Archive for the ‘Morrocco’ Category

A History of Racism in the Islamic Middle East

May 27, 2022

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

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

Arab Ethnic Identity Before Colour Prejudice

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

Development of Anti-Black Prejudice

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

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

Islamic Slavery and Slave Armies

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

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

The Myth of Muslim Non-Racism

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

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

Race and Slavery Compared with Brown’s Slavery & Islam

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

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

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

Importance of the Book for an Examination of Contemporary Racial Politics

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

No! The Pakistani Grooming Gangs Have Nothing to Do with Traditional Islamic Sex-Slavery

March 26, 2022

Okay, I’ll admit it. One of the reasons I bought Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam was to see if there was any truth in the allegation by Tommy Robinson, the EDL and related anti-Islam groups that the Pakistani grooming gangs based their abuse in Islamic sex slavery. And reading his book, it seems very strongly that the answer it ‘no’.

Part of their argument comes from the revival of slave-concubinage by ISIS in the sale of the Yezidi women and girls in Iraq as sex slaves. But this also shocked the Muslim world. Islamic abolitionism began in the 19th century. It was prompted by the abolitionist movement in Christian Europe and America, but was no less sincere for that. Muslim abolitionists have demanded the abolition of slaves for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was simple political expediency, for others it was a genuine revulsion at forced servitude. For these Muslims took their cue from the sharia’s assumption that slavery is humanity’s default state, as Adam and Eve were both free. Again, similar views were held by Christians in Europe, such as the Lollards in the 15th century. ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’, for example. While the Quran and the sharia permits slavery, it is heavily regulated. Muslim abolitionists and anti-slavery activists see this as looking forward to final extinction of slavery and the condition when everyone shall be free. ISIS caused widespread outrage amongst nearly all Muslims because it was particularly extreme. It went much further in its reactionary attitudes than al-Qaeda. Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t already Salafists interested in enslaving infidel women. During the war in Bosnia a number of foreign Muslims wishing to fight to the defend the Muslims there inquired of a Saudi salafist preacher if they could enslave Serb women for concubines. He told them ‘no’, for the simple reason that it would make Islam look bad. This is feeble and nasty, but it’s something, I suppose. It shows that the Salafists wanted to revive sex slavery before ISIS, but they were very much a minority.

Brown states that slave-concubinage was very common in Islam. The mothers of the sultans and rulers of many Islamic states were slave concubines, and these could wield great power. Some of these women were highly educated and powerful, endowing grand mosques and other civic buildings. During the 17th century the Turkish empire entered a period of decadence, called by Turkish historians the ‘Sultanate of Women’ as the various slave-concubines vied with each other to promote their sons and rule through them.

Brown admits that the status and treatment of slave concubines could vary enormously. Some were beloved partners, mourned bitterly on their deaths by their husbands. Some could be highly educated in the arts and sciences, and the slave-concubines of the elite often felt that they had the same rights as free wives. There were also laws protecting them. A slave-concubine who became pregnant with her master’s child could not be sold, the child was free under Islamic law and the slave-concubine was manumitted after her master’s death. Other slave-concubines were treated much worse, but it does seem that they could invoke the law to protect them. Brown cites one case where slave-woman prosecuted her master because he had forced her to have sex with him and his brother. She had become pregnant and they had beaten her to abort the child. The qadi ruled in her favour. This is like the grooming gangs and they way they exploited their White female victims, including getting them pregnant and forcing them to have abortions. Rather than rooted in Islam, however, it just seems a product of ordinary, banal human evil, of a type that many Muslims, even in the Middle Ages, found abhorrent.

Brown also mentions a case from 13th century Damascus when a singing-girl sued her master for trying to force her into prostitution. Again the judge ruled in her favour, and demanded that she be sold. I realise that these are individual cases, and we don’t know how many other cases there were where women were successfully exploited, especially over such a wide cultural area. But it does show that at least in certain times and places slave women could invoke legal protection against such exploitation.

As for the grooming gangs themselves, they started their predation before the emergence of ISIS and were not practicing Muslims. They didn’t attend their local mosques, and I don’t think they prayed or read the Quran. This was recognised by one of the intellectuals in the EDL, who recommended instead that anti-Muslim activists should look instead to explanations in the ‘islamicate’, the underlying systems of attitudes, customs and values that guide everyday Muslim life but aren’t a formal part of the religion.

I think the motives behind the grooming gangs were racist as well as sexual, and they certainly have parallels to slavery, but it’s the exploitation of enslaved Black women by their master on the plantations in North and South America, rather than the Islamic world. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, when she was still worth reading, wrote a report for the Committee for Racial Equality in the 990s noting that a bitter anti-White racism existed in some parts of the Black and Asian communities. She was also appalled at the way Asians looked down on White women and the sexual freedom they enjoyed as immoral. She was not alone. One of the sketches on the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, was a skit of the Country and Western song, ’30 Ways to Leave Your Lover’. This was about the stifling relationship Asian men could have with their mothers, titled ’30 Ways to Leave Your Mother’. Sung by Sanjeev Bhaskar, one of the lines was ‘She says that White girl’s just a whore’. Similar attitudes to western White women were recorded in the chapter on a Moroccan immigrant worker in the Netherlands in the book Struggle and Survival in the Middle East. The victims of the Pakistani grooming gangs were racially as well as sexually abused, and it looks like it came from a racist attitude towards the gora, a derogatory Asian terms for Whites, rather than anything in formal Islam.

And the parallels with the sexual exploitation of Black women in plantation slavery are very strong. The planters exploited their slaves because they were in their power, and could do as they liked. Western paedophiles have also exploited children in care homes, because they’re particularly vulnerable, sometimes sending them out to service their friends or political connections. But this was also opposite to the sexual restraint and high standards of chastity and purity required in relationships with respectable White women. While I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I found a fascinating book on Brazilian slavery and racial attitudes by a Brazilian anthropologist. He noted that in traditional White Portuguese Brazilian culture sexual attitudes were extremely puritanical. Sex was supposed to be between husband and wife and solely for procreation. And you definitely weren’t supposed to enjoy it. There was a type of counterpane that was supposed to be placed between husband and wife, with a hole in it to allow them to do the deed, but not get any pleasure from it. Faced with these restrictions, the planters turned instead to exploiting their slaves for sex.

I got the impression that sexual attitudes amongst the Asian community in Britain are similarly puritanical. Sex is supposed to occur solely in marriage, which is frequently arranged. There have been honour killing of women for defying their families’ demands regarding marriage partners or for pursuing western-style relationships with people outside their religion. Like Whites or Hindus. In this situation, it does not seem remotely surprising to me that some Asians see White girls and women as suitable targets for sexual abuse and exploitation. After all, White women are all whores anyway and they deserve it. The same attitudes that motivated White planter to abuse enslaved Black women, because Blacks are racially inferior and highly sexed.

The grooming gangs therefore aren’t a product of Islam, except perhaps in the most general way as the product of Pakistani sexual puritanism and anti-White racism. But what annoys me about the scandal is not only that it was known about and covered up for 20 years or more, but that the authorities and the left are still trying to deny that anti-White racism played a part. This seems partly a fear of provoking anti-Asian racism among Whites in turn. Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video about a report on the grooming gangs, which didn’t once mention what race or ethnicity they belonged to. This is wrong. All racism has to be seen as equally poisonous, whether it’s White, Black, Asian or whatever.

If White silence against anti-Black racism is violence, then so is silence when it comes to the racist abuse of Whites. And the left should be tackling that as well, rather than leave it to be exploited by the likes of Tommy Robinson.

Do Immigrants Come Here to Sponge Off the Welfare State? Or Simply Looking for Work and Opportunities?

March 22, 2022

This is a response to a video posted up today on YouTube by Simon Webb of History Debunked. I’ve posted up a number of his videos because I think he does have a point when it comes to some of the bad history, if not plain myths and fabrications that are being retailed as sound, authoritative Black History. I’ve been criticised for some of this by some of great commenters on this channel, who take issue with some of his views and believe he had an agenda. And they’re right. Webb is a right-wing, Telegraph-reading Tory, some of whose views are deeply suspect if not actually abhorrent. He believes in the ‘Bell Curve’ nonsense that says that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites, who are in turn inferior to Asians. Interestingly, the American Conservative Thomas Sowell, who is no supporter of affirmative action programmes, consigns that one to the bin in a video about the myths surround Black education. This states that the fall in Black scholastic achievement has been so sudden that even the writer of the Bell Curve said it could not be explained by genetic factors. He also put up a video stating he didn’t want a wave of eastern European refugees coming to this country, and has posted pieces about the deportation of immigrants and defending Enoch Powell. Today he posted a video discussing Milton Friedman’s pronouncement that you couldn’t have unlimited immigration and a welfare state.

Yeah, that Milton Friedman. The Chicago economist who believed in absolute free markets and wanted to privatise everything and end the welfare state. The man who supported General Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, because the Fascist butcher was a follower of his wretched economic doctrines. The man who supported Fascist coups, because the masses were so much in favour of the welfare state that they would never vote into power politicians who would destroy them. The Milton Friedman who cursed the world with Monetarism before that spectacularly showed itself to be a colossal failure in the late 1980s-early ’90s. I see absolutely no reason why any sensible or decent person should take Friedman and his views at all seriously.

Webb seems to believe that the welfare state is under pressure because of continued mass immigration. This brings to this country waves of the global poor, who must be fed, clothed and housed with the resources of the welfare state. But people cannot afford to pay the additional taxes required to fund this, hence the welfare state and the NHS are under considerable pressure and near collapse.

Now he’s right in that very many immigrants to this country are extremely poor, especially those from outside Europe. Hence the demands for specific policies and welfare expenditure for Blacks and ethnic minorities. But his video seems to assume that extra-European immigrants really come here to sponge off the welfare state. That’s certainly the impression you get from the Tory propaganda regurgitated by the right-wing press. But is it true?

I honestly don’t think so. In fact the reality may be the complete opposite. I don’t believe that all of the immigrants arriving here are simply refugees seeking asylum. But I don’t think they’re here to sponge off the welfare state either. I think many come here seeking better opportunities and jobs. Years ago I tried doing a postgraduate degree on Islam in Britain. I had to give it up, but not before I’d done some reading about Islam, history and immigration. One of the books I bought was a series of potted biographies of people from the Middle East from the early 19th century to the present day, their lives illustrating the wider history, conflicts and issues affecting the region and its peoples. One of these was of a Moroccan immigrant to the Netherlands. This man had immigrated to Europe simply looking for work. There wasn’t any available in his native country. The immensely profitable fig groves were all owned by wealthy and powerful landowners, who kept outsiders out. There were also little jobs in manufacturing, as Moroccans preferred to buy foreign goods from countries like Italy. And so it was left to him and others like him to come to Europe searching work. He was scathing about European attempts to limit immigration, as when he had first arrived in the 1970s employers, such as the one he worked for in Germany, were so desperate for labour that they gave out the necessary forms there and then.

I’ve also read that it’s immigrant labour which also contributes disproportionately to the tax burden. They tend to work in poorly paid jobs that we wouldn’t normally take, and don’t take as much time off or rely so much on the welfare state, contrary to what the Tories allege. But claiming that they do serves the purpose of whipping up hatred against them and allowing the Tories a pretext for cutting welfare benefits. Because you don’t want all that money spent on foreign scroungers. But as Tony Benn said, how the government treats immigrants shows how it would also like to treat native Brits. And this has been born out by the expansion of food banks. These were set up after Tony Blair stopped illegal immigrants from being eligible for state benefits. Then the Tories under Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith decided that they would be whizzo for keeping native Brits from starvation – just – if they took their benefits away through sanctions and increased legislation designed to restrict eligibility. Because the poor are also scroungers, at least to the editors of papers like the Meil, Depress and Torygraph.

As for problems funding the NHS and the welfare state, these exist not because of asylum seekers, but because the Tories have massively cut expenditure in order to give massive tax cuts to the rich. While shifting the tax burden to the poor. And in the case of the NHS, it’s also being done to prepare for its privatisation. It has zip to do with the burden of caring for extra people through immigration.

I think there are problems with mass immigration, not least that of separate, parallel communities. But I don’t believe that people are coming to this country because of the welfare state.

If they are not coming here seeking refuge and sanctuary from persecution, it seems to me that they are coming here to work. Anything else is just right-wing propaganda.

