Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

A Slavery Document from Nuzi of the Ancient Near East

September 23, 2022

I’ve got the impression that many of the people talking about the various issues connected with the British enslavement of Africans and its continuing legacy don’t actually realise that slavery existed long before the rise of Black transatlantic slavery in the European conquest and colonisation of the Americas. But the supporters of slavery were very much aware of it and used it as part of their polemic against the abolitionists. Slavery had existed in the ancient world, not just in ancient Rome, but also in Egypt, Persia and the other ancient civilisations. It also formed part of the social systems of present-day non-Western societies like the Ottoman Empire. This formed part of their argument that slavery was somehow natural, and that it was unfair for Britain to ban it when other nations and peoples all over the world still kept people in bondage.

As an example of just how ancient slavery was, there’s this document from ancient Nuzi, one of the city states of ancient Iraq. Twenty thousand clay tablets illustrating everyday life in the city c. 1500 BC were excavated by the University of Pennsylvania, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Harvard Semitic Museum and the Iraq Museum from 1925-1931. This was when Nuzi was under the control of the Hurrians. The tablets themselves were written in Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian empire.

Tablet JEN 845 documents the sale of a female slave by Ziliya, Sukriya, Tehip-sarri, and Silahi, the sons of Silwa-Tesup to Hut-arraphe son of Tisam-musini in return for movable goods that they’ve received.

See Ernest R. Lachman and Maynard P. Maidman, Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi adn the Hurrians, vol *: Join Expedition with the Iraqi Museum of Nuzi VII, Miscellaneous Texts (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 1989) 40, 268. This needs to be taken into account in any discussion of western slavery to counter the tendency to present it as something that only Whites did to Blacks. It also needs to be included in order to gain a proper appreciation of the difficulties the abolitionists had combating a system that was both global and ancient.

Why Did British Public Opinion Turn Against the Empire?

August 10, 2022

The British empire and its history is once again the topic of intense controversy with claims that its responsible for racism, the continuing poverty and lack of development of Commonwealth nations and calls for the decolonisation of British museums and the educational curriculum. On the internet news page just this morning is a report that Tom Daley has claimed that homophobia is a legacy of the British empire. He has a point, as when the British government was reforming the Jamaican legal code in the late 19th century, one of the clauses they inserted criminalised homosexuality.,

In fact this is just the latest wave of controversy and debate over the empire and its legacy. There were similar debates in the ’90s and in the early years of this century. And the right regularly laments popular hostility to British imperialism. For right-wing commenters like Niall Ferguson and the Black American Conservative economist Thomas Sowell, British imperialism also had positive benefits in spreading democracy, property rights, properly administered law and modern technology and industrial organisation around the world. These are fair points, and it must be said that neither of these two writers ignore the fact that terrible atrocities were committed under British imperialism either. Sowell states that the enforced labour imposed on indigenous Africans was bitterly resented and that casualties among African porters could be extremely high.

But I got the impression that at the level of the Heil, there’s a nostalgia for the empire as something deeply integral to British identity and that hostility or indifference to it counts as a serious lack of patriotism.

But what did turn popular British opinion against the empire, after generations when official attitudes, education and the popular media held it up as something of which Britons should be immensely proud, as extolled in music hall songs, holidays like Empire Day and books like The Baby Patriot’s ABC, looked through a few years ago by one of the Dimblebys on a history programme a few years ago.

T.O. Lloyd in his academic history book, Empire to Welfare State, connects it to a general feeling of self hatred in the early 1970s, directed not just against the empire, but also against businessmen and politicians:

”Further to the left, opinion was even less tolerant; when Heath in 1973 referred to some exploits of adroit businessmen in avoiding tax as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’, the phase was taken up and repeated as though he had intended it to apply to the whole of capitalism, which was certainly not what he meant.

‘Perhaps it was surprising that his remark attracted so much attention, for it was not a period in which politicians received much respect. Allowing for the demands of caricature, a good deal of the public mood was caught by the cartoons of Gerald Scarfe, who drew in a style of brilliant distortion which made it impossible to speak well of anyone. The hatred of all men holding authority that was to be seen in his work enabled him to hold up a mirror to his times, and the current of self hatred that ran so close to the surface also matched an important part of his readers’ feelings. Politicians were blamed for not bringing peace, prosperity, and happiness, even though they probably had at this time less power – because of the weakness of the British economy and the relative decline in Britain’s international position – to bring peace and prosperity than they had had earlier in the century; blaming them for this did no good, and made people happier only in the shortest of short runs.

‘A civil was in Nigeria illustrated a good many features of British life, including a hostility to the British Empire which might have made sense while the struggle for colonial freedom was going on but, after decolonization had taken place so quickly and so amicably, felt rather as though people needed something to hate.’ (pp. 420-1).

The Conservative academic historian, Jeremy Black, laments that the positive aspects of British imperialism has been lost in his book The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015):

‘Thus, the multi-faceted nature of the British imperial past and its impact has been largely lost. This was a multi-faceted nature that contributed to the pluralistic character of the empire. Instead, a politics of rejection ensures that the imperial past serves for themes and images as part of an empowerment through real, remembered, or, sometimes, constructed grievance. This approach provides not only the recovery of terrible episodes, but also ready reflexes of anger and newsworthy copy, as with the harsh treatment of rebels, rebel sympathisers , and innocent bystanders in the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, an issue that took on new energy as demands for compensation were fuelled by revelations of harsh British policy from 2011’. (p. 235).

He also states that there’s a feeling in Britain that the empire, and now the Commonwealth, are largely irrelevant:

‘Similarly, there has been a significant change in tone and content in the discussion of the imperial past in Britain. A sense of irrelevance was captured in the Al Stewart song ‘On the Border’ (1976).

‘On my wall the colours of the map are running

From Africa the winds they talk of changes of coming

In the islands where I grew up

Noting seems the same

It’s just the patterns that remain

An empty shell.’

For most of the public, the Commonwealth has followed the empire into irrelevance. the patriotic glow that accompanied and followed the Falklands War in 1982, a war fought to regain a part of the empire inhabited by settlers of British descent, was essentially nationalistic, not imperial. This glow was not matched for the most recent, and very different, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These have led to a marked disinclination for further expeditionary warfare’. (pp. 421-2).

In fact the whole of the last chapter of Black’s book is about changing attitudes to the empire and the imperial past, which Black feels has been distorted. The British empire is seen through the lens of atrocities, although its rule was less harsh than the Germans or Italians. In India the view is coloured by the Amritsar massacre and ignores the long periods of peace imposed by British rule in India. He also notes that the cultural and international dominance of America has also affected British ideas of exceptionalism, distinctiveness and pride, and that interest in America has superseded interest in the other countries of the former empire.

Attitudes to the empire have also changed as Britain has become more multicultural., and states that ‘increasingly multicultural Britain sees myriad tensions and alliance in which place, ethnicity, religion, class and other factors both class and coexist. This is not an easy background for a positive depiction of the imperial past’ (p. 239). He also mentions the Parekh Report of the Commission on the Future Multi-Ethnic Britain, which ‘pressed for a sense of heritage adapted to the views of recent immigrants. This aspect of the report’ he writes, ‘very much attracted comment. At times, the consequences were somewhat fanciful and there was disproportionate emphasis both on a multi-ethnic legacy and on a positive account of it’. (p. 239). Hence the concern to rename monuments and streets connected with the imperial past, as well as making museums and other parts of the heritage sector more accessible to Black and Asians visitors and representative of their experience.

I wonder how far this lack of interest in the Commonwealth goes, at least in the immediate present following the Commonwealth games. There’s talk on the Beeb and elsewhere that it has inspired a new interest and optimism about it. And my guess is that much of popular hostility to the empire probably comes from the sympathy from parts of the British public for the various independence movements and horror at the brutality with which the government attempted to suppress some of them,, like the Mau Mau in Kenya. But it also seems to me that a powerful influence has also been the psychological link between its dissolution and general British decline, and its replacement in British popular consciousness by America. And Black and Asian immigration has also played a role. I’ve a very strong impression that some anti-imperial sentiment comes from the battles against real racism in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the Fascist organisations that founded the National Front in the 1960s was the League of Empire Loyalists.

This popular critique on British imperialism was a part of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip in 2000AD. This was about a future in which Earth had become the centre of a brutally racist, genocidal galactic empire ruled by a quasi-religious order, the Terminators. They, and their leader, Torquemada, were based on the writer’s own experience as a pupil of an abusive teacher at a Roman Catholic school. The Terminators wore armour, and the title of their leader, grand master, recalls the crusading orders like the Knights Templars in the Middle Ages. One of the stories mentions a book, published by the Terminators to justify their cleansing of the galaxy’s aliens, Our Empire Story. Which is the title of a real book that glamorised the British empire. Elsewhere the strip described Torquemada as ‘the supreme Fascist’ and there were explicit comparisons and links between him, Hitler, extreme right-wing Tory politicos like Enoch Powell, and US generals responsible for the atrocities against the Amerindians. It’s a good question whether strips like ‘Nemesis’ shape public opinion or simply follow it. I think they may well do a bit of both.

But it seems to me that, rather than being a recent phenomenon, a popular hostility to the British empire has been around since the 1970s and that recent, radical attacks on imperial history and its legacy are in many cases simply an extension of this, rather than anything completely new.

Stop the War Coalition Newsletter on NATO in Afghanistan and Trade Union Organising against the War in Ukraine

August 5, 2022

Just now I got the latest email newsletter from the Stop the War Coalition, notifying its readers of the organisation’s forthcoming events. One will be an evening with veteran civil rights campaigner, author and broadcaster Tariq Ali about the consequences of forty years of war in Afghanistan, including NATO’s occupation of the country. They are also organising a conference for trades unionists next year and encouraging members of the unions to affiliate their unions and their local branches to them. And, of course, they also appeal for people to join them. The email runs

NATO’s Legacy in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been abandoned by the international community following the events of 2021 when the 20-year NATO occupation of Afghanistan came to an end.

It seems the only thing the West now has to offer Afghanistan is extrajudicial killings. After the appalling Panorama revelations of a ‘campaign of terror’ by British special forces during the occupation comes the assassination of Ayman al Zawahiri. Quite simply, such attacks are war crimes and do nothing to “make us safer” as Joe Biden stated this week.

With the Taliban back in power and stronger than it was in 2001, NATO’s occupation has been an outright failure. From the lies of installing democracy to improving quality of life to liberating women, the War on Terror did nothing but cause death and destruction.

The country is home to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, as 90% of the population live below the poverty line. The country’s economy is at a standstill as sanctions cripple the nation.

One year on from the end of the occupation, join us for an evening with Tariq Ali – writer, film-maker and author of The Forty Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold – as he takes a look at the current state of the country and the myths surrounding the Western occupation.

Register Here – Free & Open to All!

The World at War: A Trade Union Issue
Stop the War Trade Union Conference 2023

We have called our first ever trade union conference because we believe that it is always working people who are the first victims of war and that the record sums being spent on arms and the military should be redirected to public services, to the NHS, social care and our crumbling schools. We believe that the slogan ‘cut warfare not welfare’ should be taken up by the whole of the trade union movement.

The conference is open to all trade unionists. We urge you to register but also to spread the word in your branches and trades councils.

We have called our first ever trade union conference because we believe that it is always working people who are the first victims of war and that the record sums being spent on arms and the military should be redirected to public services, to the NHS, social care and our crumbling schools. We believe that the slogan ‘cut warfare not welfare’ should be taken up by the whole of the trade union movement.

Register Now

head of the conference, we’re asking all trade unionists who support Stop the War to affiliate to us. By affiliating your branch or region you can ensure that our movement will continue to campaign against the British government’s war policies. We receive no grants from governments or financial backing from commercial backers.

It is only because of individuals and organisations like yours that we are able to continue to build the anti-war movement so that future generations may live in a more peaceful world.

Affiliate to Stop the War Today

Be Part of a Growing Movement Against War

This week our Vice President and founder member Jeremy Corbyn has once again come under fire for standing up for peace. He said in relation to the war in Ukraine that…

“Pouring arms in isn’t going to bring about a solution, it’s only going to prolong and exaggerate this war…This war is disastrous for the people of Ukraine, for the people of Russia, and for the safety and security of the whole world, and therefore there has to be much more effort put into peace.”

He’s right. And we must further his call for peace and negotiation.

One small way to help us intensify our campaign against the warmongers is by becoming a member.

As a small incentive for doing so, we are offering a special discount for members on our merchandise. You also get a free ‘Drop Beats Not Bombs’ tote bag when you join.

We do understand that these are difficult times and we are only asking you to support us if you can. Membership costs as little as £2. We hope you will consider joining.

Become a Stop the War Member Today

Ali’s interesting. Apparently the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’, written during the wave of sixties radicalism, is all about him. I read in one of the papers that apparently when he was a little boy, he had an aunt knit him a jumper with Stalin’s head on. This was presumably before people knew what a monster Stalin was, when his sycophants were falling over themselves to declare him the grreat saviour of the international working class and progressive humanity. He had his own Black interest programme on satellite or cable television, or at least he did. And a few decades ago he published an anthology of classic texts from the golden age of Islam to show to young Muslims how enlightened and tolerant Islam had been, as against the intolerance and bigotry of the Islamists. He’s very careful about history. On one of his shows, he pointed out that during the period of racist lynchings in America, more Italians were murdered in Louisiana than Blacks. This surprised me, because I thought it was only Blacks who were being murdered by these mobs. But I’ve no doubt that it’s true.

Afghanistan is, like Iraq, a country where the real reason for the invasion has nothing to do with combatting terrorism or installing democracy. It was about oil. The American oil industry and Republican administration was negotiating for an oil pipeline with the Taliban. When the Taliban stalled, the policymakers took the decision to hold back until there was some kind of crisis which they could use. This would provide a pretext to invade the country and build the pipeline anyway, without the Taliban’s consent. This came with 9/11 and the al-Qaeda attack.

Arise Event Tonight on How We Can Achieve a Peaceful Future

July 17, 2022

I got this notice of an online event tonight on obtaining peace, put on as part of the Arise Festival of left-wing ideas

Push for Peace – no to an era of permanent war

Premiering online, Sunday July 17, 19.00.Register here // Retweet here // Get ticket for the whole festival here.

With: Kate Hudson (CND), Shadia Edwards-Dashti (Stop the War Coalition) & Andrew Murray (author, ‘Fall & rise of the British Left.’)

A discussion on building a peaceful future. Premiering on the Arise YouTube & Facebook channels.

Part of the “Sunday premieres” series as part of Arise 2022 – A Festival of Left Ideas.

If only there were some successful strategy for gaining a just and lasting peace around the world, as it really does seem we have entered the era of ‘forever wars’ with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the various military interventions in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, the various wars in Africa and now the war in Ukraine.

Blairites Clearly Worried that Strikes May Be Popular

July 1, 2022

Bravo to the RMT’s Mike Lynch, who’s been humiliating various journos on the right-wing news programmes by ably answering some of their stupid and very leading questions. Momentum put up a three minute video the other day of him being interviewed by Kaye Burleigh on Sky News.
She asked him what he was doing picketing. He casually turned part way round to indicate the picket line behind her, telling her that they were there and would try to persuade workers not to cross it. But what if they tried? asked Burleigh. Then we’d try to persuade them not to, replied Lynch. At which point she got a bit huffy. The miners’ strike was mentioned, with Lynch wondering if she was old enough to remember it. She said huffily that she was, and she knew what picketing was. She was clearly desperate to get him to say something incriminating, like violence might happen, but Lynch would not be baited. And he’s been causing panic with his calm, reasoned answered right across the news programmes. I went to a left-Labour Zoom meeting on Wednesday. It was a conversation between the mighty Richard Burgon and Jess Barnard, the awesome head of Young Labour. During their conversation they said that public support for the train workers – not just the drivers, but also the signalmen and the people who work to maintain it all – had gone up. Several Labour MPs have even defied Starmer to express their support and solidarity with the union and its strike.

This has clearly put the wind not just up Starmer, but up the Blairites as a whole. And as Corporal Jones used to say in Dad’s Army, ‘they do not like it up ’em. They do not!’ For some reason I’ve had a short, 1 1/2 minute video from New Labour appear on my mobile this afternoon of Tony Blair telling anyone who’ll listen why we shouldn’t support public sector strikes.

Rubbish! As Burgon and Barnard said, Labour was founded by the unions to defend union rights. And that also means public sector unions. I see absolutely no reason why anyone, who wishes to remain true to the party and its great traditions, should listen to either Starmer or Blair. When Blair took over the Labour party, he threatened to cut its ties with the unions if he didn’t get his way on reducing their voting powers in the party. This would effectively have torn the heart out of the party as a genuinely working class organisation. The subtitle for this wretched video described Blair as Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007. So he was, during which time the number of people voting Labour actually went down along with the party’s membership. The number of people voting for Blair was actually less than those voting for Jez Corbyn. Blair only won because the Tories were even worse.

Why did the Labour vote and membership decline? That’s not a difficult question! It might have something to do with Blair carrying on Thatcher’s programme of privatisation, including that of the NHS, the further destruction of the welfare state and lying about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction which he could launch within forty minutes to take us into an illegal war. A war which wrecked a country and destabilised the entire Middle East, leaving it vulnerable to the horrible predations of ISIS. Hussein was a monster, but by the time he invaded he was not a threat to the other countries and something of a joke in the Arab world. He was certainly no threat to Britain. We sent our brave lads and lasses into Iraq not to defend Blighty, not to give the Iraqis democracy, but simply so that the oil companies and multinationals could steal Iraq’s oil and its state industries.

Blair’s a war criminal who should have been put on trial at the Hague alongside other monsters like Slobodan Milosevic. But somehow New Labour, now looking very shabby and shop-soiled, expect us to hang on his words like an elder statesman, like some latter day Pericles or Solon, but from Islington rather than Athens.

Bilge! Blair should shut up and keep silent. He had his time and it was over 15 years ago. As for Starmer, he’s a disgrace. They’re probably arguing that supporting public sector strikes will make the party unpopular. But I think they’re really scared that the RMT strike is proving all too popular, and that other unions are joining in to demand better wages for their workers.

And hooray for them, and yay for Mike Lynch!

Here’s the video Momentum put up of Lynch very capably rebutting Kaye Burleigh’s questions.

Stop the War Coalition on their Protests Planned for this Saturday

June 21, 2022

I got this email from the Stop the War Coalition about a number of protests they’ve organised for this Saturday, 25th June 2022.

We have groups up and down the country – from Glasgow to Southampton – organising for the International Day of Action this Saturday. 

In London we are holding a protest outside the Ministry of Defence.

We will be there from 2:00-4:00 pm. Do get along if you can.

We have a great line-up of speakers including: Mohammad Asif, Director of Afghan Human Rights Foundation; Alex Gordon, President of RMT; Lindsey German, Convenor StW; Roger McKenzie, Liberation general secretary; Kate Hudson, CND general secretary; George Solomou, former British soldier who resigned over the Iraq War; and musician Sean Taylor.

The war in Ukraine is ongoing and on the brink of escalation. It is fast developing into a proxy war between Russia and NATO and it is the Ukrainian people who are suffering the consequences.

Rather than sending extra missiles to Ukraine, the British government should be urging for a ceasefire and getting both sides around the negotiating table in peace talks. From the beginning of the war we demanded that Russian troops withdraw from Ukraine and that the British government stop fuelling the conflict.

Join the Protest

There are protests organised in DorsetLondonManchester, Sheffield, BrightonGlasgowSouthampton and Cardiff plus other events in NottinghamYork,  Hull and Shrewsbury.

If you’ve got a protest or event organised let us know

I’m Organising An Event on 25 June

I strongly support Ukraine’s right to exist as a free, independent sovereign state and utterly condemn Putin”s invasion. As for Putin, he’s a monster. Since he came to power Putin has demonstrated over and over again that he’s an authoritarian butcher with nothing but contempt for democracy and the rule of law. He’s done everything he can to all but outlaw public protest, has banned those parties that look like beating him in elections, and the journalists that dare to criticise him have had visits from his thugs to show them the error of their ways. And twenty years later, the murder of the Russian dissident Politovskaya, who was a very trenchant critic of the arkhiplut, still looks very suspicious. He started a murderous war in Chechnya at the beginning of this century, which included horrific massacres of the civilian population, such as in the city of Grozny. And his wretched long arm has stretch out over here to assassinate his critics and foes who’ve taken refuge in our great nation.

But Stop the War’s analysis of the situation is right. There is a profound danger of the war escalating. We had a general only the other day telling us that British troops should be prepared to fight in Europe. This is terrifying. I think the Coalition are correct in saying that NATO should not have expanded up to the Russian border, so that the Russians felt threatened. This was the original agreement signed after the Fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War. But it was violated and as a consequence this terrible, evil war has broken out.

We desperately need peace, and far more jaw-jaw not war-war. As John Lennon said, ‘Give peace a chance’.

White British Woman Harassed for Wanting to See Movie about Mohammed’s Daughter Fatima

June 14, 2022

Rafida+ is a Muslim YouTuber, and I would guess, a Shia, who’s staunchly behind the British movie Lady of Heaven. This is about the life of Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima, as told to a young girl fleeing from the horrors of ISIS’ regime in Iraq. It was written by Sheikh Habib, a respected Shia cleric, and its executive produce, Malik Shlibak, is also Muslim. Nevertheless, Cineworld were forced to withdraw it from cinemas last week following protests in Bradford, Birmingham and other cities. The protesters ranted that it was blasphemous and causing sectarian hatred. The real issue, it appears, is that it presents the story from the point of view of the Shia. Fatima was married to Ali, who is revered by the Shia as the first Imam and the true leader of the Muslim community after the Prophet’s death. One of the most important works of Shia Muslim theology and jurisprudence it the Kitab al-Irshad, or Book of Guidance. This includes the legal decisions made by Ali. Cineworld pulled the movie because they felt they could not protect their employees. This is the underlying threat presented by such protesters. The teacher at a school in Batley,, who was at the centre of protests after he showed his class the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in a lesson about free speech, is still in hiding. And in Britain these protests can be traced back to the campaign against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in the 1980s. This was accompanied by cynical, opportunistic fatwa demanding Rushdie’s murder by the Ayatollah Khomeini. As a result, the author was forced into hiding for years.

Rafida+’s video presents the opposite case for the showing of the film. In it, a White British woman explains that she wants to see the movie because she works for the oil company, Saudi-Aramco. As a result, she’s been around Muslims, knows something about the religion, and would like to know more. A security guard at the mall or wherever then walks over to her to rant about how it’s blasphemous, ‘there isn’t an inch of truth in it’, and that it shouldn’t be shown. He keeps walking away and coming back. You can see in the background women dressed in the all-enveloping chador, and there are women’s voices off camera reassuring her that she’s right and the security guard most definitely isn’t and should mind his own business. I’m sure that these are Shia women, who also want to see the movie, and who appreciate the White woman’s interest in their religion.

Normally I’m very much in favour of people’s right to protest, but this right ends when there’s a threat to people’s lives. The protesters have a right to voice their opposition to the movie, but not to the extent that the cinema manager and chain feel their lives and those of their employees are at risk. And just as they have a right to protest, so others have the right to see the movie. If the protesters want to show their opposition to the movie, they are free to make their own movie presenting their point of view, just as they are free to produce books, pamphlets and video material doing the same. This is free speech.

What they should not be doing is demanding the suppression of a film that contradicts and challenges their views with masked and tacit threats.

In doing so, they are the ones trying to stop people learning more about Islam and communities coming together through the movie.

