Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

Giorgia Meloni – My Opinion

June 8, 2023

Mark Pattie, one of the great commenters here, has asked me what my opinion if of Giorgia Meloni, the president or prime minister of Italy and the leader of the far right Fratelli d’Italia party. I have to say my opinion of her is very mixed. First of all, I think that she’s extremely intelligent, like her French counterpart, Marine le Pen, of the National Rally party. Both of them strike me as being far brighter and better communicators than their mainstream rivals. They are, or claim to be, offering real alternatives that will benefit their nations. All their rivals have to offer is pretty much the same neoliberalism and support for the European Union that many Italians and Frenchmen and women seem to be tired of. I think Macron a few weeks ago was again touting the idea of a common European army. That, if I recall correctly, was one of the ideas dreamed by the French president Jacques Delors over a decade ago. It was part of his European federalist project, which no-one, apart from Delors himself and his cohorts, seemed to have much enthusiasm for. It was vehemently denounced over here by the Brexiteers as an occupation force, which it wouldn’t have been. But I don’t think any nation would willingly surrender its control of its defence forces to any kind of superstate. If Macron was pushing this idea, then it seems to show that he’s run out of ideas and is groping around for anything that might inspire or enthuse the public.

I certainly am not happy about the two parties – Meloni’s Fratelli and Le Pen’s National Rally’s roots in Fascism. That said, Le Pen is a very canny operator. She dropped the Nazi stuff and turned it more centre-right, like the other ‘post-fascist’ party, the Allianza Nazionale that emerged from the Blackshirts of the MSI. And to give the Fratelli due credit, Italy is still a pluralist democracy. She hasn’t outlawed the other parties and there aren’t, it seems, uniformed black shirted storm troopers on the streets beating up Communists, liberals, democrats and foreigners.

Immigration and Improving Conditions in Africa

And I can well appreciate the forces that have pushed her into power. Italy, Spain, France and Greece are very much on the front line regarding the immigrant boats from Africa, and I think the question of how many more migrants Europe can take is a reasonable one. A friend of mine used to be a member of UKIP, and he once told me it wasn’t immigration itself that he had an issue with, it was just that they migrants kept coming. Mass immigration was an issue in Italy before Meloni. The Five Star Party, set up by an Italian comedian, was very anti-immigration. There were also reports that a Black African woman in one of the Italian governments had made a speech calling for the legalisation of polygamy. I’m strongly opposed to this, as I imagine most westerners would be. And she’s very clever at defending her anti-immigration stance. I had a video of her pop up on my YouTube feed a few days speaking in the Italian parliament about four years ago. She was rebutting accusations that she and her party were racists for demanding that Italy withdraw from the UN Migrant Charter by pointing out the number of nations that had already done so, including America and Austria, rhetorically asking if these countries were also racist. She criticised the French by pointing out that they were in no position to call anyone racist, as they sent any migrants heading over the border from Italy back over it to Ventimiglia.

But she’s also well aware that stemming migration means improving conditions in Africa. She called for support to be given to the Tunisian banks. These had crashed, and she afraid that this would result in a fresh wave of migration from north Africa. She also criticised the French for exploiting African nations. Thirty per cent of the uranium for the French nuclear power stations, she claimed, came from Niger, where children were labouring in the mines and 90 per cent of the population had no electricity. She has said that Africa needs to be freed from European exploitation. This is something I’ve only heard people on the left saying over here. I’ve heard no similar sentiments from Johnson, Truss or Sumak, let alone Rees-Mogg.

European Union, the Single Currency and the Dictatorship of the Troika

Regarding her antipathy to the European Union, some of that might come from Italy’s experience joining the single currency and then the effective government of the country by the EU troika on behalf of the banks. One of the speakers I heard at various seminars at Bristol Uni when I was study for my Ph.D. was an Italian theology student. Talking to her one evening at one of the meetings of a medieval studies group, she told us how the single currency had affected her homeland. It had been disastrous. Prices had risen massively to the point where people were extremely angry. So angry that she didn’t feel safe there. And then when the country had been hit with a financial crisis along with Ireland, Spain and Greece, they had had a government imposed on them by France, Germany and one of the other major players and policies dictated to them to pay back the loans. In practice, this means that the money was simply transferred from one German bank to another. Which I think may partly explain her hostility to the EU and international finance. Cut the anti-Semitism, and the great international financiers have caused immense damage to the global economy and working people are still having to pay the price.

Defence of the Family and Gay Rights

I also, as a general issue, don’t have any problem at all with her stance behind the general NatCon values of family, faith, flag. Although this slogan is close to Mussolini’s ‘Family, Faith, Fatherland’. As a general principle, I think the nuclear family needs to be strengthened and properly valued because of the immense damage that is being done to children from fatherless families. But I am well aware that there are single mothers who have done excellent jobs of raising their children, who are a credit to them.

Similarly, if I am honest, I cannot say that I find gay couples with children the ideal family situation. But, I am also well aware that there have been single-sex parents who have also been great at raising their children. And these kids respected them for the great job they’d done caring for them. There have been scandals over in the states where trans couples have been arrested for committing terrible abuse of the children they’d adopted, but there have also been sickening cases over here of straight couples, who have abused and murdered their children. In my view, gay parents are no more prone to abusing children than straights and so, when it comes to providing a home for a child, their sexuality shouldn’t be an object, only their general character.

The surrogacy issue is rather more involved, and to a certain extent here she has a point. She does not want foreign gay couples paying Italian women to carry their child. She has explained this by pointing to Ukraine, where women have been paid by foreigners to be surrogate mothers. The gay couples, who have fathered the child have not picked it up, and so these kids end up in orphanages. She also points to the moral prohibition against the commodification of the human body. People and their body parts are not items to be bought and sold like any other product. When this comes to human life and reproduction, this is especially important. Back in the 1980s Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical about the issue. It was naturally attacked because I think it included the standard Catholic prohibitions on contraception and abortion, both of which I believe should be legal. But the objection to the commodification of the human body has, I believe, the general support of theologians and moral philosophers outside Roman Catholicism, but I think surrogate motherhood has been an exception to this up to now.

It may seem surprising, but Meloni’s stance on banning artificial reproduction for the benefit of gays was actually mainstream forty years ago. Back in the 1980s there were initiatives in Britain to set up sperm banks. The woman running one was interviewed by the left-wing Sunday newspaper, the Observer. She was asked about the issue of gay men providing sperm so that their lesbian friends could conceive. The woman replied no, that was happening with her bank. All her young men had girlfriends. This was, as I said, in the Observer, a liberal newspaper which is also pro-feminist and anti-racist. Meloni’s trying to drag Italy back to this era in respect to gay surrogacy. It’s reactionary, but I wouldn’t like to say that it is more than that. Where I have an issue with her on this is that it should also apply to heterosexual couples. Meloni’s prohibition doesn’t, and so is clearly discriminatory and homophobic.

Supporting Christianity

I’m also religious, and would like to see a revival of Christianity in this country, as well as in other parts of what used to be Christendom. But I want it to be a reasonable, tolerant Christianity, rather than the militant sectarianism I’ve seen from some extremely right-wing Christian evangelists. I think Christianity in America has been harmed by the right-wing televangelists that appeared under Reagan. Some simply preached ‘Prosperity Gospel’, the doctrine that if you accept Christ, you’ll become rich, and quite a few seemed to be interested in enriching themselves. The Rev. Jim Bakker got caught with his hand in the parish poor box, so to speak. He may also have been having an extramarital affair, as were others. He got sent to the slammer. He’s now out, and a few years ago he wrote a very good book attacking Prosperity Gospel as a heresy, and calling for people to accept Christ. It’s tarnished Christianity’s image amongst a section of young people. There are some brilliant Christian preachers, philosophers and theologians out there, who are well worth listening to, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. But you don’t hear so much about them.

Pride in Country Natural

As for pride in one’s country, I don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with that. Britain, America and the west have done terrible things, but they have also done immense good. America was a racist, apartheid state. But it dismantled those laws under pressure from civil rights leaders like MLK and Martin X. I similarly take issue with the glib anti-racism claiming that Britain is institutionally racist because of the British empire, and that we should therefore feel guilt and shame about being White. One of the other books I really want to review is Nigel Biggar’ Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning. Biggar’s a moral theologian at Oxford, and the book’s a rebuttal of this facile view. It’s been intensely controversial, and his publishing contract was broken at one point. But he does show that in very many cases, British imperialists genuinely acted for what they considered to be the best interests of the subaltern peoples. The first British governor of Egypt, for example, told the colonial secretary that if the best interests of the Egyptian people conflicted with orders from Britain, he would ignore those orders. And when he said ‘Egyptian people’, he meant all the Egyptian people, not just Arabs, but also Copts, Greeks, Armenians and Africans from further south. Even Cecil bloody Rhodes was better than he’s often painted. Yes, he’s a blackguard, but he stood up for the right of the minuscule Black electorate in South Africa to vote when the government was trying to deprive them of it. As for the Benin Bronzes, which many racial activists would like repatriated, they were seized during a military expedition part of whose objectives were to stop the Benin people enslaving and slaughtering the people’s around them in mass human sacrifices. Bacon, the expedition’s intelligence officer, wrote an account of it, including graphic descriptions of the victims they found, in his book City of Blood.

Anti-Semitic Undertones to Rhetoric about International Finance

What gives me profound misgivings about Meloni, however, is when she starts spouting the Nazi nonsense about nationality, faith and the family being under attack by international finance and George Soros. It has nasty anti-Semitic overtones, although so far, she hasn’t said anything outright against the Jews. Anti-Semitism aside, I do believe the development of capitalism has worked to undermine the nation state and people’s natural loyalty to their homeland and the family. There hasn’t been an evil genius behind this. It’s just that international financial speculators, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, have had no moral issues investing in Britain’s rivals and moving their money across continents in order to maximise profits. Mogg is, of course, a Roman Catholic, which I hope helps to explode any myth that the Jews are somehow behind it. Western nations like America and Britain are being harmed by outsourcing and the movement of their industries abroad. That’s one of the reasons many Americans voted for Trump, even though he promptly broke that policy once elected. And I believe that extreme individualism that has led to the decline of the family and attachment to wider British society partly comes from the way late 20th century capitalism tried to turn people from citizens into atomised consumers. Meloni has said this, and I agree with her.

Concern about Welfare and Economic Policies

I am, however, deeply concerned about her welfare and economic policies. She’s fiscally conservative, demanding low taxation, which in my experience means starving the state budget so that state supported industries and services decline to the point of collapse. And I have found a video of her speaking to the far right Spanish Vox party in a rally in Spain. This makes me feel profoundly uneasy given what a monster Franco was. He was more brutal and ruthless in the massacres he carried out than the Italian Fascists who fought for him in the Spanish Civil War. And when they’re worse than Musso’s storm troopers, it’s clear you’re dealing with a monster. Spain is still suffering the scars from his dictatorship. I realise that Vox and the Centre Right party have won a landslide election, but the thought that there are some people in the coalition that might be nostalgic for the old brute is deeply disturbing. This is my assessment of her so far. She’s anti-immigrant, but so far not racist; homophobic, but has a point regarding issues like surrogacy; broadly right about the importance of the traditional family, religion and country, though I am worried about the direction these common sense values could be taken. I don’t want them to be given the kind of totalitarian, intolerant support Mussolini and the fascists gave them. Nor do I want single mothers and gay parents to be demonised. And I have deep disquiet about her economic policies and attitude towards welfare provision. If she’s anything like the rest of the right, she’ll try and cut it to the point where working class poverty increases.

