By Miles Howell

There has been debate over whether or not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford University.

Rhodes was a nineteenth century politician, businessman and imperialist with a complex legacy. As well as serving as the Prime Minister of Cape Colony, he founded the De Beers diamond mining company and the British African territory of Rhodesia. He contributed towards Oxford University by setting up a scholarship scheme for international students in his name, beneficiaries of which include such people as the former President of the United States Bill Clinton. Last year, a ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign at Cape Town University in South Africa resulted in the removal of a statue of Rhodes, and the protestors in Oxford hope to do the same.

Rhodes may be an unsavoury character to us today, but his racist views on the supremacy of the white race were unfortunately not uncommon amongst his contemporaries. He was not as black and white a character as has been made out by bizarrely comparing him to Adolf Hitler. He was, for instance, a supporter of the Irish Home Rule. Protestors have been guilty of exaggerating his legacy in order to further their agenda: he has been called ‘the father of Apartheid’, even though he died in 1902 and Apartheid wasn’t introduced in South Africa until 1948.

Whether you like it or not, Cecil Rhodes contributed to Oxford University through the Rhodes scholarship and this cannot be wiped from history. In fact, one of the chief protestors benefits from the Rhodes scholarship and so his very place at the University is due to the Rhodes’ influence. To describe having to walk past his statue on the way to lectures as a form of ‘violence’, as some protestors have claimed, is absurd and demeans the real-life victims of suffering.

Making such an issue over Rhodes’ statue risks starting a trend in Britain on removing historical items that may risk offending modern day sensibilities. You could make an argument that any statue or monument should be removed if you disagree with the person it represents. By removing Rhodes we may start a very slippery slope.

For instance, Winston Churchill held highly imperialist viewpoints on the British Empire, so remove all his memorials. You could make a case for most British Kings and Queens for being immoral by today’s standards, so why not eradicate their legacy. Why stop there? Surely other monuments should not be exempt from this crusade: American Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slave-owners, so their faces on Mount Rushmore must certainly be destroyed.

For a free country such as Britain to start tearing down our heritage because it may disagree with our modern sensibilities or offend a few is a sure sign of worry. For the sake of protecting our past, then, let Rhodes stay. You do not have to agree with him, and probably shouldn’t given his views, but at least acknowledge the right of countries to protect their past.