Western free speech has been dealt another crushing blow after an American professor caved in to a backlash he received for publishing a positive view on the impact of colonialism.
Bruce Gilley, political scientist at Portland State University, triggered thousands of leftists when he argued that the “orthodoxy” that Western colonialism was universally harmful to colonised peoples and countries was overstated. The Case for Colonialism, published in academic journal Third World Quarterly, insisted that colonialism was “both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate” in many places.
More than 10,000 desperate shirkers of intellectual debate then signed two petitions demanding the retraction of the essay. To compliment this assault on free speech threats of violence were made against the editor who published the piece, Shahid Qadir. Regrettably, but perhaps unsurprisingly given our current trajectory, Gilley’s work recently disappeared from public view. A statement by publisher Taylor & Francis said: “The journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay. As the publisher we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.”
But what was so unpalatable and outrageous about Gilley’s work that prompted such a backlash and death threats against the author?
Gilley argues for the recolonisation of certain areas and that this should only occur with the consent of the colonised. “What would likely have happened in a given place absent colonial rule?” Gilley states adding: “anti-colonial critics squirm and fidget over this issue because it puts the greatest strain on their ‘colonialism bad perspective’.” It is of course understandable that Gilley should make this point. Slavery was practiced by Africans in Africa long before the arrival of Europeans and Europeans abolished slavery long before Africans and Islamic rulers. In Ethiopia, slavery was not outlawed until 1942. In 1981, Mauritania abolished slavery. Niger did not criminalise this servitude until 2003. Given the reality that European empires abolished slavery after exploiting people through it and that Africans have maintained it as a staple into independence, Gilley is surely right to point out the biased Eurocentricism of anti-colonial critique?
Gilley credits colonialism with expanding education, improving public health, creating more employment opportunities, boosting basic infrastructure, improving female rights, abolishing slavery and enfranchising untouchable and historically excluded groups. A cursory reading of British imperial history will prove the veracity of Gilley’s claims and reveal the abolition of suttee, irrigation and railway building to offer just three benefits of colonial rule.
He then writes: “…millions of people moved closer to areas of more intensive colonial, sent their children to colonial schools and hospitals, went beyond the call of duty in positions in colonial governments, reported crimes to colonial police, migrated from non-colonised to colonial areas, fought for colonial armies and participated in colonial political processes.” Gilley then cites the example of Guinea Bissau which experienced an exponential increase in rice production under Portuguese rule, the levels of which are now only a third of what they once were despite 40 years of aid and technological advances. In 2015, life expectancy in the former colony stood at just 55 years.
Maintaining a focus on Guinea Bissau, Gilley argues for the colonisation of the island off the country’s coast which is Calinhas. His plan would see it colonised at a low-rate lease lasting for 99 years while Portuguese sovereignty is absolute for the lease period. Gilley reasons a small European state would grow on the African coast and that the time and investment in the project would be recouped by access to trading opportunities to the returning coloniser. “As part of the deal, the Portuguese would allow a certain number of Guinea Bissau residents to resettle on the island each year,” Gilley says. In his view, this new colony would be legitimate because citizens would be choosing to move to it from worse situations and therefore “colonialism could be resurrected without the casual cries of oppression, occupation and exploitation.” Pertinently, many third world people already acknowledge the better conditions in European societies by choosing to migrate to Europe in their millions.
By now you may be wondering what about the Case for Colonialism is so hateful as to provoke threats of death? Rational people of course realise that nothing warrants such a response. What should be clear to readers is that Gilley offers a coherent plan which in all likelihood would serve certain states better than the arbitrary rule with which so many African countries are tainted. Perhaps the reason Gilley has provoked such ire is that there may be logic to his thinking? If so, this no doubt upsets those who feel that Europeans are not just to blame for all that is ill but also that Europeans owe the world something?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking this alternative view is a minority one, such is the powerful narrative fed to people from the mainstream. A YouGov survey last year found that 44 per cent of Britons were proud of the history of colonialism compared to just 21 per cent who regretted it. Depressingly what the Bruce Gilley episode shows once more is that nefarious attempts to silence free speech by a vocal and poisonous minority are increasingly flourishing right across the West.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain