Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Wishing Mike All the Best for His Appeal Hearing Today

April 27, 2021

This is just to wish Mike over at Vox Political all the very best of luck for his appeal hearing against the court ruling in favour of Rachel Riley. The proceedings will be screened on YouTube sometime after 10.30 this morning. Mike has the details up on his blog, including the YouTube address. See Riley appeal hearing: at last, the details! | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com) As a long time Star Trek fan, I say this: Qipla! (Klingon for ‘success’).

My Letter to Councillors Lake and Craig About their Slavery Reparations Motion

March 11, 2021

Last week Bristol city council passed a motion supporting the payment of reparations for slavery to Black Britons. The motion was brought by Cleo Lake, a Green councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Asher Craig, the city’s deputy mayor and head of equality. Lake stated that it was to include everyone of ‘Afrikan’ descent as shown by her preferred spelling of the word with a K. She claimed this was the original spelling of the continent before it was changed by White Europeans. The reparations themselves would not be a handout, but instead funding for schemes to improve conditions for the Black community to put them in a position of equality with the rest of society. The schemes were to be guided and informed by the Black communities themselves.

This is all well and good, and certainly comes from the best of motives. But it raises a number of issues that rather complicate matters. Apart from her eccentric spelling, which looks to me like Afrocentric pseudohistory, there is the matter of who should be the proper recipient of these payments. Arguably, it should not include as Africans, as it was African kingdoms and chiefs who actually did the dirty business of raiding for slaves and selling them to European and American merchants.

Then there is the fact that the payment of reparations for slavery in the instance also sets a general principle that states that every nation that has engaged in slaving should pay reparations to its victims. So, are the Arab countries and India also going to pay reparations for their enslavement of Black Africans, which predates the European slave trade? Are Morocco and Algeria, the home countries of the Barbary pirates, going to pay reparations for the 2 1/2 million White Europeans they carried off into slavery?

And what about contemporary slavery today? Real slavery has returned in Africa with slave markets being opened by Islamists in their areas of Libya and in Uganda. What steps are being taken to counter this, or is the city council just interested in historic European slavery? And what measures are being taken by the council to protect modern migrants from enslavement? A few years ago a Gloucestershire farmer was prosecuted for enslaving migrant labourers, as have other employers across the UK. And then there is the problem of sex trafficking and the sexual enslavement of migrant women across the world, who are frequently lured into it with the lie that they will be taken to Europe and given proper, decent employment. What steps is the council taking to protect them?

I also don’t like the undercurrent of anti-White racism in the motion. By including Africans, Lake and Craig are attempting to build up and promote a unified Black British community by presenting the enslavement of Black Africans as something that was only done by Whites. This is not only historically wrong, but it promotes racism against Whites. I’ve heard Black Bristolians on the bus talking to their White friends about other Whites they know in the Black majority parts of Bristol, who are suffering racist abuse. Sasha Johnson, the leader of Black Lives Matter in Oxford, was thrown off Twitter for advocating the enslavement of Whites. Lake’s and Craig’s motion, while well meant, seems dangerous in that it has the potential to increase Black racism towards Whites, not lessen it.

I therefore sent the following letter to councillors Lake and Craig yesterday. So far the only answer I’ve received is an automatic one from Asher Craig. This simply states that she’s receiving a large amount of messages recently and so it may take some time before she answers it. She also says she won’t respond to any message in which she’s been copied. As I’ve sent the email to both her and Lake, it wouldn’t surprise me if this means that I don’t get a reply at all from her. Councillor Lake hasn’t sent me any reply at all. Perhaps she’s too busy.

I do wonder if, by writing this letter, I’m setting myself up for more condescension and gibes about my race and gender by Craig and Lake. When I Craig a letter expressing my concerns about the comments she made about Bristol and slavery on the Beeb, which I believed were flatly untrue, I did get a reply. This simply asserted that I wouldn’t make such comments if I had heard the whole interview, but gave no further information. It ended by telling me that their One Bristol schools curriculum would promote Black Bristolians, both Caribbean and African. They would be inclusive, ‘which hasn’t always happened with White men, I’m afraid’. So no facts, no proper answers, just evasions and the implication that I was somehow being racist and sexist, because I’m a White man.

Nevertheless, I believe very strongly that these a real issues that need to be challenged, rather than ignored or simply gone along with for the sake of a quiet life, or the desire to be seen to be doing the right thing.

I blogged about this a few days ago, and will write something further about any reply I receive, or the absence of one. As I said, I feel I’m setting myself up for patronising sneers and evasions from them, but it will be interesting to read what they have to say.

Dear Madam Councillors,

Congratulations on the passage of your motion last week calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to the Black British community. I am writing to you not to take issue with the question of paying reparations and certainly not with your aim of creating a sustainable process, led and guided by Black communities themselves, to improve conditions for the Black British community. What I wish to dispute here is the inclusion of Black Africans as equal victims of the transatlantic slave trade, as well as other issues raised by your motion.. Black Africans were not just victims of transatlantic slavery..  They were also trading partners, both of ourselves and the other nations and ethnicities involved in the abominable trade.