Tulsi Gabbard Accuses Ukraine’s Zelensky of being Putinesque Dictator

June 5, 2022

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, parts of the right have sympathised with Russia and argued against supporting Ukraine. I think Sargon of Gasbag and the Lotus Eaters have put up a post raising issues about Ukraine and I believe that Peter Hitchens may have done so as well. This afternoon I found a short video on YouTube from American Republican politician Tulsi Gabbard, which, if true, raises significant questions why we should be supporting Zelensky’s regime. She claimed that Zelensky closed down three Ukrainian TV stations because they were criticising him, and that he banned the party that came second in the Ukrainian elections and imprisoned its leaders, all actions which Putin has been accused of doing. In the case of Putin, there’s little doubt: this is exactly what he has done. But there have been no reports over here of Zelensky doing the same, though this is not to say he hasn’t done them. One of Hitchen’s videos on the war is about what the media isn’t telling you. Gabbard in her video calls the people demanding support for Ukraine ‘warmongers’, which is surprising language coming from a Republican. But it’s no more surprising than the Tories opposing Blair’s invasion of Iraq. Some of them were no doubt opportunists, opposing the invasion simply because it was done by Labour, not themselves. But some of the Tories did oppose it from moral conviction, the best example being Hitchens, who has continued to denounce it and Blair. It’s possible that Gabbard is the same.

There’s a fair amount of self-interest in the Tory defence of Russia. Russian oligarchs have contributed handsomely to Tory coffers. In America Trump’s government also gave contracts and concessions to Russian firms, quite apart from the rumours that Putin had some kind of incriminating footage involving Trump from the Orange Man’s visit to Russia. And even if these accusations of dictatorial behaviour by Zelensky were true, they would not justify the Russian invasion and the atrocities Putin’s forces have committed. But they do raise questions about why we are providing military aid. Are we doing so simply because Ukraine is a sovereign nation, which is threatened with annihilation and dismemberment by a larger, more powerful former colonial master – Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and before then the Russian empire? Or are we backing it for the same reason the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Barack Obama, Hillary ‘Queen of Chaos’ Clinton and Victoria Nuland helped to orchestrate the the Orange Revolution of 2012? That had nothing to do with overthrowing an unpopular president, and everything to do with installing one who favoured the west rather than Putin’s Russia. These are serious questions that need to be answered. But I doubt we’ll get them through the mainstream news.

Stop the War Coalition Organises Protest Against Blair’s Knighthood

June 5, 2022

Yesterday I got the latest email newsletter from the Stop the War Coalition, detailing their forthcoming protests against the war in Ukraine, the government’s increased funding for the British military, which is particularly noxious given the government’s lukewarm response to the cost of living crisis, and their protest against Blair being granted a knighthood. The Coalition’s assembling a demonstration at Windsor on the 13th, when Blair is due to join the others being inducted into the Order of the Garter. Blair’s a war criminal through his illegal invasion of Iraq, which killed 100,000 people and displaced a further two million. The same invasion wrecked the country, destroying its relatively secular, welfare state. This was replaced by sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias, women may no longer work outside the home as they formerly could under Saddam Hussein’s regime, and the mercenary troops brought in as part of the occupation amused and enriched themselves through running drugs and prostitution rings and shooting innocent Iraqis for sport. Not all of this carnage is Blair’s responsibility. A large part of it is his mate’s George W. Bush. But he was actively complicit, and, as books have argued, deserves to be up before the Court of International Human Rights or whatever on charges of war crimes. And this is quite apart from his role in the similar destruction of Libya, which has resulted in the Islamist nutters there opening slave markets again. They are also calling on their supporters to organise protests in their local community on the 25th of this month. I won’t be able to attend any of these demonstrations, but I’m putting up notice of them for those who may.

Protest: No Knighthood for Tony Blair – 13 June

Tony Blair should be heading to The Hague. Instead, on 13th June he will be heading to the castle at Windsor where he will be knighted by the Queen.

Despite the disastrous legacy of Blair’s foreign policy the British establishment has learnt few lessons. Blair has blood on his hands and is personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians as well as servicemen and women in Afganistan and Iraq. He is the least deserving person of any public honour.

Join the Stop the War protest at the annual Garter Day procession in Windsor and let the world know there is only one court that Blair should be attending, and it’s not the royal one.

We’re assembling at 1pm at the Queen Victoria Statue on Castle Hill, Windsor, SL4 1PD to say ‘Jail Blair! No knighthoods for war criminals’.

For those traveling from London we will be meeting at Paddington Station at midday for the 12:20 train. Changing at Slough at 12:36.

Yes, I’ll be there

18 June: Peace & Anti-War Bloc – TUC ‘We Demand Better!’ March

Boris Johnson is set to announce further unprecedented increases in the UK’s military budget despite his woefully inadequate response to the biggest cost of living crisis in our lifetime. We believe that taxpayer’s money should be prioritised for our public services and protecting people’s livelihoods rather than new technologies of mass killing.

Stop the War is supporting the TUC’s ‘We Demand Better’ demonstration against the soaring costs of living on June 18th to say ‘Cut War Not Welfare’. Let’s get on the streets and make our voices heard.

I’m Joining the Anti-War Bloc on 18 June

International Day of Action – 25 June

We are asking all our groups to organise a local protest on the International Day of Action on 25 June. In the run up this we need to be broadening and deepening the movement everywhere. We ask every group to put together an action plan including:
– Stalls every weekend to build for 25 June, leafletting, collecting signatures and building a local base of activists.

