Ideology generates monsters: the statue of Sir Napier and the degeneration of the West

The historical short circuit of the Black Lives Matter: in the list of statues to be torn down that of the British general Napier, who abolished slavery in Sindh, fighting for women and the right to demonstrate

Scrolling through the list of statues that the heterogeneous movement in support of Black Lives Matter would like to have removed from the United Kingdom, between the now inevitable Christopher Columbus and the British hero Nelson, my eye fell on a man now almost unknown, Sir Charles James Napier. The statue of the British general (1782-1853) should be demolished because under his command "the Indian province of Sindh (now Pakistan) was militarily occupied". In essence, the indictment is imperialism. Undoubtedly, the lack of knowledge of history does not help to formulate proposals that are coherent with one's "thought", but the case in question is emblematic of the degeneration which sees the West as protagonist. Sir Napier was indeed a colonialist, but he also had a very noble ambition: to improve the living conditions of the people under his command, both from the point of view of well-being and that of human rights. An ambition that, in theory, should link him to activists who would like to see his statue removed from Trafalgar Square.

The almost comical paradox, in fact, is that Sir Napier introduced a series of reforms into Sindh that should attract the approval of certain groups that loudly proclaim to fight for human rights. For example, Napier abolished slavery (without compensation for the local masters) and introduced very severe punishments (death penalty) for men guilty of "honor killings", ie the murder of a woman believed to be an adulteress, until then practice provided for by the Sindhi customs and a topic still discussed in Italy today.

Again with regard to barbarism practiced against women, Sir Napier prohibited the custom of "sati" or the practice that involves the suicide – often forced – of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband. An exchange of views between Sir Charles and some local inhabitants who protested the abolition of "sati" has remained in history: "If burning widows is your custom, prepare the funeral pyres. But my nation also has a custom. When a man burns a woman alive we hang him. My carpenters will therefore have to erect forks on which to hang everyone involved when the widow is consumed. So let's behave according to our national customs! ". Cases of "sati" have also occurred in recent decades, one of which was striking in 1987 that involved an eighteen-year-old girl and that led – finally – the Indian government to pass legislation against this practice. In the same way, the general endeavored to try to improve overall the treatment to which Sindhi women were subjected.

And the twists don't end there. In fact, Sir Napier was known to adopt an opening line towards peaceful demonstrators who demanded greater rights and protections. In command of the Army, in the north of England, he did everything possible to avoid a degeneration of the protests of the Cartista movement which would have provoked the reaction of the security forces and, therefore, of the possible victims among the population. He did everything in his power, in essence, to prevent the right demands of the workers – which he shared in part – from turning into violence capable of justifying the repression of the police. Transposed today, essentially, it would be contrary to the so-called " police brutality" . Even on the side of ethnic and social equality, the figure of Sir Napier reserves surprises: he was, in fact, the first to appoint, in addition to the officers, even the simple soldiers in his dispatches, including Indians.

Sir Charles James Napier was not a saint, very few in history have been, but his figure, as well as the others that dot our past, must be studied, understood and contextualized, certainly not erased. Because erasing men like Sir Napier is not only destroying history, in all its complexity and richness, it is also erasing the path that led to being what we are today. And without the teachings of the past – in its infinite alternation of lights and shadows, in its infinite complexity – the present and the future would find themselves devoid of History, the only guide capable of offering competence and wisdom accumulated for millennia. Historia magistra vitae , Cicero said more than two thousand years ago: it would be a crime to forget it today.

The post Ideology generates monsters: the statue of Sir Napier and the degeneration of the West appeared first on the Daily Atlantic .

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL on Thu, 18 Jun 2020 04:05:00 +0000.