In the ensuing controversy, Churchill was exposed by real American Indians as a fake. The American Indian Grand Governing Council said “Ward Churchill has fraudulently represented himself as an Indian, and a member of the American Indian Movement and … has been masquerading as an Indian for years behind his dark glasses and beaded headband.”
More importantly, a University of New Mexico specialist in Indian law, John Lavelle, accused Churchill of fabricating evidence in no less than six books and eleven published academic articles.
That the work of such a moral [sic.] bankrupt and scholarly charlatan could be paraded as weighty commentary by the editors of Australia’s leading journal in Aboriginal history is a good indication of what an intellectual shameless this subject has become.
The anti-colonialism of these historians is also highly selective in that it ignores empires other than those of Europe. The truth is that all great civilizations have absorbed other peoples, sometimes in harmony, sometimes by the sword. The Islamic world, so often portrayed today as victims of British or American or Israeli imperialism, is hardly innocent. The Ottoman Turks conquered and ruled most of the Middle East for a thousand years. The British and the French displaced them in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, with the approval of the Arabs who by then wanted liberation from Ottoman rule. In India, Muslims from Arabia and Persia were imperial overlords for eight centuries until the British arrived. The British overthrew Muslim rule, with the active cooperation and grateful applause of the Hindu population.
I am torn in the debate about indigenous peoples. This passage is from Keith Windschuttle, a conservative historian in Australia. While my politics are more in line with Windschuttle’s than with Churchill’s, I find Windschuttle’s, and many other conservative historians, arguments to be inadequate in the face of the criticisms lodged against them.
Churchill makes an indictment about Indian identity, that the definition of an Indian is a government controlled definition, a definition that forces Indians into a marginal position. Yet, Windschuttle feels it compelling to point out that Churchill does not meet this government definition of Indian-ness. An argument that is clearly non-responsive to Churchill’s criticism and may actually prove the scope of the problem Churchill identifies. As for being a member of the American Indian Movement, it may be accurate that Churchill claims to be a member and yet is not. It could also be that Churchill claims to be a member of the American Indian movement and Windschuttle confuses that with the American Indian Movement. One is a structure and the other is an informal community bound by shared ideas. While this difference may not explain away the argument, it is a nuance that I would not be surprised, given the quality of his work, to find Windschuttle not realizing.
I am curious about the supposed fabrication Windschuttle alludes to, but it is important to note that Windschuttle references merely an accusation by a single person, not a finding and not even an accusation by a group. This fabrication issue is also potentially suspect given Churchill’s indictment of the history of American Indians. A discrepancy in Churchill’s and the official’s record may be called fabrication by Lavelle yet in Churchill’s account may actually prove his argument. I will admit that this debate is a passing fancy and not important enough for me to spend time researching and investigating.
The final argument in the Windschuttle passage is about the history of colonialism. I will posit his condition (even though it seems suspect) that all civilizations (great civilizations?) absorb others, yet that does not absolve the US of what it has done. Churchill does focus on the US ‘absorption’ but that does not constitute the selective charge Windschuttle issues. Claiming the US did something wrong is not a valorization of the Ottomans or other non-Western empires. This argument is a sophomoric link of omission argument.
The ultimate problem of the Windschuttle piece is where he attacks Churchill. This is also where I draw difference with both Churchill and Windschuttle. While I find Churchill’s prescriptions naïve and overly simplistic (how do I live my life as if the US did not exist?) I find his descriptions of what has happened depressingly accurate and sobering. Windschuttle, however, is focused almost exclusively (at least in this piece, I do not want to commit the same link of omission error he does) on Churchill’s descriptions instead of his plans to change the world.