I’d first like to question Councillor Lake’s assertion that Africa was originally spelt with a ‘K’ and that Europeans changed it to a ‘C’. We use the Latin alphabet, which the Romans developed from the Etruscans, both of which cultures were majority White European. I am not aware of any African culture using the Latin alphabet before the Roman conquest of north Africa. The ancient Egyptians and Nubians used hieroglyphs, the Berber peoples have their own ancient script, Tufinaq, while Ge’ez and Amharic, the languages of Christian Ethiopia, also have their own alphabet. The Coptic language, which is the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language, uses the Greek alphabet with some characters taken from Demotic Egyptian. And the Arabic script and language was used by the Muslim African cultures before the European conquest of the continent. I am therefore at a loss to know where the assertion that Africans originally spelt the name of themselves and their continent with a ‘K’.

Regarding the issue of Africans receiving reparations for slavery, it existed in the continent long before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th century. For example, in the early Middle Ages West African kingdoms were using slaves in a form of plantation agriculture to grow cotton and foodstuffs. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Arabs and Berbers of North Africa, and the first Black slaves imported into Europe were taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. And when the European transatlantic slave trade arose, it was carried on not just by Europeans but also by powerful African states such as Dahomey, Whydah, Badagry and others in West Africa. These states were responsible for enslaving the surrounding peoples and selling them to European and later American slave merchants. There were occasional slave raids by Europeans themselves, as was done by Jack Hawkins. But mostly the European slave traders were confined to specific quarters in the West African city states, which were sufficiently strong to prevent European expansion inland.

The British mostly took their slaves from West Africa. In eastern Africa the slave trade was conducted by the Arabs, Portuguese and the Dutch, who transported them to their colonies further east in what is now Indonesia. There was also a trade in African slaves in the 19th century by merchants from India. It was also carried out by east African peoples such as the Ngoni, Yao, Balowoka, Swahili and Marganja. These peoples strongly resisted British efforts to suppress the slave trade. In the late 1820s one of the west African slaving nations attacked a British trading post with the aim of forcing the British to resume the trade. In the 1850s the British fought a war against King Guezo of Dahomey with the intention of stamping out slaving by this west African state. In the 1870s the British soldier, Samuel Baker, was employed by the Khedive Ismail of Egypt to suppress Arab slaving in what is now the Sudan and parts of Uganda. The campaign to suppress the slave trade through military force formed part of the rationale for the British invasion of the continent in the Scramble for Africa. But it was also to protect their newly acquired territories in the Sudan and Uganda from slave-raiding by the Abyssinians that the British also launched a punitive expedition into that nation. And the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, in which General Gordon was killed, was partly caused by the British authorities’ attempts to ban the slave trade and slavery there.

In addition to the use of force, the British also attempted to stamp it out through negotiations. Talks were opened and treaties made with African kings as well as the Imam of Muscat, the suzerain of the east African slave depots and city states, including Zanzibar and Pemba. Subsidies were also paid to some African rulers in order to pay them off from slaving.

I am sure you are aware of all of this. But regrettably none of it seems to have been mentioned in the motion, and this greatly complicates the issue of reparations for slavery. Firstly, there is the general question of whether any Africans should receive compensation for slavery because of the active complicity of African states. So great has this historic involvement in the transatlantic slave trade been that one commenter said that when it came to reparations, it should be Africans compensating western Blacks. Even if it’s conceded that reparations should be paid to Africans for slavery, this, it could be argued, should only apply to some Africans. Those African nations from which we never acquired our slaves should not be compensated, as we were not responsible for their enslavement or the enslavement of other Africans.

When it comes to improving conditions and achieving equality for Bristol and Britain’s Black communities, I do appreciate that Africans may be as underprivileged and as subject to racism as Afro-Caribbeans. I don’t dispute here either that they should also receive official aid and assistance. What is questionable is including them in reparations for slavery. It should be done instead, in my view, with a package of affirmative action programmes, of which reparations for slavery for people of West Indian heritage is one component. This would mixed amongst other aid policies that equally cover all sections of the Black community. I am not trying to create division here, only suggest ways in which the issue of reparations should in accordance with the actual historical roles of the individual peoples involved in the slave trade.

And this is another matter that concerns me about this motion. It seeks to simplify the African slave trade into White Europeans preying upon Black Africans. It appears to be an attempt to promote a united Black community by placing all the blame for slavery and the slave trade on Whites. This is completely ahistorical and, I believe, dangerous. It allows those states that were involved to cover up their involvement in the slave trade and creates hostility against White British. The Conservative journalist Peter Hitchens, speaking on LBC radio a few weeks ago, described how an Ethiopian taxi driver told him that he hated the British, because we were responsible for slavery. He was completely unaware of his own cultures participation in slavery and the enslavement of other African peoples. I’m sure you are also aware that Sasha Johnson, the leader of Black Lives Matter Oxford and the founder of the Taking the Initiative Party, was thrown off Twitter for a tweet advocating the enslavement of Whites: ‘The White man will not be our equal. He will be our slave. History is changing’. I am also concerned about possible prejudice being generated against White members of majority Black communities. I have heard Black Bristolians telling their White friends about the abuse other White people they know get in some  majority Black or Asian parts of Bristol because of their colour. I appreciate the need to protect Black Bristolians from prejudice and abuse, but feel that this also needs to be extended to Whites. Racism can be found in people of all colours.

The lack of discussion of African involvement in the slave trade also concerns me just as a matter of general education. Councillor Craig said in an interview on BBC television during the BLM protests that she would like a museum of slavery in Bristol, just as there is in Liverpool and Nantes. I feel very strongly that any such museum should put it in its proper, global context. White Europeans enslaved Black Africans, yes, but slavery was never exclusive to White Europeans. Other nations and races throughout the world were also involved.

The question of reparations also brings up the issue of possible payments for White enslavement and the question of measures to suppress the resurgence of slavery in Africa. As you are no doubt aware, White Europeans also suffered enslavement by north African pirates from Morocco and Algeria. It is believed about 2 ½ million Europeans were thus carried off. This includes people from Bristol and the West Country. If Britain should pay compensation to Blacks for enslaving them, then by the same logic these nations should pay White Britons reparations for their enslavement. Would you therefore support such a motion? And do you also agree that the Muslim nations, that also enslaved Black Africans, such as Egypt and the Ottoman Turkish Empire, as well as Morocco, should also pay reparations to the descendants of the people they enslaved?

Apart from Britain’s historic role in the slave trade, there is also the matter of the resurgence of slavery in Africa today. Slave markets have been opened in Islamist-held Libya and Uganda. I feel it would be unjust to concentrate on the historic victims of slavery to the exclusion of its modern, recent victims, and hope you agree. What steps should Bristol take to help suppress it today, and support asylum seekers, who may have come to the city fleeing such enslavement?

This also applies to the resurgence of slavery in Britain. There have been cases of migrant labourers being enslaved by their employers in Gloucestershire, as well as the problem of sex trafficking. What steps is the city taking to protect vulnerable workers and immigrants here?

I hope you will appreciate the need for proper education in Bristol about the city’s role in the slave trade and the involvement of other nations, one that does not lead to a simplistic blaming of all of it on White Europeans, as well as the question the issue of reparations raises about the culpability of other nations, who may also be responsible for paying their share.

Yours faithfully,

Not All Africans Were the Victims of European Slavery – Some Were the Slavers

March 5, 2021

As I mentioned in a previous post, a few days ago Bristol city council passed a motion brought by Green councillor Cleo Lake and seconded by Labour deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Craig supporting the payment of reparations to the Black community for slavery. Bristol becomes the first town outside London to pass such a motion. Although the motion is a radical step, on examination it seems not so very different from what Bristol and other cities are already doing. Lake herself said something like the reparations weren’t going to be a free handout for everyone, or something like that. The motion, as I understand it, simply calls for funding for projects, led by the ‘Afrikan’ community itself, to improve conditions and create prosperity in Black communities so that they and their residents enjoy the same levels of opportunity and wealth as the rest of us Brits. This has been coupled with calls for ‘cultural reparations’. What this means in practice is unclear. It appears to me that it might include monuments to the people enslaved by Bristol and transported to the New World, the repatriation of stolen cultural artefacts or possibly more support for Black arts projects. But as far as I am aware, the city has already been funding welfare, arts and urban regeneration projects in Bristol’s Black majority communities, like St. Paul’s, since the riots forty years ago. It looks to me far more radical than it actually is.

The motion was passed by 47 votes to 11. Those 11 opposing votes came from the Tories. They stated that while the motion came from a ‘good place’, they were not going to vote for it because it was just reducing a complex issue to a binary. Mike in his piece about it says that it sounds like doubletalk to him. It does to me, too, but there might be a genuine issue there as well. Because Lake has made the motion about the ‘Afrikan’ community in Bristol as a whole, including both Afro-Caribbean and African people. Both these parts of Bristol’s Black community are supposed to qualify equally for reparations. Her eccentric spelling of the ‘African’ with a K exemplified this. She claimed that this was the originally spelling before Europeans changed it to a C. The K spelling indicated the inclusiveness of the African community. This looks like total hogwash. Western European nations use the Latin alphabet, which was developed by the Romans from the Etruscans. The Romans and the Etruscans were both Europeans. I am not aware of any Black African nation having used the Latin alphabet, let alone spelt the name of their continent with a K. The Berber peoples of north Africa have their alphabet, used on gravestones. The ancient Egyptians wrote in hieroglyphs. Coptic, the language of the indigenous Egyptian Christian church, which is descended from ancient Egyptian, uses the Greek alphabet with the addition of a number of letters taken from the demotic ancient Egyptian script. Ge’ez, the language of Christian Ethiopia, and its descendant, Amharic, also have their own scripts. It’s possible that medieval Nubian was written in the Latin alphabet, but it might also be that it was written in Greek. It therefore seems to me that K spelling of Africa is a piece of false etymology, invented for ideological reasons in order to give a greater sense of independence and antiquity to Africa and its people but without any real historical support.

At the same time there is a real difference between the experience of the descendants of enslaved Africans taken to the New World and the African peoples. Because the latter were deeply involved in the enslavement of the former. Some Europeans did directly enslave Africans through raids they conducted themselves, like the privateer Jack Hawkins in the 16th century. But mostly the actual raiding and enslavement of the continent’s peoples was done by other African nations, who sold them on to the Europeans. European slave merchants were prevented from expanding into the continent through a combination of strong African chiefs and disease-ridden environment of the west African coast. As a result, the European slave merchants were confined to specific quarters, like the ghettoes for European Jews, in African towns. Britain also mostly took its slaves from West Africa. The east African peoples were enslaved by Muslim Arabs, the Portuguese or by the Dutch for their colonies at the Cape or further east in what is now Indonesia.

Slavery also existed in Africa long before the arrival of the Europeans. Indeed, the kings of Dahomey used it in a plantation agricultural economy to supply food and cotton. They were also enslaved by the Arabs and Berbers of north Africa. The first Black slaves imported to Europe were taken to al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. The trans-Saharan slave trade survived until 1910 or so because the Europeans did not invade and conquer Morocco, one of its main centres.

Following the ban on the slave trade within the British Empire in 1807, Britain concluded a series of treaties with other nations and sent naval patrols across the world’s oceans in order to suppress it. Captured slavers were taken to mixed courts for judgement. If found guilty, the ship was confiscated, a bounty given to the capturing ship’s officers, and the slaves liberated. Freetown in Sierra Leone was specifically founded as a settlement for these freed slaves.

The reaction of the African peoples to this was mixed. Some African nations, such as the Egba, actively served with British sailors and squaddies to attack slaving vessels. I believe it was British policy to give them the same amount of compensation for wounds received in action as their White British comrades. Other African nations were outraged. In the 1820s there was a series of attacks on British trading stations on the Niger delta in order to force Britain to resume the slave trade. As a result, Britain fought a series of wars against the west African slaving states of Dahomey, Badagry, Whydah and others. On the other side of the Continent, Britain invaded what is now Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe partly to prevent these countries being claimed by their European imperial rivals, but also to suppress slavery there. In the 1870s the British soldier, Samuel Baker, was employed by the ruler of Egypt, the Khedive Ismail, to stamp out slaving in the Sudan and Uganda. Later on, General Gordon was sent into the Sudan to suppress the Mahdi’s rebellion, one cause of which was the attempt by the British authorities to outlaw the enslavement of Black Africans by the Arabs. The Sudan and Uganda also suffered from raids for slaves from Abyssinia, and we launched a punitive expedition against them sometime in the 1880s, I believe. Some African chiefs grew very wealthy on the profits of such misery. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey in the 18th century had an income of £300,000 a year, far more than some British dukes.

Despite the efforts to suppress slavery, it still persisted in Africa. Colonial officials reported to the British government about the problems they had trying to stamp it out. In west Africa, local custom permitted the seizure of someone’s relatives or dependents for their debts, a system termed ‘panyarring’ or pawning. The local authorities in Sierra Leone were also forced to enact a series of reforms and expeditions further south as former slaves, liberated Africans, seized vulnerable local children and absconded to sell them outside the colony. Diplomatic correspondence also describes the frustration British officials felt at continued slaving by the Arabs and the collusion of the Ottoman Turkish authorities. While the Ottomans had signed the treaty formally outlawing the slave trade, these permitted individuals to have personal servants and concubines. The result was that slaving continued under the guise of merchants simply moving with their households. The Turkish authorities were generally reluctant to move against slavers, and when police raids were finally launched on the buildings holding suspected slaves, they found the slaves gone, taken elsewhere by their masters.

Slavery continued to survive amongst some African societies through the 20th century and into the 21st. The 1990s book, Disposable People, estimated that there were then 20 million people then enslaved around the world. Simon Webb, the Youtuber behind ‘History Debunked’, has said in one of his videos that the number is now 40 million. Slave markets – real slave markets – have been reopened in Uganda and in Islamist held Libya following the western-backed overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy.

From this historical analysis, some African nations should very definitely not be compensated or receive reparations for slavery, because they were the slavers. Black civil rights activists have, however, argued that the continent should receive reparations because of the devastation centuries of warfare to supply the European slave trade wrought on the continent. Not everyone agrees, and I read a comment by one diplomat or expert on the issue that, when it came to reparations, it should be Black Africans paying the Black peoples of the Americas and West Indies.

Nevertheless, Lake’s motion states that all Black Bristolians or British are equal victims of British enslavement. This seems to be a view held by many Black Brits. A reporter for the Beeb interviewed some of those involved in the Black Lives Matter protest last summer when the statue of the slaver Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol. The journo asked one of the mob, a young Black lad, what he thought of it. ‘I’m Nigerian’, said the lad, as if this explained everything. It doesn’t, as the Nigerian peoples practised slavery themselves as well as enslaving others for us and their own profit.

It feels rather churlish to raise this issue, as I’ve no doubt that people of African descent suffer the same amount of racial prejudice, poverty and lack of opportunity as West Indians. If the issue was simply the creation of further programmes for improving the Black community generally, then a motion in favour really shouldn’t be an issue. At the same time, if this was about general compensation for injustices suffered through imperialism, you could also argue that Black Africans would have every right to it there. But the issue is reparations for slavery and enslavement. And some Black Africans simply shouldn’t have any right to it, because they were the slavers.

It would be difficult if not impossible to create schemes for improving the condition of Britain’s Black community under the payment of reparations without including Africans as well as Black West Indians. But it also seems to me that the Tories unfortunately also have a point when they complain that Lake has reduced it to a binary issue. She has, simply by claiming that all ‘Afrikans’ were the victims of British enslavement.

And it’s been done in order to create an inclusive Black community, which ignores the different experiences of slavery by the various peoples that make it up, against White Bristol.

Radio 4 Programme on Friday on the History of British Fascism

February 17, 2021

Radio 4 on Friday, 19th February 2021 begins a new, three part series on the history of British Fascism, Britain’s Fascist Thread. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times, which is on at 11 O’clock in the morning, runs

Historian Camilla Schofield explores a century of British fascism, from the formation of the British Fascisti in 1923, arguing that it is a central and ongoing part of the British story. The first programme takes the rally staged by the British Union of Fascists at Olympia in June 1934 as a keyhole through which to look in order to understand fascism in the years before the Second World War.

The additional piece by David Crawford about the series on the facing page, 132, reads

There have been fascist movements in Britain for almost a century now and, with the recent news of young teenagers being arrested for being a part of neo-Nazi groups, it seems as if this stain on our national character is not fading away. Historian Camilla Schofield, who has published a book on Enoch Powell and Britain’s race relations, argues that fascism shouldn’t be seen as something alien imported from abroad but a central and, yes, ongoing part of the British story. This three part survey of British Fascism begins at the rally by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at Olympia in 1934 then rewinds to 1923 when the androgynous, upper-middle class Rotha Lintorn-Orman formed the British Fascisti, supposedly after an epiphany while digging her garden. A warning from history not to take our precious democracy for granted.

Martin Pugh also argues that British Fascism wasn’t an import from abroad but a continuation of certain strands in British political history in his book on British Fascism between the Wars. This is based on the British Fascists’ own contention that their movement had its basis in Queen Elizabeth’s enfranchisement of certain towns in the 16th century. This formed a native corporatist tradition like the corporate state Mussolini was creating in Fascist Italy.

As for Rotha Lintorn-Orman, I think this very middle class lady was an alcoholic, who thought that she was in astral contact with the spirit of the Duc d’Orleans, a nobleman from the time of the French Revolution. This aristo’s ghost told her that all revolutions from the French to the Russian were the work of the Jews, who were trying to destroy European, Christian civilisation.

The British Fascisti were really extreme right-wing Tories rather than Fascists proper. They specialised in disrupting socialist meetings and supplying blackleg labour during strikes. In one confrontation with the left, they managed to force a van supplying copies of the Daily Herald, a Labour paper, off the road. I think Oswald Mosley described their leadership as consisting of middle class women and retired colonels. They were in talks to merge their organisation with Mosley’s until Britain’s greatest wannabe dictator asked them about the corporate state. I don’t think they knew what it was. When he explained, they decried it as ‘socialism’ and Mosley decided that they weren’t worth bothering with.

Pugh’s book also argues that the British idea that our nation is intrinsically democratic is very much a product of hindsight. He points out that there was considerable opposition to democracy amongst the upper classes, especially the Indian office. British ideas about the franchise were tied to notions of property and the ability to pay rates. The French notion that the vote was an inalienable right was rejected as too abstract.

British fascism is also shares with its counterparts on the continent an origin in the concerns of the 19th century agricultural elite with the declining health and fitness of their nations. The upper classes were appalled at the poor physiques of men recruited by the army to fight the Boer War from the new, industrial towns. There was an obvious fear that this was going to leave Britain very weak militarily.

It’s also struck me that with her background in race relations, Schofield will also argue that British fascism also has its roots in native British racism and imperialism, citing organisations such as the anti-Semitic British Brothers League, which was formed to stop continental Jewish immigration to Britain.

