Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Who can control the past?

Ku Klux Klan
Ku Klux Klan

The appalling spectacle in the US of statues being torn down one after another in a violent display of extremism is a travesty.

Shamefully pulled down from their pedestals they are crushed, kicked, mocked, spewed and sputtered by a mad crowd who never stopped to ask why they were put on a pedestal in the first place. Whatever the reason, they made history.

To Southerners in the US these statues are a symbol of pride, of an honourable struggle for their ideas.

Slavery is abominable, but it is a thing of the past. Let these statues or monuments be a reminder that such times are no more. No longer will the Ku Klux Klan threaten, terrorise or lynch at will. Crowd hysteria cannot erase history.

Ancient Egypt among other cultures must own the blame for nations’ attempt to undo the past. They could not —nobody can.

King Thutmoses III, stepson of Queen Hatshepsut, tried hard to obliterate her from history. His son, Amenhotep IV continued his father’s mission, removing her image from reliefs, cartouches, statues, even her name from the official list of Egypt’s rulers. Only a few years ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a special exhibit of the great queen and even found depictions of her image to display.  

History stands in defiance of all who wish to demolish it.

The earth is littered with shattered remains of toppled statues. The Romans practised the damnatio memoriae, the destruction of “damned” images — the worst fate of being forgotten.

Under Christianity the practice flourished for the promotion of religious orthodoxy. Islam in general has a good record of tolerance, particularly to Christianity and Judaism. It is a far cry from the acts of the present day of extremists like the Islamic State (IS) and others who enjoy an orgy of destruction, rape, slaughter of Christians and Muslims, relentless in their rage to recreate the world in their own image.

What do you call the present extremists pulling down statues in the US? Imitating IS?

Why are we practising that limited vision of the ancients? Have we learned nothing from history? Hatshepsut, Maximilian, Caligula, Pontius Pilate still live in history, being an irrefutable proof that cultural heritages cannot be destroyed.

Perhaps German philosopher Hegel was right when he said: “What experience and history teach is that people and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it.”

Leftists, black extremists, liberal democrats and socialists, heavily funded by Soros and Co. will not rest until they reshape America to their liking. That was Barack Obama’s aim and he may have succeeded in creating a greater chasm between the races. Emboldened by impressionable, passionate young students, they believe that by destroying these pieces of metal, they have erased the era of slavery, sordid as it was.  

In their zeal they have removed and vandalised Southern figures from public places, such as that of Confederate General, Nathan Redford Forrest and his wife, who were dug out from their graves in a park in Memphis, Tennessee.

Even the dead are not allowed to rest.

The irony is that the Ku Klux Klan and such despicable groups were democrats fighting for slavery, while it was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who freed them.

Such violent acts produce the opposite of what is intended.

Heritage preservation laws have failed, yet in a recent poll, 62 per cent of the country wants the statues to remain and only 27 per cent want them removed. Is this not democracy?

Ideological dissenters continue to tear down statues and discard with any reminders of the past. But history remembers.

None is innocent of the deliberate and complete destruction of irreplaceable cultural symbols such as churches, temples, mosques, art and architecture, museums, monuments, libraries, busts of Columbus, Lenin, Stalin, Saddam Hussein — to what avail.

Ravenously determined to destroy the much maligned and misunderstood general of the Confederate Army, Robert E Lee, we need a word to comprehend Lee for those who know or do not know him. Unlike many southerners, Lee did not believe in slavery. He freed the slaves he inherited long before the Civil War. A superior army engineer, he helped the US win the war against Mexico. The official army report praised Lee: “success was largely due to the skill, valour and undaunted courage… the greatest military genius in America”. The Civil War was a major dilemma. Faithful to his home state of Virginia he agonised over joining the Confederate Army lest he raise his hand against neighbours, relatives, friends or his children.

British Viscount Garnet Wolsley wrote: “I have met many great men of my time but Lee alone impressed me with the feeling that I was in the presence of a man who was cast in a grander mould and made of different and finer metal than all other men. He is stamped upon my memory as being apart and superior to all others in every way — a man with whom none I ever knew and very few of whom I have read were worthy to be classed.” 

This is the man the mad extremists wish to destroy.

Erasing the past renders life an intellectual wasteland and sledgehammers do not destroy history. The only thing that is real and immoveable is the past.

Better heed the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead on their journey to the afterlife.

“Make way for me, for I know you, I know your name.”

“Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind.”

W H Auden (1907-1973)

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