Archive for the ‘Brazil’ Category

Online Socialist May Day Rally this Saturday Hosted by Tribune and Arise

April 28, 2022

I’ve also had this email from Richard Burgon notifying me about an online May Day rally by Labour’s socialists. The speakers are a mixture of British and international politicians, trade unionists and activists, as well as representatives from CND and Jacobin Magazine.

Join me at Saturday’s May Day Rally

At this time of deep crises internationally and here in Britain, now is the time to come together in struggle and put forward socialist solutions.

I will be addressing the online Tribune & Arise May Day Online Rally this Saturday 30 April from 2.00 pm

The line-up of great speakers includes: 

Ian Lavery MP // Diane Abbott MP // Jess Barnard, Young Labour // Ronan Burtenshaw, Tribune // Kate Hudson, CND // Sarah Woolley, BFAWU // Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No // Chaired by Daisy Carter, Young Labour

With international guests including…

Txema Guijarro, Spanish MP & General Secretary of Podemos’ Parliamentary Group // Varsha Gandikota, Progressive International // Nathália Urban, Brasil Wire // Guillaume Long, former Ecuadorian Foreign Minister // Bhaskar Sunkara, Founding Editor of Jacobin Magazine

Click Here to Register for the Rally

Keep up to date with my work on social media

You can also stay up to date on my work by following me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

I have recently set up a TikTok account, so if you’re on that you can follow me here.

In solidarity,

Richard Burgon MP’

My Objections to the Removal of the African Statue on Stroud’s Town Clock

April 21, 2022

More iconoclasm driven by current sensitivities over historic slavery and contemporary racism. The local news for the Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire area, Points West, reported that Stroud council was expected to vote for the removal of the statue of an African from the town clock. I’m not surprised, as there were demands last year from a local anti-racist group, Stroud Against Racism, demanding its removal, and I really thought it had been taken down already. Stroud’s a small town in Gloucestershire, whose historic economy I always thought was based on the Cotswold wool trade rather than something more sinister. Stroud Against Racism seems to be a group of mainly young Black people, led by a local artist, who’ve had terrible personal experiences of racism in the town. In an interview on BBC local news, it seemed that they particularly resented the figure as representation of the racist attitudes they’d experienced. They assumed it was a slave and demanded its removal, with one young Black woman complaining about the statue’s grotesque features which she obviously felt were an insulting caricature.

The African ‘Slave’ Figure on Stroud Town Clock

While I entirely sympathise with them for the abuse they suffered as victims of racism and appreciate why they would want the statue removed, I believe it is profoundly mistaken. Firstly, while the local news has been describing the statue as a slave, there’s no evidence that connects it directly to slavery and the slave trade. They know the name of the clockmaker, and that’s it. No evidence has been presented to suggest he had any connection with the slave trade or slavery at all. Further more, there are no marks on the statue to suggest slavery. There are no chains or manacles, as seen in this image of Black African slaves captured by a group of Arab slavers below.

Arab Slave Coffle

Nor does the figure look like the poor souls on sale in this 19th century picture of an American slave market.

American Slave Market

It looks far more like African chief and his people, shown making a treaty with British officers in this painting from 1815, following the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807.

British Officer Meeting African Chiefs to Make a treaty, 1815

As Europe expanded to colonise and establish trading links with the outside world from the 15th century onwards, so Blacks and other indigenous peoples began to enter European art. Sometimes they were depicted as servants and slaves, but at other times simply as symbols of the exotic. See this picture of the 17th century painting, Vanitas, by Jaques de Gheyn.

Jacques de Gheyn, Vanitas, 17th century

The statue also looks somewhat like the depictions of a Black Brazilian family by the `17th century Dutch artist, Albert Eckhout, between 1641-3. These are part of a series of 8 paintings commissioned by the Dutch governor of Nassau, intended to be anthropological studies of Brazil’s non-White peoples.

Blacks also appear as decorations on the musical instruments of the time. For example, negro heads often adorned the pegboxes of citterns, a 17th century ancestor of the guitar. It therefore seems to me that the statue of the Black African on Stroud’s clock is not that of a slave, but simply of the sculptor’s idea of an indigenous Black African. The modelling isn’t very good, but I suspect this is less due to any animosity on the part of the sculptor than simple lack of artistic training or skill. It’s more an example of folk art, rather than that of someone with a proper academic artistic education.

I therefore think that it’s wrong to assume that the Stroud figure is a slave. The assumption that it is seems to be a result of the general attack on anything vaguely connected to historic slavery and the slave trade following the mass protests in support of Black Lives Matter. It also seems to be directly influenced by the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, further to the south.

In fact, I believe that rather than suggesting Black degradation and slavery, the statue could be seen in a far more positive light as showing Stroud proudly embracing Blacks as trading partners as well as symbols of exoticism and prosperity.

No! The Pakistani Grooming Gangs Have Nothing to Do with Traditional Islamic Sex-Slavery

March 26, 2022

Okay, I’ll admit it. One of the reasons I bought Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam was to see if there was any truth in the allegation by Tommy Robinson, the EDL and related anti-Islam groups that the Pakistani grooming gangs based their abuse in Islamic sex slavery. And reading his book, it seems very strongly that the answer it ‘no’.

Part of their argument comes from the revival of slave-concubinage by ISIS in the sale of the Yezidi women and girls in Iraq as sex slaves. But this also shocked the Muslim world. Islamic abolitionism began in the 19th century. It was prompted by the abolitionist movement in Christian Europe and America, but was no less sincere for that. Muslim abolitionists have demanded the abolition of slaves for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was simple political expediency, for others it was a genuine revulsion at forced servitude. For these Muslims took their cue from the sharia’s assumption that slavery is humanity’s default state, as Adam and Eve were both free. Again, similar views were held by Christians in Europe, such as the Lollards in the 15th century. ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’, for example. While the Quran and the sharia permits slavery, it is heavily regulated. Muslim abolitionists and anti-slavery activists see this as looking forward to final extinction of slavery and the condition when everyone shall be free. ISIS caused widespread outrage amongst nearly all Muslims because it was particularly extreme. It went much further in its reactionary attitudes than al-Qaeda. Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t already Salafists interested in enslaving infidel women. During the war in Bosnia a number of foreign Muslims wishing to fight to the defend the Muslims there inquired of a Saudi salafist preacher if they could enslave Serb women for concubines. He told them ‘no’, for the simple reason that it would make Islam look bad. This is feeble and nasty, but it’s something, I suppose. It shows that the Salafists wanted to revive sex slavery before ISIS, but they were very much a minority.

Brown states that slave-concubinage was very common in Islam. The mothers of the sultans and rulers of many Islamic states were slave concubines, and these could wield great power. Some of these women were highly educated and powerful, endowing grand mosques and other civic buildings. During the 17th century the Turkish empire entered a period of decadence, called by Turkish historians the ‘Sultanate of Women’ as the various slave-concubines vied with each other to promote their sons and rule through them.

Brown admits that the status and treatment of slave concubines could vary enormously. Some were beloved partners, mourned bitterly on their deaths by their husbands. Some could be highly educated in the arts and sciences, and the slave-concubines of the elite often felt that they had the same rights as free wives. There were also laws protecting them. A slave-concubine who became pregnant with her master’s child could not be sold, the child was free under Islamic law and the slave-concubine was manumitted after her master’s death. Other slave-concubines were treated much worse, but it does seem that they could invoke the law to protect them. Brown cites one case where slave-woman prosecuted her master because he had forced her to have sex with him and his brother. She had become pregnant and they had beaten her to abort the child. The qadi ruled in her favour. This is like the grooming gangs and they way they exploited their White female victims, including getting them pregnant and forcing them to have abortions. Rather than rooted in Islam, however, it just seems a product of ordinary, banal human evil, of a type that many Muslims, even in the Middle Ages, found abhorrent.

Brown also mentions a case from 13th century Damascus when a singing-girl sued her master for trying to force her into prostitution. Again the judge ruled in her favour, and demanded that she be sold. I realise that these are individual cases, and we don’t know how many other cases there were where women were successfully exploited, especially over such a wide cultural area. But it does show that at least in certain times and places slave women could invoke legal protection against such exploitation.

As for the grooming gangs themselves, they started their predation before the emergence of ISIS and were not practicing Muslims. They didn’t attend their local mosques, and I don’t think they prayed or read the Quran. This was recognised by one of the intellectuals in the EDL, who recommended instead that anti-Muslim activists should look instead to explanations in the ‘islamicate’, the underlying systems of attitudes, customs and values that guide everyday Muslim life but aren’t a formal part of the religion.

I think the motives behind the grooming gangs were racist as well as sexual, and they certainly have parallels to slavery, but it’s the exploitation of enslaved Black women by their master on the plantations in North and South America, rather than the Islamic world. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, when she was still worth reading, wrote a report for the Committee for Racial Equality in the 990s noting that a bitter anti-White racism existed in some parts of the Black and Asian communities. She was also appalled at the way Asians looked down on White women and the sexual freedom they enjoyed as immoral. She was not alone. One of the sketches on the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, was a skit of the Country and Western song, ’30 Ways to Leave Your Lover’. This was about the stifling relationship Asian men could have with their mothers, titled ’30 Ways to Leave Your Mother’. Sung by Sanjeev Bhaskar, one of the lines was ‘She says that White girl’s just a whore’. Similar attitudes to western White women were recorded in the chapter on a Moroccan immigrant worker in the Netherlands in the book Struggle and Survival in the Middle East. The victims of the Pakistani grooming gangs were racially as well as sexually abused, and it looks like it came from a racist attitude towards the gora, a derogatory Asian terms for Whites, rather than anything in formal Islam.

And the parallels with the sexual exploitation of Black women in plantation slavery are very strong. The planters exploited their slaves because they were in their power, and could do as they liked. Western paedophiles have also exploited children in care homes, because they’re particularly vulnerable, sometimes sending them out to service their friends or political connections. But this was also opposite to the sexual restraint and high standards of chastity and purity required in relationships with respectable White women. While I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I found a fascinating book on Brazilian slavery and racial attitudes by a Brazilian anthropologist. He noted that in traditional White Portuguese Brazilian culture sexual attitudes were extremely puritanical. Sex was supposed to be between husband and wife and solely for procreation. And you definitely weren’t supposed to enjoy it. There was a type of counterpane that was supposed to be placed between husband and wife, with a hole in it to allow them to do the deed, but not get any pleasure from it. Faced with these restrictions, the planters turned instead to exploiting their slaves for sex.

I got the impression that sexual attitudes amongst the Asian community in Britain are similarly puritanical. Sex is supposed to occur solely in marriage, which is frequently arranged. There have been honour killing of women for defying their families’ demands regarding marriage partners or for pursuing western-style relationships with people outside their religion. Like Whites or Hindus. In this situation, it does not seem remotely surprising to me that some Asians see White girls and women as suitable targets for sexual abuse and exploitation. After all, White women are all whores anyway and they deserve it. The same attitudes that motivated White planter to abuse enslaved Black women, because Blacks are racially inferior and highly sexed.

The grooming gangs therefore aren’t a product of Islam, except perhaps in the most general way as the product of Pakistani sexual puritanism and anti-White racism. But what annoys me about the scandal is not only that it was known about and covered up for 20 years or more, but that the authorities and the left are still trying to deny that anti-White racism played a part. This seems partly a fear of provoking anti-Asian racism among Whites in turn. Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video about a report on the grooming gangs, which didn’t once mention what race or ethnicity they belonged to. This is wrong. All racism has to be seen as equally poisonous, whether it’s White, Black, Asian or whatever.

If White silence against anti-Black racism is violence, then so is silence when it comes to the racist abuse of Whites. And the left should be tackling that as well, rather than leave it to be exploited by the likes of Tommy Robinson.

Angela Rayner Has Forgotten the Shooting of Charles Menezes

February 21, 2022

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, managed to kick up a storm of protest last week. I haven’t read any more than the headlines, but I gather she said that when it came to terrorists, the police should shoot first and ask questions second. I have absolutely no sympathy for any terrorists, regardless of their colour, religion or political cause. But this is an extremely dangerous attitude as it has already resulted in the death of a completely innocent man in the turmoil following 9/11 and 7/7.

Charles Menezes was a Brazilian student studying over here in London. His only crime was that he lived in the same block of flats as a suspected Islamist terrorist. The house was being watched by an armed police team. Unfortunately, only one of them knew what the real terrorist suspect looked like, and he’d gone off to relieve himself. The others saw Menezes leave the house and, thinking he might be the suspect, shouted to him to stop. I think there was some kind of issue with their uniform, as it appears that Menezes didn’t recognise that they were police. In Brazil apparently one of the tactics used by armed robbers is to disguise themselves as policemen, and it may have been that Menezes thought that something like that was happening to him. He ran away and the police gave chase. Reaching the railway station, he jumped over the barriers and got on the train. So did the coppers, who then shot him in the head.

It was a horrific killing of an entirely innocent chap through massive police incompetence and a ‘shoot first’ policy. The government and police were worried that if terrorists were given any warning by the cops, they’d set off their suicide belts. And so it was official policy to shoot first and ask questions later. In the inquiry that followed,, this policy was abandoned. But Rayner’s statement suggests she would drag us back to it, and so cause potentially cause more innocent people to be shot by mistake.

And possibly not just by mistake. Way back in the 1980s there was scandal of the shooting of an IRA terrorist group in Gibraltar. As revealed in the World In Action documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, the terrorists were needlessly killed. They had been tracked by the British army all the way down through Spain and could have been rounded up without bloodshed at any time. But it looks like the British government wanted to send a message to the IRA and so set up what was, in effect, a death squad to exterminate them. The programme caused such a scandal and enraged Thatcher to such an extent that she withdrew London Weekend Television’s broadcasting licence, and gave it instead to Carlton. This wasn’t the only instance of lawlessness by the British army in Northern Ireland. Rory Cormac has a number of other examples in his book, Disrupt and Deny, about the underhand, covert operations and real conspiracies by the British state. Some of these were so controversial and repugnant that many Conservatives were also opposed to them.

I’m very much aware that the terrorist threat is very real. But we need sensible policies regarding the armed response to it in order to prevent the deaths of innocents, like Mr Menezes, and our government and security forces behaving like Fascist death squads.

But Rayner, it seems, forgot all that in an attempt to appear tough and ruthless to appeal to all those Thatcherite Tories Starmer thinks will flood into Labour now that he’s ditched that awkward thing, socialism.

Book on Islam and Slavery

February 3, 2022

Jonathan A.C. Brown, Slavery & Islam (London: Oneworld Publications 2919).

This is another book I’ve bought for my reading on non-western forms of slavery. The book’s blurb runs

‘Every major religion and philosophy has once once condoned or approved of slavery, but in modern times nothing is seen as more evil. Americans confront this crisis of authority when they erect statues of Founding Fathers who slept with their slaves. And Muslims faced it when ISIS revived sex slavery, justifying it with verses from the Quran and the practice of Muhammad.

Exploring the moral and ultimately theological problem of slavery, Jonathan A.C., Brown traces how the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions have tried to reconcile modern moral certainties with the infallibility of God’s message. He lays out how Islam viewed slavery in theory, and the reality of how it was practiced across Islamic civilisation. Finally Brown carefully examines arguments put forward by Muslims for the abolition of slavery.’

Brown is Professor of Islamic Civilisation at Georgetown University, and this is very much an academic book. It begins with a statement of Brown’s argument and a denial that it is an apology for slavery, followed by pages about the very definition of slavery. While many people will feel it’s unnecessary, it’s important to distinguish slavery from other forms of unfreedom, like serfdom. The book then discusses slavery in the Qur’an and Sunna, the traditions about Mohammed which are considered sound and reliable by Muslims. It then examines the Muslim reform of slavery, the influence of previous civilisations, slavery as regulated and defined by shariah. The chapter on slavery and Islamic civilisation discusses issues like the classic slavery zone, slavery and racial intermixing, and the social roles slaves could perform from domestic worker to scholar, saint, poet or elite administrator. Then there’s a chapter presenting the moral arguments against slavery and it’s intrinsic evil, especially as this confronts Americans and Muslims, followed by a chapter on Islamic attempts and arguments for slavery’s abolition. The succeeding chapter is on the Prophet and ISIS, examining issues such as whether Islamic attempts at abolition are successful or morally acceptable, whether slavery in the Islamic world could ever be legalised again and ISIS and slavery. The last chapter is about concubinage and sex slavery, which is obviously the major issue that provoked the author to write his book. There are six appendices, 1, is on a slave saint of Basra; 2 on western Enlightenment thinkers and slavery; 3 on whether the 1926 Muslim world congress actually condemned slavery; 4 on whether Mariya was Muhammad’s wife or concubine; 5 on whether shariah law considers freedom a human right, and 6 on the enslavement Muslim unbelievers or apostates.

