Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I am not a racist, damn it

"This weekend, however, it seems ever more likely that a court will have to adjudicate between the historian Niall Ferguson and writer Pankaj Mishra over Ferguson's claim that he had been accused of being a "racist".
Indeed, not since VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux fell out has there been a spat like this in the letters pages of a literary journal. A new exchange of correspondence in the current London Review of Books, triggered by Mishra's review of the Harvard professor's latest book Civilization, which Ferguson claims was "defamatory", is evidence that the row is becoming more intense.
In his letter Ferguson charges Mishra of being "in full and ignominious retreat", condemning both Mishra and the LRB for refusing to apologise.
At the heart of the controversy is Mishra's interpretation of not only Ferguson's latest book but also his body of work in general, which has sought to challenge the view that western empires were entirely negative in their impact, and argues that colonialism could have positive effects as well.
Ferguson is best known for his popular television histories, including Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World and The Ascent of Money.
"As my last letter explained, [Mishra] made a vile allegation of racism against me," says Ferguson in his latest letter to LRB. "In his response he nowhere denies that this was his allegation; nor does he deny that he intended to make it." (thanks Dana)