Oswald Mosley also tried telling the world that British fascism wasn’t an import, but then, he also tried telling everyone that the Fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe – was an ancient British symbol. It wasn’t. It was a Roman symbol, and represented the power of the lictor, a type of magistrate, to beat and execute Roman citizens. It was adopted by Mussolini as the symbol of his movement, Fascism, which actually takes its name from the Italian word fascio, which means a bundle or group. I think that Pugh’s right in that there certainly is a native tradition of racism and extreme nationalism in Britain, and that the British self-image of themselves as an innately democratic nation is a product of Churchill’s propaganda during the Second World War. However, Fascism proper with its black shirts and corporative state is very much an import from Mussolini’s Italy. But then, Mosley also claimed that socialism and liberalism were also imports. It will, however, be interesting to hear what Schofield has to say, especially with the really bonkers parts of British fascism, like Lintorn-Orman and her spiritual conversations with French aristocratic Jew-haters from the Other Side.

Video of Bonobo Learning to Make Stone Tools

January 26, 2021

I really don’t know if it’s a good idea to teach apes to make edged weapons – they’re physically much more powerful than we are as it is without giving them the knowledge to make stone blades. This is a video I found on the Cornell Arts and Sciences Channel on YouTube. It’s of a bonobo, Kanzi, being encouraged to make flint blades by one of the scientists, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. The blurb for the video on its YouTube page runs

In the 1990s, paleo-anthropologists Nick Toth and Kathy Schick taught Kanzi the bonobo to produce stone tools using techniques that were adopted by our early ancestors. In this 7-min excerpt, primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is using language to encourage Kanzi to produce a certain number of tools—seizing the opportunity to consolidate his counting capacities. Near the end of the excerpt, Kanzi is trying to vocalize some numbers. (copyright Sue Savage-Rumbaugh).

Savage-Rumbaugh lines all nine of the bonobo’s flakes up in a row, and then tries to get him to count them. She tries and fails to get Kanzi to say the numbers, but all the animal can do is screech. However, he points and taps the flakes that correspond to that number. It also looks like they’ve devised a means for the creature to communicate in English using a computer. The video shows a computer screen with tiny thumbnail pictures, and at one point a synthesised voice can be heard saying ‘rock’, ‘knife’ and other words. It looks to me – and I might be wrong – that the computer is touch sensitive and says the name of whichever object the bonobo touches, thus allowing it to communicate vocally in English with the experimenters.

Kanzi making stone tools – YouTube

Kanzi is clearly a very intelligent creature. There’s another video about him on YouTube, which calls him an ‘Ape of Genius’, so he’s obviously a bit brighter than the hacks writing for the Scum. Primatologists are interested in finding out just how intelligent our nearest ape relatives – chimps and gorillas – really are. There was considerable interest in Koko the gorilla, who was taught sign language. I’ve heard it said that at hear peak she had a vocabulary of 900+ words. Kanzi is just one of a number of bonobos, whom the researchers tried to teach to make stone tools. I think the aim of these experiments was to see if they could make the type of stone tools crafted and used by Homo Habilis, one of the very early hominid ancestors. From what I’ve read, the tools they produced were inferior to those made by Habilis. I suppose we shouldn’t be disappointed, though, and expect too much. It’s perhaps enough that Kanzi and his friends understand what’s being said to them, and that they’re able to do it and communicate back.

A Trlingual Dictionary of an Ancient Arabic Language

December 11, 2020

A.F.L. Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans, Sabaic Dictionary (English-French-Arabic)/ Dictionnaire Sabeen (anglais-francaise-arabe) (Beyrouth: Lbrairie du Liban; Louvain-la-Neuve: Editions Peeters; University of Sanaa, Yemen, 1982).

Sabaic is the ancient Arabic language of Sheba, whose present, Arabic name is, I believe, Marib. It’s located in what is now Yemen, and its Queen famously visited King Solomon. Fabulously wealthy, it flourished in the 10th century BC on the profits of the spice and perfume trades, and conquered Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. The Ethiopian languages Amharic, Tigray and Tigrina are Semitic languages descended from the South Arabic language spoken by these ancient settlers.

The book’s the product of a Colloquium on Yemeni Civilisation, which requested the four authors to compile this dictionary. It appears to be of the terms found on inscriptions in the Yemen, and possibly one or two other places. It is just a dictionary, and doesn’t include any texts or inscriptions although it does give the alphabet in which they were written. I picked it up really as a curiosity in one of the secondhand bookstalls in Bristol through my interest in archaeology and the Ancient Near East. The book’s really of use only to archaeologists, linguists and historians working in Yemen, and it’s another language that I haven’t learned. Nevertheless it’s a reminder of just how ancient and advanced civilisation has been in the Middle East. I don’t know if there are any books specifically on the archaeology of Yemen, but I found a book a few years ago on the archaeology of Arabia, which I think contained a chapter or two on Yemen.

And these nations’ antiquities are seriously threatened by the region’s wars. When I was doing the doctorate at Bristol Uni, one of the speakers at an archaeological seminar said that much of the archaeological heritage of Syria had been trashed by the fighting. We’ve seen ISIS destroy precious mosques, churches and other shrines, as well as an ancient sculptures from the ancient Mesopotamian civilisations like Babylon and Akkad. It therefore wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Yemen’s archaeological heritage, including that of an Sheba, isn’t also seriously endangered and damaged by the current war between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia. And I am afraid that Iran’s similarly ancient and precious archaeological heritage won’t also suffer catastrophic losses if Trump and the Neocons have their way and launch an invasion of that country.

We need to stop these wars, because the cost in human lives and to the nations’ cultural heritage has been immense. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions forced to flee and priceless objects and monuments destroyed. And so our knowledge of the past is diminished.

But books like this help preserve and stimulate an interest in the preservation and exploration of these ancient treasures, if only among those few scholars able to read the ancient languages.

Arabic Language Picture Dictionary

November 29, 2020

E.C. Parnwell, Oxford English-Arabic Picture Dictionary (English Language Teaching for the Arab World, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1978).

This is another book I bought all those decades ago when I thought I’d try to learn Arabic. As this book’s title says, it’s a picture a bilingual picture dictionary. It consists of a series of colourful drawings of objects, events and activities with their names in English and Arabic, along with a couple of pages giving the English and Arabic words for numbers, weights and measures, and guides to English pronunciation and stress. The Arabic used appears to be the literary language, as the Arabic alphabet is used throughout and there are no transliterations.

It’s short, only about 81 pages of text, followed by English and Arabic indices. It was written to help Arab students learn English, but I think it could equally be used to help English-speakers learn Arabic, especially those with a good visual memory. It looks like it’s for children, but sometimes materials written for them are the best because of the simple clarity with which they present the information. As it’s written in standard Arabic, it really can only be used by people who have already learned the Arabic alphabet. Apart from that, it looks like a simple, useful resource for people wishing to learn the English and Arabic languages.

Book for Learning Arabic in Three Months

November 27, 2020

Mohammad Asfour, Arabic in Three Months: Simplified Language Course (Woodbridge: hugo 1990).

I bought this nearly thirty years ago when I was briefly trying to do a postgraduate degree on Islam in Britain. Hugo are a publisher specialising in languages. According to the blurb and the introduction, this book is written for people, who want to speak the language but don’t want to be able to read or write it. There are a number of different dialects spoken in different countries, but the book states that the standard, written language isn’t used in ordinary verbal communication and it’s very unusual for foreigners to use it. The author is a professor at the University of Jordan, and so the form used is the Jordanian dialect, which will allow the student to converse in ‘almost any Arabic speaking country’.

Along with the chapters taking the reader through the language, there’s also sample conversations and an Arabic-English mini-dictionary in the back. Like many other language books, this also includes written exercises, whose answers are also in the back of the book.

I bought it because I wanted to get an idea of what the language was like before learning the script. That’s almost certainly a mistake, if the spoken and written forms of the language are so different. You almost certainly need to learn the standard language if you also wish to be able read and write it. No language is easy, but some are definitely more difficult than others. Arabic is a Semitic language like Hebrew, Syriac and some of the languages spoken in Ethiopia. They’re very different from the Indo-European languages, like French, German, Welsh, Polish and so on spoken in Europe, and so Arabic is particularly difficult. So much so that I eventually gave up.

I think the book was partly written for tourists to the Middle East, as well as possibly people from the English-speaking world working out there, but not in jobs which require the literary language. I remember one of the words in the vocabulary is ‘funduq’, which I think means ‘hotel’. It’s also a sad reflection of the politics of the region that another word that crops up is ‘inqilab’, which means ‘coup’ or ‘uprising’.

Unfortunately since the attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing chaos of the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian and Libyan uprisings and the rise of Islamic State, much of the region is in turmoil and far too dangerous for western tourists, quite apart from the international lockdown everywhere due to the Coronavirus. Still, hopefully peace will return to this fascinating, ancient and historic part of the world, and Europeans will once again to be able to visit it and meet its peoples in peace and friendship.

Supernatural and Psychic Powers in Buddhism

November 24, 2020

Here’s something a bit different before I get on to the heavy political stuff. It seems that Buddhism has a particular term for the supernatural powers of its mystics and holy men and women. This is iddhi, rddhi, from the Pali and Sanskrit words ardh, ‘grow’, ‘increase’, ‘prosper’, ‘succeed’. The entry for it in Bowker’s Dictionary of World Religions, which describes it as

Paranormal, psychic or magic power in Buddhism, where it is one of the six kinds of higher iknowledge (abhinna). Canonical writings contain a standard list of eight forms of iddhi: the power to (i) replicate and project bodily-images of oneself, (ii) make oneself invisible, (iii) pass through solid objects, (iv) sink into solid ground, (v) walk on water, (vi) fly; (vii) touch the sun and moon with one hand, (viii) ascend to the world of the god Brahma in the highest heavens. They are described in e.g. Vissudhimagga 12. These powers were said to become available to the meditator upon achieving the the fourth jnana. They were possessed by the Buddha and many of his monks and nuns. However, the Buddha regarded them equivocally because some non-Buddhist ascetics possessed them too; they were a sign of meditational attainment only, and not a spiritual qualification; and they could be put to bad as well as good use. He, therefore, attempted to lessen their importance by making it an offence for monks or nuns to display them before layfolk, and by providing an alternative interpretation of iddhi to mean the application of equanimity (upekkha) and mindfulness (sati) in the face of all situations. Nevertheless in Vajrayana they are prominent as a demonstration of perfect control over the body. (p. 464).

