When 10 woke students feel bold enough to cancel the Queen for ‘colonialism’, Britain faces a battle for its soul
The removal of a portrait of the Queen from a common room by Oxford University students has upset many in the UK. The lack of respect for a reigning monarch shows nothing is sacred in the ongoing march of woke ideology.
It only took 10 student members of Oxford University’s Magdalen College Middle Common Room to vote for the removal of a portrait of the Queen, and the Head of State of the United Kingdom had been cancelled.
Granted, 10 silly, spoiled students are not exactly a threat to the British way of life. But at a time when the culture war against Britishness is in full swing, it is understandable that this petty gesture provoked an angry response. A headline in The Telegraph – ‘Queen becomes latest victim of cancel culture as portrait is removed from Oxford college’ – summed up the reaction. “Simply absurd,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
In normal times, the students’ politics of gesture would not be newsworthy. But at a time when attacking symbols of Britishness and heaping scorn on the country’s past achievements has become a national sport, it is no surprise that for many, many people, the removal of the Queen’s portrait is seen as a threat to their way of life.
What is significant about this story is not so much the removal of the Queen’s portrait, but the arguments used by some of the students to justify their act. According to the president of the Common Room, Matthew Katzman, the decision to cancel the Queen’s portrait was motivated by the desire to turn the room into a safe space for everyone. He noted that “it was decided to leave the common room neutral.”
Apparently, the students demanding the removal of the portrait called for the vote on the interest of domestic and international students who might object to the imagery. Katzman stated that “the college will have plenty of depictions of various things, but the common room is meant to be a space for all to feel welcome.”
Evidently the Magdalen 10 believe that the portrait of the British monarch is so threatening that it may well cause emotional harm to privileged students inhabiting the Common Room. In line with the woke ideology that prevails in elite universities, student sensitivity to threatening objects and symbols is sufficient to remove them from sight.
So why did the Magdalen students assume that the portrait of the Queen might cause serious offence to members of the College? Those who argued for the removal of the portrait stated that “for some students, depictions of the monarch and British monarchy represent recent colonial history.”
The forced link that students drew between the Queen and colonialism is informed by a tendentious form of historical illiteracy. The Queen is the head of state, and depicting her in a negative light is a roundabout way of calling into question the moral status of British society.
As it happens, the removal of the portrait is not simply directed at the British monarchy. One student commented that “patriotism and colonialism are not really separable.” This comment will come as news to people like myself who are thoroughly anti-colonialist, but believe that patriotism is a positive value.
There are numerous societies in the world that have never possessed colonies but are inhabited by patriotism. Patriotism means the taking of pride in one’s community and nation. It is integral to the kind of solidarity that binds people together. It also provides people with a sense of space and of belonging.
The Magdalen students despise patriotism, not only because they are estranged from the Queen but also because they are psychically distant from their community. Their attempt to denigrate patriotism by brushing it with the tarnish of colonialism is integral to the cosmopolitan and globalist outlook of woke ideology.
By itself, the incident at Magdalen College is of little significance. But the fact that 10 students feel culturally empowered to denigrate a symbol of the community’s way of life is worrying. It indicates that British society faces a struggle for the soul of the nation.