Letter to Department of Education and Other Politicians Calling for Broader Teaching of Slavery

May 31, 2023

One of the issues that concerns me about the current debate over historic slavery is that the belief seems to have grown up that only White Europeans and Americans practised it, and only enslaved Blacks and other people of colour. Connected to this is a related belief that only Whites can be racist. There’s an image on the net of young man of colour waving a placard ‘The British invented Racism’. Neither of these ideas is true. Slavery existed in many societies across the world from ancient times. It existed in ancient Egypt, the Middle East, India, China and elsewhere. It was a feature of many Black African societies, dating back to 3000 BC, and the proportion of the enslaved population ranged from 30 to 70 per cent according to the individual peoples. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Muslim Arabs and then by the Ottoman Turks, as were White Europeans, who were also preyed upon by the Barbary pirates of Morocco, Algiers and Tunisia. The Islamic world also developed racist views of Black Africans and White Europeans, contrary to the explicit teaching of Islam. The Chinese have also developed their own racial ideologies and hierarchies. However, many people don’t understand this, and this leaves them vulnerable to woke racial ideologies, like Critical Race Theory, which view Whites as innately racist and requiring particular teaching and treatment in order to cure them of their prejudices.

I think part of the problem is that the school curriculum only teaches the transatlantic slave trade. Outside the classroom there is little discussion or mention of slavery elsewhere in the world, except in the case of ancient Egypt. As far as I am aware, there are no TV programmes about global slavery, with the exception of the occasional news item about modern slavery and people trafficking. I am also not aware of any museums which also cover the global history of slavery. This absence, I believe, is leaving people vulnerable to radical ideologies that explicitly demonise Whites and teach Blacks that they have and will always be the victims of White prejudice, maltreatment and discrimination.

Yesterday I emailed messages to Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, Nick Gibb, the minister for schools, and the shadow minister for education, Bridget Phillimon about this issue, recommending that the teaching of slavery in schools and universities should also mention that it was done across the world. As should museum displays about slavery and the slave trade. I doubt that I shall receive a reply from them, as the internet addresses, I used may have been solely for their constituents and MPs are forbidden to reply to anyone except them. I’ve therefore also posted the message to the Department of Education using their contact address. But I doubt I’ll get anything back from them either.

Here’s the message I sent them, which I altered a little according to the minister’s or shadow minister’s sex and official position. Please note: I am not advocating the teaching of slavery and racial prejudice in other societies in order to somehow excuse western slavery and racism. I am merely doing so to counter the very specific issue that some people seem to believe that it is unique to White Europeans.

‘Dear Madam,

I am an historian with a Ph.D. in archaeology. I writing to you to express my deep concerns about the teaching of the subject of slavery in British schools and universities and the historical falsehoods being promoted by radical left-wing ideologies such as Critical Race Theory. I understand that the school curriculum includes transatlantic slavery. This is entirely correct, and that dark page of British imperial history should be taught. However, I am concerned that the exclusive focus on British and White European and American enslavement of Black Africans is leading to the distorted view among many British young people that slavery is somehow unique to White culture and society, and is something that only Whites did to Black Africans and other peoples of colour. This is, I feel, being exploited by the advocates of Critical Race Theory to promote a distorted narrative which demonises Whites as perpetual villains while at the same time teaching Black and Asians that they are victims, who will be perpetually oppressed by White racist society.

The idea that only Whites practiced slavery is far from the truth. Slavery has existed across the world since ancient times, as was recognised by the 19th century Abolitionists and their opponents. White Britons were enslaved by the Barbary pirates of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia from the 16th century onwards. This was only ended by the French conquest of Algiers in the 1820s. The Turkish conquest of the Balkans from the 14th century onwards resulted in the White, Christian population being depressed into serfdom as well as slavery itself. Slavery in Africa existed from at least 3000 BC. It was practiced in ancient Egypt and in many Black African societies. In these latter, the proportion of the enslaved population could range from 30%-70%. Black Africans were enslaved by Muslim Arabs and later on by the Ottoman Turks. It also existed in India, where the slave class are recorded in the Vedas as the Dasyas, and in China and elsewhere.  There are some excellent books about these subjects, such as Jeremy Black’s Slavery: A New Global History (London: Constable & Robinson 2011), Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan 2003), and Sean Stilwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014).

At the same time, the West has not been the only civilisation to develop racial prejudice and hierarchies of race. Racial prejudices against Blacks, but also White Europeans also developed in Islam, as discussed in Bernard Lewis’ Slavery and Race in Medieval Islam, and similar racial ideologies have also developed in China. But I very much regret that many young people are unaware that other, non-western cultures have also developed such practices. The result has been that some people seem to believe that racism is, once again, unique to the west. There is an image on the internet of a young man of colour bearing a placard saying, ‘Britain invented Racism’ which illustrates this very well.

I am afraid the lack of knowledge of extra-European racism and slavery is being exploited by Critical Race Theory and its supporters to promote the view that only Whites can be racist, and that racism and historical slavery is something that Whites need to be particularly reminded of and feel guilty about as part of wider radical programme to promote restorative racial justice.

I am very much aware that racism needs to be confronted and erased, but I believe this doctrine to be itself hypocritical and racist. I would therefore like to see the teaching of slavery in schools and universities, and museums exhibits about it also include the existence of slavery throughout the world, including Africa. The intention here is not to demonise other societies and their peoples, but simply to make the point that slavery has never been solely practiced by Whites. At the same time, I would also like to see any teaching in schools about racism also include the fact that this too is not simply something that Whites have done to people of colour. I believe strongly that it is through an awareness of the ubiquity of slavery and racism across the globe that a proper understanding of these issues as both part of British history and a continuing problem can be gained.

I hope you as Secretary of State for Education, will consider this issue worth raising will work to introduce these ideas into the current teaching on slavery, and look forward to hearing from you about this issue.

Yours faithfully,

David -‘

Dennis Fang Asks Why They Cast a Black Woman as Cleopatra

April 21, 2023

Another video criticising Netflix for casting a Black woman as Cleopatra. I’m post this up, not just because of its content, but also because the author of the post is of Asian heritage. They have their own history of colonisation and discrimination, and so it’s not just case of White supremacists or generally offended Whites criticising the casting. . As I hope is also clear by the fact that it’s the Egyptians themselves who are objecting to what they see as the appropriation of their history by Black Americans. I noticed he’s also dyed his hair blue, which also probably would raise alarm bells amongst the militant right and mark him down as a ‘woke’ leftie weirdo

Fang makes many of the same points as the Fun Slaying King about the historical evidence for Cleopatra’s racial identity. But he also adds that under the Roman Empire, the Egyptians were subject to an apartheid system which heavily discriminated against them in favour of the Greek and Roman colonists. At one point he says that showing Cleopatra as Black is like portraying King Leopold, the butcher of the Congo, as Black. He swiftly changes his mind, and says it’s more ridiculous than this, it would be like portraying him as an indigenous American.

He also makes the same point that the concentration on Cleopatra ignores some really stirring events in genuine Black African history. He talks about the last stand of the Songhai empire, when they drove cattle against the muskets of the invading Moroccans. Or when the Cushites fought off a Roman invasion and even decapitated the head of a statue of the Roman emperor. I think this is a real problem. There’s some fascinating discoveries being made about the rise of urbanism in Black Africa. A few years ago a White archaeologist teaching in Nigeria discovered the remains of an urban complex covering an area the size of Salisbury plain. But he’s the only one exploring it, as his Nigerian students are all keen to go to Egypt.

Eygptian YouTuber’s Criticism of Netflix’s Portrayal of a Black Cleopatra

April 20, 2023

Early today I put up a post about an Egyptian lawyer suing Netflix because its documentary about Cleopatra cast her as a Black woman. He isn’t alone in his objection. There are reports that the Egyptians put up a petition on condemning the documentary. This garnered 85,000 signatures before it was taken down by the internet petitioning organisation for breaking their community guidelines. This video comes from the Fun Killing King channel on YouTube. It’s by an Egyptian, who lays out the historical reasons why Cleopatra wasn’t Black. She was descended from the Ptolemies, descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals. They practised incest and lived in Lower Egypt, so they were probably weren’t racially mixed. If they were, the Egyptians with whom they would have intermarried would have been lighter skinned than those further south. Contemporary portraits of her show her with Caucasian features. He states, though, that as a Mediterranean woman she would probably have been darker skinned than the Romans.

He also makes the point that Egypt was very mixed in the racial composition of its citizens. Some were White, but others, particularly in the south, had more sub-Saharan African citizens. This is demonstrated in their art and statuary. He shows the tomb paintings the Egyptian middle class commissioned c. 300 AD, which show many of their subjects as Mediterranean rather Black African. He is annoyed at outsiders appropriating Egyptian history for themselves, and blames Jayda Pinknett Smith, Will Smith’s wife, who is an Afrocentrist and one of the show’s producers and its narrator.

He states at the outset that he is has no objections to Black leads, and later argues that documentaries like Nefflix’s, which appropriate ancient Egypt for Black Americans, overlook real Black history. They ignore the Kushite Black pharaohs, who conquered and ruled Egypt and its empire in the Middle East until they were finally defeated and expelled. They also ignore later, powerful African empires like Mansa Musa’s in Mali. The Fun Killing King compares the Afrocentric portrayal of Cleopatra to the Kushite invasion at one point, which adds further evidence that at least some Egyptians see this as a colonialist enterprise.

Egyptian Lawyer Suing Netflix for Portraying Cleopatra as Black

April 20, 2023

Netflix has caused a bit of controversy this week with its documentary about the legendary queen of Egypt by having her played by a Black actor. This is unhistorical, as the real Cleopatra was Greek, descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Ptolemy had set himself up as pharaoh after Alexander’s death. I’ve also heard the claim today that she also had red hair. There have been a number of posts by bloggers and vloggers across the Net showing that Netflix got it wrong. And now, apparently, an Egyptian lawyer is so angry about it and the threat it presents to Egyptian identity that he’s suing Netflix. He also wants the streaming service banned in Egypt because its content is contrary to Islam, and especially Egyptian Islam.

His argument is that the portrayal of Cleopatra as a woman of colour is Afrocentric, and derives from that ideology’s doctrine that the originally ancient Egyptians were wholly Black and only became lighter through later invasion and immigration. This is a correct description of the Afrocentric view of ancient Egypt, although some leading Afrocentrists, like Cheikh Anta Diop, also thought that the ancient Egyptians were a racial mixture of Black and White. The idea that the ancient Egyptians and thus Cleopatra were Black is fervently held by very many western Blacks. The Black activist Akala gave a talk to the Oxford Union a few years ago arguing for the view. The contrary view, that the ancient Egyptians were light-skinned Caucasians, is dismissed as a colonialist doctrine intended to deny Blacks knowledge of their true history. There’s a weird conspiracy theory added to this. I’ve heard Blacks claim that White, British authorities deliberately chopped the lips and noses off ancient Egyptian statues in order to disguise their negritude.

The lawyer is not just angry at Neflix’s portrayal of Egypt’s most famous queen, but he also fears that this is a truly colonialist attitude that will lead to the displacement of his people from their homeland. He states that Afrocentrism is a doctrine that teaches specifically Black Americans that they are the true Egyptians and demands their return to Egypt. This is certainly true of a number of Black Muslim sects, beginning with the Moorish Science Temple. However, he adds that this return to Egypt is also coupled with a call to expel or displace the present indigenous Egyptian population. I’ve done some reading on Afrocentrism, and haven’t found that as an Afrocentric doctrine. The founders of Black American Islam seem to have claimed to be either Egyptian, or to have been told the true history of ancient Egypt during visits to the country by Egyptian holy men. I haven’t come across any doctrine in the Afrocentric religions calling for the disinheritance and ethnic cleansing of present-day Egyptians. The insistence that the ancient Egyptians were Black has caused friction at some Egyptological conferences and symposia held in Egypt, but I’m not aware of anything more serious.

I’m not a Muslim, so I can’t comment whether Netflix’s content is contrary to Islam or not. Some Islamic countries, such as Iran, have very strict rules regarding what may be shown on the screen. Violence is forbidden along with relationships between men and women. Hence a few years ago there was a spate of Iranian movies about the adventures of children. Other Muslim countries have different attitudes. When Dallas was still a force on global TV, I was surprised by a statement from one of the Gulf Arab states that the show was enjoyed by its people, and they felt that Patrick Duffy’s character exemplified proper Muslim values. That must have been before the character had an adulterous affair. The accusation that Neftlix is contrary to Islam therefore seems to me to be an extra allegation just to get the service banned in Egypt. The real reason is the documentary’s perceived insult and threat to Egyptian ethnic identity.

It seems to me that the problem is that Netflix wanted to please Black American ideas about ancient Egypt, ignoring how the Egyptians themselves saw their identity. This is a form of colonialism. One of the doctrines of Critical Race Theory is ‘epistemic violence’, which holds that White supremacy denies the colonised, darker peoples a voice and the ability to describe their position. Well, this is clearly what the portrayal of Cleopatra as Black for Afrocentric reasons has done, although I doubt this would be recognised by Critical Race Theorists, for whom the victims of such violent colonialist discourse are always Black. This controversy is itself another refutation of Critical Race Theory.

JP on How Critical Race Theory Ignores Black Achievement

March 30, 2023

I posted another piece last night attacking Critical Race Theory and the theory of White privilege as a racist attempt to redefine racism that didn’t fit reality. This used the example of the murder of seven White vagrants in Florida by the Nation of Yahweh, a new Black religious movement that combined religion with a flourishing business empire. Its leader, Yahweh Ben Yahweh, and his commanders bitterly hated Whites, and to get into the upper, governing ranks of the organisation you had to kill a White person. They did so with the murder of seven White tramps. Yahweh Ben Yahweh had been honoured by former president Bill Clinton for his organisation’s regeneration of run-down Black districts in Miami. In this instance, it was the Black religious leader who had the power and privilege, and his White victims absolutely none.

JP, one of the great commenters on this blog, also posted this comment, pointing out that the theory of White privilege also ignores or plays down Black achievement, both in modern America and in the great civilisations that have arisen in Africa throughout history. He writes:

‘>Critical Race Theory and its activists have attempted to redefine racism as prejudice + power. Blacks cannot be racist, because, according to CRT, they are powerless.

That redifinition is insulting. It does 2 things very well:

1. discredits any power that Blacks have ever achieved.

2. deprives the individual Black of self expression

African Americans have achieved power. Justice Thomas has wielded large power over the law in the US since the 1990s, Oprah dominated American society and was the 1st Black billionaire, Obama was elected (and re-elected) President of the US, on and on the list goes. I’ve heard people trying to claim that such powerful, successful people are just “Black face”. What?! That these people are traitors to real African Americans. Wow. That is how far these people will go to nullify Blacks who don’t fit their redefined racism.

Africans have achieved power and greatness. Great African societies and cultures are forgotten or just ignored. The Songhai Empire, Mali Empire, etc. The ancient Egyptian civilization is exempted from being “African” for … well whatever reason besides literally being on the same continent. Even if African achievements are acknowledged, these examples are waft aside as being ancient history; and that European white privledge and racist slavery overpowered them. Not so fast. West African, aka. “Black”, merchants were already enslaving peoples long before Europeans colonized the West Coast in the 18-19th centuries. The timeline of history doesn’t support the narrative that European white privledge caused or started slavery or racism.

This redifinition is revisionist. It’s made by people who don’t like the facts, or are ignorant of history, and who redefine words to fit a narrative of how they want to manipulate the future.’

He has also posted a video of an angry Black mother objecting to CRT being taught in schools. There are many videos like this of Black parents strenuously objecting to their children being taught it in schools. In one of these, a father stated that he had never encountered racism, and that he wanted his son to believe that he could do or be anything he chose. But CRT worked against this by telling Blacks they would always be marginalised, poorer and discriminated against. The father believed in the American Dream. This has taken a bashing through repeated depressions and the Reaganomics that have meant that the middle class – Black, White, Asian, whatever, has become impoverished. Generally speaking, Blacks are less prosperous than Whites, but this is an average. Black conservatives are worth reading in this respect, as they point out paradoxically the immense progress Black America made after the ending of slavery. Despite real oppression in the form of the Jim Crow Laws and segregation, they built up capital, opened businesses and entered the professions. Black districts like Harlem also had their commercial centres, just like their White counterparts. In the 1950s an American advertising magazine hailed Blacks as the new middle class.

Since then, things seem to have gone backward. Authors like Thomas Sowell recall how the streets of areas like Harlem were safe when they were growing up. I think Sowell says that when he lived there, he never heard a gunshot. They were less run-down, and residents had far more self-respect. This isn’t racial – the same conservatives will point to similar conditions and attitudes among the White underclass in Britain. I don’t accept that this relative decline is due to the welfare state incentivising such anti-social attitudes and behaviour. But it’s clear that something has gone seriously wrong, something that the victim narrative of Black America and Britain isn’t addressing and may actually be making worse.

Historical Archaeology, the Congo Museum and Shamanism and the Purge of Offensive Exhibits at the Wellcome Collection

February 26, 2023

Having looked at the Art Newspaper’s report on the withdrawal of the ‘Medicine Man’ gallery at the Wellcome Museum and its replacement with shamanistic performances by Grace Ndiritu, along with her biography on Wikipedia, I think I now understand what’s happened there. One of the names that leapt out at me reading the Art Newspaper article was Dan Hicks. He was one of the lecturers in the Archaeology and Anthropology Department at Bristol University when I was there. This is going back over a decade, and when I saw him, he was young and hip. I think his speciality is Historical Archaeology, and from what I remember he has co-edited a series of papers about it. Over here, Historical Archaeology is merely that branch of archaeology concerned with monuments and artefacts from historical times, rather than prehistory. Over the Pond, however, it is very definitely ideologically loaded, and concerns itself with colonialism, the oppression of the indigenous peoples, slavery and the emergence of capitalism. And this focus can be very clear in the work of some lecturers and academics. It’s not all like this – some of the historical archaeological research is less left-wing. While doing my Ph.D., one of the papers I consulted was about the building of 18th century Annapolis and how it conformed to 18th century ideas about architecture and society. For example, the buildings were deliberately constructed with large windows so that outsiders could look in. This came from the view that business should be conducted as far as possible in public view, so that public scrutiny would make sure that everything was correct, orderly and legal. Hicks’ doctoral student studied the archaeology of Long Kesh, the Maze Prison, in Ulster. She gave a seminar one lunchtime about her research, and she was very, very good. She presented an excellent case for its preservation and exhibition from a non-sectarian perspective as somewhere that was vital to the heritage of the people of Northern Ireland.

