Author: Decolonisation of Curriculum ‘Fundamentally Destructive’

Oxford university lecturer says decolonisation seeks to criticise and destroy rather than to appreciate and preserve, and it’s ending up negating the truth.
Author: Decolonisation of Curriculum ‘Fundamentally Destructive’
Marie Kawthar Daouda speaks to NTD's "British Thought Leaders" programme. (NTD)
Lily Zhou
Lee Hall

The movement of decolonising the curriculum is “fundamentally destructive,” says author and lecturer Marie Kawthar Daouda.

In an interview with NTD’s “British Thought Leaders” programme, Ms. Daouda also said that disregarding the roles of Africa and the Islamic conquest in slavery is “extremely racist” because it removes the agency or ethical responsibility from those who are seen as ethnic minorities from the European perspective.

The Moroccan-born scholar teaches French language and literature at the Oriel College of the University of Oxford, where a statue of Cecil Rhodes has been targeted by a renewed “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign following widespread Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

The college’s governing body voted in June 2020 to remove the statue but later decided not to remove the statue, citing “regulatory and financial challenges.”

Speaking of the 19th-century magnate and prime minister of the Cape Colony, Ms. Daouda said he “was a colonialist and an imperialist as was pretty much any British man of his time.”

“What’s interesting about Cecil Rhodes is that, in spite of all the bad press he gets nowadays, he was actually rather progressive for his time, creating, for instance, this colour-blind scholarship that allowed any student, regardless of race, to apply and spend some time in Oxford.”

Established through Rhodes in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s oldest international scholarship programme.

Describing Rhodes as “more of a paternalist,” Ms. Daouda said his tomb is “still tended by the African tribe whom he protected in a way from their long-term adversaries.

“So the situation was much more complicated than just: He did not like black people and wanted all of them exterminated.”

Decolonisation Narratives Are ‘Negating the Truth’

Commenting on the push to decolonise the curriculum, Ms. Daouda said while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to hear voices from the margin, but “what we’ve seen recently is a wish to politicise the writings studied by university students or school pupils in order to promote the narrative that the Western European civilization as we know it has been, in fact, destructive and has done nothing but oppress women, people of colour, sexual orientation, minorities.”

“The trouble with this perspective is that it is fundamentally destructive, it doesn’t wish to transmit and preserve so much as it wishes to criticise and destroy the reputation of the established authors,” she said.

Taking Shakespeare as an example, she said, “If I tell you, ‘Would you like to take a course on Shakespeare and see that he was an evil racist, misogynist?’ That’s not what is going to make that author look interesting. I believe that transmission is above all a matter of love and appreciation, which can come with some distance with writers’ personal opinions.”

And for the minority authors, “if the only thing I say about you is that you were oppressed, and evil people did bad things to you, it doesn’t make you as good as if I say that, ‘You created wonderful things that allow everyone to touch something about our shared humanity: the experience of estrangement, the experience of rejection, or the experience of passionate love.’ All of that is not a matter of skin colour.”

What’s more, by decolonising the curriculum, “we have moved from a genuine intellectual interest in broadening our understanding of the past ... for something that ends up negating the truth,” she added.

“There is always the side of the winner and the side of the loser no matter who they are, but deciding that we will only tell the story from the perspective of the victims, even if we presume that it had been taught for too long from the perspective of the winners, does not lead to any betterment or any better understanding of what we have been going through over the last centuries.”

Knowing “the different shades” of a certain question can be “crucial,” Ms. Daouda said.

“For instance, the fact that there had been slave trade in Africa longer before Europeans ever started the colonial enterprise, or the fact that the Islamic conquest was heavily linked to the enslavement of people regardless of their skin colour—all of these are things that we wouldn’t really talk about because we’re promoting this sort of noble savage image of Africa or of any ethnic minority, as in they remain in this state of original intellectual purity, they couldn’t do anything wrong, and everything terrible in their life started when Europeans meddled with it.

“That is, in fact, extremely racist, because not only does it deny the factual history of Africa, of Asia, of America, but it also removes any form of personal agency or ethical responsibility from the people involved just because they happen to be from this or that ethnic minority, but a minority from the European perspective.”

Ms. Daouda suggested it would be helpful to teach pupils that out ancestors have all “done terrible things” and “none of us is innocent if we link innocence to the deeds of the previous generations.”

“But at some point, we also have to introduce a historic separation and to accept that, yes, bad things have happened all around in the past and it is good to study them, but these should not condition the way we address or judge one another nowadays,” she said.

Multi-Ethnic Society With ‘Genuine’ Local Culture

In a previous interview with Oxford Recovery Coach Julian Conor Reid, Ms. Daouda spoke of her experience of having a “caring” Muslim family in Morocco, converting to Christianity, and living in France and England.

She is now working on a new book “on the idea of belonging,” she told Lee Hall, host of the “British Thought Leaders.”

Living in several different countries has make her “quite enthusiastic” about the unique things she discovers in the countries, Ms. Daouda said.

“We talk a lot about multiculturalism nowadays, and multiculturalism would be the statement that all cultures can coexist randomly in one space and things will go well, because everyone would do what he or she wants,” she said, adding that she advocates for “the richness of multi-ethnic societies” when the “genuine character” of a country is maintained.

“There is such a thing as a French tradition, there is such a thing as an English or Welsh and Irish tradition, and it’s damaging to pretend that all of that can just be erased and become cosmopolitan,” she said.

“Multiculturalism would be the statement that all cultures can coexist randomly in one space and things will go well, because everyone would do what he or she wants. I advocate for the richness of multi ethnic societies but provided that we maintain the genuine character of the countries where they happen. So there is such a thing as a French tradition, and there is such a thing as an English or Welsh and Irish tradition. And it’s damaging to pretend that all of that can just be erased and become cosmopolitan.”

“The book is, in a way, an assessment based on my own experience of the importance of giving multi-ethnic societies a place where they would belong and where they would know: This is the overarching framework. And if there is a conflict, we resort to these authorities, or if there is a decision to make between this custom and that custom, we'll go with the local custom.”