Archive for the ‘Mauretania’ Category

A Liberal Muslim’s Journey through Islamic Britain and the Dangers of Muslim Separatism

June 30, 2022

Ed Hussain, Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain (London: Bloomsbury 2021)

Ed Hussain is a journalist and the author of two previous books on Islam, the House of Islam, which came out in 2018, and The Islamist of 2007. He’s also written for a series of newspapers and magazines, including the Spectator, the Telegraph, the Times, the New York Times and the Guardian. He’s also appeared on the Beeb and CNN. He’s an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and has been a member of various think tanks, including the Council on Foreign Relations. The House of Islam is an introduction to Islamic history and culture from Mohammed onwards. According to the blurb, it argues that Islam isn’t necessarily a threat to the West but a peaceful ally. The Islamist was his account of his time in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a militant Islamic organisation dedicated to restoring the caliphate. This was quoted in Private Eye, where a passage in the book revealed that the various leaders Tony Blair appealed to as part of his campaign against militant, extremist Islam weren’t the moderates they claimed to be, but the exact type of people Blair was trying to combat. Among the Mosques continues this examination and critical scrutiny of caliphism, the term he uses to describe the militant to set up the caliphate. This is an absolute Islamic state, governed by a caliph, a theocratic ruler, who is advised by a shura, or council. This, however, would not be like parliament as only the caliph would have the power to promulgate legislation. Hussain is alarmed at how far this anti-democratic ideology has penetrated British Islam. To find out, he travelled to mosques across Britain – Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and London in England, Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland, the Welsh capital Cardiff, and Belfast in Northern Ireland. Once there, he goes to the local mosques unannounced, observes the worshippers, and talks to them, the imams and other local people. And he’s alarmed by what he sees.

Caliphism Present in Mosques of Different Sects

The mosques he attends belong to a variety of Islamic organisations and denominations. Dewsbury is the centre of the Deobandi movement, a Muslim denomination set up in Pakistan in opposition to British imperialism. Debandis worship is austere, rejecting music, dance and art. The Barelwi mosque he attends in Manchester, on the hand, is far more joyful. The Barelwis are based on an Indian Sufi preacher, who attempted to spread Islam through music and dance. Still other mosques are Salafi, following the fundamentalist brand of Islam that seeks to revive the Islam of the salaf, the Prophet’s companions, and rejects anything after the first three generations of Muslims as bid’a, innovations. But across these mosques, with a few exceptions, there is a common strand of caliphism. The Deobandi order are concerned with the moral reform and revival of Muslim life and observance, but not political activism, in order to hasten the emergence of the caliphate. Similar desires are found within the Tableegh-e Jama’at, another Muslim revivalist organisation founded in Pakistan. This is comparable to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Christianity, in that its method of dawa, Muslim evangelism, is to knock on lax Muslims’ doors and appealing to them become more religious. It’s a male-only organisation, whose members frequently go off on trips abroad. While the preaching in Manchester Central Mosque is about peace, love and tolerance as exemplified in the Prophet’s life, the Barelwis themselves can also be intolerant. Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, was a member of the Barelwi Dawat-e-Islami. He murdered Taseer, whose bodyguard he was, because Taseer has dared to defend Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy. Under strict Islamic law, they were gustakh-e Rasool, a pejorative term for ‘insulter of the Prophet’. The penalty for such blasphemy was wajib-e qatl, a mandatory death. Despite being tried and executed, Qadri is regarded by many of the Pakistani faithful as a martyr, and a massive mosque complex has grown up to commemorate him. In his meetings with various imams and ordinary Muslims, Hussain asks if they agree with the killing of blasphemers like Taseer, and the author Salman Rushdie, who had a fatwa and bounty placed on his life by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran for his book, The Satanic Reverses. Some of them give evasive replies. One imam even defends it, claiming that Rushdie deserved death because he insulted love, as represented by Mohammed and Islam. A Muslim female friend dodges answering by telling him she’s have to ask her husband.

In the mosques’ libraries he finds books promoting the Caliphist ideology, denouncing democracy, immodest dress and behaviour in women, who are commanded to be available for their husband’s sexual pleasure, even when their bodies are running with pus. Some are explicitly Islamist, written by Sayyid Qutb and his brother, the founders of modern militant Islamism. These mosques can be extremely large, serving 500 and more worshippers, and Hussain is alarmed by the extremely conservative, if not reactionary attitudes in many of them. In many, women are strictly segregated and must wear proper Islamic dress – the chador, covering their hair and bodies. The men also follow the model of Mohammed himself in their clothing, wearing long beards and the thawb, the long Arab shirt. But Hussain makes the point that in Mohammed’s day, there was no distinctive Muslim dress: the Prophet wore what everyone in 7th century Arabia wore, including Jews, Christians and pagans. He has a look around various Muslim schools, and is alarmed by their demand for prepubescent girls to wear the hijab, which he views as sexualising them. Some of these, such as the Darul Ulooms, concentrate almost exclusively on religious education. He meets a group of former pupils who are angry at their former school’s indoctrination of them with ancient, but fabricated hadiths about the Prophet which sanction slavery, the inferior status of women, and the forced removal of Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula. They’re also bitter at the way these schools did not teach them secular subjects, like science, literature and art, and so prepare them for entering mainstream society. This criticism has also been levelled Muslim organisations who have attacked the Darul Uloom’s narrow focus on religion. The worshippers and students at these mosques and their schools reject the dunya, the secular world, and its fitna, temptations. One Spanish Muslim has immigrated to England to get away from the nudist beaches in his home country. And the Muslim sections of the towns he goes to definitely do not raise the Pride flag for the LGBTQ community.

Hussain Worried by Exclusively Muslim Areas with No White Residents

Hussain is also alarmed at the way the Muslim districts in many of the towns he visits have become exclusively Muslim quarters. All the businesses are run by Muslims, and are geared to their needs and tastes, selling Muslim food, clothing, perfume and literature. Whites are absent, living in their own districts. When he does see them, quite often they’re simply passing through. In a pub outside Burnley he talks to a couple of White men, who tell him how their children have been bullied and beaten for being goras, the pejorative Asian term for Whites. Other Whites talk about how the local council is keen to build more mosques, but applications by White residents to put up flagpoles have been turned down because the council deems them racist. Hussain objects to these monocultures. Instead, he praises areas like the section of Edinburgh, where the Muslim community coexists with Whites and other ethnicities. There’s similar physical mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim in the Bute area of Cardiff, formerly Tiger Bay, which has historically been a multicultural cultural area. In the mosque, however, he finds yet again the ideology of cultural and religious separatism.

The Treatment of Women

He is also very much concerned about the treatment of women, and especially their vulnerability before the sharia courts that have sprung up. A few years ago there were fears of a parallel system of justice emerging, but the courts deal with domestic issues, including divorce. They have been presented as informal systems of marriage reconciliation. This would all be fine if that was all they were. But the majority of the mosques Hussain visits solely perform nikah, Muslim weddings. Under British law, all weddings, except those in an Anglican church, must also be registered with the civil authorities. These mosques don’t. As a result, wives are left at the mercy of Islamic law. These give the husband, but not the wife, the power of divorce., and custody of the children if they do. Hussain meets a battered Muslim woman, whose controlling husband nearly killed her. The case was brought before the local sharia court. The woman had to give evidence from another room, and her husband was able to defeat her request for a divorce by citing another hadith maintaining that husbands could beat their wives.

London Shias and the Procession Commemorating the Deaths of Ali, Hassan and Hussain

Hussain’s a Sunni, and most of the mosques he attends are also of that orthodox branch of Islam. In London, he attends a Shia mosque, and is shocked and horrified by the self-inflicted violence performed during their commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, was the true successor to Mohammed as the leader of the early Muslim community. He was passed over, and made a bid for the caliphate, along with his two sons, Hasan and Hussain, who were finally defeated by the Sunnis at the above battle. This is commemorated by Shias during the month of Moharram, when there are special services at the mosque and the jaloos, a commemorative procession. During the services and the processions, Shias express their grief over their founders’ martyrdom by beating their chests, matam, faces and whipping themselves. They also slash themselves with swords. All this appears to go on at the London mosque, to Hussain’s horror. He is particularly disturbed by young children beating their chests and faces in the worship the night before, and wonders how this isn’t child abuse.

Separatist Attitudes and Political Activism in Mosques

He is also concerned about the political separatism and activism he sees in some of the mosques. They don’t pray for the Queen, as Christians and Jews do, but there are prayers for the Muslim community throughout the world and funeral prayers for Morsi, the former Islamist president of Egypt. He finds mosques and Islamic charities working for Muslims abroad, and activists campaigning on behalf on Palestine, Kashmir and other embattled Muslim countries and regions, but not for wider British society. Some of the worshippers and Imams share his concern. One Muslim tells him that the problem isn’t the Syrian refugees. They are medical men and women, doctors, nurses and technicians. The problem is those asylum seekers from areas and countries which have experienced nothing but war and carnage. These immigrants have trouble adapting to peace in Britain. This leads to activism against the regimes in the countries they have fled. Afghan and Kurdish refugees are also mentioned as donning masks looking for fights. Some of the worshippers in the mosques Hussain attends had connections to ISIS. In London he recalls meeting a glum man at a mosque in 2016. The man had toured the Middle East and Muslim Britain asking for signatures in a petition against ISIS. The Middle Eastern countries had willingly given theirs. But an academic, a White convert who taught at British university, had refused. Why? He objected to the paragraph in the petition denouncing ISIS’ enslavement of Yazidi and other women. This was in the Quran, he said, and so he wouldn’t contradict it. This attitude from a British convert shocked the man, as usually objections to banning slavery come from Mauretania and Nigeria, where they are resented as western interference. And in another mosque in Bradford, he is told by the imam that he won’t allow the police to come in and talk about the grooming gangs. The gangs used drugs and alcohol, which are forbidden in Islam and so are not connected to the town’s mosques.

Islamophobia against Northern Irish Muslims

But Islam isn’t a monolith and many Muslims are far more liberal and engaged with modern western society. Going into an LGBTQ+ help centre, he’s met by a Muslim woman on the desk. This lady’s straight and married, but does not believes there’s any conflict between her faith and working for a gay organisation. And in reply to his question, she tells him that her family most certainly do know about it. He meets two female Muslim friends, who have given up wearing the hijab. One did so after travelling to Syria to study. This convinced her that it was a pre-Islamic custom, and she couldn’t find any support for it in the Quran. She also rejected it after she was told at university that it was feminist, when it wasn’t. In Belfast he visits a mosque, which, contrary to Islamic custom, is run by two women. The worship appears tolerant, with members of different Muslims sects coming peacefully together, and the values are modern. But this is an embattled community. There is considerable islamophobia in Northern Ireland, with Muslims sufferings abuse and sometimes physical assault. One Protestant preacher stirred up hate with a particularly islamophobic sermon. Many of the mosque’s congregation are converts, and they have been threatened at gun point for converting as they are seen as leaving their communities. Travelling through Protestant and Roman Catholic Belfast, Hussain notices the two communities’ support for different countries. On the Nationalist side of the peace walls are murals supporting India and Palestine. The Loyalists, on the other hand, support Israel. But back in London he encounters more, very modern liberal attitudes during a conversation with the two daughters of a Muslim women friends. They are very definitely feminists, who tell him that the problem with Islam, is, no offence, his sex. They then talk about how toxic masculinity has been a bad influence on British Islam.

Liberal Islam and the Support of the British Constitution

In his travels oop north, Hussain takes rides with Muslim taxi drivers, who are also upset at these all-Muslim communities. One driver laments how the riots of 2011 trashed White businesses, so the Whites left. In Scotland, another Muslim cabbie, a technician at the local uni, complains about Anas Sarwar, the first Muslim MP for Scotland. After he left parliament, Sarwar left to become governor of the Punjab in Pakistan. The cabbie objects to this. In his view, the man was serving just Muslims, not Scotland and all of its people. During ablutions at a mosque in Edinburgh, he meets a British army officer. The man is proud to serve with Her Majesty’s forces and the army has tried to recruit in the area. But despite their best efforts and wishes, Muslims don’t wish to join.

In London, on the other hand, he talks to a modern, liberal mullah, Imam Jalal. Jalal has studied all over the world, but came back to Britain because he was impressed with the British constitution’s enshrinement of personal liberty and free speech. He believes that the British constitution expresses the maqasid, the higher objectives Muslim scholars identified as the root of the sharia as far back al-Juwaini in the 11th century. Jalal also tells him about al-shart, a doctrine in one of the Muslim law schools that permits women to divorce their husbands. The marriage law should be reformed so that the nikah becomes legal, thus protecting Muslim wives with the force of British law. And yes, there would be an uproar if prayers for the Queen were introduced in the mosques, but it could be done. Both he and Hussain talk about how their father came to Britain in the late 50s and early 60s. They wore three-piece suits, despite the decline of the empire, were proud to be British. There was time in this country when Muslims were respected. In one factory, when a dispute broke out, the foreman would look for a Muslim because they had a reputation for honesty. The Muslim community in these years would have found the race riots and the terrorist bombings of 7/7 and the Ariana Grande concert simply unbelievable. Had someone told them that this would happen, they would have said he’d been watching too much science fiction.

Muslim Separatism and the Threat of White British Fascism

Hanging over this book is the spectre of demographic change. The Muslim population is expected to shoot up to 18 million later in the century and there is the real prospect of Britain becoming a Muslim majority country. In fact, as one of the great commenters here has pointed out, this won’t happen looking at the available data. If Scotland goes its own way, however, the proportion of Muslims in England will rise to 12 per cent, the same as France and Belgium. For Hussain, it’s not a question of how influential Islam will be in the future, but the type of Islam we will have. He is afraid of Muslim majority towns passing laws against everything the Muslim community considers forbidden. And as politicians, particularly Jeremy Corbyn and the Muslim politicos in the Labour party treat Muslims as a solid block, rather than individuals, he’s afraid that Muslim communalism and its sense of a separate identity will increase. This may also produce a corresponding response in the White, Christian-origin English and Brits. We could see the rise of nationalist, anti-Islam parties. At one point he foresees three possible futures. One is that the mosques will close the doors and Muslims will become a separate community. Another is mass deportations, including self-deportations. But there are also reasons to be optimistic. A new, British Islam is arising through all the ordinary Muslims finding ways to accommodate themselves within liberal, western society. They’re doing it quietly, unobtrusively in ordinary everyday matters, underneath all the loud shouting of the Islamists.

