Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Why I Won’t Vote for Cleo Lake as Bristol’s Police and Crime Commissioner

April 23, 2021

Cleo Lake is one of the candidates standing for election as Bristol’s police and crime commissioner, and I very definitely will not be voting for her. One reason is that she’s a member of the Green party, and is their councillor for Cotham. The other reason is that she introduced the motion a few weeks ago urging the payment of reparations for slavery to all ‘Afrikans’ – both people of West Indian and those of African descent. It was seconded by the Labour deputy mayor and head of equality, Asher Craig, and passed by just about all the parties on the council with the exception of the Tories. They objected on the ground that the motion, although it came from a good place, was divisive. Unfortunately, they’re right.

I’ve blogged about this several times, as well as writing to councillors Lake and Craig about it. I haven’t received a reply or even an acknowledgement from them. I have also submitted an article about it to the papers, but this has also been rejected without any reply or acknowledgement. But here are my arguments against the motion again.

I don’t doubt that people of African heritage in Bristol don’t suffer from the same issues of racism and marginalisation as the wider Black community. However, they are not equal victims of western slavery. By and large the White slavers didn’t do the actual, nasty work of raiding and enslaving Black Africans. They bought them instead from other African peoples and states. The British generally took their slaves from the west African states of Dahomey, Whydah, Badagry and what is now Lagos in what is now Ghana and Nigeria, as well as from tribes in Senegal and Gambia. These kingdoms profited immensely from the vile trade. In the 18th century, Duke Ephraim of Dahomey took in £300,000 per year, an income that exceeded many English dukes. It has therefore been said that, when it came to reparations, it should be Black Africans paying compensation to Black West Indians and Americans.

Slavery had also existed for centuries previously in Africa, and Africans were enslaved by a number of other peoples, such as the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch. But they were also enslaved by Muslim Arabs, the Ottoman Turks and Indians, and exported further east to what is now Indonesia. The first Black slaves in Europe were in al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. The east Africans enslaved were captured by other African peoples, such as the Yao, Marganja and Swahili, as well as Arabs. Ethiopia, which was never conquered by us, also raided the surrounding states for slaves.

Part of the rationale for the British invasion and conquest of Africa was the extirpation of slavery. Even before the invasion, Britain was active forging treaties against the slave trade with naval patrols guarding the African coast. We also paid subsidies and compensation to some slaving peoples in order to give them a financial incentive for abandoning the trade. And in the 1850s we actually fought a war with King Guezo of Dahomey to stop slaving by that state.

At the same time that Europeans were enslaving Africans, Muslim raiders from north Africa, the Barbary pirates, were raiding and carrying off White Europeans, including people from Britain.

It’s therefore inappropriate to pay slavery reparations to Africans, as these included the very peoples that actually enslaved them.

The payment of reparations also sets a precedent for Blacks and other people to demand similar reparations from other nations, including other, non-European states as Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, India and the Arab states. White Europeans are also entitled to demand compensation from the two states of the Barbary pirates, Algeria and Morocco. But there has been no recognition of this from either Lake or Craig. They just call for Britain to pay reparations to its ‘Afrikans’, which is quite a narrow focus.

Years ago, when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I was advised to be careful when writing to Black organisations, as West Indians and Ghanaians disliked each other. The Black British writer, Caryl Phillips, discussed in one of his books how, when he visited Ghana, he found that West Indians were looked down upon there as former victims of the slave trade. This was in the ’90s, and I think Phillips’ book may be somewhat older. I have to say that there seemed to be no such hatred between West Indians and Ghanaians in the organisations I dealt with. If this friction still exists, then it puts quite a nasty light on Lake and Craig’s inclusion of Africans as well as West Indians as victims of White slavery. Because it then looks like they are trying to create a unified Black community by putting the blame for slavery solely on Whites.

I also have serious objections to her eccentric spelling of African. She spelt it ‘Afrikan’, claiming that this was how Africans themselves spelled it before the coming of the Europeans. This looks like a piece of Afrocentric pseudo-history. I’m an archaeologist and historian, and so considers history immensely important. Which is why I profoundly object to the way the Tories are trying to pervert it for their propaganda purposes. But Lake and Craig are also pushing a highly ideological, selective interpretation of history.

This leads me to suspect that Lake wants to become police and crime commissioner, because she also feels, like BLM, that the police unfairly pick on cops and wants to stop it. Now the St. Paul’s riots of 1981/2 was directed very much against the police. One of the rioters later gave a quote in the press that there was a feeling that the police were occupying St. Paul’s. But I haven’t heard any such criticism since. I’ve relatives and friends, who are and were members of the Avon and Somerset police, and they aren’t remotely racist.

I leave it up to you to decide for yourself, if you’re a Bristolian, whether you want to vote for Lake or not. But because of her historical views, which I consider false and racist in their own turn, I won’t.

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

March 5, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Decided ‘Jewish Community’ Meant ‘United Synagogue’

November 19, 2020

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension was lifted yesterday and he was readmitted to the Labour party. So there was, unsurprisingly, a mass outcry by the usual troublemakers, liars and smear merchants. Starmer responded by fudging the issue and refused Corbyn the Labour whip. This is, as Mike has pointed out, gross political interference of the type which the EHRC report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party condemned in the first place. He has also broken any number of Labour party internal regulations, as the Skwawkbox has clearly demonstrated. He’s done absolutely no good, except to annoy people with an unacceptable compromise. Unacceptable, because Corbyn’s supporters are still outraged by his unjust treatment of the Labour leader, while the smear merchants won’t be satisfied by anything less than his expulsion and the complete prostration of the Labour party to their own ultra-Zionist views.

Margaret Hodge

Among those crawling out from under the rocks to attack Corbyn were Margaret Hodge, Jessica Elgot, Rachel Riley, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Community Security Trust, none of whom are unbiased by any means. Hodge is the stupid, lazy and arrogant Labour MP who got herself suspended for calling Corbyn a ‘f**king anti-Semite’ in parliament. She then got herself readmitted after she started bleating about how terrifying her suspension was, and that it must have been like the terror experienced by German Jews under the Third Reich when they were waiting for a knock from Gestapo.

Her treatment was nothing like that horror, and she insulted the victims and families of those, who really had been imprisoned in the concentration camps. Her suspension was extremely lenient, no doubt helped by the fact that the media was very definitely on her side. Others would have received far harsher punishment. And her stupid, facile comments prompted an outrage response from Jews and gentiles, whose relatives had been victims of the Nazis.

But we shouldn’t be quite so surprised at her tactlessness. This is a woman who signally failed to do anything about real Nazism and anti-Semitism in her constituency. So much so that when the BNP had seven members elected to the local council in Tower Hamlets, their leader, Derek Beacon, sent her a bouquet of flowers in appreciation. She was also responsible for suppressing a report into child abuse in the council, then tried to blame its suppression on Corbyn. Apparently she was threatening to the leave the party if Corbyn was readmitted. If she did, it would be no loss to anyone, but unfortunately she hasn’t.

Jessica Elgot, Israel Lobbyist

Jessica Elgot is another Blairite, and if memory serves me right, she used to work for one of the Israel advocacy organisations. Which should immediately tell you that she isn’t concerned about genuine anti-Semitism, but simply protecting Israel.

Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Gaza and Islamophobia

The same applies to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and its odious boss, Gerald Falter. Falter founded it in 2014 or thereabouts because he was shocked at the way British public opinion had turned against Israel because of the bombing of Gaza. His wretched organisation is tinged with Islamophobia. On its website it declares that most anti-Semites are Muslims, and one of its patrons is a Hindu bigot who hates Islam, Christianity and those at the very bottom of the Hindu caste system. This character founded Operation Dharmic Vote to mobilise right-wing Hindu voters partly because he was outraged that high-caste Hindu doctors had to treat the people previously described as ‘the Untouchables’.

Community Security Trust and Violence Against Protesters

Then we come to the Community Security Trust, a volunteer police force set up to protect Jews and their property from attack. This would be all well and good, if that was all it did. But its members are supposedly trained in self-defence by the Israeli security forces and have been responsible for instances of violence themselves against protesters demonstrating against Israel. In one case Jewish and Muslim demonstrators were forcibly separated. Others were struck and beaten, including women, the elderly and a rabbi.

There’s also more than a little racial favouritism being shown in the establishment of the CST. I don’t know of any other ethnic group, which is allowed to have its own volunteer police trained by a foreign country. It can be argued that other ethnic groups deserve such a force more, as this is relatively little anti-Semitism compared with the prejudice against Blacks, Asians and Muslims. Can you imagine the reaction of our absolutely unbiased right-wing press if, say, Britain’s Black community had their own police force organised and trained by the Jamaicans or Nigerians? Or the Hindus trained by the Indian army? Or British Muslims with Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan? They’d have a screaming fit and yell that we were being taken over by foreigners. But the CST is allowed to continue with the full cooperation of the British state and police.

