by Giulio Meotti
In Fort-de-France, Martinique, activists pulled down a road sign with the name of Victor Hugo before burning it. “If Victor Hugo is unworthy, no one is worthy,” said the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism.
The statue of Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, was also beheaded and demolished in Fort-de-France.
Same fate for the monument of Victor Schoelcher, the French legislator who abolished slavery.
The decolonization of memory is advancing not only in former colonies, but also in Paris, where the first to suffer the blows of cancel culture was Voltaire, whose statue was vandalized in that city. Then that of Hubert Lyautey, Minister of War during the First World War. Then Jean-Baptiste Colbert, author of the document that established the conditions of slavery. On its pedestal the inscription “state negrophobia”.
Now comes an appeal from French intellectuals: “Hands off my story.” Signed by the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, by the essayist and writer Pascal Bruckner, by the scholar Bérénice Levet, by the former premier Manuel Valls, the appeal declares that “this import of the American politically correct is absolutely disastrous” and that “we risk undertaking a process that will have no end, which cannot have an end. Today it’s Colbert, tomorrow it’s Jules Ferry, because he spoke of the duty to ‘civilize the inferiors’. We need to reread history in its context and not project our current obsessions into the past.”
Accusing the past of racism, stating that all cultures are equal, “would prevent us from strongly condemning – and everywhere – excision, polygamy or forced marriages. We will be guided by transforming the story into a trial with an endless list of defendants.”
History is knowledge, they continue. “We have to talk about slavery, but we have to talk about it in all its dimensions. Of course, the slave trade is a crime against humanity. But slavery existed in Africa, Africans participated in the tracts. While there were eleven million deportees under the European treaties, there were seventeen million under the Eastern slave trade, slaves of the Muslim world.”
While all cultures are tainted with crime, they write,”only Western culture knows the pain of guilt”. In addition, France was the first country in the world to abolish slavery in 1794, it is the country of the declaration of the rights of man and citizen, the first to emancipate the Jews (how ironic – today Jews in France must flee antisemitism).
The French historian Sylvain Gouguenheim, a medievalist at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, in the book “Aristotle at Mont-Saint-Michel” wrote that the Greek heritage in the Middle Ages was transmitted to Western Europe from Constantinople, not from the Islamic world. “Greek culture did not return to the West only thanks to Islam: to save the ancient philosophers from oblivion would have been above all the work of Eastern Christians, who fell under Muslim domination, and therefore Arabized.” It was in the scriptorium of the ancient abbey that gives the book its title, in the twelfth century, that Aristotle’s works were translated directly from Greek by the copyist monks.
Serial petitions against Gouguenheim followed.
Meanwhile, another French historian, Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, got into trouble with the book “La Traite des Noirs”, in which he explains: “The number of Christian slaves pillaged by Muslims exceeds that of Africans deported to the Americas.”
There is no more fruitful time to erect historical taboos than during the war on history. A new order is arising from disorder. The New York Times just asked: “Should we cancel Aristotle?”