The Long Historical Connections between Britain and Islam

In his conclusion, Hussain points out that Islam and Britain have a long history together. Queen Elizabeth I, after her excommunication by the Pope, attempted to forge alliance with the Ottoman Sultan. She succeeded in getting a trading agreement with the Turkish empire. In the 17th century, the coffee shop was introduced to Britain by a Greek-Turk. And in the 8th century Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, used Muslim dirhams as the basis for his coinage. This had the Muslim creed in Arabic, with his head stamped in the middle of the coin. Warren Hastings, who began the British conquest of India, opened a madrassa, sitting on its governing board and setting up its syllabus. This is the same syllabus used in the narrowly religious Muslim schools, so he’s partly to blame for them. During the First World War 2.5 million Muslims from India willingly fought for Britain. Muslim countries also sheltered Jews from the horrors of Nazi persecution. He’s also impressed with the immense contribution Muslims gave to the rise of science, lamenting the superstition he sees in some Muslim communities. He really isn’t impressed by one book on sale in a Muslim bookshop by a modern author claiming to have refuted the theory that the Earth goes round the sun.

To Combat Separatism and Caliphism, Celebrate British Values of Freedom and the Rule of Law

But combatting the Muslims separatism is only one half of the solution. Muslims must have something positive in wider mainstream society that will attract them to join. For Hussain, this is patriotism. He quotes the late, right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton and the 14th century Muslim historian ibn Khaldun on patriotism and group solidarity as an inclusive force. He cites polls showing that 89 per cent of Brits are happy with their children marrying someone of a different ethnicity. And 94 per cent of Brits don’t believe British nationality is linked to whiteness. He maintains that Brits should stop apologising for the empire, as Britain hasn’t done anything worse than Russia or Turkey. He and Imam Jalal also point out that the Turkish empire also committed atrocities, but Muslims do not decry them. Rather, the case of a Turkish TV show celebrating the founder of the Turkish empire, have toured Britain and received a warm welcome at packed mosques. He points out that he and other Muslims are accepted as fellow Brits here. This is not so in other countries, like Nigeria and Turkey, where he could live for decades but wouldn’t not be accepted as a Nigerian or Turk. And we should maintain our country’s Christian, Protestant heritage because this is ultimately the source of the values that underlie British secular, liberal society.

He also identifies six key values which Britain should defend and celebrate. These are:

  1. The Rule of Law. This is based on Henry II’s synthesis of Norman law and Anglo-Saxon common law, to produce the English common law tradition, including Magna Carta. This law covers everyone, as against the sharia courts, which are the thin end of an Islamist wedge.
  2. Individual liberty. The law is the protector of individual liberty. Edward Coke, the 17th century jurist, coined the phrase ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. He also said that ‘Magna Carta is such a fellow he will have no sovereign’ It was this tradition of liberty that the Protestant emigrants took with them when they founded America.
  3. Gender equality – here he talks about a series of strong British women, including Boadicea, the suffragettes, Queen Elizabeth and, in Johnson’s opinion, Maggie Thatcher. He contrasts this with the Turkish and other Muslim empires, which have never had a female ruler.
  4. Openness and tolerance – here he talks about how Britain has sheltered refugees and important political thinkers, who’ve defended political freedoms like the Austrians Wittgenstein and Karl Popper.
  5. Uniqueness. Britain is unique. He describes how, when he was at the Council for Foreign Relations, he and his fellows saw the Arab Spring as like Britain and America. The revolutionaries were fighting for liberty and secularism. There was talk amongst the Americans of 1776. But the revolutionaries didn’t hold western liberal values.
  6. Racial Parity. Britain is not the same nation that support racists like Enoch Powell. He points to the German roots of the royal family, and that Johnson is part Turkish while members of his cabinet also come from ethnic minorities. Britain is not like France and Germany, where Muslims are seen very much as outsiders.

Whatever your party political opinions, I believe that these really are fundamental British values worth preserving. Indeed, they’re vital to our free society. On the other hand, he also celebrates Adam Smith and his theories of free trade as a great British contribution, because it allowed ordinary people and not just the mercantilist elite to get wealthy. Er, no, it doesn’t. But in a book like this you can’t expect everything.

Criticisms of Hussain’s Book

Hussain’s book caused something of a storm on the internet when it was released. The peeps on Twitter were particularly upset by the claims of Muslims bullying and violence towards Whites. There was a series of posts saying that he’d got the location wrong, and that the area in question was posh White area. In fact the book makes it clear he’s talking about a Muslim enclave. What evidently upset people was the idea that Muslims could also be racist. But some Muslims are. Way back c. 1997 Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote a report for the Committee for Racial Equality as it was then on anti-White Asian and Black hatred and violence. Racism can be found amongst people of all colours and religions, including Muslims.

People were also offended by his statement that in the future there could be mass deportations of Muslims. From the discussion about this on Twitter, you could be misled into thinking he was advocating it. But he doesn’t. He’s not Tommy Robinson or any other member of the far right. He’s horrified by this as a possibility, a terrible one he wishes to avoid. But these criticism also show he’s right about another issue: people don’t have a common language to talk about the issues and problems facing Britain and its Muslim communities. These need to be faced up to, despite the danger of accusations of racism and islamophobia. Tanjir Rashid, reviewing it for the Financial Times in July 2021, objected to the book on the grounds that Hussain’s methodology meant that he ignored other Muslim networks and had only spoken to out-of-touch mullahs. He pointed instead to an Ipsos-Mori poll showing that 88 per cent of Muslims strong identified with Britain, seven out of ten believed Islam and modern British society were compatible and only one per cent wanted separate, autonomous Muslim communities. It’s possible that if Hussain had also travelled to other towns where the Muslim population was smaller and more integrated with the non-Muslim population, he would have seen a very different Islam.

Intolerant Preaching Revealed by Channel 4 Documentary

On the other hand, the 2007 Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque, found a venomous intolerance against Christians, Jews and gays being preached in a hundred mosques. A teacher was effectively chased out of his position at a school in Batley because he dared to show his pupils the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in a class on tolerance. He is still in hiding, fearing for his life. Hussain cites government statistics that 43,000 people are under police surveillance because political extremism, 90 per cent of whom are Muslims.

These are vital questions and issues, and do need to be tackled. When I studied Islam in the 90s, I came across demands in the Muslim literature I was reading for separate Muslim communities governed by Islamic law. This was accompanied by the complaint that if this wasn’t granted, then Britain wasn’t truly multicultural. More recently I saw the same plea in a book in one of Bristol’s secondhand and remaindered bookshops, which based its argument on the British colonisation of America, in which peoples from different nationalities were encouraged to settle in English territories, keeping their languages and law. It might be that the mullahs are preaching separatism, but that hardly anybody in the Muslim community is really listening or actually want the caliphate or a hard line separate Muslim religious identity.

Conclusion

I do believe, however, that it is an important discussion of these issues and that the sections of the book, in which liberal Muslims, including Hussain himself, refute the vicious intolerance preached by the militants, are potentially very helpful. Not only could they help modern Muslims worried by such intolerant preaching and attitudes, and help them to reject and refute them, but they also show that a modern, liberal, western Islam is very possible and emerging, in contradiction to Fascists and Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson.

The Experiences of Enslaved Africans in the Past and Today

January 24, 2022

One of the extremely positive features of Sean Stillwell’s Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014) is that includes short descriptions and quotations from slaves, slavers and slave masters in Africa describing their careers and situation. There was a striking variety of slave systems in Africa. In some societies, slaves were acquired for use and soldiers and could rise to high social rank through their connections to powerful chiefs., One of these was the Sokoto royal slave Dan Rimi Nuhu. The book states

‘At the end of the nineteenth century, during a civil was in Kano (located in what is now northern Nigeria) Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, Dan Rimi Nuhu, a powerful royal slave official, soldier, and titleholder, crowned the rebel pretender, Yusufu, as emir. Nuhu had long supported Yusufu’s cause and claim. Nuhu was a well-known and powerful slave i8n the palace, but he had joined the war camp of Yusufu early on in the struggle. When Nuhu arrived on horseback, Yusufu said, “Our trip is successful, our trip is successful since Nuhu has joined us, he has joined our camp!” Thereafter, Nuhu transformed Yusufu’s military camp into the proper seat of a rival emir. He gave Yusufu the royal regalia and insisted that he follow Kano court protocol. With Nuhu’s support the rebels later took the Kano throne. Afterward, the royal slaves and their families who supported the new emir gained a substantial amount of power.’ ( pp.89-90).

Others were not so well treated.

‘Msatulwa Mwachitete grew up in Chitete, located in central East Africa, to the west of Lake Malawai, in the house of his father, who had twelve wives. Their home was attacked numerous times by Mkomas of the Inamwanga, who regularly carried off women and children into slavery after setting fire to surrounding villages. During one such attack, Msatulwa was captured, along with his mother and brother. He was taken some distance from his home and given as a slave to Mitano. Msatulwa was forced to grind corn, cut firewood, cook, hoe fields, and fetch water, but was eventually given to another person, who treated him better. In the end Msatulwa found his way home after running away.’

Horrifically, slavery isn’t a thing of the past. The Islamists that have seized power in one part of Libya after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy have reopened the slave markets, selling the Black migrants who have travelled north in the hope of reaching Europe. Slave markets have also reopened in Uganda. The book also gives the testimony of Ahok Ahok, an enslaved Dinka woman, given to Anti-Slavery International. She was captured and forced into slavery during the Sudanese civil war in the ’90s.

‘Our family was captured about six years ago [i.e., about 1994] when we were already fleeing north and had crossed into the North into Kordofan. I was captured with my son, Akai, and my two daughters, this one called Abuk … who was about eight at the time, and a younger one, about two. We were taken by a tribe called Humr [i.e. Misseriya Humr], who split the three of us up. The man who took me subsequently sold me on to some other nomads to look after cattle, for about 130 Sudanese Pounds. I had to look after their cows and spent about six years with them before I managed to escape to Makaringa village…. Meanwhile my three children had been taken by others. For six years, until I reached Makaringa village, I had no news of them. When I reached the village, my son Akai heard where I was and joined me there. He is with us at this CEAWC centre. We then contacted the Dinka Committee and they were able to find my daughter Abuk, who had been renamed Khadija. She had initially been put to work looking after livestock, but had got into trouble when some animals had escaped – she was too little to look after them. After that she was employed as a domestic servant. She hardly speaks any Dinka language now, only Arabic… I still have no news of my youngest daughter and am still hoping to find her.’ (211-2).

The book also gives the names of some of the African organisations set up to help slaves. These include Timidria in Niger, the Dinka Committee in Sudan; El Hor (Free Man), set up in the 1970s by former slaves in Mauretania; and SOS-Esclaves, set up in 1995. These organisations face continuing difficulties to fight slavery and improve conditions for former slaves, as shown by an additional piece of testimony:

‘It is uphill work…. Some of their members have been imprisoned. Seeking help through the courts is usually useless. Sharia courts maintain that slavery is legal. Since no laws have been passed, laying down penalties for enslavement or detailing the rights of slaves, other courts and local officials maintain that they have jurisdiction if slaves bring cases for custody of their children or try to establish their right to remain on the land they farm. Former owners may claim the property even of freed slaves when they die.’ (213).

These slaves are not going to get any help from the western advocates of Postcolonial and Critical Race Theory, because these disciplines are exclusively focused on White racism and the horrors of White colonialism. I’ve mentioned that feminists in India and the Middle East have been bitterly critical about the refusal of the activists and scholars supporting these forms of Critical Theory to criticise the treatment of women and LGBTQ folk in these countries. Indeed, Indian progressives have attacked these postmodern ideologies for giving support to the most reactionary elements of these societies on the grounds that, as they are part of these societies’ traditional structures and not the product of western colonialism, they are exempt from criticism. And you could see the attitude in a speech given by Barbara Barnaby, the head of the British branch of Black Lives Matter to a fringe meeting of the Labour party last summer. She criticised the resurgence of slavery in Libya, because this was a product of Blair’s colonialism. But she didn’t condemn it elsewhere in Africa, where it is the product of indigenous forces. Her demand that Britain and the other European countries was based on the abuse of the peoples of the global south during colonialism, but made no mention or criticism of the tyranny, corruption and poverty of African rulers and regimes that is behind much of the migration to Europe.

This isn’t, as Kate Maltby tried to claim in the I a few years ago, an attempt to avoid being diverted from the campaign for equality and social justice in the west into criticism and activism against non-European slavery. It is the product of a profoundly racist ideology that sees slavery and other human rights abuses as only worth fighting if they are committed by Whites.

Barnaby, Black Lives Matter and similar organisations may have the best intentions, but their exclusive focus of White racism is actively hindering real anti-racism and campaigns to eradicate modern slavery.

Rightwingers Outraged at Acquittal of the Four Who Toppled Colston’s Statue

January 7, 2022

As a Bristolian with long personal roots in the city, I feel I’ve got to tackle this. The four people responsible for pulling the down the statue of the 18th century slave trader and philanthropist in a massive Black Lives Matter protest last year were on trial for it this week. They were charged with criminal damage, and yesterday were found ‘not guilty’ by the jury. And the right has been predictably incensed. The story’s on the front page of the Daily Mail, which reports that the jury may have been placed under pressure to acquit by the defence, which urged them ‘not to be on the wrong side of history’. The prosecution is therefore planning to appeal the decision. Nigel Farage has released a video on YouTube about it. Mixed-race Tory commenter Calvin Robinson has appeared on GB News talking about it. And inevitably the Lotus Eaters have also released a video about it, with Callum and one of Sargon’s other mates expressing their poor opinion of the whole thing. The message from the right has been the same: this decision imperils every statue in Britain, because it legitimises attacks on them through an appeal to the emotions of the attacker regardless of the letter of the law. Calvin Robinson in his interview on GB News agreed with the two journalists, one Black, one White, that you had to be very careful about limiting people’s freedom of expression. However the decision to acquit was, he explained, based on a legal loophole in the criminal damage law. This permits such damage, if the property damaged or destroyed itself serves to promote a crime. The argument made by the accused in a feature about them in the Groan was that the statue constituted a hate crime against Black Bristolians. The right-wing critics of the decision have therefore argued that this makes every statue unsafe, as an emotional reason could be found for any attack on them. The person, who vandalised Churchill’s statue last year could get off because, despite defeating Fascism, Churchill was a racist and imperialist. They have also made the point that the decision also means that Conservatives also have a right to tear down Marx’s bust in London, as he was also racist and anti-Semitic, quite apart from the millions murdered under Communism. Darren Grimes, the repulsive spawn of the Guido Fawkes site, said that he could also therefore tear down the statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester.

Jury Freedom and the Historic Acquittal of Guilty Murderers

Yesterday Simon Webb of History Debunked also joined the debate, comparing the decision to the jury’s acquittal of the attackers of three policemen during a riot in 1820s London. The cops had been stabbed, and one killed, but the jury acquitted their attackers because the cops had attacked in a particularly aggressive and provocative manner. Webb stated that back in the 17th and 18th centuries judges could and did send juries back to reconsider their verdict, and even imprison them if they didn’t give the right verdict as directed. It was, of course, a great improvement to allow the juries the freedom to judge themselves rather than according to the opinion of the beak. But this did raise problems in cases like this. Indeed. Juries won the right to judge freely according to their own judgement following arguments for such free trials by the Levellers and particularly when William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania, was put on trial for preaching his radical views in Bristol. The jury repeatedly refused the judge’s order to find guilty, and were even imprisoned. They eventually won out, and the trial helped established true British justice.

Allegations of Bias against Witness David Olasuga

One of the other objections to the trial was that one of the witnesses was the historian, David Olasuga. whom the Lotus Eaters describe as a Black activist and who admitted that, had he been able, he would have joined the mob in toppling the status. There is indeed a problem with Olasuga as some of his historical interpretations are questionable. For example, he and Reni Edo-Lodge turned up in video by the Beeb laying a plaque in Liverpool to a victim of racist lynching. Except that Wootton, the lynched man, had been part of a gang of West Indians, who had launched an attack on a group of Swedes and Russians. When a cop intervened, the West Indians repeated stabbed and tried to slash his throat. They retreated to a house where someone, probably Wootton, shot three policemen, before he was chased down to the docks trying to escape. He was hardly an innocent victim. Olasuga has been one of the Black historians claiming that historically, Britain had a much larger Black community than it probably did. He claims that there were Blacks in Roman Britain. History Debunked has shown that this largely comes from one of the legions at Hadrian’s Wall coming from the Roman province of Mauretania. This has been confused with the present day country in West Africa. However, the Roman province of Mauretania was further north in Morocco. I think there are perfectly reasonable questions of bias in Olasuga’s testimony.

Political Bias in Prosecution of Vandals

And then have come the various commenters sneering and deriding Bristol. I’ve seen the usual rants about how it’s a ‘Communist’ or ‘left-wing’ shithole; it’s a lefty university town, and as terrible as Liverpool or London. Rather more interesting was one comment from a working class Bristolian, who had been having a meal at a cafe in the city, whose customers were largely Black West Indians. These people had all been solidly against the decision. I can well believe it. I don’t think the Black community Bristol or elsewhere in our great nation is a monolithic bloc. Just like other racial groups, like Whites, Asians or Jews aren’t either. As for the four defendants, they were White middle class liberal kids, who most likely didn’t come from Bristol. There was also speculation about what would happen if someone vandalised a statue to a Black personality, like Nelson Mandela. Would this be treated the same way? Not if the example of the vandalism done to a mural of Marcus Rashford was an example. Although the messages sprayed on it weren’t racist, it was nevertheless treated as a racist hate crime. Actually, you don’t have to look that far for a similar example. After Colston’s statue was torn down, a bust in one of Bristol’s parks of a Black writer and dramatist was vandalised and the cops were after those responsible.

Some Black Bristolians Genuinely Upset at Statue

As for the feelings of fear or outrage that the defendants claimed justified the attack, the Black interviewer on GB News and Robinson both questioned whether Black people are so emotional fragile that they would be upset simply walking past Colston’s statue. Some may well not be, but others definitely were. Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy elected mayor, head of equalities and city councillor for St. George’s, was on Radio 4 last year giving her opinion about the statue and Bristol’s historic connection to the slave trade. The programme also talked to others about it, including one ordinary Black woman. She said that she felt physically sick having to walk past it on the way to work every morning. I understand and sympathise. I think her example was far better and more persuasive than the various political activists angrily demanding that it should be torn down. It was the voice of an ordinary, working-class woman, about how the statue affected her.

Arguments for the Preservation of the Statue

It also has to be stated that Black Lives Matter’s attack was deliberately against the wishes of Bristolians themselves. There had been several polls in the past about whether the statue should be taken down or not. The majority of people voted against it. Paul Stephenson, one of the organisers of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s against the bus company’s refusal to employ Blacks, gave his opinion on the issue in an interview with Philippa Gregory in the 1990s. Gregory had just had her novel, A Respectable Trade, about the Bristol slave trade adapted for television and there was an exhibition about the city and slavery then at the City Museum and Art Gallery. It has since been moved and is now on display, sans title, at the city’s excellent M Shed Museum. Stephenson has something of a mixed reputation. To some he’s a respected civil rights activists, while others regard him more a deliberate troublemaker. He declared to Gregory that Colston was a bloody mass murderer responsible for a ‘Holocaust in Africa’. This follows the statement of W.E.B. DuBois, the pioneering American Black rights activist, that slavery and the slave trade were a Black Holocaust. It sounds like hyperbole, a deliberately emotional exaggeration, but I believe it’s based on the accounts of 19th century anti-slavery activists about the fierce tribal violence generated by the slave trade, and the devastation of whole regions as a result. But Stephenson also said that he didn’t think the statue should be torn down. He believed it should remain standing with an additional note to remind people of his crimes. A similar argument was made by the Lotus Eaters, who felt that statues should be left standing, even though they may be to terrible people, because they’re history. And we need to learn from history if we are to move on.

It’s a perfectly good argument, and one advanced in the ’90s by radical anarchist band The Levellers. They took their name from the radical, proto-democrat, proto-socialist sect during the British Civil War. They also believed in ‘Godly reformation’ and so, along with the other merchandising at their concerts were copies of the Bible and Christopher Hill’s Marxist study of the British Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down. I particularly remember one of their songs that had the lines ‘I believe in justice, I believe in vengeance, I believe in getting the bastard’. But they also released a song protesting about the decision by Manchester’s Labour council to rename the town’s historic Free Trade Hall. They objected to it because it was the destruction of history and an attempt to rewrite the past. It’s strange and rather disconcerting that they should have the same view on this issue from a libertarian left perspective, as the Tories.

Lastly, it needs to be remembered that Colston was not honoured for enslaving Blacks. The statue was put up long after that was over. Rather it was because he was a great philanthropist, who gave much of his fortune away in charity. There were schools named after him and funded by his largesse. My old school used to celebrate Colston Day in his honour, when the children were given a few days off. A few were specially honoured and went to a special service at Redcliffe Church, where they were given a Colston bun.

Bristol Great City

Now for a few remarks on the decision and the views of the various right-winger, who have sounded off about it. Firstly, Bristol isn’t a shithole. It’s a large, great city with a proud history of trade, exploration, industry and invention with excellent museums and theatres. The Bristol Old Vic and its theatre school have a particularly excellent reputation and have produced some of the country’s great thesps. It has it’s problems. I believe that the Bristol’s Black community is one of the three largest in the country, along with Birmingham and London. It has its problems with marginalisation, lack of educational achievement, unemployment, drugs and violent crime, though this is by no means confined simply to Blacks. But it’s not particularly left-wing. Some areas, like Stokes Croft, have a reputation for radical politics. I’ve heard local people refer to it as ‘the people’s republic of Stokes Croft’. Other areas are Conservative, and all the shades of political opinion in between.

Academic Freedom and Marxist Indoctrination at Universities

As for the universities, the comment blaming them for the decision comes from the standard right-wing attitude that the unis are full of Marxists indoctrinating students. In fact, universities, courses and individual lecturers vary immensely. Some universities had a reputation, even in my day, for being hotbeds of left-wing activism, others were more Conservative. It also varies with the course you’re on. There hasn’t, traditionally, been much opportunity for far left-wing indoctrination in maths, science, medicine and engineering courses because of the nature of those subjects. Although it’s creeping in now in the form of ethnomathematics and the demands that the achievements of Black scientists and mathematicians should be particularly taught, it’s mostly been confined to the humanities. There have always been Marxist historians. These include the very well respected Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Saunders, and there is a specific Marxist view of history. You are taught about this on the historiography courses in history at University, along with other forms of history, such as women’s history, social history, what Butterfield called the ‘Whig view of history’ and more conservative and Conservative views. I’ve been taught by lecturers with feminist or left-wing views. I’ve also been taught by people with far more traditional views. I also know lecturer who determined to keep their political views out of the classroom. University is supposed to be a place of free speech and debate, and it’s important that this is maintained. Students should be encouraged to read sources and the historical literature critically, and make up their own views. This means an engagement with Marxism as well as other ideologies. I think Bristol university has particularly come under fire because it’s rather more conservative and traditional compared to the newer universities. It received funding from the Colston charities when it was established early in the last century. Hence I believe the granting of a chair in the history of slavery to a Black woman. It also has relatively few Black students, which contrasts with the population of the city as a whole. This is partly because it has very high standards, and as a rule Blacks generally have poorer grades than other racial groups. It is also no doubt because when I was young, going away was seen as part of university education and so you were discouraged from applying to the local university. Hence the university is now trying to give greater opportunities to study to more Blacks and ethnic minorities.

Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and the Marxist Attack on Western Culture

Now I largely agree that the acquittal of the four defendants has set a dangerous precedent because it allows people to attack public monuments they dislike or which are controversial. James Lindsay, one of the group with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose that has attacked postmodernist Critical Theory, has argued that ideologies like Queer Theory and Critical Race Theory are deliberate attacks on traditional western culture and Enlightenment values. They are aimed at destroying the past to create a Marxist future, just as Chairman Mao did during the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. One of the ancient monuments the Red cadres smashed as part of the campaign against the ‘Four Olds’ was the tomb of Confucius! This sounds like an idea straight out of loony right-wing paranoids and conspiracists like Alex Jones and the John Birch Society, until he backs it up by reading chapter and verse from the founders of such postmodernist Marxism, like Marcuse, Horkheimer and others. And yes, I can quite believe that vandalism to a monument to a Black politico or celebrity, like Nelson Mandela, would be treated far differently and as a terrible hate crime than the attack on Colston.

But regardless of the defence’s plea to the jury to ‘be on the right side of history’, I think there would always have been pressure on the jury to acquit. Colston was a slave trader and had been controversial for decades. They naturally wouldn’t have wanted to acquit people who attacked a monument on that score, rather than the philanthropy the statue commemorated. And the defendants make a good point when they say that ‘he no longer speaks for Bristol’. There were others in the city who opposed the slave trade. As well as the slavers and the West Indian planters, Bristol also had a large abolitionist movement. If you go a little way from the centre of Bristol into Redcliffe, you’ll find the Georgian church where Jeremiah Clarkson, one of the leading 18th century abolitionists, collected the testimony of Bristol’s slavers as part of his evidence against the trade.

Other Statues Not Vandalised

As for other statues, none of those in the surrounding area were touched. Not the statue to Edmund Burke, the politician and founder of modern Conservatism through his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Lotus Eaters are offering it, or reading through it, as their ‘book of the month’. I wonder if they’ll mention that Burke’s statue was signally left untouched by the rioters. As was the statue of a monk in Lewin’s Mead, which had before the Reformation been a monastic complex. They also failed to destroy the statue of Neptune and a sailor on the docks. Queen Victoria was left untouched on nearby College Green. They also didn’t destroy the statue of John Cabot outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’ and the Central Library. This was despite various ‘spokesmen’ for the Black community claiming that the City’s celebration of his discovery of Newfoundland and America, following Columbus, was a celebration of slavery. There may well be similar defences used on similar attacks on other statues, but I think such attacks will be far more difficult to defend. Churchill was indeed a racist and an imperialist, as well as personally responsible for sending troops to gun down striking miners in Wales. But to the vast majority of severely normal Brits he was also the man, who helped save Europe and the world from Nazism and the Axis. And that would also count powerfully in the case against anyone who vandalised his monument.

Historians also Successfully Defend Controversial Statues

As for testimony from historians, this can work against the iconoclasts. The BLM fanatics trying to get the statue of Cecil Rhodes torn down at Oxford university claimed that he was somehow ‘South Africa’s Adolf Hitler’. Now Rhodes was a grotty character and an imperialist, but this goes too far. Rhodes’ biographer tackled this claim on social media, at which the BLM protesters making it went quiet. They couldn’t refute it, and so went silent.

I therefore do not feel that other statues are necessarily in a greater danger than previously because of the acquittal.

Then there’s the question of any possible statue to replace it. There are rumours that it could be a Black person. Well, if there is, it should be of a Black person, who actually had contact and lived in the city. One of Bristol’s sporting heroes way back was a Black boxer. One of my aunts was friends with his daughter. I’d say this gentleman would be a good candidate for such a statue, because as a sports hero he united everyone from left and right, as well as being a citizen of Bristol.

Nigel Farage has suggested a memorial to the British navy. Absolutely. The British West India squadron did excellent work patrolling the seas for slavers. And they were by no means all racist. Captain Denman, giving evidence on a massacre of 300 unsold slaves by one of the West African slaving states to parliament, made the point that ‘it is remarkable given the advances they have made in the arts of civilisation’. He clearly believe European civilisation was superior, but had been particularly shocked because the African peoples responsible for the massacre were also comparatively civilised. Africans serving or aiding the British navy were also given the compensation payments awarded to British tars when they suffered injury and loss of limbs.

We also patrolled the waters between east Africa and India to stop western and Arab slavers, and one antipodean historian has written that in the Pacific, the royal navy was the chief protector of its indigenous peoples against enslavement.

It also needs to be remembered that one of the reasons for the British invasion of Africa was to stamp out slavery and the slave trade. I’ve no doubt that the main, if not the real reasons were simple hunger for territory and resources, and to stop those areas falling into the hands of our European imperial rivals – France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. But some of the officer involved took their duty extremely serious, such as Samuel Baker and Gordon of Khartoum. The Mahdi, against whom Gordon fought, and his followers were slavers outraged at the British government’s ban on it and the enslavement of Black Sudanese. There are therefore excellent reasons for putting up a memorial to the British navy and armed forces.

And I would also support a statue to Jeremiah Clarkson for his work in the city bringing the horrors of the trade to light.

In the meantime, despite the right-wing outrage at this act of vandalism, I think we should view the attack on Colston’s statue as a special case.

Claims of a general threat to British history because of it may well be exaggerated.

Paul Joseph Watson on Alex Scott’s Devastating Discovery of a Black Slave-Owning Ancestor

October 20, 2021

Paul Joseph Watson is another right-wing YouTube personality like Sargon. He used to be Alex Jones’ British sidekick on InfoWars on the other side of the pond. And like Sargon, he contributed to the destruction of UKIP by joining it. So, I make the same caveats and warning about his content as I do about Sargon’s. However, like Sargon and the ghastly Lotus Eaters, he also makes very good points occasionally. In this video he discusses the shock Alex Scott had on the genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, when she discovered that one of her Jamaican ancestors, Robert Francis Combs, owned slaves in the 1820s. Scott is a Black woman, who was brought in as part of the Beeb’s diversity campaign to replace Dan Walker on Football Focus. Her ancestor was Jamaican, and I at first thought that he might have been a White planter, as many of them had children through their Black mistresses. But this was not so. Combes was Black. Scott was assured by an historian present that this actually wasn’t uncommon. Paul Joseph Watson goes on to make the point that slavery was found all over the world, and that it was Africans who sold the slaves to us. At the same time the Barbary pirates from North Africa raided Europe as far as Iceland for slaves. He asks why this isn’t taught in schools, and complains that only Whites are taught to feel shame about their ancestor’s past involvement in slavery.

Watson is exactly right. One of the problems faced by the Abolitionists was that slavery was found all over the world. In America and the Caribbean, free Blacks and those of mixed race often did own slaves. Black slave owners also received compensation for the emancipation of their slaves by the British government on abolition in 1837. One of the documents I looked at when I was working on the slavery archive at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum contained a list of Maroons – the descendants of the runaway slaves, who succeeded in establishing free Black towns in the Jamaican interior – who owned slaves, with the recommendation that they should also receive compensation. Watson also points out in the video that so great was the involvement of indigenous African chiefs in the enslavement of other Africans, that it’s become a major issue in Nigeria with commenters stating that they can now no longer blame the Whites.

However, it does seem that Black involvement in the slave trade is being deliberately played down because of current racial politics. It is held that there is a direct line from slavery to the current underprivileged condition of much of the western Black population. This is true, but it’s also an oversimplification as it assumes that slavery is only something Whites did to Blacks. Real, undisguised chattel slavery has returned to Africa, apart from areas like Mauretania where it’s never gone away. The Islamists in Libya have opened slave markets there, and there are also markets selling slaves in Uganda. But anti-racist activists really don’t want to discuss this issues because, as I columnist Kate Maltby wrote, it is diversion from the main issue of tackling western racism and inequality.

But this issue has to be tackled, even if it complicates matters particularly when it comes to reparations for slavery. I’ve pointed out how the motion passed by Bristol council calling for reparations for all ‘Afrikans’ is actually unfair, because of the complicity of many African peoples in the slave trade. And Critical Race Theory and other forms of extreme anti-racist ideologies are also unjust for precisely the reason Watson points out. They do demand that Whites feel guilty for slavery while ignoring others’ involvement.

I have every sympathy for Scott. It was a terrible shock to her as a woman of colour, and she is not responsible for whatever her ancestors did. But neither are contemporary Whites.

This is why we need to be properly informed and educated about historical slavery, rather than accept the received, simplified view devised by well-meaning anti-racists.

Beeb’s ‘Horrible Histories’ Pushing Myths and Falsehoods as Black History

May 7, 2021

One of the major aims of the ‘History Debunked’ YouTube channel is attacking the myths and sometimes deliberate lies, which try to present past British society as far more ethnically diverse and multiracial than it really was. This is being done in order to create an image of the past that fits and reflects today’s racially diverse society. Although undoubtedly well meant, it is a fabrication. Simon Webb, the YouTuber behind the channel, is a Telegraph-reading Conservative, but I don’t think he can be fairly accused of racism. He’s a published author, who does know his history and the reality behind the falsehoods he tries to debunk.

On Tuesday he put up a video attacking the latest editions of the Beeb’s Horrible Histories programme. This is a children’s history programme based on a series of best selling books. This is intended to present history in a fun way with much comedy, though Webb, with rather more serious tastes, decries it as slap-dash and inaccurate. A recent edition of the programme was on Black British history, and was simply full of myths and falsehoods presented as solid, historical fact. So much so, that Webb said he couldn’t go through all of them, and described the programme as propaganda aimed at children. So he confined himself with a couple of the more egregious.

The programme began with the Empire Windrush and the statement that its passengers had been invited to England to help with reconstruction after the War. This is a myth that’s been promoted by a number of people, including Diane Abbott. The truth is that Blacks weren’t invited to Britain by anyone and definitely not the British government. They were appalled at the immigrants’ arrival because they didn’t have anywhere to accommodate them. Webb states that some ended up living in air raid shelters because of the lack of proper housing. The truth is that the Empire Windrush was a troop ship that was returning to Britain from South America. There was hardly anyone on board, so the captain decided to open it up to paying passengers to reduce costs. The adverts for places aboard the ship in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner simply gives the prices of the various classes of accommodation. There is no mention of work in Britain. As for the motives of the people, who took passage aboard the ship, the Sheffield Daily News in Britain reported the comments of a Jamaican businessman, Floyd Rainer, who said that the immigrants had come to Britain because they were dissatisfied with pay and conditions in the Caribbean. They were seeking better opportunities for themselves, not to help Britain.

The programme then followed this with an item about Black Roman soldiers at Hadrian’s Wall. These were Moors from the Roman province of Mauretania. However, Mauretania was in North Africa, in what is now Morocco and Algeria. It was a province settled by Carthaginians, who were Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon, and the Berbers. Although comparatively dark-skinned, they had Mediterranean complexions, and were not Blacks from the modern West African country of Mauretania, has an American website claims.

It then went on to St. Adrian of Canterbury, who it was claimed was also Black. But he came from what is now Libya in north Africa, and so wouldn’t have been a Black African. However, the programme stated that he was an African, and left the viewer to imagine that he would therefore have been Black.

Mary Seacole was also shown tending British soldiers in a hospital during the Crimean War, which is also a myth. She set up a bar and restaurant and never did any actual nursing. It also showed Cheddar Man as Black. This is based on a reconstruction that was widely covered in the press at the time. However, Webb has done a previous video about it and similar reconstructions showing how flawed they are. In the case of Cheddar Man, the scientists behind the announcement that he was Black actually retracted this in a piece published in New Scientist. No-one really knows what colour people’s skins were 10,000 years ago.

I think the BBC actually means well with all this, and its presenters and compilers probably don’t think that they’re falsifying history. I’m sure they genuinely believe that they’re uncovering previously hidden aspects of the British past. I think projecting the presence of Black people back into the past is part of an attempt to deal with the continuing racist attitude towards Black and Asian Brits that still sees them as foreign, even though they have now been here for three generations. And a smaller number will have been here for much longer.

But I also think that the Beeb is also prepared to falsify history in this direction as well simply to make a programme. Back around 2003/4 the Beeb screened a series about the way modern artists and musicians were taking inspiration from the Psalms of the Bible. In one edition, feminist icon Germaine Greer went to Jamaica to meet the Rastafarian musicians, who sang the Psalms in the origin Amharic, according to the Radio Times.

Historically, this is nonsense. The Psalms were originally written, like almost all of the Tanakh, the Christian Old Testament, in Hebrew. Hence its alternative name of Hebrew Bible. It very definitely wasn’t written in Amharic, which is the modern Ethiopian language of the Amhara people. But Rastafarianism is based on the worship of Haile Selassie, the late emperor of Ethiopia, as the Lion of Judah and Black messiah. Hence, presumably, the insistence that the Psalms were written in Amharic. It seems to me that the Beeb obtained the cooperation of the Rastafarian musos for the programme on the understanding that the programme would be presented from their theological point of view. If they contradicted the assertion that the Psalms were written in Amharic, a language that didn’t exist when the Psalms were actually composed, then no programme. And so the Beeb and the Radio Times published this piece of historical nonsense.

I think a similar process may also be working behind the Horrible Histories and similar programmes present long held myths as facts about the Black past. I don’t know, but I think some of them might be made in collaboration with Black groups and individuals, who passionately believe these falsehood. The Beeb wants to make these programmes and include the views of Blacks themselves. These individuals insist on the inclusion of these myths, which the Beeb won’t challenge because its researchers don’t know that their myths, and the organisation is afraid of these organisations denouncing them as racists if they ignore these long-held Black views.

There are some excellent books and materials on Black British history out there. Three I’ve come across are Gretchen Herzen’s Black England – Life Before Emancipation, the collection Under the Imperial Carpet – Essays in Black History, edited by Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, and Our Children Free and Happy – Letters from Black Settlers in Africa, edited by Christopher Fyfe and published by Edinburgh University press. But there is an awful lot of myth and falsehoods as well.

However well meant, these need to be rejected as falsehoods, even if they’re told as truth by the Beeb.

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

August 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Not Hate on Government Blocking of Anti-Slavery Legislation

March 25, 2015

The anti-racist, anti-Fascist and anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate, has this important piece about the Coalition’s stance on migrant slavery in the UK today, Which side of history will Britain be on slavery? Today is the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but the article also reminds us that there are 36 million people in slavery around the world today, including, odiously, 13,000 migrant servants living here in the UK.

The article discusses how the Coalition voted out the Lords’ amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill. These included the rights for migrant domestic workers to leave the employers. Four years ago this same coalition refused to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention, which would also have allowed migrant servants to leave their employers. Karen Bradey, the government’s minister for modern slavery and organised crime last week again refused appeals for the government to ratify it.

Last year, Hope Not Hate, Justice 4 Domestic Workers, KALAYAAN, and UNITE the Union handed in a petition and postcards to David Cameron requesting him to end the slavery of domestic migrant workers in Britain. He has not done so.

The article concludes with the following appeal:

16,000 people are now asking for justice to be done and for parliament to bring back HOPE for domestic workers turned modern day slaves in the UK.

Today, the Modern Slavery Bill bounces back to the Lords for consideration of Commons’ unforgivable changes. If not today, on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery, then when will this government decide to be on the right side of history and put their deeds where their words are?

Please take to social media and remind Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of both houses that you would not want to be #ChainedToYourBoss and thus help migrant domestic workers in the UK regain their freedom and HOPE.

The article can be read at: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/nick/which-side-of-history-will-britain-be-on-slavery-4343.

This is a vitally important issue. The commemoration of slavery and the slave trade is a contentious and controversial topic. It is one that has strongly demanded by Black and civil rights activists, who were horrified and disgusted by what they saw as the British’ failure to confront this aspect of the country’s past. Many towns have organised displays and exhibitions charting their involvement in the slave trade. Liverpool Museum had a gallery devoted to it, and in 1995 Bristol Museum held an exhibition, A Respectable Trade, about Bristol’s participation. It took it’s name partly from the title of a book by the writer of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory, then being shown as a Sunday night drama series on the Beeb. Other countries apart from Britain have also put own their own slavery exhibitions. Nantes in Britanny also put on an exhibition on their part in the French slave trade, called ‘L’Annees du Memoire’.

The problem of slavery in the modern world was also the subject of a book published in the 1990s, Disposable People. This covered the various types of bondage across the world, from Brazil, Mauretania in Africa, the logging camps and mining towns in Thailand and south-east Asia, and Arab countries. The author pointed out that slavery was often disguised as long-term indentured contracts. Those caught in it including labourers, miners, loggers and prostitutes. The book was called ‘Disposable People’, because that was the attitude of the slavers to the people they owned and exploited. They were there to be used, and then discarded without a qualm when they had no further use for them. And their lives are very, very cheap. There are sections in the book where you need a very strong stomach.

And slavery has crept back into Europe through legislation that binds domestic workers – servants – to their masters when they come to Britain. Under this legislation, the servants come under their masters’ passports, and thus are bound to them. As a result, thousands of domestic servants have found themselves kept as virtual slaves by their employers. They have no rights or control over their conditions, and may be beaten and abused as their masters please. The book describes the cases of a number of migrant domestic workers, who found themselves forced into slavery through this system in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, giving the estimated number of slaves thus kept in Paris.

William Wilberforce, the 18th century campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, is something of a cause celebre amongst some Tories. He was an evangelical Christian, whose great faith moved him to campaign tireless against the brutalisation and exploitation of African slaves. He was also a High Tory, who believed in laissez faire capitalism. He thus appealed to them as an example of Conservative humanitarianism. One of the former members of John Major’s cabinet wrote a biography of Wilberforce a few years ago, though I can’t remember which one.

The Coalition’s stance on outlawing modern slavery in the UK shows just how far their sympathies with Wilberforce’s campaign really extend: not very. And the rise in the numbers of people enslaved around the world is alarming. When Disposable People was written, there was an estimated 20 million people in slavery. According to the Hope Not Hate article, it’s now risen to 36 million. Previous works on slavery in the modern world, while not being complacent, had considered that it was gradually dying out. One of the presidents of Nigeria, according to one book I read, had a particular type of facial scarring that in tradition Nigerian society indicated slave status. Similarly, the hereditary slaves in traditional forms of bondage, such as in Mauretania, were likely to be the best treated and valued, compared to the labourers trapped in more modern forms. It’s revolting and horrifying that slavery has returned, including the sale of women and girls for sex slavery by the jihadis of ISIS.

It’s clearly going to be a long time, and require a great deal of international effort, before slavery is ever truly eradicated and all of Earth’s people can stand together as free men and women. There’s only so much that can be done by one country. But Britain can start by breaking the chains of migrant domestic workers. They can and should be allowed to leave abusive masters.

Karen Bradey, the minister, who turned down this legislation on behalf of Cameron and Clegg’s government, used to be one of Sir Alan Sugar’s two supervising minions on The Apprentice. She made a speech a little while ago talking about the struggle women have to be taken seriously in business. She’s right, but her speech was a bit rich coming from her. She started her career working for the porn and press baron, and former owner of Channel 5, Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond. Clearly her demand for respect for women in business doesn’t extend to those further down the scale, and their male colleagues, who wish to escape abuse.