Posts Tagged ‘Kuomintang’

Wellcome Museum Purges Display on History of Medicine to Include African Shaman – A Piece of Cultural Relativism That Will Also Damage Blacks

February 24, 2023

This comes from a piece our favourite YouTube historian, Simon Webb, put up on History Debunked a few days ago. He was attacking the new policy towards the museum that has come in with its new director, a woman whose degree is in the arts. Before, according to Webb, the museum was excellent, covering the history of western medicine in rigorous detail and including displays of operating theatres. Much of this, however, has been junked because the new director has deemed it ableist, racist and colonialist. The gallery to its founder, Wellcome himself, has also gone because he did not hold the current, mandatory beliefs. In their stead a gallery has erected containing two photographs showing the horrors of colonial experimentation on Black Africans along with one Mrs Eruditu, a self-professed African shaman, who conducts healing ceremonies and will counsel visitors to the gallery traumatised by the pictures. Webb calls her a witchdoctor, and describes her as completely mad, as she believes inanimate objects also possess consciousness. She doesn’t like the British Museum and the Egyptology displays, because the exhibits there have told her that they want to be underground. Nor does she approve of the display of a Native American totem pole in the Musee Nationale in France, as this has told her psychically that it wants to be out in the open air. Webb states, quite correctly, that western medicine has produced amazing advances in combating disease and extending the human life span. This new policy is a direct attack on that.

I think Webb, if he’s right about the Museum’s new policy, and he seems to be, has an excellent point here. He views it, no doubt, as another attack on western culture in the name of anti-racism, anti-imperialism and post-colonialism. He is, unfortunately, also very likely right about this. There have been pieces on YouTube by other right-wingers attacking the current policies of the Museums Association, which are all about this. I’ve got a feeling that Manchester Museum has also fallen to these new policies, and that they are also reviewing their collections as a result. But this policy is also harming Black and particularly Black African advancement in ways which the founders of the ‘Science Must Fall’ movement, which is ultimately at the heart of this, probably don’t understand.

The ‘Science Must Fall’ movement was a South African campaign to decentre western science because it rejected indigenous knowledges about the world rooted in myth and legend. There was a video on YouTube of a student debate in one of the South African universities, in which a Black female student urged her White comrades to decolonise their minds and accept that tribal rainmakers could indeed make it rain. People are welcome to whatever mystical or religious beliefs they choose, providing these don’t break the law. But they are separate. Back in the 90s, the late Stephen Jay Gould, a biologist and palaeontologist, attempted to end the war between science and religious by stating that there were No Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). Science dealt with fact, and religion with issues of meaning and values. Of course, militant atheists of the Dawkins type disagreed and thought that it was a capitulation to unreason. Gould’s wrong in that religion and science do overlap, but as a general point I think it’s fair. Science and religion, as a general rule, are separate.

I am also sure that the new director is right, and that Blacks were experimented on by surgeons and doctors in the past. It certainly happened in America, where one of the great surgeons of the 19th century experiment on Black women without anaesthetic. I read somewhere that H.G. Wells was partly inspired to write The Island of Dr. Moreau by accounts of a German doctor experimenting on Black Africans. But you have to be very careful in making such judgements. A while ago I provoked an angry reply in a piece I had written for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. I was talking about the history of medicine in the context of space exploration. One of the books I had consulted for the piece described one particular pioneering doctor of tropical medicine as a quack for his theories and treatment of diseases. Unfortunately for me, one of the other senior members of the Society knew him, and wrote to me stating that he was a dedicated, humane man of science. The problem was that he was facing completely new diseases unknown in the west and which nobody knew how to treat. This is a good point, and I wrote to the aggrieved gentleman apologising for the inadvertent smear and issued a correction to the Journal. I wonder if some of the other pioneering doctors and surgeons, whose work has similarly fallen into disfavour, were like the man I mentioned – a sincere medical man, working in the unknown.

Underlying the attempts to decentre western science are two related attitudes. One is the fact that many displaced, colonised peoples have been harmed by the destruction of their own, indigenous world view. This has left them without meaning, resulting in alcoholism and drug addiction in many indigenous communities like the Amerindians in the Americas and Aboriginal Australians. The other is the belief in the Noble Savage, in which indigenous communities like them are somehow better, and more noble than moral than White, western society. The attempts to decentre western science and include indigenous myth and religion are attempts to restore dignity to these colonised peoples.