The book appears to be an exhaustive examination of the issue, and I’ve no doubt the vast majority of Muslims were as shocked by ISIS’ revival of sex slavery as everyone else. But unfortunately sex slavery isn’t the only form of slavery that has been revived. The sponsorship system for migrant workers in the Gulf Arab states very much acts as a form of enslavement. During the Sudanese civil war Arabs enslaved the country’s Black population, and since then slave markets selling Black African migrants have opened in the part of Libya held by Islamists.

Of course Islam isn’t the only culture facing a revival of slavery. Way back in the 1990s the book Disposable People examined the persistence of slavery around the world, from enslaved workers in Brazil and the far east to traditional slaves in Africa and slaves brought to the west by their Arab masters in the guise of servants. The book estimated that there were 20 million people enslaved around the world. I’ve no doubt that, thanks to neoliberalism and the global assault on workers’ rights and conditions, this number has increased. Hopefully books like this will clarify the issues and help to combat it so that it can be genuinely consigned to the past.

The Casual Criminalist Tackles the Weird Deaths of Brazilian Ufologists

July 4, 2021

Here’s a bit of high weirdness which sounds like something straight from The X-Files. In this video, host Simon Whistler discusses the strange events surrounding the deaths of two Brazilian men c. 1967. The two men were electronics technicians and were found dead on a mountain, their eyes covered by lead masks. Although described as masks, these were eye protectors or sunglasses, but made of solid lead. What killed them, and why were they wearing these weird face coverings? One suggestion is that the men had been smuggling electronics equipment into Brazil. They had gone to the mountain to meet the smugglers, who had killed them. Another explanation is that they were smuggling plutonium and had been killed by the smugglers. The problem with that is that although they had the equivalent of $10,000 in today’s money, it still wouldn’t be enough to buy a bit of plutonium.

The real explanation seems to be that they were members of a secret society, the Scientific Spiritualists, many of whose members were electronics technicians. The Scientific Spiritualists were dedicated to making contact with extraterrestrial and astral beings using electronics and drugs. The lead glasses were supposedly to protect their eyes from the brilliance given off by the angel they expected to call down. It has been suggested that they were killed by extraterrestrials after one of their jury-rigged gadgets destroyed an alien spaceship. This seems extremely unlikely, not least because it seems impossible that an alien race capable of sending a spacecraft across countless light years to Earth would make it so flimsy that a home-made device built by a couple of humans could destroy it.

Another explanation is that they were murdered by a hitman on behalf of the medium running the men’s spiritualist church. A prisoner already in jail for one crime confessed to killing them, saying that the medium was aware of the cash the two had on them and wanted the money for herself. However, the likeliest explanation, as put forward by Charles Bowen of Flying Saucer Review, and you know you’re in trouble, according to Whistler, when the most rational explanation comes from that magazine, is that the two went to the mountain seeking a UFO encounter and overdosed on the drugs they’d taken.

The case is one of the great, unsolved cases of ufology and a genuinely intriguing mystery, although it looks like Bowen had solved it. I think Whistler and his team have been behind a number of YouTube channels, mainly about science and engineering, if I recall correctly, and have now turned to crime. Whistler clearly struggles with the Brazilian names and bits of Portuguese, and finds the weird milieu of which they were a part hysterically funny. Which it is, although some people who take ufology more seriously might find this annoying.

Ecuador, Socialism and the Destruction of Democracy in Latin America

April 8, 2021

Last night the Arise Festival, a series of events organised by the left-wing of the Labour party, staged a zoom talk about a possible socialist victory in the coming Ecuadorean elections, and the way the neoliberal right across the continent were trying to prevent left-wing parties and movements from forming governments. The speakers included Latin American journalists and activists as well as Brits. I regret that I was able to get no more than ten minutes of it. But what I did see was chilling.

The neolibs are clinging on to power, not through winning elections, but through using the legal system to ban and imprison their opponents on trumped up charges. In one country, the socialist party was banned from standing because the judges ruled they supported terrorism, all without any evidence or indeed any terrorism. The leading left-wing politico in Brazil, Lula, was falsely jailed on corruption charges, but has now been freed after spending 19 months in jail. And the president of one of the Latin American countries, Moreno, actually took power as a socialist but then, on obtaining office, declared that he was really a man of the right and started implementing right-wing policies.

