Tutsi majority in Burundi murdered a quarter-million Hutus. In 1994, the Hutu majority in Rwanda got its own back by murdering about a million Tutsis. Nothing like that can be put at the door of the British Empire.
Except it is. Assorted intellectually challenged fanatics claim that Africans resort to genocide (which since the end of Western colonialism has claimed between 10 and 20 million lives) because they were thoroughly brutalised by the colonisers.
That line of thought betokens the kind of racism Prof. Starkey would never countenance. For the implication is that black Africans aren’t free moral agents endowed with free will. This effectively denies their humanity, which goes against every known take on basic decency, even of the secular kind.
Speaking of Rwanda, it figures in one typical comment on Prof. Starkey’s transgression. Would he “feel similarly,” asks the commentator, “about the Armenian, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides?”
Khmer Rouge perpetrated not genocide but democide in Cambodia – 2.5 million Khmers (out of the population of eight million) were murdered not because of their ethnicity, but because Pol Pot and his gang had studied communism at the Sorbonne, and they were good students.
However, this valid distinction doesn’t really matter because none of the three atrocities mentioned was perpetrated by British, or any Western, colonisers, and none had anything to do with slavery.
When the interviewer referred to slavery as “terrible disease that dare not speak its name”, Prof. Starkey replied that the disease was “settled nearly 200 years ago”. That too caused a verbal equivalent of St Vitus’s dance.
Why? Do the people so afflicted think slavery still exists in Britain? They don’t. However, as fully paid-up totalitarians they are prepared to pounce on anyone who fails to deliver the mandated shibboleths in an appropriately pious tone.
Since the content of Prof. Starkey’s remarks would be unassailable in any society still retaining vestiges of sanity, let’s consider their form. The good professor denied that Britain committed genocide in Africa because otherwise there wouldn’t be “so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain”.
As far as arguments go, this one is rather feeble. His enraged opponents have never suggested that the putative genocide completely emptied Africa of its native population. And if it didn’t, then the survival of many blacks doesn’t ipso facto negate the possibility of genocide.
Here Prof. Starkey didn’t display his customary intellect, but hey, nobody scores 100 per cent every time. In any case, it wasn’t what he said in this case that raised a public outcry, but how he said it. Specifically, our delicately sensitive masses objected to his modifying ‘blacks’ with ‘damn’.
Now, I probably wouldn’t utter that word in this context, but ‘damn’, along with ‘bloody’ and ‘f***ing’, is a desemanticised intensifier routinely used, perhaps overused, in colloquial speech.
Thus, when we say “it’s bloody freezing today”, we don’t suggest the frost comes with a red mist. And when we say “there are too many f***ing cars in London”, we don’t mean that the objectionable vehicles engage in sexual congress.
Prof. Starkey doubtless used his unfortunate intensifier in the midst of polemical fervour, exasperated as he was by the inane questions he faced and the idiotic comments he anticipated.
I might take exception to that on general grounds: most intensifiers don’t really intensify; they are just verbal parasites. But I myself have been known to lose my rag in debates, using the kind of language one would expect from a Millwall FC supporter, not an elderly, reasonably cultured gentleman.
Are those casting stones at Prof. Starkey themselves without that particular sin? If so, I congratulate them. But I suspect that’s not the case.
The destruction of Prof. Starkey’s distinguished career isn’t as bad as what happened in Stalin’s Russia. But it’s every bit as bad as what happened under Brezhnev, the time I remember.
People were no longer “turned to camp dust”, to use Stalin’s expression, for dropping an incautious word or even generally disliking communism. But their careers could be obliterated, with eminent scientists reduced to working as doormen or rubbish collectors.
Since we seem to be retracing the totalitarian steps, I hope I won’t be around when the next stride is taken. For those who wonder where it’ll lead, may I suggest The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn?