Archive for the ‘Mali’ Category

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

A British Colonial Governor’s Attack on Racism

July 31, 2020

Sir Alan Burns, Colour and Colour Prejudice with Particular Reference to the Relationship between Whites and Negroes (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1948).

I ordered this book secondhand online a week or so ago, following the Black Lives Matter protests and controversies over the past few weeks. I realise reading a book this old is a rather eccentric way of looking at contemporary racial issues, but I’d already come across it in the library there when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. What impressed me about it was that it also dealt with anti-White racism amongst Blacks as well as the book’s main concern with anti-Black racism, discrimination and growing Black discontent in the British Empire.

Burns was a former governor of Ghana, then the Gold Coast. According to the potted biography on the front flap of the dust jacket, he was ‘a Colonial Civil Servant of long and distinguished experience in tropical West Africa and the West Indies.’ The book

deals with the important question of colour prejudice, and pleads for mutual courtesy and consideration between the white and the coloured races. Sir Alan analyses the history and alleged causes of colour prejudice, and cites the opinions of many writers who condemn or attempt to justify the existence of prejudice. It is a frank analysis of an unpleasant phenomenon.

He was also the author of two other books, his memoirs of colonial service in the Leeward Islands Nigeria, Bahamas, British Honduras, the Gold Coast and the Colonial Office, Colonial Civil Servant, and A History of Nigeria. The Gold Coast was one of the most racial progressive of the British African colonies. It was the first of them to include an indigenous chief on the ruling colonial council. I therefore expected Burns to hold similar positive views of Blacks, given, of course, how outdated these would no doubt seem to us 72 years later.

After the introduction, the book is divided into the following chapters:

I. The Existence and Growth of Colour Prejudice

II. The Attitude of Various Peoples to Racial and Colour Differences

III. Negro Resentment of Colour Prejudice

IV. Political and Legal Discrimination Against Negroes

V. Social Discrimination Against Negroes

VI. Alleged Inferiority of the Negro

VII. Alleged Shortcomings of the Negro

VIII. Physical and Mental Differences between the Races

IX. Physical Repulsion between Races

X. Miscegenation

XI. The Effect of Environment and History on the Negro Race

XII. Lack of Unity and Inferiority Complex Among Negroes

XIII. Conclusion.

I’ve done little more than take the occasional glance through it so far, so this is really a rather superficial treatment of  the book, more in the way of preliminary remarks than a full-scale review. Burns does indeed take a more positive view of Blacks and their potential for improvement, but the book is very dated and obviously strongly influenced by his own background in the colonial service and government. As a member of the colonial governing class, Burns is impressed by the British Empire and what he sees as its benevolent and highly beneficial rule of the world’s indigenous peoples. He is in no doubt that they have benefited from British rule, and quotes an American author as saying that there is no other colonial power which would have done so for its subject peoples. He is particularly impressed by the system of indirect rule, in which practical government was largely given over to the colonies’ indigenous ruling elites. This was peaceful, harmonious and had benefited the uneducated masses of the Empire’s indigenous peoples. These colonial subjects appreciated British rule and largely supported it. He did not expect this section of colonial society to demand their nations’ independence. However, this governmental strategy did not suit the growing class of educated Blacks, who were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment as inferiors and demanding independence.

As with other, later books on racism Burns tackles its history and tries to trace how far back it goes. He argues that racism seems to go back no further than the Fifteenth century. Before then, culture and religion were far more important in defining identity.  He’s not entirely convinced by this, and believes that racism in the sense of colour prejudice probably existed far earlier, but there is little evidence for it. There have been other explorations of this subject which have attempted to show the history and development of racism as a cultural idea in the west. Other historians have said much the same, and I think the consensus of opinion is that it was the establishment of slavery that led to the development of ideas of Black inferiority to justify their capture and enslavement.

Burns is also concerned at what he and the other authorities he quotes as the growth in anti-Black racism that came following the First World War. He compares this unfavourably with a comment from an African lady, who went to a British school during Victoria’s reign. The women recalls that she and the other Black girls were treated absolutely no differently from the Whites, and that the only time she realised there was any difference between them was when she looked in a mirror. This is interesting, and a good corrective to the idea that all Whites were uniformly and aggressively racist back then, but I expect her experience may have been very different from Blacks further down the social hierarchy. Burns believes the increase in racism after the First World War was due to the increased contact between Blacks and Whites, which is probably true following the mass mobilisation of troops across the Empire.

But what I found as an historian with an interest in African and other global civilisations is the book’s almost wholly negative assessment of Black civilisation and its achievements. Burns quotes author after author, who states that Blacks have produced no great civilisations or cultural achievements. Yes, ancient Egypt is geographically a part of Africa, but culturally and racially, so it is claimed, it is part of the Middle East. Where Black Africans have produced great civilisations, it is through contact with external, superior cultures like the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Arabs. Where Blacks have produced great artistic achievements, such as in the Benin bronzes of the 16th/17th century, it is claimed that this is due to contact with the Portuguese and Spanish. This negative view is held even by writers, who are concerned to stress Black value and dignity, and show that Blacks are not only capable of improvement, but actually doing so.

Since then a series of historians, archaeologists and art historians have attempted to redress this view of history by showing how impressive Black African civilisations were. Civilisations like ancient Nubia, Ethiopia, Mali and the other great Islamic states of north Africa, and advanced west African civilisations like Dahomey. I myself prefer the superb portraiture in the sculptures from 17th century Ife in west Africa, but archaeologists and historians have been immensely impressed by the carved heads from Nok in Nigeria, which date from about 2,000 BC. Going further south, there is the great fortress of Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that bewildered western archaeologists. For years it was suggested that Black Africans simply couldn’t have built it, and that it must have been the Arabs or Chinese instead. In fact analysis of the methods used to build it and comparison with the same techniques used by local tribes in the construction of their wooden buildings have shown that the fortress was most definitely built by indigenous Zimbabweans. There have been a number of excellent TV series broadcast recently. Aminatta Forna presented one a few years ago now on Timbuktu, once the centre of a flourishing and immensely wealthy west African kingdom. A few years before, art historian Gus Casely-Hayford presented a series on BBC Four, Lost Civilisations of Africa. I think that’s still on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth a look. Archaeologists are revealing an entire history of urban civilisation that has previously been lost or overlooked. Nearly two decades or so ago there was a piece by a White archaeologist teaching in Nigeria, who had discovered the remains of house and courtyard walls stretching over an area of about 70 km. This had been lost as the site had been abandoned and overgrown with vegetation. He lamented how there was little interest in the remains of this immense, ancient city among Nigerians, who were far more interested in ancient Egypt.

This neglect and disparagement of African history and achievement really does explain the fervour with which Afrocentric history is held by some Blacks and anti-racist Whites. This is a view that claims that the ancient Egyptians were Black, and the real creators of the western cultural achievement. It began with the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop. White Afrocentrists have included Martin Bernal, the author of Black Athena, and Basil Davidson. Following the Black Lives Matter protests there have also been calls for Black history to be taught in schools, beginning with African civilisations.

More positively, from what I’ve seen so far, Burns did believe that Blacks and Whites were equal in intelligence. The Christian missionaries Samuel Crowther, who became the first Anglican bishop of Africa, and Frederick Schon, had absolutely no doubt. Crowther was Black, while Schon was a White Swiss. In one of their reports to the British parliamentary committee sitting to examine slavery and the slave trade, they presented evidence from the African missionary schools in the form of essays from their pupils to show that Blacks certainly were as capable as Whites. Possibly more so at a certain age. As Black underachievement at school is still a very pressing issue, Crowther’s and Schon’s findings are still very important. Especially as there are real racists, supporters of the book The Bell Curve, keen to argue that Blacks really are biologically mentally inferior to Whites.

Burns’ book is fascinating, not least because it shows the development of official attitudes towards combating racism in Britain. Before it became such a pressing issue with the mass influx of Black migrants that came with Windrush, it seems that official concern was mostly over the growing resentment in Africa and elsewhere with White, British rule. The book also hopefully shows how we’ve also come in tackling racism in the West. I’m not complacent about it – I realise that it’s still very present and blighting lives – but it’s far, far less respectable now than it was when I was a child in the 1970s. My concern, however, is that some anti-racism activists really don’t realise this and their concentration on the horrors and crimes of the past has led them to see the present in its terms. Hence the rant of one of the BLM firebrands in Oxford that the police were the equivalent of the Klan.

Burn’s book shows just how much progress has been made on, and makes you understand just what an uphill struggle this has been.

 

 

Book on African History

June 22, 2020

Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage, A Short History of Africa, 5th Edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1975)

As I discussed in an earlier post, the Black Lives Matter protests have led to calls for the greater teaching of Black history in schools. Africa does indeed have a very long and fascinating history and there were great African civilisations, such as Nubia, Ethiopia and the Muslim states of west Africa, like Mali, long before Europeans colonised the continent. There are now plenty of books on African history, but the one I’ve been using is the above book by Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage. I’ve no doubt it’s now very dated, as my copy is the revised version of the fifth edition, that was published in 1978. There’s obviously been 42 years of change and development on the continent since then. Nevertheless, I’ve found it useful in understand the history of the continent from the earliest antiquity through the middle ages and the colonial period.

Its blurb reads

During the twentieth century the centre of the world shifted…

The dramatic alterations in political power have corrected the vision of a European-centred world. While the centres of European culture flourished, decayed and sprouted in turn, empires in Africa rose, ruled, resisted and succumbed. Much of Africa’s past has now been excavated from ignorance and error, revealing a rich and previously little-known human heritage.

In this classic work, the authors have drawn on the whole range of literature about Africa and on the evidence provided by archaeology, oral traditions, language relationships and social institutions. A Short History of Africa not only marshals the most authoritative views of African specialists into an absorbing narrative, it also puts forward original conclusions that take the study of Africa a stage further.

The book has the following chapters:

  1. The Hunters
  2. The Farmers
  3. The Townsmen
  4. The Sudanic Civilisation
  5. Mediterranean Civilisation in Northern and Western Africa
  6. The Arab Empire in Africa
  7. Northern and Western Africa during the Great Age of Islam
  8. North-East and East Africa in Medieval and Early Modern Times
  9. The States of Guinea
  10. The Era of Firearms and the Slave Trade: (1) North and West Africa
  11. The Era of Firearms and the Slave Trade: (2) From the Congo to the Zambezi
  12. The Turn of the Tide in Europe
  13. The Nineteenth Century: North and West Africa
  14. The Nineteenth Century: Southern Africa
  15. The Nineteenth Century: East and North-East Africa
  16. The European Scramble for African Colonies
  17. The Colonial Period: First Phase
  18. The Colonial Period: Second Phase
  19. The Colonial Period: Third Phase – Economic Development and Welfare
  20. Independent Africa (1)
  21. Independent Africa (2).

Despite being published so long ago, I think the book is still useful and hope others will also find it so. And that it also stimulates peoples’ interest in this great and diverse continent and its myriad cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Slavery, the West Indies Had Black Politicians

June 19, 2020

Following the Black Lives Matter protests in Britain has come the debate about the teaching of Black history in schools. There was an item about this on BBC news earlier this week. Some schools already teach it, including the Black British experience but also the Black kingdoms in Africa, which is taught before going on to slavery. There were comments from Black students, who said that it had boosted their self-esteem. However, not all schools teach it and there have been calls from Black politicos to make it compulsory.

But Caribbean history may also provide useful role models and inspiration for Black Britons. What isn’t really appreciated is that shortly after the abolition of slavery in 1837, Black West Indians elected Black and biracial ‘coloured’ politicians to protect them from the planters’ attempts to force them back into servitude. Gad Heuvelmans mentions this development in The Caribbean: A Brief History, 2nd edition (London: Bloomsbury 2014). He writes

Strikes and riots were one form of response of the ex-slaves to emancipation; another was challenging the political domination of the planters. This took the form of electing black and brown representatives to the local Assemblies. Although not forming a single political bloc, black and brown Assemblymen generally supported government policies. Moreover, they could be significant: in Dominica, for example, coloured representatives formed a majority in the Assembly. Their presence prevented the passage of harsh legislation against the ex-slaves which characterized many other West Indian colonies.

In Jamaica, the coloured and black members of the Assembly united to form the Town Party, a faction which opposed the predominately planters’ Country Party. The coloureds favoured funds being spent on education, resisted expensive immigration schemes, and sought to counter planter attempts to restrict the franchise. Moreover, the coloureds also voted against measures to shift the burden of taxation almost entirely onto small settlers. Brown and black representatives did remain a minority in the Jamaican House of Assembly, but as tehir numbers increased, the planters became increasingly alarmed about the possibility of being outnumbered. (p.113).

I’ve known Black educators and historians get frustrated about the lack of awareness of this aspect of West Indian history. One of the experts, who also worked at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a Black historian from the West Indies. He used to give talks regularly to Bristol’s Black community was active in several Black improvement programmes. I remember him telling me how exasperated he got when he was talking to a young man, who blamed the problems of the Black community on slavery. He told the young man that that was no explanation as they had Black politicians immediately after slavery.

I think this is right. You can’t put all of the problems of the western Black communities down to slavery. Some of it is also due general racism, and the oppressive measures the planter elites imposed to try and force Black West Indians back onto the plantation under their control. But just as they had strongly resisted slavery, so the newly emancipated Black population turned to politics and got themselves and their representatives elected to resist attempts to disenfranchise them. No small achievement! I don’t want to be accused of telling Black people what they should or shouldn’t do to improve their condition, but perhaps it would give more Black Britons hope and inspiration if they knew more about this.

Another nation that might also provide useful role models might be Ghana. As the former Gold Coast, in the 1920s this had a remarkably enlightened governor for the time. It was the first British colony to appoint indigenous people as members of its governing council. I think its governor also wrote a book on racism in the 1940s, with the title of ‘Colour Prejudice’ or ‘Colour Issue’ or something like it. This included not only examples of White racism, but also Blacks against Whites. He quotes the 14th century Arab traveler ibn Battuta on the racism towards Whites of the people of the Black African kingdom of Mali.  This was something like ‘They would be great Muslims, if they didn’t treat Whites with such contempt’.

And regardless of skin colour, I wish there was more of the spirit of the Town Party today. We need more spent on education, just as we need more spent on welfare and the NHS. We need to stop the Tories shifting the tax burden onto the poor instead of the rich.

And the Tories are doing what they can to disenfranchise and force into servitude Britain’s working people, all while trying to preserve a facade of freedom.

 

 

John Pilger: What Did Theresa May Know About Manchester Terrorists?

June 1, 2017

Now for a very serious question, amid all the hilarity surrounding Theresa May’s craven cowardice at the Leaders’ Debate yesterday. Earlier that day, veteran human rights journalist, John Pilger, had written a piece on the Counterpunch site asking what May knew about the Manchester bomber and his fellow terrorists.

He pointed out that Salman Abedi and his family had been members of a Salafist (Muslim fundamentalist) terrorist group, the LIFG. These people were such a threat, that they had all been subject to control orders. When demonstrations broke out in the Libya against the dictator, those control orders had been lifted so that the terrorists could travel to Libya to overthrow Gaddafy, just as other Salafist groups, trained and supplied by Britain, and reinforced with the SAS, rose up against him. Britain and America also began a bombing campaign in support of the rebels.

Britain gave its military support because of a spurious claim by the Salafists that Gaddafy was about to start a massacre of his opponents on a scale comparable to the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s.

Parliament subsequently held an inquiry, which concluded that David Cameron, the Tory prime minister, had led this country into a war on ‘erroneous pretences’.

Pilger places the actions of the security and intelligence services using the Manchester terrorists and others like them to overthrow Gaddafy in the context of western imperialism. Britain and the West had allied with the Salafists and intolerant Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia as a way of combating secular Arab nationalism. Gaddafy was deemed a threat because he wanted to abandon the petrodollar, substituting instead an unified African currency based on gold. He also wanted a common African bank and work towards economic union between poor nations with valuable natural resources.

And additionally, Libya possessed valuable oil fields.

The Manchester boys were no strangers to attempting to overthrow Gaddafy. In the 1990s they had made a series of attempts to assassinate him with covert British support.

After overthrowing Gaddafy, the Salafists moved south to attack Mali. Obama, who was the principle force behind the western support for the rebels, took the opportunity to send US forces into Uganda, South Sudan, the Congo and the Central African Republic. The London Chamber of Commerce staged a massive arms fair, at which British merchants of death boasted about the market for their wares in the Middle East. And last month Theresa May was in Saudi Arabia again, trying to sell them British arms, arms that have been and are being used to kill innocents, including children, in Yemen.

He makes the point that the Manchester bombing was another case of imperial blowback, in which the terrorists the West have trained and used to overthrow secular and progressive Middle Eastern regimes then return to attack and kill America, Britain and the other western countries.

Just like Blair was warned would happen prior to the disastrous, illegal invasion of Iraq.

Pilger also makes the point that Abedi’s connection to western backed Salafist terrorism is being denied. The official line is that he was a ‘lone wolf’ and petty criminal.

And critically, the FBI warned Britain that the terror cell of which he was a part was looking for a ‘political target’ in Britain.

Pilger writes

‘The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy.

Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”.

The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years.

The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.

The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.

Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May?

These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology.’

‘In 2011, according to Middle East Eye, the LIFG in Manchester were known as the “Manchester boys”. Implacably opposed to Mu’ammar Gadaffi, they were considered high risk and a number were under Home Office control orders – house arrest – when anti-Gadaffi demonstrations broke out in Libya, a country forged from myriad tribal enmities.

Suddenly the control orders were lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. MI5 returned their passports and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.’

‘In London, one of the world’s biggest arms fairs was staged by the British government. The buzz in the stands was the “demonstration effect in Libya”. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a preview entitled “Middle East: A vast market for UK defence and security companies”. The host was the Royal Bank of Scotland, a major investor in cluster bombs, which were used extensively against civilian targets in Libya. The blurb for the bank’s arms party lauded the “unprecedented opportunities for UK defence and security companies.”’

‘The spin is back, not surprisingly. Salman Abedi acted alone. He was a petty criminal, no more. The extensive network revealed last week by the American leak has vanished. But the questions have not.

Why was Abedi able to travel freely through Europe to Libya and back to Manchester only days before he committed his terrible crime? Was Theresa May told by MI5 that the FBI had tracked him as part of an Islamic cell planning to attack a “political target” in Britain?’

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/31/terror-in-britain-what-did-the-prime-minister-know/

Abedi’s attack in Manchester was made easier by May’s decimation of the police, armed forces, border guards and emergency services. She warned that this would harm intelligence gathering and damage national security. She airily dismissed these criticisms as ‘scaremongering’.

But if May was told by MI5 that Abedi’s terror group were looking for a target in Britain, then this makes May, in my opinion, culpably negligent for not placing him and his gang under greater scrutiny. Quite apart from using them as part of another imperialist war of aggression.

Jeremy Corbyn has made it very clear that imperialist aggression in the Middle East does not justify Islamist terrorism. But he has pledged to restore Britain’s police and armed forces, border guards and emergency service, so that they can give us better protection.

And he does recognise that the western invasions of the Middle East are not solving the problems of global terrorism, and that another approach is needed.

We need Corbyn’s wisdom. We won’t see any such insights from Theresa May, who will just bring more wars, and more domestic terrorism created by these wars. All so that she and her paymasters in the arms industries can sell more of that ‘wonderful kit’ Cameron lauded when he visited an armaments factory in Lancashire.

Vote Labour on June 8th, and do something to stop more deaths.

Counterpunch: Manchester Terror Attack Blowback from Western Imperialist Recruitment of Salafi Terrorists

May 29, 2017

I’ve mentioned several times over the past week or so the hypocritical smears the Tory press – the Torygraph, Scum and Heil – have published claiming that Jeremy Corbyn was a supporter of IRA terrorism, and, by implication, of the Manchester terror attack last Monday. Corbyn wasn’t. He did support attempts to find a peaceful solution to the Troubles through negotiation, something Thatcher and the Tories loudly denied they were doing, but did anyway. Both the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish Times have hailed the Labour leader as a man, who strove for the best for the people of Ireland and Ulster. Ian Paisley’s wife even said that Corbyn was courteous and polite.

So, not quite the fanatical supporter of Irish nationalist terrorism these papers wanted to smear him as.

And the Tories, under Thatcher, did their own supporting of terrorist violence in Ulster. Peter Taylor’s 1999 documentary, Loyalists, featured interviews with leading Ulster Loyalist politicos and terrorists, one of whom admitted that they were getting information from British intelligence in the late 1980s allowing them to kill members of the IRA and other Republicans.

And that hasn’t been the only incident, where terrorists supported by the British state have committed atrocities. The last one was just a week ago. In Manchester.

Jim Kavanagh writing in Counterpunch has a piece pointing out that the family of the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, were members of a Libyan Islamist terrorist group, who were given sanctuary in Britain as part of NATO’s recruitment of such terrorists in their campaign to overthrow Colonel Qaddafy. He attacks the racist double standards of the western media, for giving massive attention to attacks like this in the West, while paying much less attention to the other victims of Islamist violence in Africa and elsewhere in the world. Such as Mali, where 100 people, mostly Russians, Chinese and Africans, were butchered by two Islamist terrorists at the Bamako hotel a few years ago.

He reminds his readers that, despite Qaddafy’s own political posturing, Libya was a secular state with the highest standard of living in Africa. And Qaddafy himself hated and persecuted the Islamists. The late ‘mad dog of the Middle East’ and his son, Saif, even tried to warn Blair, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that if he was killed, the terrorists would move on to attack Europe and there would be a massive influx of refugees into the continent.

Kavanagh also reproaches American liberals for believing that you can be politically liberal, and still support western imperialism. He states that Barack Obama and Killary, whose gloating over the death of the Libyan dictator was particularly repulsive, have so far presided over more carnage than Donald Trump. American liberals are deluded if they believe that they can unleash and then contain the Islamist terrorists they have recruited, armed and trained at will. He compares terrorist atrocities like that committed in Manchester to the film ‘Groundhog Day’, whose hero is doomed to go through the same day again and again. And this, he feels, will continue until something immeasurably more horrific finally wakes Americans up to the horrific reality.

He states

Last Monday, jihadi suicide bomber Salman Abedi blew himself up at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 people. Salman grew up in an anit-Qaddafi Libyan immigrant family. In 2011, his father, Ramadan Abedi, along with other British Libyans (including one who was under house arrest), “was allowed to go [to Libya], no questions asked,” to join the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an al-Qaeda-affiliate, to help overthrow Qaddafi. In Manchester, as Max Blumenthal puts it, in his excellent Alternet piece, it was all “part of the rat line operated by the MI5, which hustled anti-Qaddafi Libyan exiles to the front lines of the war.” In Manchester, Salman lived near a number of LIFG militants, including an expert bomb maker. This was a tough bunch, and everybody—including the cops and Salman’s Muslim neighbors—knew they weren’t the Jets and the Sharks. As Middle East Eye reports, he “was known to security services,” and some of his acquaintances “had reported him to the police via an anti-terrorism hotline.”

Could it be any clearer? The Abedi family was part of a protected cohort of Salafist proxy soldiers that have been used by “the West” to destroy the Libyan state. There are a number of such cohorts around the world that have been used for decades to overthrow relatively prosperous and secular, but insufficiently compliant, governments in the Arab and Muslim world—and members of those groups have perpetrated several blowback attacks in Western countries, via various winding roads. In this case, the direct line from Libya to Mali to Manchester is particularly easy to trace.

‘The jihadi attackers in Mali and the jihadi bomber in Manchester were direct products—not accidental by-products, but deliberately incubated protégés—of American-British-French-NATO regime change in Libya, a project that was executed by the Obama administration and spearheaded by Hillary Clinton.

Before the glorious revolution, Libya under Ghaddafi had the highest standard of living of any country in Africa, according to the UN Human Development Index. Before the jihadi onslaught backed by NATO bombing campaign, Ghaddafi’s Libya was an anchor of stability in North Africa, as even the U.S. and British governments knew and acknowledged, per a 2008 cable from American foreign service officer Christopher Stevens, published by Wikileaks:

Libya has been a strong partner in the war against terrorism and cooperation in liaison channels is excellent…Muammar al-Qadhafi’s criticism of Saudi Arabia for perceived support of Wahabi extremism, a source of continuing Libya-Saudi tension, reflects broader Libyan concern about the threat of extremism. Worried that fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq could destabilize the regime, the [government of Libya] has aggressive pursued operations to disrupt foreign fighter flows, including more stringent monitoring of air/land ports of entry, and blunt the ideological appeal of radical Islam.

The US-British-French-NATO humanitarian intervention put an end to that by overthrowing the Libyan government under entirely phony pretexts, in contravention of fundamental international law, and in violation of the UN resolution they claimed as a justification. The executioners and beneficiaries of that aggression where the jihadis who have been rampaging from Mali to Manchester. It’s a bright, clear line.

Ghaddafi himself warned Tony Blair that “an organization [the LIFG].has laid down sleeper cells in North Africa called the Al Qaeda organization in North Africa.” Ghaddafi’s son, Saif, warned that overthrowing Libya’s would make the country “the Somalia of North Africa, of the Mediterranean” and “You will see millions of illegal immigrants. The terror will be next door.”’

Manchester is the latest iteration of a scenario we’ve gone through so many times now, like some groundhog-day dream. At the end of my post two years ago, I was urging and hoping that Americans would wake up. But a lot of American liberals and lefties, including Berniebots, still like to imagine there’s a political space they can inhabit called Progressive Except Imperialism. There isn’t. Imperialism with Social Security and Medicare and Obamacare—even single-payer healthcare—is imperialism, and it’s reactionary and supremacist. Equal-opportunity imperialism is imperialism. African-American, women, Latinx, or LGBTQ presidents, generals, and drone operators do not make it any less criminal, or dangerous, or any less inevitably erosive of all those cherished progressive domestic programs.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/29/no-laughing-matter-the-manchester-bomber-is-the-spawn-of-hillary-and-baracks-excellent-libyan-adventure/

The recruitment of Islamist terrorists goes back further than Blair, Bush, and Obama and Killary, right back to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher gave sanctuary in this country to Islamist terrorists as part of the proxy war against the Russians in Afghanistan. She and Ronnie celebrated them, because they were anti-Communists fighting against ‘the Evil Empire’. And the Russian ambassador told the Americans that once the Salafists had finished with them, they would come for America.

And this came horribly true on 9/11. Having defeated the Soviet Union, the Saudi-backed terrorists believed they could bring down the other superpower, America.

As for Thatcher, one of the terrorists she gave asylum to in Britain was a monster, who blew up a plane-load of schoolchildren flying to Moscow in order to kill the Soviet officers also on board.

And the same Islamists she settled in Britain became part of the wider underground of radicalised Islamist discontent.

Corbyn never supported terrorism. But Thatcher, and her New Labour protégé, Tony Blair, certainly did. And the results were Loyalist terrorists acting as Thatcher’s death squads in Ulster, and Islamist terrorism in Britain.

And Theresa May made it all easier for the Manchester bomber and those like him by cutting the numbers of the police force, armed forces and border guards. And when members of Her Majesty’s finest tried to warn of her of this danger, she sneered at them.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to reverse all this. Which, despite all the Tory screaming and posturing, trying to portray them as the party of great war leaders since Churchill, Corbyn and the Labour party represent this country’s best hope of peace and security.

Vote Labour on June 8th.

Tariq Nasheed Corrects Alt-Right Fascist Lies about Black Civilisations

November 24, 2016

Yesterday I posted several pieces about Richard Spencer’s Nazi speech at the weekend, in which he celebrated Whites as a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors’ whose civilisation and achievements keep improving. Spencer’s one of the founders and leaders of the Fascist Alt-Right, the Nazi nature of which was made chillingly explicit with the cries of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ with which he opened his vile little rant.

Spencer and his Nazi storm troopers, including another racist polemicist, Jared Tailor, claim that Blacks are inferior. Tariq Nasheed is a black blogger, who is clearly active attacking racism and pernicious claims against people of colour. In this video, he refutes Jared Taylor’s claims that Black people have invented nothing, and have a lower IQ than Whites. Taylor makes the claim that Blacks didn’t invent the wheel, and didn’t invent agriculture or domesticate animals. He also claims that Africans didn’t even have a calendar. This means that they are less intelligent than Whites. The White supremacists of the Alt-Right also maintain that Whites do not exploit Blacks and other ethnic minorities, and that they have benefited from contact with superior White civilisation.

Nasheed comprehensively trashes Taylor’s and his fellow Nazis’ claims that Blacks had no proper civilisation or achievements. He refuses to talk about the ancient Egyptian civilisation, which he feels strongly was Black, as this would be too easy. Instead, he talks about the lesser-known civilisations of West Africa. He mentions the work of Clyde Winters in documenting indigenous writing systems in the peoples of that part of Africa. Black people also very definitely had the wheel. Nasheed points to the rock pictures in the Sahara desert, which show Blacks driving chariots. The Black cultures in Africa also had agriculture and domesticated animals. They kept oxen, and their kings even had pet lions. As for buildings, they had houses and other structures that were two to three storeys tall. The Songhay empire had castles, and he rightly mentions, and ridicules, how the great fortress of Zimbabwe was so impressive, that its colonial discoverers tried to explain it as the work of space aliens. He also talks about the great university at Timbuktu, which was a centre of learning before Europe had universities. As for Black Africans lacking a calendar, he talks about how there is one monumental such device in Namibia.

He states that he’s offered to debate Taylor many times, but has never received an answer. His worry, however, is that now the Nazi Alt-Right have Donald Trump’s ear, Taylor, or an ignorant bigot like him, will get in charge of the educational system, and try to stop Black people learning about the achievements of their people in Africa.

Nasheed is also very much aware that many Whites also despise the Alt Right Fascists. He’s seen a group of White guys beat one of ’em up, and gives a shout out to Whites combating the Alt-Right.

I don’t condone unprovoked violence against the Nazis. They should have the same right not to be attacked as anybody else. But I’m well aware that they themselves are extremely violent, and have beaten and murdered people. I’m very aware that some people may have had to defend themselves, just as I’m also aware that their grotesque, vile opinions and racial insults may provoke others into violence against them, especially Blacks, Jews and others, who have been on the receiving end of their race hate and physical assault.

Nasheed is absolutely right about what he says, though I have some qualifications and additions to make. Black people certainly had the wheel. The rock paintings he mentioned are, I think, at Tassili N’Ajjer in the Sahara. They were painted when that part of the desert was green, many thousands of years ago. They show Whites from North Africa and Blacks from the south crossing and crisscrossing the desert, including people driving chariots. That said, convention historians believe that the wheel was probably invented somewhere in central Asia. So, not invented by Blacks, but arguably not invented by Whites either, or at least, not by Europeans. And yes, many Black nations and cultures certainly possessed agriculture, though again, the conventional explanation is that it spread to sub-Saharan Africa from ancient Egypt. As for the ancient Egyptians being a Black civilisation, they portrayed themselves as being lighter skinned than the peoples to their south, such as the Nubians, who are portrayed in ancient Egyptian papyri as being definitely Black. However, they were darker than their Greek and Roman conquerors. A few years ago New Scientist carried an article, which suggested that the seeds of ancient Egyptian civilisation was in a Black people from the south, whose religion centred around the worship of the cow. This was the ancestral version of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess. These Black race migrated north, to what is now Egypt, as the Saharan desert dried out at the end of the last Ice Age, where they encountered and intermarried with White peoples.

The Songhay and Malinka peoples, who founded the great Muslim empire of Mali, were rich and powerful, and the university of Timbuktu was one of the major centres of Islamic learning and civilisation in West Africa. There have been documentaries exploring the priceless intellectual heritage preserved in the books from its library. Unfortunately, this has been threatened by Islamism. You may recall that a few years ago, Islamist barbarians allied to Daesh tried to set the university on fire in order to destroy its vast repository of the area’s indigenous Muslim culture. The Songhay did indeed have castles. They also had cavalry troops, who have been described in European textbooks as ‘knights of the Sahara’. And yes, in this part of Africa there are multi-storey buildings and extensive palaces. These are of mud brick, but then, so were ziggurats of ancient Babylon. The great Swahili civilisation of East Africa, however, built cities made from coral, which were coated with a lime wash made from burning the same substance. Their cities are as impressive and as richly carved as any others in Islam. The great fortress of Zimbabwe, which is also in east Africa, is also spectacular. It seemed such a contrast to the architecture of the indigenous peoples, who now live in wooden huts, that the Europeans who discovered it tried to explain it as the work of the Chinese, Arabs, or indeed, anyone other than indigenous Africans, including space aliens. In actual fact, its method of construction is very much the same type of building techniques as the mud huts of the local peoples. It seems it was built by the Razwe people, but then during some disruption in the 19th century, it was abandoned.

As for his statement that Black Africans didn’t have the calendar, he is most definitely, monumentally wrong. They definitely had the calendar, and from a very early period. There’s a piece of notched bone, found in a cave in South Africa by archaeologists, which appears to have been a counting device of some kind. The bone dates from 70,000 years ago, and it has been suggested that it may have been a portable calendar. This is about 40,000 years before modern men, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, moved out of Africa to colonise Europe. If it is true that this is a calendar, then clearly Taylor in this regard couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Regarding Nasheed’s fears of the intellectual damage Alt-Right Fascism could do to the American educational system, I think Taylor and his squadristi will have severe problems if they true to impose a White supremacist curriculum at the universities. I think the liberal traditions of many American universities are simply too strong. No reputable historian, anthropologist or archaeologist specialising in researching African culture and heritage is going to stand for the denigration of African civilisation or the attack on their academic disciplines. I also anticipate considerable resistance from Black Studies professors and their students. And this is quite apart from professors, intellectuals and students, who wish to defend American academia as seats of genuine learning and liberal culture.

However, I recognise that there is a real danger that the Nazis will try to undermine this aspect of the American education system, either by depriving it of funding, or demanding that other courses be introduced to ‘balance’ it.

In my opinion, the real danger is much lower down the educational system, at school level. A little while ago one of the left-wing news shows I watch on YouTube reported that the state educational authority in Arizona decided that the existing school curriculum and its textbooks were too left-wing. I think they objected to them, because they didn’t just present American civilisation as absolutely wonderful, with no defects or shameful episodes. It taught students about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism and civil rights, as well as the other, better aspects of American history. So the right-wingers in power got rid of it.

What did they insist school students learn instead of the complexities, shame and achievements of American history? Ronald Reagan’s speeches.

I kid you not. Ronald Reagan’s speeches. Which weren’t even written by him. I think this should count as a crime against education. Mind you, I think the Tories over here would like to inflict something equally stupid and sinister on our youngsters. Remember when Michael Gove was ranting about children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the Great War in history? He and his fellow Tories would like to do the same, presenting a sanitised version of British history consonant with turning our children into earnest Thatcherites. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t demanding that school pupils aren’t learning her speeches, like the poor souls in Arizona’s classrooms.

The Alt-Right are a threat to Blacks and other people of colour, and a threat to genuine history and learning. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, or the young minds they want to poison and keep in ignorance.

I Stand with Nigeria and Mali

November 22, 2015

Nigeria-Flag-Wallpaper

The Nigerian Flag

Mali_Flag1

The flag of Mali, drawn as an outline of the country

In addition to the ISIS massacre in France, Islamist terrorists have committed two more atrocities, killing hundreds in Nigeria and Mali. There was a two minute silence for the victims of the Paris attack during the week, with world leaders expressing their horror and outrage. No-one has yet ordered a similar memorial for the victims of the African atrocities, yet their victims are just as worthy of being honoured and commemorated.

And like the attacks in France, this is an attack on civilisation.

West Africa has been the centre of the some of the most ancient and magnificent African civilisations. Nigerians were working iron several centuries before Europeans due to the natural iron bloom that is found in part of the country. Scholars, artists and connoisseurs have been deeply impressed with the naturalistic skill of the sculptures produced by the Nok culture, and later in the 17th century at Ife. The country also has a pattern of earthworks, the remains of cities dating from the seventh century AD, stretching over an area of about 65 square miles/ kilometres. You’ll have to forgive my vagueness about its exact extent. It’s a long time ago since I read the article about it in New Scientist, which was published about ten or fifteen years ago.

Much African history remains obscure, as until the arrival of Islam and exploration and colonisation by the Europeans, most African cultures did not have writing. The exception to this, of course, were Nubia and Abyssinia. Finding archaeological remains of these cultures can also be extremely difficult, as with certain exceptions, like the great Swahili cities in Kenya and the fortress at Zimbabwe, as well as Nubia and Abyssinia, Africans tended to use wood rather than stone for building. The result is that much of the remains of African civilisations has perished over time. Nevertheless, pictures of great African cities produced by European traders and explorers show just how impressive these cities were at their height.

Mali too was the centre of a great African civilisation. It was the centre of the Songhai and Mandingo empires, great Muslim states that became synonymous in West Africa with the religion itself. In one of the local languages, the word for to convert to Islam literally meant, to become a Mandingo. One of the main sources of its wealth was control of the gold supply. The country had so much gold, that when its emperor, Mansa Musa, visited Egypt on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, he distributed so much of it that it caused a recession.

The Egyptian traveller, Ibn Battuta, was also impressed with the country’s Muslim piety and high standard of civilisation, when he visited in the 12th or 13th century. He declared that the Malians would be excellent Muslims, if they did not regard White people with such contempt.

I can also remember being taught at school in Geography class about the vast economic potential of Nigeria. It could be the world’s richest country from its massive oil wealth, if there wasn’t so much corruption.

These were the ancient civilisations, with their own traditions of grandeur, that Boko Haram and the like attacked in the week. Like many people last week, I observed the two minute silence for Paris. I also stand with the people of Nigerian and Mali against the attacks on the lives and dignity of their citizens and visitors, against the butchers and murderers who attacked them. And they’re just two of the many countries throughout the world that have suffered from the attacks of these monsters. The world and its people must stand together against them, and show that despite differences of language, race, culture and religion, we stand for peace. We must never let them and the other preachers of hate win.

The Grand Vizier’s Letter Permitting Excavation of the Assyrian Monuments in Iraq

March 18, 2015

I’ve put up several pieces this week commenting on and condemning ISIS’ destruction of archaeological, cultural and religious treasures, including their smashing of the Assyrian museum exhibits at Mosul. I described how Layard himself experienced problems and setbacks when a relief of the winged bull was uncovered, as the local people feared that they had disturbed the remains of Nimrod himself. Layard managed to allay such fears through contacting the local authorities and explaining what the precise situation was and that no remains of any person sacred to Islam was being desecrated.

The British government under prime ministers Canning and Robert Peel, were also keen to gain official support for Layard’s excavations from the Ottoman Turkish authorities. They were successful, and on 5th May 1846, the Grand Vizier of the Turkish Empire sent this letter to the Pasha – governor – of Mosul.

There are, as your Excellency knows, in the vicinity of Mosul quantities of stones and ancient remains. An English gentleman has come to these parts to look for such stones, and has found on the banks of the Tigris, in certain uninhabited places, ancient stones on which there are pictures and inscriptions. The British Ambassador has asked that no obstacles shall be put in the way of the above-mentioned gentleman taking the stones which may be useful to him, including those which he may discover by excavations … nor of his embarking them for transport to England.

The sincere friendship which firmly exists between the two governments makes it desirable that such demands be accepted. Therefore no obstacle should be put in the way of his taking the stones which … are present in desert places, and are not being utilised, or of his undertaking excavations in uninhabited places where this can be done without inconvenience to anyone; or of his taking such stones as he may wish amongst those which he has been able to discover.

(in H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (Sidgwick and Jackson 1984) 305)

There are serious issues with the conduct of archaeology in many parts of the world, such as imperialism, and the use of archaeology for nationalistic or propagandistic pieces. Saddam Hussein certainly used his restoration of Iraq’s ancient monuments to bolster his Ba’ath regime. Babylon, or at least one of its ziggurats, was ‘restored’ using modern bricks, stamped with his name. Hence, perhaps, the resentment of the Islamist militants for the remains of that ancient civilisation.

Layard and the early excavators, however, were interested only in uncovering the great monuments and remains of what was a lost civilisation. They were not interested in attacking Islam, and were careful to assure the Turkish authorities that they were not.

And ISIS have shown that they don’t just smash pre- or non-Islamic works. They have also attacked Muslim shrines and institutions such as the Mosque of the Prophet Sheth/ Seth in Iraq, and the grave of a Sufi saint and the medieval Islamic library in Timbuktu.

They are the enemies of adabiyyat, literature and culture, regardless of whether it is Arab, Islamic or otherwise. And their destruction impoverishes all the world’s culture.

ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.