A History of White Slavery in North Africa and Condemnation of Black American Slavery

February 27, 2022

Charles Sumner, illustrated by E.R. Billings, White Slavery in the Barbary States (N.D.: Amazon).

I just finished reading this short history of White enslavement this week. It’s only about 81 pages, so not a detailed history of its subject. But it’s still very good. The Barbary pirates were a group of Arab Moslem raiders, who seized control of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripolitania in the mid-17th century. They then began raiding Mediterranean shipping and Europe from France, Spain and Italy to Britain and as far afield as Iceland. The captives were held to ransom. Some were given jobs to do. These included domestic servants and keeping taverns, or labouring in the fields. Otherwise were condemned to the infamous galleys. Europeans responded with a series of counterattacks intended to free the slaves and impose treaties on the rulers forbidding them from continuing the slave raiding. These held for only a few years until a new round of slaving began. They finally stopped in the early 19th century after counterattacks by the British and Americans and the French invasion of Algiers in the 1830s.

There’s no biographical information about Sumner, and the book’s blurb states only that it was first published in the 1853. It is clear from its content, however, that Sumner was ardent opponent of all slavery including that of Blacks in his own country, America. He begins by comparing the Barbary states and their slave economy with America’s, right down to both slave territories existing at roughly the same latitude. He then proceeds with a short history of slavery in the ancient world from the Old Testament through the ancient Greeks and Romans and Christian Europe, noting that the word ‘slave’ comes from the Slavonic ‘Slava’, ‘glory’, the Slavs’ own name for themselves, because they were the main source of slaves in Europe. He then states that it is thus quite natural that the Moslems followed their predecessors in practising slavery. The book describes the repeated raids on American and European shipping, the various campaigns of reprisals, chiefly by the French and Spanish, as well as resistance by the victims themselves. There were revolts of the White slaves in the various north African towns and mutinies by enslaved sailors, some of whom managed to escape back to Europe after overpowering their captors. at the same time, communities in Europe and America came together to prey for the deliverance of their loved ones from enslavement and raise money to pay the ransoms. These were not cheap. Sumner includes a schedule of the ransom demanded for various grades of sailor. The ransom for a captain was about $3,000 +. Quite often these payments ran into tens of thousands of dollars.

The raids also had an effect on European literature and culture. Cervantes based his description of north African slavery on his own experience as a slave there. And apart from Don Quixote, he wrote a series of plays intended to raise awareness of the plight of the slaves. And there were others producing plays and poetry, including Aphra Behn, the English female playwright, in her Oroonoko. Sumner celebrates these condemnations of slavery, including that of Bartolome de las Casas, the Spanish friar who protested against the enslavement of the Indigenous American peoples. He rightly describes them as abolitionists, though laments the one-sidedness in so many of their denunciations. They were all too often directly only against the enslavement of fellow Whites while remaining silent about that of Blacks and others races. He points out that Black American slavery was harsher and more brutal than that endured by the White slaves in the Barbary states. Some of these found themselves so well treated and became so prosperous at the jobs they were given, such as keeping taverns and shops, that they didn’t want to return home.

The book still condemns White enslavement in harsh terms, but also condemns the more brutal treatment of Blacks, whose enslavement the author also passionately argues against.

My Email to Bristol Green Party about Their Slavery Reparations Motion on the Council

February 26, 2022

I’m still furious about the motion for the payment of reparations for slavery to Britain’s Black community which was passed last year almost unanimously by Bristol council. It was introduced by Cleo Lake, the then Green councillor for Cotham, a ward in the northern part of the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the deputy leader of the council and head of equalities for the city. All the parties of the left supported – the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems. It was only opposed by the Conservatives, who said it was well meant. In many ways it was a continuation of the affirmative action programmes giving aid to Black communities. It was very definitely not, as the proposer stated, a hand-out to individuals but finding to Black organisations to create prosperous, self-sustaining Black communities.

My problem with this is the connection to slavery. This is a more complicated issue than simply rich western Whites dragging Blacks off to oppression and forced labour in the plantations. Slavery existed in various forms in Africa long before the arrival of Whites in the continent. Black states, some of which had slave populations of 75 per cent, preyed on each other, and sold them to outsiders like the Arabs. They were also enslaved by the Turkish empire and Christian Abyssinia. From east Africa they could be exported overseas as far as India, where Bengal had been a major slave trading centre since the 14th century and Indonesia. At the same time, the Barbary pirates, Muslims from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, raided Europe from Spain and Italy to Britain, Ireland and Iceland, carrying off 1 – 2/12 million Whites. But this isn’t mentioned in school history and, although there are an increasing number of books about it, I doubt very many people are aware of it. In America and Europe the global nature of slavery is played down so that the focus is almost wholly on Black transatlantic slavery.

This is understandable as slavery is held to be the ultimate source for the continuing problems of the Black community – unemployment, drugs, crime, racism, poor academic performance and marginalisation and alienation from mainstream society. But the result has been a gross simplification of the historical reality. Critical Race Theory, which developed from Marxist legal scholarship in the 1970s, simplifies the racial situation in the west into oppressed Blacks versus privileged Whites. All Whites benefit from the dominant position in society, even if they despise racism. And all Blacks, regardless of socio-economic status, are oppressed. Lake and Craig’s proposal follows this logic by demanding such payments for all ‘Afrikans’, thus making White collectively responsible for slavery, even when it was others that were really responsible.

I’ve written to Lake and Craig about this, and got no reply. Last Sunday I sent an email to the Green party in Bristol about it. I got no reply to that either. I don’t think they’re capable of defending their position. Or just arrogant and ignoring me as one of the ‘little people’. Here’s the email.

‘Dear Sir,

I am writing to you now to express my grave concerns about last year’s motion in the city council, proposed by Cleo Lake, then your councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Labour deputy leader and head of equalities Asher Craig, to pay reparations for slavery. I have absolutely no objection to the practical form these reparations were to take, which was in fact to be funding to Black led organisations to create prosperous, sustainable Black communities. I am very much aware of the poverty and marginalisation experienced by the Bristol Black community, and do support initiatives to improve their conditions. And it is, of course, entirely natural and appropriate that this should be guided by the community itself. But I am very concerned about the way this funding was linked to the reparations movement and the decision that it should apply to all ‘Afrikans’. This showed, at best, a poor understanding of the history of African slavery. At worst it appears to be anti-White, separating Bristolians into good, virtuous, persecuted Blacks, and evil, persecutory Whites, who should feel guilty for the crimes of the ancestors, according to the principles of Afrocentric history and Critical Race Theory.

In fact Black Africans were enslaving other Black Africans long before the transatlantic slave trade, and continued to do so long after Britain had officially banned the slave trade and slavery itself. The proportion of slaves varied from state to state from around 30 per cent to as high 75 per cent. In west Africa the principal slaving nations were the Ashanti, Dahomey, Whydah and Badagri. In east Africa they included Abyssinia and the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples. These states became extremely rich through the trade in human suffering. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey, for example, raked in £300,000 per year. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Islamic states, such as the Turkish empire in north Africa and the Sultanate of Oman one the east coast. Black Africans were exported to the Middle East, India and south-east Asia. If reparations are to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, then this means also paying them to the descendants of those who enslaved them and profited by selling them to Europeans and Americans.

There is also the additional problem in that many of these states were paid compensation and subsidies by the British government to support them economically after the loss of such a profitable trade. But I see no awareness of this in Lake’s motion. An additional problem is that some of these states have no remorse over their ancestors’ participation in the abominable trade. There are statues and streets named after Efroye Tinobue in Nigeria, a powerful female merchant who became a kingmaker in Nigerian politics in the 19th century. But she was also a slaver. There is a very strong debate in Nigeria and  Ghana about the role of the chiefs in the slave trade, and Liverpool’s museum of slavery was widely praised by some Nigerians for including their role. But there seems to be little knowledge or engagement with this fact. Nor do Lake and Craig show any awareness that White Bristolians were also among the Europeans enslaved by the Barbary pirates. In the 16th century five ships were taken from Bristol harbour, and in the 17th they briefly established a base on Lundy. But councillor Lake seemed unaware or unconcerned about this.

I realise that this comes from the belief that the transatlantic slave trade is the direct cause of the inequalities experienced by the contemporary Black community, but I fear that this the proposal has grotesquely simplified the historical reality. I am not sure how many Bristolians are aware that other nations were also involved in the slave trade, like the Spanish and Portuguese. It seems to me that the call for payment of reparations to all ‘Afrikans’ makes Bristol responsible for African enslavement carried out by other nations.

And I am very concerned about the racial politics involved the call. It seems to be strongly influenced by Afrocentrism, which holds that Whites are inferior, and intrinsically more cruel and exploitative than Blacks, and that slavery did not exist in Africa before the appearance of Europeans and Arabs. It also seems to partake of Critical Race Theory, which also considers that all Whites are privileged racists, even when they oppose racism. This has become very topical in recent weeks with the report that Brighton and Hove council, led by the Greens, has voted to include it in their school curriculum.

I very much regret that for these reasons I find Councillor Lake’s motion deeply flawed and simplifying history to a grotesque and racially divisive degree.

I know that the motion was proposed and passed a year or so ago. But I have written to both Councillors Lake and Craig about this, and so far not received a reply from them. And I believe this issues has not gone away but has increased with the debate over the teaching of British history and Critical Race Theory.

 would be very grateful, therefore, to hear your views and explanations in answer to my concerns. You may contact me at my email address —-

Yours faithfully’,

Book on Christians Enslaved by Muslim in the Early Modern Mediterranean

February 5, 2022

Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan 2003).

This is another book I order for me reading about non-European forms of slavery, and particularly the enslavement of Europeans. I feel this is unjustly neglected and that the understandable concentration of the transatlantic slave trade has distorted the public understand of history as global phenomenon. One of the arguments the abolitionists had to face from the pro-slavery camp was that slavery was universal and had been a part of nearly every culture since ancient Egypt. It has also, in my view, created a distorted view in which Black enslavement by Whites is somehow seen as unique, and that the White European invasion and conquest of much of the rest of the world is somehow seen as inevitable. White are somehow seen as uniquely racist, imperialist and evil, as expressed in ideologies like Afrocentrism and Critical Race Theory. But this was not the case. Whites also suffered enslavement, and Europe was for centuries under threat from a militant and expansionist Islam, which also enslaved Black Africans and had its own ideology of racism.

The book’s blurb runs:

“In this book Robert C. Davis uses many new historical sources to re-examine one of the least understood forms of human bondage in modern times … the systematic enslavement of white, Christian Europeans by the Muslims of North Africa’s Barbary Coast. Far from the minor phenomenon that many have assumed it to be, white slavery in the Maghreb turns out, in Davis’ account, to have had enormous consequences, ensnaring as many as a million victims from France and Italy to Spain, Holland, Great Britain, the Americas and even Iceland in the centuries when it flourished between 1500 and 1800. Whether dealing with the methods used by slavers, the experience of slavery or its destructive impact on the slaves themselves, Davis demonstrates the many, often surprising, similarities between this ‘other’ slavery and the much better known human bondage suffered at the very same time by Black Africans in the Americas.”

The book is divided into three parts. Part II has chapters on the number of people enslaved and slave taking and slave breaking. Part II is on the Barbary states, and slave labour and slave life, Part III is on Italy, described as the home front. The final chapter is ‘celebrating slavery’. This appears to be about how the slaves themselves tried to reconcile their condition theologically by seeing it as a punishment from God.

As with the other books I’ve done no more than glance at it so far, but I was struck by this remark from an old Sicilian lady in the 20th century that shows the memory of raiding and enslavement still persisted into her lifetime:

“The oldest [still] tell of a time in which the Turks arrived in Sicily every day. They came down in the thousands from their galleys and you can imagine what happened! They seized unmarried girls and children, grabbed things and money and in an instant they were [back] aboard their galleys, set sail and disappeared… The next day it was the same thing, and there was always the bitter song, as you could not hear other than the lamentations and invocations of the mothers and the tears that ran like rivers through all the houses.” (174).

I’ve thought for a very long time that so many of the racism and Islamophobia in Europe is just a simple case of White racism against Blacks and Brown people, developed from imperialism and the slave trade, but also due to the memory of a real threat from Turkish and Muslim imperialism and slaving. And I do think that the attitudes that promoted the Islamic enslavement of White Christians still persist in that section of the Muslim community, chiefly Pakistani, that raped and abused White girls in grooming gangs.

Short 19th Century Book on the Enslavement of Europeans by the North African Barbary Pirates

February 1, 2022

Charles Sumner, illustrated by E.R. Billings, White Slavery in the Barbary States (No date, printed by Amazon).

One of the points I’ve been trying to make in my various blog posts about the current controversy over Britain’s participation in the slave trade is that slavery was by no means something that only White Europeans did to Africans and other peoples of colour. It was practised by many African societies long before contact with Europe, as well as Islam. From the 17th century onwards Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algeria raided Europe as far as Iceland, even attacking American shipping in the Mediterranean, to carry off White westerners into slavery. It’s been estimated that about 2.35 million Europeans were enslaved by them.

I found this short illustrated history of the Barbary slave trade on Amazon. It’s only 81 pages long, and was published in the 19th century. It’s blurb reads

“First published in 1853 by Charles Sumner, “White Slavery in the Barbary States” outlines the history of the centuries in which Moslems enslaved Europeans and later, Americans, and what led to its halt.

The Barbary slave trade refers to the slave markets that flourished on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and middle of the 18th century. The Ottoman provinces in North Africa were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were mostly autonomous. The North African slave markets were part of the Arab slave trade.”

There are also a number of other excellent books on the subject, like Simon Webb’s The Forgotten Slave Trade, but I’m hoping this will act as a short but informative overview of this part of the global history of slavery. I intend to post a proper review of it in due course.

A Jewish Traveller’s Description of a Moroccan Slave Market

January 20, 2022

I found this description of an 18th century slave market in Morocco in Samuel Romanelli’s Travail in an Arab Land, trans. and notes by Yedida K. and Norman A. Stillman (Tuscaloosa: University of Arizona Press 1989). Romanelli was an Italian Jew, who found himself stranded in Morocco from 1787 to 1790. His book, originally published in Hebrew, is a detailed description of Morocco, its society and Jewish communities. Romanelli was a highly cultured man, deeply versed in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud and Hebrew. He was scathing both of the Arabs and what he considered to be the ignorance and superstition of Morocco’s oppressed Jews. Morocco was the endpoint of a route used by slavers taking enslaved Black Africans from sub-Saharan west Africa. Unfortunately this slave trade survived into the early 20th century because we disrupted a European blockade of Morocco c. 1909 or thereabouts to prevent the other nations invading. Morocco was kept free, but the consequence was that its indigenous slave trade continued to flourish. Romanelli states

“Twice a week there is an auction called delal … In this type of delal, they also sell black men and women. Slaves and maidservants follow behind the slave driver. The buyer will examine a maidservant as he would examine a sheep. She then becomes his permanent possession. He may either keep her as his slave or be harsh to her and resell her to another. In olden times even whites and Jews were sold, as we know from the story of Joseph and from the Mosaic ordinances.”

In fact Morocco, with Algeria, was one of the centres of the Barbary pirates, which raided Europe and attacked European and American shipping to capture white slaves. This carried on in Algiers until the British launched a reprisal in the 1830s. I’ve put this up because, as western slavery is now again a topic of controversy, political debate and demands for reparations and education, it is important to remember that slavery and the enslavement of Black Africans was not unique to the West.

And it is also disgusting that slavery is returning in the 21st century, as slave markets reopen in Uganda and in the Islamist-held portion of Libya. The last is a consequence of Blair’s overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy, and should count as another reason why the warmonger shouldn’t get a knighthood.

My Email to the ‘I’ Recommending Putting Up Statues of African Slavers in Bristol

June 1, 2021

I’ve just sent this email to the I newspaper, noting that Colston’s statue is now rightly on display in the M Shed in Bristol. But I also go further, and suggest that in order to get a proper perspective on the city’s connection with the slave trade, it needs to put up statues to the African slavers involved. These were the chiefs who actually supplied the slaves, and the Barbary pirates who raided Europe, including Bristol and the south-west for White slaves. Here’s the email:

Dear Sir, 

I note on the local news for Bristol that Edward Colston’s statue has been lifted out of the docks and put on display at the city’s excellent M Shed museum. I think this is the proper place for it, because Colston is part of Bristol’s history, and his philanthropy – he founded charities that supported numerous schools in the city – is one reason he was defended for so long. It is, unfortunately, an uncomfortable fact that otherwise admirable people can do the most terrible things, and we distort the past and miss this vitally important point about human nature if it is omitted.

But I also strongly feel that there are other presences in Bristol’s history that are going unrecognised, if not actively and deliberately edited out. Europeans did not catch the slaves themselves. They purchased them from powerful Black African kings, who organised the raids and did the bloody business of enslaving. Chiefs like Duke Ephraim of Dahomey made £300,000 a year in the 18th and 19th centuries. But, with the exception of the excellent ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition at the City Museum in the 1990s, there is no mention of this, and indeed I get the distinct impression that Councillors Cleo Lake and Deputy Mayor Asher Craig would very much like to place the whole blame for Black slavery on Whites. A few months ago they passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations for slavery, which included all ‘Afrikans’ as victims of the infamous trade.

Another presence is Sultan Mahomet IV of Morocco. From the 16th/17th century through to the early 19th, Barbary pirates from what is now Morocco and Algiers raided Europe for White slaves. About 2 1/2 million White Europeans were so carried off into bondage. In Britain, the south-west of England, including Bristol, was particularly vulnerable to attack and ships and their crews from the city were taken and enslaved. But there are no monuments commemorating this anywhere in the city, again presenting a cosy, distorted view that slavery is just something evil Whites did to Blacks.

Colston’s plinth is now empty, and no doubt there is a debate going on about how it should be used. Might I suggest two statues, one of King Guezo of Dahomey, against whom Britain went to war to stop his predations on other Africans, and Mahomet IV to correct the racial imbalance?

Yours faithfully,

I’ll let you know if they publish it, and if there’s any response.

My Video Criticising Bristol City Council’s Motion Supporting Slavery Reparations

May 7, 2021

This afternoon I put up a video about the motion passed by Bristol city council a few months ago calling for the payment of reparations for slavery to ‘Afrikans’. The motion was put forward by Cleo Lake, a Green councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Asher Craig, the deputy elected mayor, head of equality, and Labour councillor for St. George in the city.

I make it clear in the video that I’m not against government help for Britain’s Black communities, which do suffer from marginalisation, poverty and a lack of opportunities and so on. I also don’t take issue with the idea that this aid should be governed by Black organisations themselves. And people of African extraction are just as disadvantaged as those of West Indian heritage. I just don’t think that reparations for slavery to all Black people are the right form of aid. While slavery did leave vast areas of Africa depopulated and impoverished, the people who did the actual slaving were also Africans, and these peoples could profit immensely. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey had an income of £300,000 per year, well above those of most British dukes of the period.

Furthermore, Britain didn’t acquire its slaves from all of Africa. We tended to get our slaves from West Africa, from peoples like the kingdom of Dahomey, Whydah, Lagos and others. But Africans were also enslaved by the Arabs from earliest times. The trade and Black slaves to Morocco continued until 1910 because Europeans didn’t conquer that country. There was also an east African slave trade, in which the peoples from this part of Africa were enslaved by the Yao, Swahili, Marganja and Arabs, as well as the Dutch and Portuguese. The payment of reparations as demanded by Lake’s and Craig’s motion would mean that we would also be compensating people, who were not enslaved by us but others, including the people responsible for the enslavement.

The motion also sets a precedent for other enslaved peoples to demand reparations from those who historically enslaved them. Would Lake and Craig also support similar demands for reparations from the Arab nations? White Europeans were also taken as slaves by the Barbary pirates from Morocco and Algeria. about 2 1/2 million Europeans were so taken, including Brits. The parish records of St. Briavel’s in the Forest of Dean in the 18th century record payments to a man, who was collecting donations to ransom sailors enslaved by these north African pirates. According to the precedent this motion has set, Britain and Europe would also be justified in demanding reparations from these north African countries.

Finally, part of the purpose of the British invasion of Africa was to stamp out slavery and the slave trade. While the scramble for Africa was basically a power grab by the European powers, Britain did take seriously the task of eliminating slavery, which the motion also doesn’t recognise.

I state at the end that I have written to councillors Lake and Craig about this, but so far have received no reply. Which indicates that they are either far too busy, or don’t really have an answer.

I know I’ve already put up a couple of pieces about this already, but this is quite an important issue and so I’d thought I’d make a YouTube post about it.