– A public meeting/rally if you haven’t held one, a follow up meeting if you have.

– A systematic campaign to get our resolution passed in trades councils and trade union branches.

– Banner drops and stunts.

– Cultural events – music nights, spoken word events, film screenings etc.


There is a wide range of people and organisations who can help build a Stop the War group, including trade unionists and trades councils, peace movement activists, local churches and mosques, Labour Party activists, Momentum groups, environmental campaigners etc. Please make sure you approach all of these as you organise the campaign.

I’m Organising An Event on 25 June

A History of Racism in the Islamic Middle East

May 27, 2022

Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (Oxford: OUP 1990).

Bernard Lewis is a veteran scholar of Islam, and this book is an examination of the emergence and development of predominantly Muslim Arab racism in the Middle East. The book is a reworking of two previous studies from the 1970s, one of which was first published in French. It started off as part of an academic examination of intolerance, concentrating on religious bigotry. Lewis, however, believed that issue had been solved and so moved on to racial intolerance. Unfortunately, as the past fifty years have unfortunately shown, religious hatred and bigotry has certainly not died out, as shown here in Britain with the sectarian violence in Ulster.

Arab Ethnic Identity Before Colour Prejudice

Islam is viewed as an anti-racist religion, and the Qur’an states categorically that Blacks and Whites are both equal and should be treated as such. This admirable attitude was maintained by its theologians and jurists. However, with the emergence and expansion of the Islamic empires this began to change and prejudice and racism, based initially in ethnic differences and then on skin colour, emerged. The book argues that the pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabs, like the other nations around them, had a strong sense of their own superiority against those of the surrounding peoples. This was based on ethnicity, not colour. A variety of colours were used to describe the variations in human complexion, and were used in relative rather than absolute terms. Thus the Arabs saw themselves as black compared to the ‘red’ Persians, but white compared to the Black peoples of Africa. As the new Arab ruling class intermarried with the peoples they had conquered, so there developed an attitude which saw Arabs of mixed descent as inferior, leading to dynastic conflicts between those of pure and mixed race. Muslim Arabs also saw themselves as superior to converts to Islam from the indigenous peoples of the Islamic empire, and a set of rules developed to enforce the converts’ inferior social status. At the same time, the Arabs formed various explanations based on the environment for the ethnic differences they observed among different peoples. An Iraqi writer believed that Whites had been undercooked in the womb due to the coldness of the environment they occupied. Blacks, on the other hand, were overcooked. The Iraqi people, however, were brown and mentally and physically superior to the other two races.

Development of Anti-Black Prejudice

As Islam expanded into sub-Saharan Africa anti-Black racism developed. This did not initially exist, not least because Ethiopia had been one of the major superpowers in the Arabian peninsula with a superior culture. Muslims also respected the Abyssinians for giving sanctuary to many of Mohammed’s followers during their persecution by the Meccan pagans. Over time, however, an attitude of contempt and racial superiority emerged towards Blacks. This racism even extended towards highly regarded Black Arabic poets and the governors of provinces, who were reproached and vilified for their colour by their enemies. Here Arab racist views of Blacks is nearly identical to those of White European racists. They were seen as lazy, ugly, stupid and lustful. The prurient view of Black women as boiling with sexual desire mirrors the racist attitude towards Jewish women amongst western anti-Semites. On the other hand, Blacks were also seen as strong, loyal, generous and merry. They also had excellent rhythm. Although both Whites and Blacks were enslaved, White slaves had a higher status and different terms were used to describe them. White slaves were mawlana, literally, ‘owned’. Only Black slaves were described as slaves, abid, a term that is still used to mean Black people in parts of the Arab world today.

The expansion of the European states and empires effectively cut off or severely diminished the supply of White slaves, and as a consequence the value of Black slaves began to rise. Unable to afford White slaves and concubines from Europe and the Caucasus, the peoples of the Middle East turned instead to Abyssinians and the Zanj, Black Africans from further south. Abyssinians in particular were prized for their beauty and other qualities, and its from this period that the Arab taste for the beauty of Black Africans rather than Whites developed. And as anti-Black racism developed, so Muslims scholars and authors wrote pieces defending Blacks from racism, not least because many of Mohammed’s Companions had been Black and the emergence of powerful Muslim kingdoms in Africa.

Islamic Slavery and Slave Armies

Islamic slavery was comparatively milder and more enlightened than western slavery. Although technically slaves could not own property and were disbarred from giving evidence in court, there was limitations on the punishments that could be inflicted on them. Muslims were urged to treat their slaves humanely and manumission was praised as a noble act. It was particularly recommended for the expiation of particular sins. At the same time Islam permitted contracts to be made between master and slave allowing the slave to save enough money to purchase his freedom at an agreed date. There were stories of particular Muslims who freed their slaves even in circumstances where punishment would have been expected. One master freed a female slave after she asked him why he was still alive, as she had been trying to poison him for a year. Slaves could rise to high office. The viziers and other chief dignitaries of the Ottoman empire were slaves. Slaves were used to staff Muslim armies, and there were separate regiments for White and Blacks slaves. Sometimes this resulted in battles between the two, as during the dynastic battles where one side used Black soldiers and the other White. The mamlukes, the Egyptian warriors who ruled Egypt and who expelled the Crusaders and stopped the Mongols conquering the Middle East, were White slaves. They were freed after completing their military training and their leaders preferred to purchase other slaves for training as their successors rather than pass on their position to their own children.

