PORTLAND, OR—A leading New Testament scholar working at Unified Unity Divinity School has published a paper criticizing Jesus for a lack of diversity among the apostles He chose in the gospel accounts.
The woman, Dr. Diana T. Manger, pointed out that Jesus only chose Jewish males, refusing to implement diversity quotas for his group of disciples.
“Jesus chose all Jewish, cisgendered, able-bodied males: white supremacy, much?” she said as she presented her paper before a group of progressive scholars who had promised not to disagree with her. “It’s obvious that Jesus was a nationalistic, xenophobic, hate-filled fearmonger.”
Dr. Manger suggested that Jesus should have chosen more women, more transgender disciples, a disciple in a wheelchair, and at least one woman who is 1/1024th Native American. “The sickeningly homogenous group of disciples should have looked more like the Burger King Kid’s Club,” she said to applause.
“It really hurts Jesus’s witness that he did not enforce 21st-century diversity quotas on his disciples,” she said.
“The fact is that we have no idea what would have become of the world’s ‘looted’ antiquities if they hadn’t been preserved in Western collections. Would the treasures of Beijing’s Summer palace have survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Would the Elgin marbles have survived Turkish tour guides chopping off chunks to sell as souvenirs? Would Daesh [ISIS] have spared those Middle Eastern artefacts that survive in European museums?” — Zareer Masani, historian.
When Christians in Iraq were exiled, murdered or persecuted en masse by the so-called Islamic State, the West stood silent — as if these Christians were the agents of Western colonialism and not the legitimate and oldest inhabitants of the Middle East, long before the Arabs converted to Islam.
When a mob destroyed the French Institute in Cairo, burning books and collections, those who now want to return the “colonial artifacts” stood silent. Where are our Monuments Men now?
A “sense of guilt” for colonialism is debasing the West from within, according to Professor Bruce Gilley, and authoritarian regimes such as Iran, Russia, China and Turkey are profiting from this weakness.
The Romans called it damnatio memoriae: the damnation of memory that resulted in destroying the portraits and even the names of the fallen emperors. The same process is now underway in the West about its colonial past. The cultural elite in the West now seem so haunted by feelings of imperialist guilt that they are no longer confident that our civilization is something to be proud of.
A sense of guilt now seems a kind of post-Christian substitute religion that seduces many Westerners. The French scholar Shmuel Trigano suggested that this ideology is turning the Westerners into “post-colonial subjects” who no longer believe in their own civilization, but instead what will destroy it: multiculturalism. In France, for example, a manifesto was launched for “a multicultural and post racial republic”. The result would be, in the words of the anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle, a “war of identities” and a clash between communities. Last month, the UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that, if elected Prime Minister, he would order the British Museum to return to Greece the Elgin Marbles, the frieze that had surrounded the Parthenon of Athens and one of the major attractions of the British Museum. “This whole campaign is sheer lunacy,” wrote Richard Dorment. But it is a lunacy spreading all over Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he wants to change the rules that make French public collections untouchable, and allow the return to Africa of dozens of historical artifacts now in the Louvre Museum. Macron has appointed two commissioners, the writer Senegalese Felwine Sarr and the art expert Bénédicte Savoy, to prepare a report.
Tanzania is asking for the return of the famous skeleton of a prehistoric Brachiosaurus, the main attraction of Natural History Museum of Berlin. New guidelines guide on restitution of “colonial objects” were recently unveiled by Germany’s Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters.
Most historians are now taking the side of the campaign for returning these objects. One is David Olusoga, a historian of Nigerian origins, who has claimed that these colonial artifacts were “thefts” committed by the colonial powers at the time. Writing in The Telegraph, Zareer Masani, a historian of Indian origins, took a different position. It was the colonialists, he said, who had a decisive role in preserving the antiquities of the civilization:
“It was their dedication, often at huge personal sacrifice, that unlocked the wonders of many lost classical civilisations… The fact is that we have no idea what would have become of the world’s ‘looted’ antiquities if they hadn’t been preserved in Western collections. Would the treasures of Beijing’s Summer palace have survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Would the Elgin marbles have survived Turkish tour guides chopping off chunks to sell as souvenirs? Would Daesh [ISIS] have spared those Middle Eastern artefacts that survive in European museums?”.
In 1969, the BBC aired Kenneth Clark’s “Civilization“, the series exploring Western art and culture. Then, civilization was something to be glorified. In 2018, the BBC aired the remake of Clark’s classic, “Civilizations” — note the plural. “This year, the 21st century version of the landmark show is to turn a critical eye to the history of British civilisation, questioning whether it is built on ‘looting and plunder’ and who, really, are the barbarians,” writes Hannah Furness in The Telegraph. One of the new presenters is David Olusoga, the historian who called the Elgin Marbles “a very clear case of theft“.
Thirty years ago, in a book, The Tears of the White Man, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner wrote that, “the remorseless and self-righteous critic who endlessly denounces the deceptions of parliamentary democracy is suddenly rapt with admiration before the atrocities committed in the name of the Koran, the Vedas, the Great Helmsman…” Since then, Western elites have excused many crimes committed in the name of political Islam, as if these were the consequences of our own colonial crimes.
When Christians in Iraq were exiled, murdered or persecuted en masse by the so-called Islamic State, the West stood silent — as if these Christians were the agents of the Western colonialism and not the legitimate and oldest inhabitants of the Middle East long before the Arabs converted to Islam. When a mob destroyed the French Institute in Cairo, burning books and collections, those who now want to return the “colonial artifacts” stood silent. When Iran’s President Rouhani visited Rome, the Italian authorities covered the naked statues in the Capitoline Museums. Are we covering our own culture to please the Islamic world?
Unfortunately, what we are “returning” are not only the colonial artifacts, but our very pride in Western civilization. A new “damnation of the memory” is taking place in our own museums, academia and chattering classes — and it has deep consequences for our ability to deal with the enemies of civilization. “Postcolonial material provides an important fuel for jihadism,” stated France’s most important scholar of Islamism, Gilles Kepel.
“The Monuments Men“, a film made in 2014 by George Clooney, is about a group of Western curators and art experts who traveled to Europe to rescue the artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis. It was a story of Western bravery and moral clarity during the Second World War. In 2015, ISIS destroyed Palmyra, one of the most important cities of the ancient world. But the West watched this cultural destruction passively and no “Monuments Men” were dispatched to save Palmyra and other threatened sites. The Russians, profiting from the Western passivity, entered Palmyra and Russia’s most famous conductor, Valery Gergiev, on performing a triumphal concert in the Palmyra arena, said: “We protest against barbarians who destroyed wonderful monuments of world culture”. The Westerners then recreated a banal copy of the arch of Palmyra in London.
Where are our Monuments Men now?
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.
Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion’s Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.
Facebook is often criticized for not doing enough to police its platform for hate speech. But the opposite has also been a problem: Mark Zuckerberg’s company uses rather vague “community standards” as the basis for decision to remove users and posts. It doesn’t feel compelled to explain exactly how it applies them, either. Now, a Polish court may decide it should.
When Facebook banned Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Louis Farrakhan, Laura Loomer and others last week, all it said was that “the process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision.” The prominent right-wingers with huge audiences on the Facebook-owned platforms didn’t, in other words, get much in the way of explanation.
Those banned from Facebook and Instagram last week might take a look at Poland, where a local non-governmental organization is suing Facebook for removing its page. The Polish nonprofit, called the Civil Society Drug Policy Initiative and known by the Polish abbreviation SIN for short, filed suit against Facebook’s European arm in the Warsaw District Court this week. At least in Europe, the case may help set up more transparent procedures for banning content and its creators from social networks.