I found this all particularly chilling as it could easily happen over here. The Tories are trying to scrap the protections Brits have under the European convention on human rights. The current wretched police and crime bill seeks to ban any protests or demonstrations they don’t like if they decide it’s going to cause a nuisance. I can see them using the judiciary to try to outlaw left-wing parties and falsely imprison politicians and activists, just as their counterparts are doing in Latin America. And Starmer is very definitely a neoliberal, but is trying to get into power by claiming he supports Corbyn’s left-wing programme.

This is all extremely frightening. So I stand in solidarity with the Latin American democratic left and urge everyone to reject the Tories’ assault on our traditional freedoms over here.

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

August 1, 2020

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.

Book on Slavery Around the World Up To the Present

June 23, 2020

Jeremy Black, Slavery: A New Global History (London: Constable & Robinson 2011).

One of the aspects of the contemporary debate over slavery is that, with some exceptions, it is very largely centred on western, transatlantic slavery. This is largely because the issue of slavery has been a part of the controversy over the status of Blacks in western society and the campaigns for improving their conditions and combating anti-Black racism since the abolitionist movement arose in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it ignores the crucial fact that slavery is a global phenomenon which was certainly not confined to the transatlantic slavery of the European empires. One of the arguments marshaled by the slaveowners was that slavery had existed since antiquity. Both the Romans and the ancient Greeks had possessed slaves, as had ancient Egypt. It still existed in Black Africa, the Turkish empire, the Arab states and India. Hence slavery, the slaveowners argued, was a necessary part of human civilisation, and was impossible to abolish. It was ‘philanthropic’ and ‘visionary’ to demand it.

This was partly the reason why, after the British had abolished slavery in their own empire, they moved to attack it around the world. This meant not only freeing the slaves in the West Indies and their South American colonies, but also at Cape Colony in South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong and further east in the new territories of Malaya, Fiji and the Pacific Islands, and Australia.  Most histories of slavery focus on transatlantic slavery. However, Jeremy Black’s book discusses it as existed around the world.

The book’s blurb concentrates on European slavery in the Americas. It runs

The story of slavery – from the ancient world to the present day

In this panoramic history, leading historian Jeremy Black explores slavery from its origins – the uprising of Spartacus and the founding of the plantations in the Indies – to its contemporary manifestations as human trafficking and bonded labour.

Black reveals how slavery served to consolidate empires and shape New World societies such as America and Brazil, and the way in which slave trading across the Atlantic changed the Western world. He assesses the controversial truth behind the complicity of Africans within the trade, which continued until the long, hard fight for abolition in the nineteenth century. Black gives voice to both the campaigners who fought for an end to slavery, and the slaves who spoke of their misery.

In this comprehensive and thoughtful account of the history of slavery, the role of slavery in the modern world is examined and Black shows that it is still widespread today in many countries.

But Black begins his introduction with the case of Hadijatou Mani, a Niger woman, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and subsequently beaten, raped and prosecuted for bigamy because she dared to marry a man other than her master. She successfully brought her case before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, which ruled in her favour and fined her country. She stated that she had brought the case in order to protect her children. Slavery is officially outlawed in Niger, but the local customary courts support the custom by which the children of slaves become the property of their masters.

Black then describes how slavery was truly a global phenomenon, and the treatment of slaves at Cape Coast in Ghana resembles the treatment of Christian slaves taken by the Barbary pirates. And its history extends from the ancient world to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. He writes

The mournful, underground dungeons at Cape Coast Castle and other bases on the low, watery coastline of West Africa where African slaves were held from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries prior to shipment to the New World are potent memory of the vile cruelty of slavery, and notably of the approximately 12.5 million Africans forced into this trade and transported on about 35,000 transatlantic voyages, yet these dungeons are not alone and should not crowd out other landscapes where slavery was carried on and the slave trade conducted. Nicholas de Nicolay’s mid-sixteenth-century account of slave dealers parading their captives naked to show that they had no physical defects, and so that they could be examined as if they were horses, with particular reference to their teeth and feet, could have referred to the world of Atlantic slavery, but actually was written about Tripoli in modern Libya, where large numbers of Christians captured from Malta and Sicily by the Barbary pirates of North Africa were sold.

