An article in the Economist, objecting to the Alt-Right’s appropriation of medieval history, implies that European societies were multicultural…
Academics are placing a new emphasis on the ways in which medieval societies differed from the homogeneous world imagined by the alt-right. Art historians document the appearances of dark-skinned migrants in northern Europe to show that medieval populations, if not quite as mobile as today, were still pretty mobile.
“Not quite as mobile”? “Still pretty mobile”? What cowardly qualifiers. How many “dark-skinned migrants” do you think there were in northern Europe? A handful of traders. A few diplomats. A smattering of sailors from the East India Company. Who else? This is in no way comparable to modern trends in migration and completely irrelevant to the questions that we face.
What is ironic is that this article on the alt-right’s appropriation of history is symptomatic of th more widespread, influential progressive appropriation of the past. While left-wingers often attempt to demonise the past some commentators try to project liberalism backwards; to suggest, perhaps, that it is natural and traditional.
There is nothing wrong with being interested in the multicultural aspects of European history, which existed and are interesting. What I object to is the endemic exaggeration their significance as a means of normalising the exceptional, unprecedented changes we are now experiencing. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, for example, promoting her book Exotic England in 2015, started by insisting that St George “had skin as brown as mine”. Given that his parents are generally agreed to have been Greek I rather doubt that this was true.
Alibhai-Brown recounted the strange and interesting intersections of “Western” and “Eastern” history (with, one sighingly notes, scant references to war and slavery) before finishing with the claim…
England stirs and is trying to redefine itself. It is defensive, jingoistic, Ukippy. But, this nation has always been vibrant, curious, receptive and open. It cannot now turn inwards and monocultural.
Britain could leave the EU, end all immigration and insist that Chinese and Indian restaurants serve boiled chicken, mushy peas and Yorkshire pudding and it would still be far more multicultural than it has been for all but a few years of its history. This is a completely disingenuous conclusion.
History is always seen through tinted sunglasses. Yet ransacking the past to find justification for your views tends to result in obscurantist propaganda, whether it is from a liberal or a white nationalist.