Knowledge gained through paranormal perception is also included as a form of knowledge, alongside more conventional forms, in the Buddhist idea of knowledge, jnana, from the Sanskrit for ‘knowing’. The paragraph on this in the article on Jnana in The Dictionary of World Religions says

Knowledge based on extra-sensory perception is one form of paranormal knowledge . This is called ‘going beyond the human’ (atikkanta manusaka, Digha Nikaya 1. 82). Five kinds of higher knowledge (pancabhinna) fall into this category (Anguttara Nikaya 2. 17-19). These are (i) psychic power (iddhi-vidha), (ii) divine ear (dibbasota); (iii) telepathic knowledge (cetopariyata nana), (iv) knowledge of previous existence (pubbenivasanussati), and (v) clairvoyance (dibbacakkhu) One can attain this state if one’s mind is purified of five impediments (pancanivarana, see Nivaranas – covetousness, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt, Majjhima Nikaya 1. 181,270, 276) and on attaining the fourth Jhana. (p.504).

I think that fascination with the supposed paranormal powers acquired through Buddhist meditation and similar disciplines in Hinduism was one the features that attracted westerners to these religions from the 19th century onwards. They were certainly influential in the growth of the New Age religions, like Theosophy, although this was strongly influenced by Hinduism rather than Buddhism. The French explorer Alexandra David-Neel popularised these powers in her account of her sojourn in Tibet. Such ideas have also had their effects on comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Marvel superhero, Dr. Strange, ‘Master of the Mystic Arts’, gained them through studying under the Ancient One in Tibet. Some of the accounts of Buddhist sages with these powers seem to me to be just legends, but if there are any adepts who truly have them, and could demonstrate them in a laboratory and before stage magicians, so there could be no possibility of cheating, we might be on the way to proving the existence of the paranormal at last.

But that might also be a shock to the secular, atheist materialists, who use Buddhist ideas about mindfulness for nothing more than attaining inner peace. You can imagine the panic it would cause members of the Skeptics’ movement if suddenly they found themselves able to read minds, make themselves invisible, walk on water and so on.

Yes, The British Jewish Establishment Really Is Just the United Synagogue

November 20, 2020

This is a kind of addendum to the post I put up yesterday, which asked who decided that the United Synagogue represented all of British Jewry. I did this because so many of those accusing Corbyn and his supporters of anti-Semitism were its members or representatives, such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the late former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and various hack journos writing for the I and other newspapers.

Now it seems that my suspicion is confirmed. I went and looked up ‘United Synagogue’ in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997). This says on page 1005

Association of Ashkenazi Jewish congregations in Great Britain. The organisation was established by Act of Parliament in 1870. It supports the British Chief Rabbinate, the London Bet Din and all the synagogues which accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi.

The Ashkenazi are eastern European Jews, who traditionally spoke Yiddish. The other branches of Judaism are the Sephardim, who are descended from Spanish Jews, whose traditional language was Ladino, a form of Old Spanish, and the Mizrahim, Arabicised Jews from the Middle East. Left-wing Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have also pointed out that the Board of Deputies really only represents the Board of Deputies, and that the Chief Rabbinate conflicts with the traditional Jewish view of rabbinical authority. This states that no rabbi has more authority than any other. This means that while Chief Rabbis like Sacks and his successor, Ephraim Mirvis, can bluster and pontificate about how critics of Israel are terrible anti-Semites, other rabbis and their congregations are under no obligation to believe them.

The Jewish establishment and its institutions, which claim to speak for all Britain’s Jews, really just seem to be the United Synagogue and its inmates trying to present themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of Britain’s Jews. Hence the rage at Jeremy Corbyn for daring to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing, socialist Jews of Jewdas. Well, they obviously invited him, unlike the true-blue Tories of the Board and Chief Rabbinate, who didn’t and instead sent glowing congratulations to Tories like Tweezer when she slithered into No. 10.

I feel that the next time someone from the Board or Chief Rabbi turns up to tell us all that Corbyn is a terrible anti-Semite and an existential threat to British Jews, they should be accompanied by an explanatory warning caption at the bottom of the screen. Like those that accompany adverts, or the statements the Beeb makes when it has to mention a specific product. This caption should go

‘The Board/ Chief Rabbinate/other pompous smear merchant is a fully-owned subsidiary of the United Synagogue. Contains parts manufactured in Israel. Other forms of Judaism are available. ‘