Archaeology has also expanded its scope in recent decades. When most of us think of archaeology, I’m pretty sure it’s of prehistory and ancient civilisations like Egypt, Greece and Rome. But it can also be much more recent, taking in not just the Middle Ages but also recent history up to the Second World War and beyond. One of the lads I knew was studying World War II tank defences around Bristol and Somerset. There was even a pillbox study group, which catalogued and documented the various WWII pillboxes left along the country’s coasts and beaches to protect us from invasion. There has, like Ndiritu at the Wellcome Museum, also been artistic events performed or staged around pieces of archaeology. In one of these in America an historic barn or house was allowed to decay, with photographs taken and finally displayed showing its gradual destruction. When I was there, the archaeology department had been part of a similar project concerning the various objects at Severn Beach, a holiday resort near Bristol. From what I dimly recall, this photographed and decorated such historic monuments as the public benches and decaying boats. This was too ‘arty’ in the pejorative sense for some of the people at the seminar on it I attended. They saw themselves very definitely as scientists. It was too arty for me, and I see myself much more as coming from the arts rather than the sciences.

There was, at the time, a general movement towards drawing different disciplines together, and especially the arts and sciences. Interdisciplinary subjects were in vogue, and there was much talk about overcoming C.P. Snow’s ‘two cultures’ arts and science, in which people from one side of the cultural divide had no knowledge or interest in the other. One such artistic project based in science I read about in New Scientist featured genetically modified organisms. One of these was a cactus, whose DNA had been tinkered with so that instead of prickles, it grew hair. Ndiritu’s performances at the Wellcome Collection come from archaeology and anthropology, rather than genetic engineering, but they are part of the same project of mixing science and art.

Her Wikipedia entries also mentions work at the AfricaMuseum in Belgium. Way back when I was at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum I got material from Belgium about some of their museums looking at their countries imperial history. One of these was a series of artistic projects and performances in the country’s museum about the Belgian Congo. As I’m sure readers are well aware, King Leopold’s personal rule in the Congo is one of the bloodiest holocausts in African history. About 8 million people are supposed to have been murdered by his Force Publique in order to produce rubber for export. I’ve been told that the country tried to forget about it all, until the first years of the 21st century when these events were staged at the museum as part of the confrontation with this infamous period in Belgian history.

There have also been other archaeological and anthropological events and displays in which indigenous peoples have performed their religious rituals. A few years ago, if I recall correctly, there was one where Amerindian shamans performed their people’s rites. When the exhibit is of those peoples, then it is only fair to include the people themselves. I think this is what was going on in the Wellcome Museum with Ndiritu and her shamanism. It looks like it’s an attempt by indigenous African culture to claim a proper place in the exhibit as a counterpoint to western rationalism.

This does not mean, however, that it should be free from criticism or that such criticism is right-wing. The decolonisation movement does indeed have as its goal the decentring of western science and historiography. It goes far beyond the usual explanation about including overlooked non-western and indigenous perspectives. The ‘Science Must Fall’ movement really existed. And some of the critical of modern postcolonial theory are left-wing feminists. Asian feminists, for example, have complained that they are given no support by western postmodern feminists in their struggle against their cultures’ own restrictions on women, because postcolonialism is only interested in such problems if they are caused by the West. This is described by Bricmont and Sokal in their 90’s attack on Postmodernism, Intellectual Impostures. And Sokal is, or was, very much a man of the left. He was a physicist who gave up his career to teach maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista regime.

I also wonder how this all fits with Edward Said’s critique of western views of the east, Orientalism. His book was a polemic arguing that the west since ancient Greece had regarded the east as the Other, and produced images to justify its conquest and domination. Western travellers and explorers had therefore presented it as backward, irrational and feminine and somehow unchanging. But Nditiru’s performances are based on the non-scientific irrational and traditional, which are now presented as positive. This is indeed a challenge to the view of magic in indigenous cultures that I remember from my childhood. I can remember watching a BBC documentary about African shamanism when I was in my early teens, in which the voiceover concluded that while western science had succeeded in discovering so much about the world and made so many advances, while magic had reached an end and could produce no such advances. The great British scientist and broadcaster, Jacob Bronowski, said something similar in his TV series and book, The Ascent of Man. He looked at the traditional culture of one of Iran’s nomadic people, and considered that it similarly locked them in a stifling, unchanging world. Bronowski was no man of the right. He was a member of the Fabian Society at a time when that actually meant something, before it was taken over by the Blairites.

I am also very much aware of the crisis that has affected many indigenous society with the collapse of their world of meaning through contact with western modernity and the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. But there are also dangers in idealising indigenous societies. I mentioned in my previous article that in Nigeria, priests from one of the country’s pagan religions had been involved in the acquisition of slaves, and that a South African anthropologist had attempted to defend muti human sacrifice at a convention in this country, as well as witchcraft and witch hunting in Africa. Those aspects of indigenous religion and spirituality shouldn’t be ignored. I am not saying they should be stressed to restore the old image of Africa as a backward continent needing western civilisation, but not all the continent’s ills should be ascribed to western rationalism either. Hence it should be perfectly legitimate to question this latest policy by the Wellcome Museum, regardless of whether one is politically right or left.

Wellcome Museum Purges Display on History of Medicine to Include African Shaman – A Piece of Cultural Relativism That Will Also Damage Blacks

February 24, 2023

This comes from a piece our favourite YouTube historian, Simon Webb, put up on History Debunked a few days ago. He was attacking the new policy towards the museum that has come in with its new director, a woman whose degree is in the arts. Before, according to Webb, the museum was excellent, covering the history of western medicine in rigorous detail and including displays of operating theatres. Much of this, however, has been junked because the new director has deemed it ableist, racist and colonialist. The gallery to its founder, Wellcome himself, has also gone because he did not hold the current, mandatory beliefs. In their stead a gallery has erected containing two photographs showing the horrors of colonial experimentation on Black Africans along with one Mrs Eruditu, a self-professed African shaman, who conducts healing ceremonies and will counsel visitors to the gallery traumatised by the pictures. Webb calls her a witchdoctor, and describes her as completely mad, as she believes inanimate objects also possess consciousness. She doesn’t like the British Museum and the Egyptology displays, because the exhibits there have told her that they want to be underground. Nor does she approve of the display of a Native American totem pole in the Musee Nationale in France, as this has told her psychically that it wants to be out in the open air. Webb states, quite correctly, that western medicine has produced amazing advances in combating disease and extending the human life span. This new policy is a direct attack on that.