Indeed, the landscapes of slavery span the world, and range from the Central Asian city of Khiva, where the bustle of the slave market can still be visualized in the narrow streets, to Venice, a major entrepot for the slave trade of medieval Europe albeit not one noted by modern tourists. The range is also from Malacca in modern Malaysia, an important centre for the slave trade around the Indian Ocean, especially under the Muslim sultans but also, from 1511, under, first their Portuguese and, then, their Dutch successors, to the few remains of the murderous system of labout that was part of the Nazis’ genocidal treatment of the Jews. The variety of slavery in the past and across history stretched from the galleys of imperial Rome to slave craftsmen in Central Asian cities, such as Bukhara, and from the mines of the New World to those working in spice plantations in east Africa. Public and private, governmental and free enterprise, slavery was a means of labour and form of control. (p.2).

The book has the following chapters

  1. Pre-1500
  2. The Age of Conquest, 1500-1600
  3. The Spread of Capitalist Slavery, 1600-1700
  4. Slavery before Abolitionism, 1700-1780
  5. Revolution, Abolitionism and the Contrasting Fortunes of the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1780-1850
  6. The End of Slavery, 1830-1930?
  7. A Troubled Present, 1930-2011
  8. Legacies and Conclusions.

I feel very strongly that the global dimension of slavery and the slave trade needs to be taught, and people should be aware that it isn’t simply something that White Europeans forced on to Black Africans and other indigenous peoples. British imperialism was wrong, but the British did act to end slavery, at least officially, both within our empire and across the world. And odiously slavery is returning. After Blair’s, Sarkozy’s and Obama’s bombing of Libya, the Islamist regime in part of the country has allowed slave markets selling Black Africans to be reopened. Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, posted a video on YouTube discussing the appearance of yet more slave markets in Uganda. He pointedly asked why none of the ‘SJWs’ protesting against the racism and the historical injustice of slavery weren’t protesting about that. Benjamin is a member of the extreme right, though I would not like to accuse him personally of racism and the question is a good one. As far as I know, there are no marches of anti-racist activists loudly demanding an end to racism in countries like Uganda, Niger, Libya and elsewhere. Back in the ’90s the persistence and growth of slavery was a real, pressing issue and described in books like Disposable People. But that was over twenty years ago and times have moved on.

But without an awareness of global history of slavery and existence today, there is a danger that the current preoccupation with western transatlantic slavery will just create a simplistic ‘White man bad’ view. That White Europeans are uniquely evil, while other cultures are somehow more virtuous and noble in another version of the myth of the ‘noble savage’.

And it may make genuine anti-racists blind to its existence today, an existence strengthened and no doubt increasing through neoliberalism and the miseries inflicted by globalisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is This the Most Insulting Comment Aliens Have Said to an Abductee?

April 29, 2020

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Clarke’s The UFO Files, a history of UFOs in Britain from the phantom airship scares of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the abduction experiences from the 60s onwards, the 70’s craze created by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, right up to the years immediately preceding the book’s publication in 2009. The book was written to accompany the release of the government’s files on UFOs by the National Archives, and is naturally based on the records compiled by the MOD, the Air Ministry, RAF and armed forces, and the Airmiss inquiry group, which investigates near misses between aircraft.

It’s a fascinating book that shows that UFOs have been around for over a century and that the government and the British military don’t really know any more about them than anyone else. The aliens haven’t established secret bases in Britain, and neither to the RAF or anyone else for that matter have alien bodies stashed away in a secret hangar somewhere. The official government line, repeated over and again, is that UFOs or of ‘no defence significance’, and they really don’t want to get involved unless it’s absolutely necessary. They’ve therefore investigate UFO sightings and encounters when it affects national security, such as if the UFOs may actually be foreign planes. The last government report on the phenomenon concluded that most of them were generated by people wrongly identifying a variety of artificial objects and natural phenomena. Those that couldn’t be properly identified, were probably poorly understood meteorological phenomena, electromagnetic plasmas, which could also create hallucinations through interfering with the brains of witnesses. This part of the report was, however, attacked by scientists on its release as pseudoscience.

But very many of the UFOs reported over the years have been people mistaking a variety of normal objects and phenomena for alien craft. During the First World War, an anti-aircraft crew at an army base in Cumbria fired at what they honestly believed was a German Zeppelin. Except that an officer, arriving at the scene, reported that he saw them staring at a star. It was discovered during the Second World War that flocks of migrating birds could make radar trails very much like approaching enemy aircraft, although the airmen sent up to intercept them would find no-one except themselves up there. During the Cold War, UFO reports were generated by the Americans releasing the Mogul spy balloons from their base in Scotland, as well as later flights by spy planes like the U2 and SR-71. These were so secret, the Americans didn’t inform their NATO allies in the countries across which the planes and balloons traveled on their way to the USSR. As a result, RAF jets were scrambled to intercept these unidentified aircraft, while there was a spate of UFO reports along the German border.

Some UFO sightings were also caused by particularly spectacular fireball meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of these was responsible for the Berwyn mountain crash, dubbed by some ‘the Welsh Roswell’. A series of meteors were seen over England, followed by an earthquake measuring 4-5 on the Richter scale centred in Bala. It was feared that a military plane had crashed on the mountain, as several had done so previously. The RAF therefore sent up a mountain rescue squad, which found nothing and came back down again. This was subsequently inflated into stories of the RAF’s retrieval of a crashed UFO and alien bodies.

Other sightings were caused by the re-entry of Soviet spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere. This is believed to be the cause of the Rendlesham Forest incident, ‘the British Roswell’, in which a group of American squaddies from a USAF base entered the forest to encounter a triangular UFO in 1980. It seems that the Americans seen the rocket for a Soviet Cosmos spy satellite re-entering, and then the lights from a nearby lighthouse, believing they came from an alien spacecraft.

One MOD scientific/intelligence officer believed that most UFO reports could be satisfactorily explained if they had been investigated immediately they occurred, rather than sometime afterwards. Nevertheless, there are encounters that are still genuinely perplexing. Such as the report a trucker driving through Devon in the ’70s made at a local police station. He had been driving along the main road there when a craft shaped like a mushroom descended, landing on the road ahead, out of which came six short figures wearing uniforms. After gesturing at him, the creatures eventually got in their spacecraft, which lifted up into the air and flew on, leaving the trucker shaken by the experience.

And then there’s the encounter reported by a gent in Basingstoke in 1968. The fellow had been walking down by the canal one morning when a UFO descended and he was taken aboard by their occupants. They examined him, before telling the poor chap, “You can go. You are too old and infirm for our purposes.” Popular SF, which seems to have strongly influenced the content of UFO encounters, has been full of tales of evil aliens coming to other to conquer and enslaved humanity, and carry off people off for breeding purposes. It’s usually females, as in the SF B-movie Mars Needs Women, but sometimes men as in the 1949 Hammer flick, Devil Girl from Mars. This episode occurred around about the time of the Villas Boas encounter, when a Brazilian farmer of that name had been abducted by aliens and forced to have sex with a red-headed alien woman. Possibly the crew of the Basingstoke UFO also had something similar in mind. If so, both they and the poor bloke they abducted were out of luck. Or perhaps they had in mind something far more unpleasant, in which case their intended victim was lucky. The Contactees, who met peaceful aliens in the 1950s, and the abductees from the 1980s onwards, were given messages by humanity by the aliens they encountered. These tend to moralistic sermons preaching international and intergalactic brotherhood, peace, an end to nuclear weapons and concern for the environment. Sometimes they include descriptions of the aliens’ own planets and their societies. Sometimes they’re even whisked away on journeys to these distant worlds. This poor fellow didn’t get any of that, just the blunt statement that he was too old and infirm for them. He was spared the horror and humiliation of being examined and experimented upon, but their comments still seem just a tiny bit insulting. They could have put it a bit more tactfully.

My own feeling is that UFOs, when they aren’t misidentified normal objects or phenomena, are internal visionary experiences drawing on the imagery of Science Fiction, but expressing deep-seated human fears and needs. I don’t know what generates them. I think some are probably the result of poorly understood psychological states, such as sleep paralysis. But I also wonder if others are genuine encounters with something paranormal, something that in previous centuries took the form of fairies and other supernatural beings, and now takes the form of aliens and spaceships as images more suitable for our technological society.

While David Clarke’s done excellent work researching the government’s UFO archives, and has shown that very many of them have entirely rational explanations, there may still be something genuinely paranormal out there. But it didn’t want the man from Basingstoke it encountered on that day in 1968.