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Speaker attacks Jenkins’ murals decision



The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles defends Columbus as “hero”

In the aftermath of Father Jenkins’ decision to cover up the Luigi Gregori murals of Christopher Columbus in the Main Building, Young Americans for Freedom has united a coalition of dissent. Their petition opposing the move has generated over 500 signatures, and on February 21, the group hosted Managing Editor of the Daily Wire Michael Knowles to deliver the lecture “Columbus: Hero not Heathen.”

Knowles heavily criticized Father Jenkins’ decision, calling it “morally and pedagogically indefensible.” For him, it is unintellectual for history to be covered up for the sake of what Jenkins believes is political correctness. “In 2019,” Knowles asked, “is there any clear picture of how far our educational system has fallen than for an American University president to cover up art and history with a giant tarp lest reality offend the ignorant and the unreasonable?”

Questioning if the University would apply this same logic to other works of art, Knowles joked that he personally would like modern art to be covered up “because of how terrible it is.” He asserted, “According to Father Jenkins, art and history are simply too much to bear for the fragile minds of this University.”

The remainder of the lecture focused on Christopher Columbus, offering the perspective that the left has smeared Columbus with claims of “special monstrosity” despite evidence that points to him as “one of the greatest men in history” and a “devout Catholic.” Knowles claimed that the left hate Columbus because he “embodies Western Civilization,” as a “transnational, devout Christian of low-birth, an autodidact, and the greatest navigator of his age.”

Knowles expressed praise for Columbus’ persistent and arduous efforts to convince the Spanish Crown to fund his voyage. According to him, Columbus spent five years preparing to request the sponsorship, and eight years lobbying for the funding. As he was leaving Madrid without the desired sponsorship, the keeper of the privy purse ran up to Columbus and informed him that the Crown had changed their minds and accepted his proposal. Knowles cited Bartolome de las Casas, who asserted it was Columbus’ “perseverance more than the plausibility of his plan” that convinced Queen Isabella to fund him.

Knowles described Columbus’ first voyage as the “most difficult voyage ever embarked upon.” The morning Columbus set sail for the New World, he made a confession and received the Eucharist. For the duration of the journey, ship-wide prayers occurred every half-hour, and Columbus prayed the Liturgy of the Hours privately in his cabin. Columbus brought very few navigational tools for his voyage, and instead relied on the method of “dead reckoning.” On the journey to the Americas, it was even necessary for Columbus to put down several mutinies.

Knowles argued that Columbus is not responsible for the adverse treatment of Natives or the slavery that arose from the Spanish conquest. Knowles claimed that upon landfall, Columbus instructed his sailors to not take advantage of the Natives. Later, when the entirety of the first Spanish settlement was killed by Natives, Columbus showed restraint when most others wanted to kill the Natives in response. Knowles said Bartolome de las Casas, the first bishop of the Americas who worked to defend Native Americans, “admired Christopher Columbus to his dying day.” He called attention to Columbus’ decision to adopt a Native American son when his father died. Knowles also quoted Columbus’ derision for those who sold girls into sexual slavery. Columbus wrote of them: “They don’t deserve water in the sight of God or the world.”

Knowles acknowledged that Columbus agreed to the encomienda system, but claimed this was a result of Columbus’ weak leadership, political pressure from the Spanish Crown, and a Native revolt. Knowles called the decision to enslave the Natives on a massive scale a “moral concession,” stating, “for us to spit on that man who made all of it [America] possible because he made some moral concessions in order to take the most ambitious voyage at that time in the history of man is so bizarrely ungrateful.”

When one student asserted in response that people can have different opinions about Columbus, Knowles said, ”Some people can have correct opinions and some people can have incorrect opinions. And there are people today who have an incorrect opinion that he was a genocidal, bigoted maniac, which is clearly patently refuted by the historical record. That’s not a matter of preference or some subjective feeling. That’s objective fact.”

“People have replaced what was once historical knowledge with broad narratives based on ideology,” Knowles said. “The vast preponderance of evidence,” he continued, “not only provides a different perspective, but utterly contradicts the narrative that the left is pushing about Columbus.”

Knowles concluded with his vehement opposition to Jenkins’ decision: “The action itself of taking beautiful, priceless murals by the Vatican portraitist at the entrance to a university in the United States and covering them up is a cowardly decision. It is anti-intellectual. It undercuts the entire spirit of education, and it is profoundly wrong and cowardly.”

Ellie Gardey is a sophomore studying political science and philosophy. She dreams of northern Michigan where she can canoe through wild rivers and hike in uncharted woods. Contact her at egardey@nd.edu.

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