Vandals in San Francisco desecrate a monument to the creator of the modern novel
Pop quiz: What do Ulysses S. Grant, Francis Scott Key, and Miguel de Cervantes have in common? It’s not just that they’re all dead. And it’s not that they all owned slaves, because Cervantes, on the contrary, was himself enslaved for five years after being taken prisoner by Ottoman pirates. No, it’s that some pack of ideologues in San Francisco desecrated their statues in Golden Gate Park on Saturday. Grant and Key’s statues were toppled and graffitied, while that of Cervantes had the word BASTARD painted in red across it, with red splashed across his eyes and those of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Perhaps whoever did it wasn’t quite sure who Cervantes was, but thought that if he had two figures kneeling in front of him, he had to be, well, a bastard. Never mind that those figures are his own fictional creations. At least the vandals didn’t scrawl “SLAVE OWNING PIG” on his pedestal, as they did with Grant. (Leave aside that Grant freed the one slave he ever owned, who had been a gift from his father-in-law.) They probably didn’t know enough about Cervantes to be sure if he owned slaves or not. So we can give them credit for that much restraint.
But, you might ask, how did all this happen? It began as a rally near San Francisco City Hall commemorating Juneteenth that had elements of protest to it, with calls for police reform and measures against institutional racism. Late in the day, around eight o’clock, a group of about 200, mostly clad in black, moved to Golden Gate Park, where they began to wreak havoc. Down came missionary Father Junipero Serra, down came Ulysses S. Grant, down came Francis Scott Key. There’s a certain logic to it, whether you agree with it or not: they were all, in their ways, political figures of one sort or another, and knocking down their statues makes at least some political point. Certainly the anarchist symbols spray-painted on the pedestals are a statement of politics, and you could take ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) as one, if a little indirect.
But BASTARD? Cervantes was never a cop, let alone a bastard cop. A tax collector, a combatant in the Battle of Lepanto, a spy—an agent of the state, to be sure, but not an enforcer of the law. The statue in Golden Gate Park commemorates him for none of these functions, but for his brilliance as a writer. The man almost single-handedly created the modern novel. Who knows what novels might be popular among the Antifa and hard Left, probably books about oppressed underdogs and their ultimately successful struggles against unjust systems (so not 1984). If they read any fiction at all, and not just political screeds, it owes a debt to Cervantes.
Consider this passage from Don Quixote (in John Ormsby’s translation): “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon men; no treasures that the earth holds buried or the sea conceals can compare with it; for freedom, as for honour, life may and should be ventured; and on the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man.”
This from a man who the Ottomans enslaved yet opposed the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, who saw freedom as every human being’s birthright, regardless of ethnicity or background. Perhaps those who desecrated his memorial might disagree with Cervantes regarding “honour,” and on anything to do with heaven. Perhaps they’d have complicated ideas about freedom vs. the collective. Yet if their own political message conflicts with his sentiment here, who needs it? They called the man a bastard, and splashed bloody red across his eyes. Whether they knew who he was or not, that constitutes an attack on literature per se. And an attack on literature is an attack not just on thought and creativity, but on the human spirit itself. So much, then, for celebrating Emancipation Day.