I think Webb, if he’s right about the Museum’s new policy, and he seems to be, has an excellent point here. He views it, no doubt, as another attack on western culture in the name of anti-racism, anti-imperialism and post-colonialism. He is, unfortunately, also very likely right about this. There have been pieces on YouTube by other right-wingers attacking the current policies of the Museums Association, which are all about this. I’ve got a feeling that Manchester Museum has also fallen to these new policies, and that they are also reviewing their collections as a result. But this policy is also harming Black and particularly Black African advancement in ways which the founders of the ‘Science Must Fall’ movement, which is ultimately at the heart of this, probably don’t understand.

The ‘Science Must Fall’ movement was a South African campaign to decentre western science because it rejected indigenous knowledges about the world rooted in myth and legend. There was a video on YouTube of a student debate in one of the South African universities, in which a Black female student urged her White comrades to decolonise their minds and accept that tribal rainmakers could indeed make it rain. People are welcome to whatever mystical or religious beliefs they choose, providing these don’t break the law. But they are separate. Back in the 90s, the late Stephen Jay Gould, a biologist and palaeontologist, attempted to end the war between science and religious by stating that there were No Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). Science dealt with fact, and religion with issues of meaning and values. Of course, militant atheists of the Dawkins type disagreed and thought that it was a capitulation to unreason. Gould’s wrong in that religion and science do overlap, but as a general point I think it’s fair. Science and religion, as a general rule, are separate.

I am also sure that the new director is right, and that Blacks were experimented on by surgeons and doctors in the past. It certainly happened in America, where one of the great surgeons of the 19th century experiment on Black women without anaesthetic. I read somewhere that H.G. Wells was partly inspired to write The Island of Dr. Moreau by accounts of a German doctor experimenting on Black Africans. But you have to be very careful in making such judgements. A while ago I provoked an angry reply in a piece I had written for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. I was talking about the history of medicine in the context of space exploration. One of the books I had consulted for the piece described one particular pioneering doctor of tropical medicine as a quack for his theories and treatment of diseases. Unfortunately for me, one of the other senior members of the Society knew him, and wrote to me stating that he was a dedicated, humane man of science. The problem was that he was facing completely new diseases unknown in the west and which nobody knew how to treat. This is a good point, and I wrote to the aggrieved gentleman apologising for the inadvertent smear and issued a correction to the Journal. I wonder if some of the other pioneering doctors and surgeons, whose work has similarly fallen into disfavour, were like the man I mentioned – a sincere medical man, working in the unknown.

Underlying the attempts to decentre western science are two related attitudes. One is the fact that many displaced, colonised peoples have been harmed by the destruction of their own, indigenous world view. This has left them without meaning, resulting in alcoholism and drug addiction in many indigenous communities like the Amerindians in the Americas and Aboriginal Australians. The other is the belief in the Noble Savage, in which indigenous communities like them are somehow better, and more noble than moral than White, western society. The attempts to decentre western science and include indigenous myth and religion are attempts to restore dignity to these colonised peoples.

But African paganism also has its dark side. The priests of one of the cults in Nigeria were actively involved in the slave trade, to the point where the Nigerian equivalent of the saying that someone has been sold down the river literally translates as they ‘have been stolen by the Oracle’. There is also a widespread belief in witches and witch hunting all across the continent. Many of the accused, as in the pre-modern west are women, and some of the trials are just as deadly. In one Nigerian ritual, the accused woman is given the Calabar Bean, a poisonous vegetable. If she doesn’t vomit it out quickly, she’ll die, and so be judged a witch. There have also been professional witch hunters of the same stripe as the infamous Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, of Civil War England. Way back in the 19th century one of the Zulu kings went on a witch-hunting campaign. Witchsmellers, the indigenous Zulu witch hunters, were engaged and duly pointed the finger at a number of suspects, who were duly executed. A European official talked to the king, and said this all looked very dubious, and wondered if the witchsmellers were right in their accusations. The king laughed, said he wondered too, and had all one hundred of them executed as frauds.

And then there’s muti, which is really sinister. This is the sacrifice of humans, often young children, for their body parts, which are sold to the sorcerer’s clients to bring them good luck. I put up a piece I found on one of the YouTube channels about the amazing efforts of a Black British woman against it in Uganda. But it also appeared in Britain back in the early part of this century. The cops dragged the spine of a murdered boy, Adam, wrapped in various pieces of coloured cloth out of the Thames. The cloth’s colours were those of the muti cult, and it looked like child, probably 12 years old, had been sacrificed. And some African anthropologists have defended such murders. A little while ago one of them presented such a paper at an anthropological conference in Manchester. They claimed that these sacrifices were morally acceptable because Africans had a collective morality that saw that the sacrifice of an individual could benefit the community. Bear in mind that we are talking about the murder of children, whose body parts, including their genitals, are considered most effective if they have been hacked off while the victim was still alive. I believe that the anthropologist presenting the paper was asked to leave.

Indigenous African religion has also been the tool of White supremacist governments to keep Black Africans firmly in their very subordinate place. A few decades ago, a Zulu shaman, Credo Mutwa, had a book published in this country, in which he explained his mystical beliefs and practises. From what I’ve read, it was a mixture of native Zulu lore and western occultism, aimed at the New Age crowd. It was reviewed by the sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, who were very scathing. Mutwa, they claimed, had been a stooge of the Apartheid South African government during their retribalisation campaign. This stressed the indigenous, separate identities of the various South African tribes, who by then had become a Black proletariat. The intention was to keep the Black population divided so they were too weak to successfully challenge the Apartheid government.

