Uju Anya: The complicity of the royal family

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Recently, Carnegie Mellon professor Dr. Uju Anya became a topic of friction on social media. On Sept. 8, the date of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Anya tweeted: “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving and raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” As to not get lost in the sea of tweets relishing in the death of the Queen, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos responded directly to Anya: “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow,” which created a backlash large enough to have Carnegie Mellon respond to the situation directly: “We do not condone the offensive and objectionable messages posted by Uju Anya [Thursday] on her personal social media account.” Anya’s original tweet was removed from Twitter for violating community guidelines.

At first glance, Bezos seems to be rhetorically on top. Anya is taking solace in a 96-year-old woman painfully dying, while Bezos is simply respecting and mourning the “innocent” dead. Furthermore, many mourners of her Highness point out the lack of complicity the Queen had in the innumerable crimes of the United Kingdom, given that the House of Parliament was much more involved in crafting racist and colonial policy. But, as I will show, it is not nearly that simple.

The first and most glaring issue with the question of complicity is how the Queen came to be in the position she was in. She wasn’t like your average Joe; she was born into a position of influence. Her entire life could only happen because of the royals before her — royals who actually did have immense control of state and military actions. In the words of James Connolly: “as long as [King George V] claims [his ancestors’] rights, by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.” The Queen lived a life of comfort because her ancestors colonized the world and extracted their wealth for personal gain, and she became monarch merely because she was born in the right family. Think about it like this: Say my friend stole a bike and then gifted me that bike, which I subsequently use to ride around town. The police figure this out, and take the bike and return it to its rightful owner. Although I didn’t steal the bike myself, I personally benefit from that theft and the just thing to do would be giving the bike back. I wouldn’t lash out and say “I didn’t steal this bike, therefore I hold no responsibility for how I got it.” The problem with the Queen here is that she stood on the backs of her “thieving and raping” ancestors and during her entire 70-year reign did basically nothing to rectify it. No formal apologies, no motion to return stolen wealth or artifacts, no attempt to destroy the unjust monarchical institution, not even a public statement of acknowledgement. Nothing.

I must also mention the influence of the Queen and of her words. It should go without saying that the Queen has influence and social pull as the things she says are broadcast internationally. Like the monarchs that preceded her, the Queen’s rule is a divine and God-given one as the reigning monarch is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Not only this, but the Queen knew how influential she was. While she can’t craft policy herself, she goes on routine visits to foreign nations for the purposes of diplomacy as she is the physical manifestation of the state. Most importantly for this conversation, she has massive pull within her own nation. If she felt necessary, she could speak out and provide her input which she often does at the annual State Opening of Parliament, where she is given ample time to discuss her vision for the country. Given this, why did the Queen stay silent during the Nigerian-Biafra War? The war where, according to historian Chibuike Uche, the United Kingdom ended up supporting the Nigerians for oil interests leading to a national overdependence on foreign oil markets. The war where the Nigerian government, who the United Kingdom materially supported, starved millions of innocent civilians to death in a years long military blockade. The war where half of Professor Anya’s family was, according to one of her tweets, “massacred and displaced.” Maybe, just maybe, Her Highness didn’t say anything because she supported the actions of the state she divinely ruled and the war was beneficial to her and the UK’s bottom line. Maybe the Queen wasn’t simply a frail old woman smiling and waving on television.

She hasn’t just been a silent actor benefiting from colonization: she has made terrible decisions to exercise her power and wealth. For example, recently the Queen personally provided £12 million to settle Prince Andrew’s court case regarding the sexual abuse and rape of 17-year-old Virginia Guiffre, a victim of Jeffrey Epstein. Or how about personally bestowing the highest possible senior knighthood to war criminals like Tony Blair, who helped mobilize troops to invade Iraq in 2003 against international law.

I’m not going to cry “free speech on college campuses,” as I don’t see this as a matter of free speech, especially given that Carnegie Mellon is not going to fire Anya for these tweets. Instead, I see this as a matter of historical ignorance on the part of Bezos and those that deem it necessary to extend humane consideration to the Queen. To me, there is no obligation to extend humane consideration to someone who didn’t for a single second extend the same consideration to the millions her government helped murder. I will then ask the Carnegie Mellon communications and marketing team: What was the value of lambasting Professor Anya on social media other than to cave to the cries of loyalist monarchists who are blind to the colonial crimes of the United Kingdom? Is it now university policy to mourn those complicit in mass murder and exploitation if we don’t want to be publicly reprimanded? As Jeff Bezos would virtue signal, this doesn’t seem to be making the world any better.