Against Modern Jacobinism: A Defense of Columbus
Although the iconoclastic madness in the old continent has not reached the levels of the United States, Europe has also suffered the activity of modern censors who want to erase and rewrite history by demolishing statues and monuments. Italy was hit by the iconoclastic movement as they targeted a statue dedicated to the most important Italian conservative journalist, Indro Montanelli, in Milan. They smeared it with red paint and covered it with insulting words. Montanelli was accused of being a racist and even a pedophile after marrying a young girl in Africa during the Italian colonial period. The smeared statue of Montanelli shook Italian public opinion because in the seventies the journalist had been the victim of an attack by the Communist terrorist group of the Red Brigades, who shot him in the legs. It is impossible not to make a connection with the new attack, this time to erase his memory, claimed by a student group on the extreme left-wing.
However, Italians were most struck by the wave of hatred and demolition of a statue that took place in the United States against one of the most famous personalities of the Bel Paese: Christopher Columbus. The images of the defaced and dismembered statue of Columbus, Ohio, in a city that takes its name from the Genoese explorer, has outraged public opinion in Italy. Italians, have continued to take pride in the most famous Italian explorer.
Along with some of the most influential Italian intellectuals, journalists including the famed Marco Valle, conservative university professors, we decided to promote an appeal entitled “Giù le mani da Colombo” (Hands off Colombo), in collaboration with Il Giornale—the main Italian conservative newspaper— thanks to the director Alessandro Sallusti and the deputy director Francesco Maria Del Vigo. The appeal has generated considerable interest in Italy and also in Europe (for example the journalist Dalma Janosi wrote about it on Magyar Hirlap, one of the main Hungarian newspapers) and hundreds of citizens shared this idea, tired of having to hear calls to erase our identity. The political world has also joined the appeal with parliamentarians, mayors, and Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party (among the main Italian political forces with over 15 percent of votes).
The requests of the appeal are as simple as necessary and urgent: to celebrate the National Day of Christopher Columbus (already introduced by a statute in 2004, but almost unknown) on October 12th, in institutions, schools, universities, and ask for adequate penalties for those who vandalize statues and monuments.
Columbus, after having faced and defeated the judgments and prejudices of his era, is forced to suffer those of our time. On the front line to judge him, there are no longer the “junta dos mathematicos” —the commission of the wise men of King Joao II of Portugal— or the erudite men of Salamanca who had considered him an ignorant and visionary sailor, rejecting his idea of “buscar el Levante por el Ponente.” Over 500 years after his death, Don Cristobal Colòn, as they call him in Spain, must suffer new insults. With a senseless simplification, the wave of outrage at George Floyd’s unjust death in Minneapolis has transformed into the damnatio memoriae of this great sailor, considered not the one who has changed the course of world history and started the modern era by discovering America, but only an exterminator of native peoples.
A couple of years ago, Melissa Mark-Viverito, then speaker of the city council of New York City, when establishing a municipal commission to decide whether to remove the famous Columbus Circle statue donated to the city by the Italian-Americans in 1892 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, explained: “In Puerto Rico, where I come from, there are discussions about the fact that there should not be monuments in honor of Christopher Columbus, considering what the oppression of native people means and all the dramatic consequences that have generated.”
Bill de Blasio, the Italian-American and ultra-liberal mayor of the Big Apple, has reiterated in recent days that he will leave the statue where it is, but in other cities, the anti-Columbus madness does not subside. Despite civil and measured protests by the National Italian American Foundation, they even abolished Columbus Day in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Denver, and Washington D.C.
Politically correct intolerance has targeted Christopher Columbus for some time now, but blaming the Genoese explorer for the racial tensions of American society and thinking that it is fair to destroy the statue and erase his memory for such problems, is hypocritical and wrong.
Moreover, censorship campaigns can strike anyone with a dangerous rewriting of history: Gandhi, for example, whose statue was removed from a university campus in Ghana where he is considered a racist; Admiral Horatio Nelson, who should be dismissed from his column in Trafalgar Square as a supporter of imperialism; Captain James Cook, considered by some fanatics who have ruined his statue, not as the discoverer of Australia, but his invader; Cecil Rhodes, brutally evicted as a colonialist from the University of Oxford, which for more than a century has benefited exclusively from the generous scholarships of the “Rhodes Exchange”, heir to the immense fortune of Rhodes and established to finance the studies of deserving young people from all Commonwealth countries.
The same thing happened even to Martin Luther King J.R, described in some recent investigations based on Hoover’s FBI reports as a male chauvinist and predator. Winston Churchill and Julius Caesar whose statues, in London, and Belgium were smeared with insults, not to mention Indro Montanelli in Italy.
A grotesque escalation that is transforming the dystopias of George Orwell (“Ignorance is strength”, 1984) and Aldous Huxley (“History is all nonsense”, Brave New World) into reality. We are witnessing the pretense of wanting to deny, modify, and manipulate history by throwing events into a blender that grinds and mixes them out of context by simplifying, trivializing, transforming and then returning them in the form of a rewriting and elementary narration that pits the good against the alleged bad guys, who must be erased from historical memory.
Fanatics and zealots are now becoming champions of justice and acts of vandalism like destroying statues and desecrating cemeteries are considered commendable actions, rather than gestures to condemn. This is something to which we cannot remain indifferent and to which we should react with the defense of the first name on the list: Christopher Columbus, the great Genoese navigator and Italian.
At a time when an attack on the history, culture, and identity of the Western world is underway, Europe and the United States must collaborate in a common battle of civilizations to avoid the prevalence of the ideas of those who would like to use the same criteria of censorship that are adopted in dictatorships, to Western democracies. The images of the demolished statues bring to mind the darkest moments of the last centuries and, for those who define themselves as conservatives, cannot help but recall the period of Jacobin revolutionary terror. Get your hands off Colombo and our story.
Francesco Giubilei is an entrepreneur, author, and independent journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is founder and president of the Nazione Futura magazine and foundation.