Islam’s acceptance and regulation of slavery, like Judaism, Christianity and other religions, as well as the views of ancient philosophers like Aristotle, also meant that there was opposition to its abolition. Muslim defenders of slavery produced the same arguments as their Christian counterparts, including the argument that Blacks and other infidels were better off enslaved as it introduced them to a superior civilisation. When a 19th century British consul inquired of the king of Morocco what steps he was taking regarding slavery and the slave trade, he was politely informed that all the legislation was based on the Qur’an and sharia and that there was no intention of banning slavery as it was permitted by Islam. Indeed, the Ottoman province of the Hijaz, the area around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, was exempt from the Ottoman ban on slavery and the slave trade after the ulema and nobles declared it to be an attack on Islam, along with legislation allowing women to go in public without the veil. The Turks were declared to be apostates, who could be killed and their children enslaved. Many of the pilgrims to Mecca came with a number of slaves, who acted as living sources of funding. When the pilgrim needed more money, he sold one or two of them.

The Myth of Muslim Non-Racism

In the last two chapters, Lewis discusses the emergence of the view of Islam as completely non-racist and that its slavery was benign. He argues that this was largely the creation of western scholars reacting to the horrors of New World slavery during the American Civil War. Christian missionaries also contributed to this myth. They attempted to explain their failure to make converts by arguing that it was due to Black African revulsion against harsh western slavery. In fact it was due to differences of colour. Islam spread because it was promoted by Black African preachers, rather than White westerners. Particularly influential in the creation of this myth was Edward Blydon, a Black West Indian who was educated in Liberia by the missionaries. He became convinced that Islam was more suited to the needs of Black people, and his books also stressed White guilt, contrasting it with Muslim tolerance. Lewis also believes that the myth is also due to a widespread feeling of guilt among western Whites, which he sees as the modern counterpart to Kipling’s White man’s burden.

Along with the text of the book itself are extensive notes and a documentary appendix containing texts including a Muslim discussion on national character, the rights of slaves and diplomatic correspondence and observations on the 19th century slave trade.

Race and Slavery Compared with Brown’s Slavery & Islam

This book should ideally be read alongside Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam, as the two present contrasting views of slavery and racism in Islam. Brown is a White, American academic and convert to Islam. While he condemns slavery totally, his book presents a much more positive view of Islamic slavery compared with western servitude and even the conditions endured by 19th century free European workers. He also extensively discusses Islamic abolition and the voices for it, while Lewis lays more stress on Muslim opposition. Brown recognises the existence of racism in the Islamic world, but also emphasises Muslim anti-racist texts like The Excellence of the Negroes. But as Lewis points out, these texts also show the opposite, that there was racism and bigotry in the Muslim world.

Lewis also recognises that Muslim slaves generally enjoyed good conditions and were treated well. However, the real brutality was inflicted on them during the journey from their place of capture to the Islamic heartlands. He also suggests that this relatively benign image may be due to bias in the information available. Most Muslim slaves were domestic servants, unlike the mass of slave labouring on the plantations in America. There were gangs of slaves working cotton plantations and employed in mining and public works, and these laboured in appalling conditions. It may also be that there were more slaves working in agriculture than recognised, because the majority of the information available comes from the towns, and so ignore what may have been the harsher treatment in the countryside.

He also discusses the absence of descendants of the Black slaves, except for a few pockets, in the modern Middle East. David Starkey in an interview for GB News claimed it was because the Muslim slave masters killed any babies born by their slaves. I don’t know where he got this idea. Lewis doesn’t mention such atrocities. He instead suggests that it may have been due to the castration of large numbers of boys to serve as eunuchs in the harems. The other slaves were forbidden to marry and have sex, except for female slaves purchased for that purpose. Slaves were also particularly vulnerable to disease, and so an epidemic lasting five years could carry off an entire generation.

Importance of the Book for an Examination of Contemporary Racial Politics

I was interested in reading this book because of the comparative lack of information on slavery and racism in Islam, despite the existence of books like Islam’s Black Slaves. Lewis in his introduction states that researching the issue may be difficult and dangerous, as it can be interpreted as hostility rather than a genuinely disinterested investigation. I think there needs to be more awareness of the history of Muslim slavery and Islam. For one reason, it explains the emergence of the slave markets in that part of Libya now occupied by the Islamists. It also needs to be more widely known because, I believe, the emphasis on western historic slavery and racism can present a distorted image in which the west is held to be uniquely responsible for these evils.