But African paganism also has its dark side. The priests of one of the cults in Nigeria were actively involved in the slave trade, to the point where the Nigerian equivalent of the saying that someone has been sold down the river literally translates as they ‘have been stolen by the Oracle’. There is also a widespread belief in witches and witch hunting all across the continent. Many of the accused, as in the pre-modern west are women, and some of the trials are just as deadly. In one Nigerian ritual, the accused woman is given the Calabar Bean, a poisonous vegetable. If she doesn’t vomit it out quickly, she’ll die, and so be judged a witch. There have also been professional witch hunters of the same stripe as the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, of Civil War England. Way back in the 19th century one of the Zulu kings went on a witch-hunting campaign. Witchsmellers, the indigenous Zulu witch hunters, were engaged and duly pointed the finger at a number of suspects, who were duly executed. A European official talked to the king, and said this all looked very dubious, and wondered if the witchsmellers were right in their accusations. The king laughed, said he wondered too, and had all one hundred of them executed as frauds.

And then there’s muti, which is really sinister. This is the sacrifice of humans, often young children, for their body parts, which are sold to the sorcerer’s clients to bring them good luck. I put up a piece I found on one of the YouTube channels about the amazing efforts of a Black British woman against it in Uganda. But it also appeared in Britain back in the early part of this century. The cops dragged the spine of a murdered boy, Adam, wrapped in various pieces of coloured cloth out of the Thames. The cloth’s colours were those of the muti cult, and it looked like child, probably 12 years old, had been sacrificed. And some African anthropologists have defended such murders. A little while ago one of them presented such a paper at an anthropological conference in Manchester. They claimed that these sacrifices were morally acceptable because Africans had a collective morality that saw that the sacrifice of an individual could benefit the community. Bear in mind that we are talking about the murder of children, whose body parts, including their genitals, are considered most effective if they have been hacked off while the victim was still alive. I believe that the anthropologist presenting the paper was asked to leave.

Indigenous African religion has also been the tool of White supremacist governments to keep Black Africans firmly in their very subordinate place. A few decades ago, a Zulu shaman, Credo Mutwa, had a book published in this country, in which he explained his mystical beliefs and practises. From what I’ve read, it was a mixture of native Zulu lore and western occultism, aimed at the New Age crowd. It was reviewed by the sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, who were very scathing. Mutwa, they claimed, had been a stooge of the Apartheid South African government during their retribalisation campaign. This stressed the indigenous, separate identities of the various South African tribes, who by then had become a Black proletariat. The intention was to keep the Black population divided so they were too weak to successfully challenge the Apartheid government.

Magonia have also several times stated that these books extolling the joys of indigenous life without western science and technology are all aimed at westerners, who have no intention of living like their ancestors did. I think it’s a fair point. The satirist Alan Coren expressed similar sentiments, set in a European context, in one of his pieces for Punch back in the 1970s. It’s about a very middle class, academic couple, who take over a French village and undo centuries of civilisation in order to return to them to what they see as the inhabitants’ natural, pre-Christian, pre-scientific state. But they themselves have no intention of rejecting scientific modernity. The piece ends with one of them stating he intends to write a paper on it. I think the same mindset is at work here.

As for Eruditu’s beliefs about the British museum and its exhibits, this is just animism, pure and simple, the belief that every rock and object has a soul. But I’ve heard very different things about the unhappy state of some of the exhibits. I’ve got a strong interest in psychical research, and a few weeks ago went to an online meeting about ghosts and hauntings in the British Museum. The Egyptology section has something of a cult as some of the visitors there are worshippers, who leave offerings. One spiritualist visitor, a medium, is supposed to have said that the mummies like being on display, as they feel they have a role to teach, but are frustrated at not being able to communicate with the living. This, of course, is completely the opposite of what Eruditu has said, and you can take or leave either or both depending on your attitude to mysticism. I many people are unhappy about the dead being excavated and put on display in museums, and don’t need a mystic to tell them this. But Egypt is certainly one of the great, founding civilisations of humanity, and Egyptology has massively extended our knowledge of the human past and this civilisation’s undeniable achievements and contribution.

Back to Africa. Way back in the 1980s I read an article by a Black African historian, a Muslim, who had presented his own series on the continent’s history on the Beeb. He lamented the fact that the west’s scientific and technological knowledge, inherited from ancient Greece and Rome, was not being transmitted to Africa. He’s right. After all, India and China have made massive strides in development this century because they have embraced science and technology. Sun Yat-Sen, the Chinese revolutionary who founded the Kuomintang, said at the beginning of his movement that ‘We say hello to Mr Science and Mr Democracy’. Sadly, democracy in China got left behind, but science has been taken up with a vengeance so that the country is now a centre of serious technological innovation in space and robotics. And it was helped in this by the early translators of western scientific texts, who referred to it not as western science, but as ‘the new science’. Something similar may well be needed in Africa.

This attempt to decentre and stigmatise western science and medicine has the potential to seriously harm Black advancement. I do think that there is a genuine potential for science and technology in Africa that is currently untapped and stifled. And Webb complained a few months or perhaps a year ago about a piece in New Scientist, in which a Black, female scientist called for more Blacks in lab coats. This movement, which sees Blacks and other indigenous peoples as non-scientific, runs counter to that. It reminds me of some of the scathing criticisms of non-western cultures by the early orientalists, who felt that these peoples would not be capable of assimilating western culture.

And I dare say the promoters of this movement would accuse me of racism, but I am afraid that there are real dangers of encouraging the dark side of African religion and spirituality through an uncritical acceptance of such shamanism.

If Webb is right, then the new director has not only ruined a once great museum, but she’s part of a larger movement that poses a threat to the whole tradition of the Enlightenment, a movement that genuinely endangers scientific advancement for some of the world’s peoples, who most need it.

William Blum’s List of American Foreign Interventions: Part 1

February 15, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece about American hypocrisy in the allegations that Putin was blackmailing Donald Trump, when the Americans themselves interfered in the Russian elections in 1996 in order to secure Boris Yeltsin’s election as Russian president. This was, however, hardly the first time America had intervened in the domestic politics of a foreign country. William Blum devotes two chapters to this in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. In one he lists the various interventions America has made in other countries, including invasions and military coups, and in the other cases where America has interfered with the conduct of elections in order to secure a win for their favoured candidates.

Both of these are very long and ignominious lists. Here’s part 1 of a list of foreign interventions by the US.

American Interventions

China 1945-51
Aiding Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang against Mao’s Communists.

France 1947
Backing French Socialist party against the Communists, using Corsican mobsters to attack Communist party and Communist-aligned trade unionists.

Marshall Islands 1946-58
Indigenous people of Bikini Atoll removed from the island in order to make way for nuclear tests.

Italy 1947-1970s
Backing Conservative Christian Democrats to keep the Socialists and Communists out of power.

Greece 1947-9
Backing neo-Fascists and creating intelligence unit for them in the civil war against the Communists.

Philippines 1945-53
Military actions against the left-wing Huk forces.

Korea 1945-53
Korean War. However, afterwards US backed Conservatives, who had collaborated with the Japanese, and Fascist dictators, also committed atrocities against fleeing civilians.

Albania 1949-53
Backing anti-Communist guerillas, most of whom were collaborators with the Nazis and Italian Fascists.

Eastern Europe 1948-1956
Head of CIA Allen Dulles deliberately heightened paranoia in the eastern bloc, causing hundreds of thousands of imprisonments, purge trials and murders by the Communist regimes.

Germany 1950s
Lengthy campaign of terrorism, dirty tricks and sabotage against East Germany.

Iran 1953
Prime Minister Mossadegh overthrown by CIA and British led coup, as dared nationalise what is now British Petroleum oilfields.

Guatemala 1953-1990s
CIA backed Fascist coup against democratic socialist Jacobo Arbenz for nationalising plantations owned by American company, United Fruit. Result: forty years of terror, with 200,000 people murdered.

Costa Rica mid-1950s and 1970-1
Attempted assassination of liberal democratic president, Jose Figueres, because considered too soft on the left, and for making his nation the first in Central America to establish diplomatic links with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and questioning American foreign policy, like the invasion of Cuba.

Middle East 1956-58
Attempts to overthrow the Syrian government, shows of force in Mediterranean against opposition to US-backed governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landing of 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and attempts to overthrow and assassinate Egyptian president Gamal Nasser.

Indonesia 1957-8
Attempts to manipulate elections, assassinate, blackmail and start a civil war to overthrow President Sukarno. Sukarno neutral in Cold War, went on trips to China and USSR, nationalised private property of Dutch colonialists, and did not crack down on the Communist party, which was then engaged on electoral path to power.

Haiti 1959
Trained troops of notorious dicator Papa Doc Duvalier, and destroy attempted coup against him by Haitians, Cubans and other Latin Americans.

Western Europe 1950s-1960s
Granting of American money through charities and so on to various groups and organisations in pursuit of American anti-Communist, anti-Socialist policies.

British Guiana/Guyana 1953-64
Attempts to force out of office democratically elected socialist premier, Cheddi Jagan by America and Britain.

Iraq 1958-63

Long campaign against nationalist leader General Abdul Karim Kassem after he overthrew the monarchy and established a republic. USA and Turkey drew up plan to invade; this dropped in favour of arming Kurds, as well as assassination attempts. Kassem helped set up OPEC and created nationalised oil company. Kassem was finally overthrown in a Ba’ath coup, which also led to a clampdown on the Communist party, which was backed by both America and Britain.

Soviet Union 1940s-1960s
Cold War campaigns of espionage, propaganda and sabotage, backing of resistance movements against USSR.

Vietnam 1945-73
Vietnam War.

Cambodia 1945-73
Overthrow of Prince Sihanouk enabling Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge to gain power.

Laos 1957-73
Armed insurrection and bombing against reformist left, led by Pathet Lao party.

Thailand 1965-73
Armed forced against insurgents.

Ecuador 1960-63
Overthrow of president Jose Maria Velasco for not clamping down on left and not following US policy against Cuba.

Congo/Zaire, 1960-65, 1977-8
Overthrow of Patrice Lumumba in favour of dictator and mass-murderer Mobutu Sese Seko.

France/Algeria 1960s
Backed French military coup in Algeria to stop country becoming independent. Also hoped repercussions would overthrow De Gaulle, who was blocking American attempts to dominate NATO.

Brazil, 1961-64
Backed military dictatorship which overthrew President Joao Goulart for being too independent and friendly towards Communists, despite the fact that Goulart millionaire devout Roman Catholic.

Peru 1965
Military action against leftist guerillas

Dominican Republic 1963-5
Overthrow of liberal president, Juan Bosch.

Cuba 1959-Present
Attempts to overthrow Communist regime.

Indonesia 1965
Overthrow of Sukarno and bloody suppression of Communists by successor, General Suharto.

Ghana 1966
Overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah

Uruguay 1969-72
Dirty War against Tupamaro leftists guerillas.

Chile 1964-73
Long campaign against democratic Communist, Salvador Allende, culminating in Fascist coup of General Pinochet.

Greece 1967-74
Intervention against liberal Greek president George Papandreou, as he wanted to take Greece out of NATO and declare Greek neutrality in Cold War. Overthrown in the Fascist coup that inaugurated the rule of the Colonels.

South Africa 1960s-1980s
Assistance to South African apartheid government against African Nationalist Congress, which, amongst other things, led to the arrest and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

Bolivia 1964-75
Military campaign against President Victor Paz for supporting Cuba.

Australia 1972-5
Operations to have Gough Whitlam, the leader of the Aussie Labor party, removed by America and British, ’cause he was opposed to Vietnam.

Iraq 1972-5
CIA backed Kurds, not for them to get autonomy, but to distract Iraqi army and make sure they didn’t overthrow the Shah of Iran.

Portugal 1974-76
comprehensive series of measures, including shows of force by NATO warships, against radical policies proposed by the army officers, who overthrew the previous Fascist dictatorship of General Salazar.

East Timor 1975-99
Backing of Indonesian invasion, which killed 1/3 of the island’s population.

Angola 1975-1980s
Angolan civil war, which was basically proxy war between US, China and South Africa on one hand and USSR and Cuba on the other.