The group specializes in “harm reduction,” an approach to fixing drug-related social problems in part by removing the stigma from drug use and respecting users’ rights. It may be controversially soft on drug users, but the approach has been backed by the United Nations and influential private donors and is by no means illegal.
SIN says Facebook shut down its page last year without explaining what rules it had broken; the organization used the social network’s appeal procedure but the ban was upheld, again without a clear explanation – just like in the case of U.S. right-wingers who were kicked off. SIN activists suspect Facebook’s human moderators, or perhaps an algorithm, erroneously decided that the page, with 16,000 subscribers, encouraged drug use.
The group is represented pro bono by a prominent Warsaw law firm and aided by another NGO, Panoptykon, which describes itself as a civil society watchdog over all kinds of regulators. SIN mostly wants the page reinstated because it says it was important as a hotline for drug users the organization is trying to help as well as an information channel. Panoptykon’s goals are broader: It’s trying to set a precedent and have the practice it describes as “private censorship” explicitly regulated.
Poland is a country with a right-wing, nationalist government, and the ruling Law and Justice Party has long grumbled about U.S.-based social networks’ banning practices. Like those in the U.S. who were banned, its members see a liberal bias in the platforms’ policies. In 2017, the country’s Digital Affairs Ministry drafted a bill that would make the social networks liable for “over-removal” of content, but the bill never made it to parliament, derailed by a ministry reorganization. Panoptykon’s approach, however, is distinct from the right-wing criticism: It’s trying to stress the nonpartisan nature of the “private censorship” issue by backing the drug policy nonprofit’s case.
Panoptykon lawyer Dorota Glowacka argues that though social media companies are, in principle, free to kick people and organizations off their networks on the basis of their terms of service, Facebook, because of its global dominance and huge number of users, doesn’t enjoy full discretion in this area. It should, Glowacka says, “observe human rights standards” – and its freedom to withhold access to its private forum should be limited because users have so few viable alternatives.
This line of attack skirts an issue long debated by Facebook and its critics — whether the company is a tech platform for users’ free expression or a publisher with its own editorial policy. Publicly, Facebook says it’s a tech platform, which is supposed to absolve it of responsibility for what appears on it (and explain why it doesn’t pay for content). But in a U.S. court case last year, its lawyers argued that it was a publisher and its decisions on what not to publish should be protected for that reason.
I’d be in favor of treating Facebook and its peers as publishers, holding them liable for content and getting them to pay news organizations for providing core material for debate on their platforms. But Panoptykon’s approach – effectively treating the massive social networks as public utilities – also has its advantages: If upheld by the courts, first in Poland and then on the European Union level, it would force the platforms to leave all lawful speech alone and stop taking down posts, profiles and pages simply because it feels like it, because a government objects to the content or because an interest group has put pressure on them with a flagging campaign.
SIN and Panoptykon want the platforms to issue reasoned statements explaining why they removed a certain post or account and who was responsible for the decision – a human or an algorithm. Platforms should only remove posts for violating specific rules, not entire accounts. And users, according to Panoptykon, should have recourse to courts when they want to appeal the networks’ decisions. These demands are largely in line with the so-called Santa Clara Principles, developed by a team of ethics and tech experts and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Trying, perhaps somewhat belatedly, to regulate the major tech platforms is turning into a national sport in many countries, especially European ones. So many conflicting demands are being made on them that it’s easy to see why they resist the efforts with all the legal firepower they’ve got.
It’s difficult to comply with demands that they, on the one hand, curb hate speech, political manipulation and the propaganda of violence – and, on the other hand, that they act as a free speech utility for which a takedown or a ban is a rare measure of last resort. But in a sense, it’s good to have the regulatory competition and all the different court cases in which the platforms are attacked from every possible angle.
Out of this chaos of adversity, clear definitions for the platforms’ functions, power, rights and obligations should emerge. The Polish case is one to watch for those who believe the recent bans of right-wingers were unfair. It’s an issue that should, ideally, be settled by the courts in the U.S., too.