Magonia have also several times stated that these books extolling the joys of indigenous life without western science and technology are all aimed at westerners, who have no intention of living like their ancestors did. I think it’s a fair point. The satirist Alan Coren expressed similar sentiments, set in a European context, in one of his pieces for Punch back in the 1970s. It’s about a very middle class, academic couple, who take over a French village and undo centuries of civilisation in order to return to them to what they see as the inhabitants’ natural, pre-Christian, pre-scientific state. But they themselves have no intention of rejecting scientific modernity. The piece ends with one of them stating he intends to write a paper on it. I think the same mindset is at work here.

As for Eruditu’s beliefs about the British museum and its exhibits, this is just animism, pure and simple, the belief that every rock and object has a soul. But I’ve heard very different things about the unhappy state of some of the exhibits. I’ve got a strong interest in psychical research, and a few weeks ago went to an online meeting about ghosts and hauntings in the British Museum. The Egyptology section has something of a cult as some of the visitors there are worshippers, who leave offerings. One spiritualist visitor, a medium, is supposed to have said that the mummies like being on display, as they feel they have a role to teach, but are frustrated at not being able to communicate with the living. This, of course, is completely the opposite of what Eruditu has said, and you can take or leave either or both depending on your attitude to mysticism. I many people are unhappy about the dead being excavated and put on display in museums, and don’t need a mystic to tell them this. But Egypt is certainly one of the great, founding civilisations of humanity, and Egyptology has massively extended our knowledge of the human past and this civilisation’s undeniable achievements and contribution.

Back to Africa. Way back in the 1980s I read an article by a Black African historian, a Muslim, who had presented his own series on the continent’s history on the Beeb. He lamented the fact that the west’s scientific and technological knowledge, inherited from ancient Greece and Rome, was not being transmitted to Africa. He’s right. After all, India and China have made massive strides in development this century because they have embraced science and technology. Sun Yat-Sen, the Chinese revolutionary who founded the Kuomintang, said at the beginning of his movement that ‘We say hello to Mr Science and Mr Democracy’. Sadly, democracy in China got left behind, but science has been taken up with a vengeance so that the country is now a centre of serious technological innovation in space and robotics. And it was helped in this by the early translators of western scientific texts, who referred to it not as western science, but as ‘the new science’. Something similar may well be needed in Africa.

This attempt to decentre and stigmatise western science and medicine has the potential to seriously harm Black advancement. I do think that there is a genuine potential for science and technology in Africa that is currently untapped and stifled. And Webb complained a few months or perhaps a year ago about a piece in New Scientist, in which a Black, female scientist called for more Blacks in lab coats. This movement, which sees Blacks and other indigenous peoples as non-scientific, runs counter to that. It reminds me of some of the scathing criticisms of non-western cultures by the early orientalists, who felt that these peoples would not be capable of assimilating western culture.

And I dare say the promoters of this movement would accuse me of racism, but I am afraid that there are real dangers of encouraging the dark side of African religion and spirituality through an uncritical acceptance of such shamanism.

If Webb is right, then the new director has not only ruined a once great museum, but she’s part of a larger movement that poses a threat to the whole tradition of the Enlightenment, a movement that genuinely endangers scientific advancement for some of the world’s peoples, who most need it.

A Comparative History of Black American Slavery and Russian Serfdom

February 23, 2023

One of the problems in contemporary debates over slavery that really infuriates me is the way too many people seem to believe that slavery is something only White people did to Blacks and people of colour. This simply isn’t the case. One of the arguments used by the slaveowners to defend this horrible social institution was the fact that it was found all over the world, and had been practised by civilisations from ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire down to the present day. I also get rather annoyed by the refusal of many discussions of slavery to include serfdom, which persisted in Russia and certain parts of Europe down to the 19th century. Serfdom differs from slavery in that, although the serf is unfree, nevertheless he has certain rights. Conditions were nevertheless brutal – they could also be punished by flogging and were forced to work on their master’s lands as part of the duties they owed their lords. In the Middle Ages they were unable to marry unless they paid a fine to their lord, and when they died their best beast, a cow, was also taken by their lord. Their widows were often required to perform a humiliating social ritual, like riding on a black ram calling themselves a whore, as happened on one English manor, before they could inherit their husband’s property. The Russian novelist and revolutionary, Turgenev, was a member of the serf-owning aristocracy and became a fervent abolitionist after one of his aunts killed serf girl by smothering her with a pillow.

I did, however, find a book comparing American Black slavery with Russian serfdom a few years ago, Peter Kolchin’s Unfree Labour: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom, (Harvard, Belknap). The Amazon blurb for this runs

‘Two massive systems of unfree labor arose, a world apart from each other, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The American enslavement of blacks and the Russian subjection of serfs flourished in different ways and varying degrees until they were legally abolished in the mid-nineteenth century. Historian Peter Kolchin compares and contrasts the two systems over time in this magisterial book, which clarifies the organization, structure, and dynamics of both social entities, highlighting their basic similarities while pointing out important differences discernible only in comparative perspective.

These differences involved both the masters and the bondsmen. The independence and resident mentality of American slaveholders facilitated the emergence of a vigorous crusade to defend slavery from outside attack, whereas an absentee orientation and dependence on the central government rendered serfholders unable successfully to defend serfdom. Russian serfs, who generally lived on larger holdings than American slaves and faced less immediate interference in their everyday lives, found it easier to assert their communal autonomy but showed relatively little solidarity with peasants outside their own villages; American slaves, by contrast, were both more individualistic and more able to identify with all other blacks, both slave and free.

Kolchin has discovered apparently universal features in master–bondsman relations, a central focus of his study, but he also shows their basic differences as he compares slave and serf life and chronicles patterns of resistance. If the masters had the upper hand, the slaves and serfs played major roles in shaping, and setting limits to, their own bondage.

This truly unprecedented comparative work will fascinate historians, sociologists, and all social scientists, particularly those with an interest in comparative history and studies in slavery.’

This is another book I haven’t read, but it does seem it would be very useful to others wishing to include White serfdom in the debate about slavery and its memorialisation.

The Amazon page for the book is at: