2007 - 2022

Decolonising Scotland

Anahit Behrooz launches her project to explore the decolonisation of Scottish institutions.

The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue into Bristol Harbour this summer has become one of the defining images of the year, encapsulating the anger, power, and scope of the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations. More than an act of protest, its tearing down was a feat of direct, active decolonisation, joining projects such as the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and calls to diversify university curricula in confronting and dismantling the ongoing effects of Britain’s colonial past. Its aftermath – sparking conversation and media attention, altering the cityscape, and even inspiring this poem from Bristol’s city poet Vanessa Kisuule – demonstrates how decolonisation is not, as its critics might suggest, an act of denial or erasure, but rather a continual and often creative means of reckoning with and overcoming the power structures that colonialism embedded into our society.

Although Scotland’s participation in the slave trade and British colonialism has long been glossed over, steps are being taken to come to terms with this past and its concomitant intergenerational trauma. In 2019, Glasgow University announced a programme of reparative justice to address its role in the transatlantic slave trade. This year’s Glasgow Open Doors Day centred on “Untold Stories”, providing an alternate, long silenced history of Glasgow’s colonial past. In Edinburgh, meanwhile, “son of slaver Dundas” was scrawled over the statue of Robert Dundas shortly after the Edward Colston statue fell. Henry Dundas himself, balanced high on his plinth in St Andrews Square, is the most precarious he has ever been. Scotland’s colonial history, deeply embedded in all facets of the country’s culture, is slowly being exposed for what it is. Yet more should – and must – be done.

This editorial project at Bella Caledonia – established as part of the Many Voices programme – seeks to establish why Scotland’s historical context demands active decolonisation and to platform the various decolonisation projects that are taking place through the country’s cities and institutions. Through a series of interviews and personal responses by journalists, researchers, curators, and activists, this project will examine the decolonisation work undertaken by both key institutions and grassroots initiatives, giving sustained attention to the myriad approaches – both intellectual and material – required to address the legacy of Scotland’s colonial history, and repudiate its ideology. In doing so, the project seeks to explore these key questions:

  • What is the value of decolonisation and how is it relevant to Scotland?
  • How is decolonisation being tackled in Scottish cultural institutions?
  • Who is being given a voice and agency in these efforts?
  • Who are the researchers, curators, and activists, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds, that are carrying out these projects, and how can we platform their endeavours?
  • How can we elevate the voices of arts journalists and researchers who engage with decolonisation?

In my role as editor, I will be commissioning writers to respond to this process of decolonisation, with an emphasis on platforming writers of colour or those who have been generationally impacted by Scotland’s colonial history. Although the remits of this project are quite broad, potential topics could include personal pieces on Scotland’s colonial history or specific decolonisation initiatives, responses to cultural or artistic works that are engaging in decolonisation, or opinion pieces on what still need to be done. Interviews and profiles have largely already been assigned, but if you are particularly excited by an idea please do let me know!

Please send pitches of 200-250 words to [email protected] by 30 November 2020, with “Decolonisation Pitch” in the subject line. All commissions will be paid (£90 for 900 words). If you have any questions in the meantime, or want to discuss thoughts, please feel free to send me an email, or get in touch via my Twitter at @anahitrooz.

There are traces of Scotland’s colonial legacy rooted throughout the country’s cultural landscape; any sincere attempt at decolonisation needs to recognise its capillary nature, and commit to an equally exhaustive appraisal of the structures this landscape is built on. Just a few weeks ago, Boris Johnson claimed – with typical nonsense – that Britain should stop cringing with embarrassment about its history. I think there is still much cringing to be done, and more than that, a need to engage with this history – and our future – in a productive, critical, and radical way.

Comments (39)

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  1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    Look forward to operating in the margins of this.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    The University of Glasgow may be running the odd free online course that’s relevant.

    British colonialism, racialized slavery, religious supremacy, muzzling of dissent, war on the poor, war on women are all royal projects. To decolonize British institutions means removing royal patronage.

    I wonder which European royal family will blink first? Muted rumblings of regret from the Belgians could easily be bettered.

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      I think it’ll take more than removing royal patronage to decolonise our universities. Decolonisation also requires more than renaming buildings and removing statues and adding black and non-western scholars to reading lists. Decolonisation involves challenging and remaking the current pedagogy, which is rooted in Western ideas about knowledge and learning and reproduces the imperial hierarchies we used after our union with England to suppress pluralism and establish our global hegemony. With regard to our universities, we need to confront and reject the pedagogical status quo and ensure that knowledge production better reflects our diverse worlds.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Anndrais mac Chaluim, sure, but royalty is the capstone for many of these British imperial institutions, including state secrecy. Tear the capstone down, the rest is easier to dislodge. And the buried history is easier to get to. All this “but it’s our private family history” tripe. If you want a private family history, then

  3. MacNaughton says:

    Can I just point out that the UK still has colonies, not least Gibraltar?. This is a 300 year daily insult to our friends in Spain, and the SNP ought to fully get behind the Spanish govts demands for joint sovereignty with a view to fully returning the rock to Spain in the near future.

    For me, all talk of colonization rings hollow while the embarrassingly selfish, insensitive and unjust UK govt continues to hold on to its overseas territories in Spain and elsewhere….

    This is a real life issue in Spain and accounts for a large proportion of anglophone in Spain which has mushroomed in recent years. And who can honestly blame them?

    1. MacNaughton says:

      “Anglophobia” not “Anglophone” ( spellchecker piece of crap)

    2. John Learmonth says:

      So will the spanish hand their colonies in Morocco back to their rightful owners?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @John Learmonth, you’re on the wrong site mate. Bella España’s over that way.

      2. MacNaughton says:

        Morocco is a dictatorship and the citizens of Spanish Ceuta and Melilla are better off living under a democracy as EU citizens so it’s not comparable.

        Spain is an ally in NATO and the UK should start listening to its allies when they ask for a territory back which was stolen by England at gun point over 300 years ago.

        In any case, the point I am making is that to talk of decolonization in Scotland doesn’t make sense while we form part of the neo-colonial UK and the most important decolonization task awaiting us as an independent nation is to get rid of all the Anglo crap which has been foisted on us for the last 300 years…

    3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      The Gibraltarians had a referendum in 2002, on the UK government’s proposal to share sovereignty with Spain. The proposal was rejected; only 1% of the electorate voted in favour. In 2006, they had a referendum on a new constitution, which reaffirmed the country’s status as a British Overseas Territory. Again, the electorate voted in favour of the new constitution.

      Are you suggesting that we should ride roughshod over the expressed will of the people of Gibraltar?

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Yes is the short answer.

        The people of the Gibraltar are in the majority of cases the descendants of English settlers imported from England after the native Spanish inhabitants were forced out at gunpoint 300 years ago and a little more.

        Like the Unionists in N.Ireland, whose ancestors were also “planted” by the English as a way of securing another foreign dominion, they have the fanatical settler mentality so they will always vote to remain British.

        The inhabitants of Gibraltar under Spanish sovereignty will regain their rights as EU citizens, and all EU citizens have the same fundamental rights under the Treaties which are ensured in the final instance by European justice. So there can be no question of them losing out in terms of rights, on the contrary, as EU citizens they will have more rights than as British subjects.

        Those who feel sentimentality British enough can go and live in England.

        You see, England’s selfish, reckless and botched Brexit causes problems for Spain too because of Gibraltar, along with the Scots, the Irish, and the Belgians and French who will have to build infrastructure for all the checks….

        England Uber Alles seems to be the idea. Well, frankly, fck England..

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Based on this logic the peoples of both North and South America should clear off back to Europe, after all their ‘colonists’ .

          1. MacNaughton says:

            Logic? I don’t think you know anything about logic by your reply….
            If Gibraltar became Spanish, its citizens would be able to live anywhere in Europe, not just Spain, anywhere EXCEPT the UK after Brexit that is.
            Therefore, it would only be fair to offer them the possibility of coming to live in Britain, in the very remote chance some of them would prefer that to remaining in Spain…you can’t just remove someone’s nationality without offering them a means to keep it.
            There is no such thing as UK-Spanish dual nationality you see…
            There are already hundreds of thousands of British citizens in something akin to colonies in Spain where they drink Nescafe coffee and read the Daily Mail and eat egg and chips and obstinately refuse to learn the language or the local customs and sit for imprudent lengths of time in the sun drinking warm flat English beer… they are all British citizens and many of these idlers even voted for Brexit, so if the people of Gibraltar wanted to remain British citizens resident in Spain after Gibraltar is returned to Spanish sovereignty, then obviously as things stand they could do that too…
            To recap: the people of Gibraltar could become Spanish and stay where they are, stay British and stay where they are, or stay British and move to Britain…

          2. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            And the Gaels should eff off back to Ireland and the Angles to Angeln and give Scotland back to the Welsh! Some logic, that!

          3. MacNaughton says:

            No one in Spain has ever suggested that British subjects in Gibraltar be asked to leave when Spanish sovereignty is eventually restored. This is tabloid propaganda with no basis in reality which you two gentlemen are repeating.

            The Spanish tolerance of UK residents can hardly be questioned given there are 300,000 of us living here unmolested and in fact actively welcomed for the most part. Any such notion of a forced exit would also be illegal under European law. So, please, stop repeating what the moronic UK tabloids say…Because it is just another lie and a slur on Spanish intentions…

  4. Zen Broon says:

    The idea of decolonisation in the context of a country which has suffered its own form of colonisation and wasn’t an autonomous (or even democratic) political entity throughout most of the colonial period is nuanced and hopefully those aspects will be explored too.

    1. MacNaughton says:

      The colonial administration of Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP govt has shown no interest at all since 2014 in doing anything meaningful to reverse Scotland’s cultural colonization and they are so weak and tame that in fact they refused even to be true to their election manifesto commitment to hold another referendum following the Brexit vote, despite Theresa May very, very clearly offering Viceroy Sturgeon that chance when she hinted in massive capital letters written in bold and underlined with her “Now is not the time” that another referendum was there to be negotiated…

      Nicola Sturgeon is simply not interested in anything which might leave a single hair on her head out of place. Don’t ask the lady to actually stand up for Scottish voters please, because that would mean confrontation with the British establishment and she might actually have to do something other than showboating in front of the cameras at her daily briefings…

      It cannot be stressed enough that it was not in the gift of the SNP leadership to pass up a chance of securing that second referendum…under the rules of democracy,
      Nicola Sturgeon was duty bound to try to negotiate a second referendum with Theresa May because that is what was in the SNP manifesto which put her into office

      She has betrayed the Europeans in Scotland and the Scots in Europe most especially with her pusillanimous and craven stance on indie ref II before the Brexit date, she has sold us out and abandoned us by not even offering a symbolic or token fight, and you could easily be forgiven for thinking that this SNP Colonial Administration has actually come to terms with Brexit and is merely trying to find a Scottish angle on what is a nightmare project promoted by the fanatical English alt-right… that would explain the stubborn insistence of Sturgeon’s point man Andrew Wilson of keeping the pound, which is incompatible with rejoining the EU…

      The term used by the London press to describe Blair’s govt, “the Scottish raj”, takes on a whole new meaning..

  5. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    You’re all debasing the concept of colonising and belittling the experience of many of the ‘many voices’ who comprise Scots.

    It’s not about the royal family, white settlers, or the bastardin’ English; it’s not about the petty grudge-and-grievance politics of the 20th century; it’s about the cultural forms that emerged from our imperial past and continue to silence the dissonant voices to which those forms are culturally alien. It’s about Eurocentrism and the hegemony it continues to exercise over 21st-century Scotland’s increasingly global society.

    Liberating Scotland from its imperial past (decolonising Scotland) is more about deconstructing this hegemony than about sending the English homeward to think again.

    1. MacNaughton says:

      No one who knows Scottish history could seriously argue that the highlands of Scotland were anything other than colonized in a process which became greatly accelerated after the Union of 1707 with England. Indeed, so much is this the case that under the SNP colonial administration, Gaelic is dying out as a community language in its remaining few outposts in the Western Isles….This can only be described as a cultural catastrophe for Scotland….

      I fail to see why the Gaels do not qualify as a colonized people? They were militarily conquered and their culture suppressed by the British State for centuries. They have just as much a right to “decolonization” as any other nation or people colonized by the British State. Yet Viceroy Sturgeon is on the record as being “not that bothered” about Gaelic.

      As George Bernard Shaw put it regarding Culloden moor in 1746, “the highland chiefs and their clansmen were butchered like sheep in the field. In other circumstances this would be deemed mass murder, but because they were considered incompatible with British civilisation, they were expendable”…

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        The Gaels were indeed colonised, as were the Britons of Strathclyde. But both of these were also colonisers in their time, silencing and otherwise excluding the dissonant voices over which they extended their empires. Decolonisation is not about historical territory or ethnic disputes; it’s about deconstructing the cultural forms that exclude ‘others’ from citizenship.

        1. MacNaughton says:

          In terms of your ludicrous comparisons with the Welsh kingdom of Strathclyde 15 centuries ago, you cannot compare the modern State with past kingdoms or empires or fiefdoms.

          The modern State is a totally different phenomenon to these political entities. The presence of the modern State in the lives of humans since about 150 years ago is only directly comparable to the presence of God in the lives of humans in the pre-modern eras, which was Kafka’ s big discovery.

          The modern State is everywhere, you cannot avoid it, just like God was in the middle ages. Gaelic Scotland was destroyed by the modern British State, not by some immigrant flow in 5th century Europe. So its not a valid comparison.

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Correct! But the principle (‘colonisation’) is the same.

    2. MacNaughton says:

      Anndrais, in terms of decolonization and the West, and whatever that means exactly, with the best will in the world it is impossible for me to take seriously as much more than PR or superficial at best when Britain has launched wars in my lifetime on Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Lebanon, Argentina and supports dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States…

      Renaming the David Hume Tower means nothing really, it’s just PR. The neo-colonial Anglo-American project is alive and well… Surgeon is a typical western politician with a party machine at hand to create the illusion that change is happening when it isnt…

      Black Lives Matter wouldn’t exist if race relations had fundamentally changed in the USA, for all that America had its first black President who carried on bombing countries whose inhabitants have darker skin than us and whose lives are therefore considered cheaper, people in effect also deemed “incompatible with western civilization” because they’re Muslim and poor…(if they’re Muslim and rich, that’s different)

      1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

        Yes, it’s clear that your passions are directed elsewhere than the decolonisation of Scotland and that the latter features lower in your hierarchy of concerns than do other injustices. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re right to deplore the continued geopolitical manoeuvrings of the great powers and the misery they cause to lives. Opposing injustices is not an either/or.

        1. MacNaughton says:

          Hi Anndrais:

          I can see why you think that about my priorities from this particular thread, but it’s not actually true. And you’re right it’s not about either / or.
          What I object to here is the hypocrisy, ok?
          If Nicola Sturgeon stood up and said, “Look, I’m going to raise a penny on the pound for the next ten or twenty years so Scotland can pay some reparations to countries X,Y Z which Scotland benefitted from during the slave trade”, then I would 100% support that.
          But that is never going to happen.
          These things are always left in the symbolic realm, that is to say, it’s almost always a question of tokenism, there is no serious attempt to change the fundamentals.
          To change the fundamentals you would have to completely redefine the West’s relationship to Africa and debt from countries in development.
          You would have to have a much more humane immigration policy.
          You would have to spend a lot more on international aid and development.
          You would have to have a different education system which specifically addressed racism and colonialism.
          You would have to accept that the Muslim world has the right to decide its own future without constant interference from the West.
          And how can people really except Britain to decolonize when Windrush just happened?
          A notorious case of racism affecting thousands of black people in Britain almost their whole lives just happened, called Windrush, perpetrated by the English Tory majority govt, and we’re talking about the David Hume tower?
          I mean, it doesn’t make sense.
          Nicola Sturgeon and her people believe that there are votes to be won, and influence to be gained, by embracing this kind of gesture politics. In that, Sturgeon is just like any other Western leader.
          It’s probably the kind of thing they talk about at Davos, or in the lobby circuit, “we need to get more BAME people on board”…bla bla bla.
          Yeah, but they are going to be certain kinds of BAME people.
          BAME people who have bought into Western liberal democracy and capitalism, ok?
          The Black Panthers are not welcome in this BAME inclusiveness. Nor are Muslims who want to live under Sharia Law.
          Nor are Muslims of any sort who advocate resisting western violence against the Muslim world with violence… which is what we would do, if the Muslim world used violence against us…
          These people are out, ok? It doesn’t matter that western countries have invaded Afghanistan about six or seven times in the last 150 years, the crazies warmongers are the Taliban not us.
          Is more BAME presence in the arts, the media, parliament, sport a good thing?
          Of course it is, it’s better than nothing.
          Are attempts to decolonize a good thing? Absolutely, at least it’s something.
          But it’s not going to solve the problem.
          The fundamentals of the problem are absolutely linked to the western capitalist liberal democratic model..
          Racism and colonialism are the products of western capitalism at the end of the day..

          1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Aye, I agree with all of that. And we can rant and rave about western capitalism until we’re blue in the face and not much will change, and then we can rant and rave some more about THAT, and so on, perpetually nursing our righteous wrath to keep it warm until the four horsemen come charging into town to deliver our comeuppance.

            Or we can do something that will actually effect some change. For example, we can bring pressure to bear on our schools and universities, directly and through our elected representatives in government, to make their pedagogy and knowledge production more pluralistic and less eurocentric, and in doing so weaken the hegemony that the cultural values of our imperialist past still exercise over our social practice to the disadvantage of dissonant voices. Without underestimating the difficulty of this task, it’s still far more achievable than ‘world revolution’.

          2. MacNaughton says:

            Well, Anndreas, Nicola Sturgeon as the FM of Scotland is responsible for education in Scotland.
            So, she could say, we’re going to completely change the school curriculum and the ethos behind the curriculum so that we are now in the business of creating good citizens for the 21st century, sensitive to racism, the environment etc etc, as opposed to dividing people up into (academic) winners and losers to move them into different streams which will satisfy the different needs of the capitalist system. As we know, the education system in Scotland isn’t actually designed to reflect children’s intelligence or abilities, it’s designed to cover the bases of capitalism’s needs.
            So, she could do that, but she won’t do that.
            Why wouldn’t you try something like that if you really wanted to address the issue?
            What she will do with the new Hate Crime Bill is to incriminate more people.
            I mean, we’re talking about racism in Britain which is really, really raw and basic stuff.
            Did you see the black Labour MP, I can’t recall the lady’s name, who recorded herself being stopped by the police for being black and driving in an expensive car? It was a Sunday afternoon in London, and this black lady is pulled over because she is in a certain kind of car! It’s unbelievable.
            It’s written into the fabric of the British State and its institutions, and so all the gesturing and posturing around the issue from the people who could do something to change the situation, like Nicola Sturgeon and govt in general, is hypocritical in my opinion…

          3. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Aye, well, I hold no brief for Nicola or the Scottish government as such. It might still be worth lobbying MSPs as well as the university courts, though. The Scottish parliament likes a public consultation, and a public consultation on decolonising Scotland might appeal to them. Such a consultation might also reveal the extent to which we’re still ruled by a colonial mindset and, therefore, the extent of the task that confronts us.

          4. MacNaughton says:

            I think the biggest problem, a very basic confusion among the general populations of the West, is that the West invented civilization and is the keeper of the values of civilization. This is just not true, it’s just a falsehood. What the West invented is industrialisation or capitalism which is not synonymous with civilization by any means.

            As a matter of fact, from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West , right up to the Renaissance, the West is a completely backward part of the world. The civilized part of the world is Islam. The great capitals of civilization and learning are Bagdad, Damascus, Cordoba in Spain under Abdermann rule. And that was case to such a degree, that the Muslim world never considered the West to be a real threat, despite the Crusades. For the Muslim world the West is this barbaric backwater where people don’t wash and don’t follow any personal hygiene – I mean maybe they wash once a year or something – and where the Church tells its flock not to try and understand the world, that humans are here to show blind faith in God.

            In Bagdad in the 8th century, they begin to translate all the Greek classics into Arabic, and so they begin to wrestle with reconciling faith and reason, especially Aristotle, and they have the astrolabe to read the stars, so they can travel, they can actually work out where they are. They invent or rather the borrow the decimal point from India so they can calculate much bigger numbers than they can in Europe where they are still using Roman numerals. They invent toothpaste and personal hygiene, cutting your hair and washing daily, for religious reasons in principle, and even courtly love and courtly love poems… which when it comes into contact with the Normans in the 12th century, blossoms into the troubadour poetry, one of the sources of the Western poetic tradition….I could go on and on…

            If anybody invented the basics of civilization, it was the Muslim world, not the West…

          5. Arboreal Agenda says:

            Well said John.

            Some of the comments on this site recently are frankly offensive: xenophobic, bigoted and really warped and I suspect are driving many decent folk away.

          6. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Civilization, in the sense of ‘bringing out of barbarism, introducing order and civil organisation among savages, refining and enlightening the same’, was invented by the French around 1600. The very notion of civilisation is a classic example of what we’re referring to when we speak of ‘colonisation’: cultural dissonance defined as barbarism, savagery, crudeness, ignorance, from which the other stands in need of being redeemed.

          7. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Speaking of ‘civilisation’ is a good example of how, almost every time we open our mouths, we reaffirm our privilege and put others in their place. Colonisation is an insidious process, which has wormed its way deep into the very fabric of our being – language.

            Blaming colonisation on ‘world capitalism’ is akin to inventing an evil jinnī onto which we can project our sins, a way of avoiding our personal responsibility for the social injustices we perpetrate in our day-to-day transactions with ‘others’.

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Anndrais mac Chaluim, yes, Walter Rodney makes the point about how the word ‘civilization’ has been weaponised to set European cultures above African cultures in chapter 2 of his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. And of course it looms large as the theme of Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization by Robert A Williams jr, covering 3000 years of stereotyping since the Greeks invented barbarians.

          9. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

            Aye, he did that. And though Radni’s narrative is fairly established now, it was pretty radical and solvent in the early ’70s.

            Less well assimilated to our europhone thinking is his narrative’s subtext: that the only path to authentic human development and liberation is through the perpetual transformation of our own lives in a constant struggle against the governments that dominate our communities and prescribe our existence.

  6. Stewart Bremner says:

    This soonds like an excitin an very necessary project. Ah’m luikin forward tae seein hou it progresses. It’ll be interestin tae see where it challenges ma ain ideas an concepts. There’s ayeways room for chainge and improvement! Guid luck.

  7. MacNaughton says:

    John Learmouth, I like my egg and chips as much as the next man, though Daily Mail readers, which is to say Brexiters like yourself, I have no time for.

    Your little red white and blue wet dream has come true, you’re taking back control as you turn the South of England into one gigantic loading bay, you’re waving goodbye to Brussels bureaucracy as govt prepares to issue internal passports to lorry drivers so they can get into Kent, you’re proving as ever that Britannia waves the rules with Johnson reneging on his own deal before even the year is out.

    You Brexiters are morons in my opinion, that is the truth of the matter, simpletons who have been sold the biggest lie in modern political history. Don’t expect to be popular with people like myself whose rights as a Scot in Europe have gone from a whole chapter in the European treaties to one line of the Spanish Constitution. Because I think you Brexiters are very selfish and narrow people. You get on my wick and never fail to irritate me with your British arrogance and internal ignorance. Remember that the next time you get the urge to jerk off to Land of Hope And Glory.

    And this is just the start. Whatever deal Johnson signs off on, he will then break, for sure. Britain and the EU will be in the courts for decades to come. There will probably be a trade war. It will never end.

    Remarkably, the Colonial Administration of the SNP offers no meaningful resistance to this complete act of lunacy, Viceroy Sturgeon carries on as if it’s not happening. As does wishy washy Keir Starmer, another English buffoon who comes up to Scotland to tell the Scots what they actually really want. Why are so many English politicians so ignorant? Why are they so crass and insensitive when they come to Scotland? And most importantly, why is there no meaningful opposition to Johnson in Britain today?

    As for Cordoba during the golden age of Abderraman in the 10th century, there were street lights and a public library with 400,000 books, public schools for the poor and a famous university not to mention all the Arab baths. .

    A great civilization which has gone today and is all but forgotten.That’s the way it goes with civilizations, though with the death cult of capitalism, it’s probably going to end human life on the whole planet eventually….expect England and America to play a starring role… If any country is going to lead us into Armageddon, it’s going to be them…

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      You’re being awfie patronising towards the 10th-century Qurṭubans and their descendants, here, MacNaughton, with your eurocentric notions of ‘civilisation’. Maybe you could benefit from a wee bit decolonisation yourself.

  8. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    Here’s a europhone view of decolonisation.

    Colonisation is more than just a physical occupation.

    In determining whose point of view and knowledge is privileged, it’s also a cultural and psychological occupation.

    In this, colonisation not only impacts the first generation that’s colonised; it also creates enduring cultural and psychological issues for those who come after them, decades or even centuries after the physical occupation has ended or been normalised.

    Decolonisation seeks to reverse and remedy this cultural and psychological injustice.

    It seeks to do so through direct action seeks to ensure that the many voices of colonised people and their descendents are allowed to be equally heard.

    The word ‘decolonisation’ was first coined by the German economist Moritz Julius Bonn in the 1930s to describe former colonies that had achieved self-governance.

    Paradoxically, it’s thus a Western idea and, as such, is itself part of the colonisation from which the colonised seek to liberate themselves.

    This paradox calls for ‘decolonisation’ itself to be deconstructed and, as a conceptual device, should itself always be employed ‘under erasure’, as Jacques Derrida would have it.

    Or to employ Ludwig Wittgenstein’s earlier metaphor: it’s a ladder we must kick away once we’ve climbed it.

    What follows should be read with this caution in mind.

    It’s become fashionable to admit that one doesn’t really understand what phrases like ‘decolonising knowledge’ or ‘a decolonised curriculum’ mean.

    This is unfortunate, for the process of coming to understand what the decolonisation of knowledge might be is essential to achieving it.

    Decolonisation isn’t always a welcome concept in some quarters of academia.

    If curricula and knowledge production are colonised, that means they’ve been shaped by considerations that are cultural rather than purely scientific or are otherwise tangential to Western ideals of academic inquiry.

    Admitting a need to decolonise any part of one’s discipline means admitting that it was formerly colonised to some degree.

    This in turn means admitting that what one previously touted as objective and untainted by historicity and cultural prejudice is, in fact, immersed in them.

    Academics are much happier to assert that knowledge is power than to concede that power is knowledge.

    Seen in this light, the decolonisation of knowledge is primarily a philosophical rather than a political project.

    It attempts to ‘disinfect’ academic activities, to rid teaching, research, and institutional behaviour of influences that have little to do with the fair-minded pursuit of knowledge and truth and everything to do with maintaining a hegemony of Western cultural forms.

    Resistance to decolonisation sometimes present it not as an attempt to resurrect the dispassionate search for knowledge but as a rejection of the idea of objectivity, which is seen as a sort of heritage of colonial thinking, one of the blessings that enlightened Europeans brought to the benighted savages who lived outside of civilisation.

    But what we ‘enlightened’ Europeans globalised was not objectivity but absolutism; that is, our prejudice that values like truth, beauty, and justice are universal and singular rather than local and plural, that those singular and universal truths, just conducts, and sublimities are expressed in our epistemologies, moralities, and aesthetics, and that all dissonant voices are in error and in need of correction.

    This line of [colonial] thinking takes its cue from the fact that, if you have sufficient power over someone, you can enforce your ‘mind’ on them, or simply exterminate them if they refuse to assimilate to your ways of thinking.

    On this line of thinking, any attempt to critically evaluate the opinion or practice of another person or group looks like nothing but an exercise in power politics.

    It’s a short step from there to the idea that, in order to rid ourselves of the effects of a colonial past, we must all simply desist from asserting our own beliefs over the beliefs of others.

    There is ‘African belief’ and ‘European belief’, your belief and my belief, but none of us have the right to assert that some other belief is ‘false’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘ugly’ when it is, in fact, just contrary to one’s own belief.

    On this view, to decolonise knowledge is to understand this and so to adopt a certain very broad kind of relativism, which leads to what Friedrich Nietzsche deplored as ‘nihilism’.

    Relativistic decolonisation is associated with traditions of thought that are European in origin: Marxism and modernism.

    There was two general problems with it: the paradox of reflexivity, which renders the assertion of the universal application of its relativism logically absurd; and its assertion of the universal applicability of its relativism is itself an expression of our colonial heritage.

    There is also the point made by Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book Cosmopolitanism. Appiah values conversation very highly and rejects relativism in part because it doesn’t motivate conversation. As he puts it:

    “If we cannot learn from one another what is right to think and feel and do, then conversation between us will be pointless. Relativism of that sort isn’t a way to encourage conversation; it’s just a reason to fall silent.”

    The great attraction of relativistic decolonisation is that it appears to prevent us coming into conflict with each other; we simply accept that everyone is entitled to their views.

    But this is a phoney peace: I might believe I’m free to do things you don’t want me to do, even to hold beliefs that contradict yours; but the trouble is that contradictory beliefs can mandate actions that are mutually exclusive.

    This is the reef on which relativistic decolonistion founders. Issues such as those that surround the practice of female circumcision that of celebrating the Rebel Yell against unionism in the former confederate states of the US are examples of this.

    We might think very differently and acquiesce in one another’s right to think differently, but dissonant worlds nevertheless collide.

    There’s another view, however, called critical decolonisation.

    Critical decolonisation attempts to ‘disinfect’ academic activities: to rid teaching, research, and institutional behaviour of influences that have little to do with the just production and transmission of knowledge.

    It acquiesce in the nihilism of ‘anything goes’; rather, it reflects critically on its own and other pedagogical practices, in paticular on the methodological assumptions that underpin those practices, discovering and seeking to purge them of those assumptions that would exclude other voices from their discourse

    Crucially, critical decolonisation involves accepting the risk of error.

    Subjecting their practice to the kind of philosophising that critical theorists like Theodor Adorno, Fredric Jameson, and Roy Baskar have called ‘immanent critique’ is a very scary and sometimes painful matter for academics, many of whom have devoted their lives to their communions.

    For many, it’s tantamount to having one’s faith questioned; it’s not just an intellectual challenge, but an existential challenge too.

    But if done properly, in a spirit of conversation, in which we each seek to expand towards one another the limits of our own particular cultural horizons, a lot of what we count as ‘sacred’ and ‘beyond question’ will fall in the process of decolonising knowledge, and a lot of formerly suppressed and excluded voices will come to be heard.

    A dialogue of critical scrutiny, from which none is exempted, is essential to the success of this project.


    Adorno, Theodor: Negative Dialectics (Routledge, 1990)
    Appiah, Kwame Anthony: Cosmopolitanism (Penguin, 2015)
    Bhaskar, Roy: Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom (Routledge, 2008)
    Bonn, Moritz Julius: Imperialism (MacMillan, 1932)
    Derrida, Jacques: Of Grammatology (John Hopkins UP, 1976)
    Jameson, Fredric: Postmodernism (New Left Review, 1984)
    Nietzsche, Friedrich: Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Random House, 1954)
    Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Kegan Paul, 1922)

    1. Inthepines33 says:

      @Anndrais mac Chaluim:
      1. Where do you teach?
      2. Have you ever read any American pragmatist philosophy?

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