Rachel Riley

As for Rachel Riley, this is a woman, who seems to have a visceral, personal hatred for the Labour leader and his supporters. She was on Talk Radio yesterday telling the world how terrible the Labour leader was, because he laid a wreath on the grave of the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the murder of the Israeli Olympic team in 1974 when he was attending some kind of gathering in Tunisia. This would have been extremely difficult, as Zelo Street has pointed out, because those monsters are buried in Libya.

Corbyn’s critics have been presented as representative of the British Jewish community as a whole. They aren’t. They are representative only of the right-wing, ultra-Zionist British Jewish establishment. Corbyn had many friends and supporters in the Jewish community, as have others, who have been smeared as anti-Semites, like Ken Livingstone. Corbyn was particularly respected by the Haredi community for his help in preserving their historic burial ground from redevelopment. He was also supported by Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas, with whom he spent a Passover Seder. Which enraged the Board of Deputies, who claimed it was a snub to the ‘Jewish community?’

Jonathan Sacks, Sectarianism and the March of the Flags

What Jewish community? As many Jewish left-wing bloggers have pointed out, there is no monolithic Jewish community, and the Board of Deputies only seems to represent the United Synagogue. And many of Corbyn’s other critics seem to be members, such as the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. Sacks died last week, and obituaries appeared praising him and his work. I’ve no doubt he was an excellent fellow in many respects, but he was also a sectarian bigot with a fanatical devotion to Israel. He caused outrage a few years ago when he, an Orthodox Jew, declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. This is the language of religious hatred, uttered by bigots before launching terrible attacks on their victims. Christian anti-Semites no doubt have said the same when persecuting Jews. Sacks was also an opponent of homosexuality, before opportunistically changing his mind and declaring that people had to be more open and accepting. He also led a group of British Jews on the annual March of the Flags in Jerusalem. This is the Israeli equivalent of the various Orange marches in Northern Ireland, when the Protestants of the Orange Order march through Roman Catholic areas. In the case of the March of the Flags, it’s when Israeli boot-boys march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem to provoke and intimidate them. During these marches, Palestinians are insulted and abused, and their property vandalised. Liberal Jewish organisations asked Sacks not to go, but he refused. But what I also found interesting was that he seemed to be another member of the United Synagogue. The obituaries mentioned that he belonged to the Union of Hebrew Congregations, which looks to my inexpert eye as the United Synagogue by any other name.

The United Synagogue and the Corbyn Smears

Some of the Jewish journos, who took it upon themselves to write pieces smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semite are also members of the United Synagogue. The I published several of these pieces, noting at the bottom of the article the writer’s membership of the denomination. Which raises a few questions.

Are all, or the majority of those smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semites members of the United Synagogue? And if they are, who decided that the United Synagogue and its members spoke for all of Britain’s Jews? After all, it’s as if someone decided that only Tory Anglicans represent British Christianity. And when they produce stats claiming that Israel is important to the identity of 77 per cent of British Jews, is this really representative of all of the British Jewish Community? Or is it once again just confined to the United Synagogue?

All of Britain’s Jewish community deserve to be heard on the issue of Corbyn and Israel, not just Tory-voting ultra-Zionists and the United Synagogue.

Over Ten Years Ago African Human Rights Organisations Urged Traditional Rulers to Apologise for their Role in Slave Trade

August 28, 2020

This is old news, but it is well worth repeating in the current controversy over historic transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. Although much of the blame has naturally been rightly placed on the White Europeans responsible for the purchase, transport and exploitation of enslaved Africans, human rights organisations in Africa have also recognised that its indigenous rulers were also responsible. And they have demanded they apologise for their participation in this massive crime against humanity.

On 18th November 2009, eleven years ago, the Guardian’s David Smith published a piece reporting that the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has written to the country’s tribal chiefs, stating “We cannot continue to blame the white men, as Africans, particularly the traditional rulers, are not blameless.” It urged them to apologise to ‘put a final seal to the slave trade’ and continued

Americans and Europe have accepted the cruelty of their roles and have forcefully apologised, it would be logical, reasonable and humbling if African traditional rulers … [can] accept blame and formally apologise to the descendants of the victims of their collaborative and exploitative slave trade.”

The head of the Congress, Shehu Sani, explained to the Beeb’s World Service that the Congress was asking the chiefs to make the apology because they were seeking to be included in a constitutional amendment in Nigeria:

“We felt that for them to have the moral standing to be part of our constitutional arrangement there are some historical issues for them to address. One part of which is the involvement of their institutions in the slave trade.” He stated that the ancestors of the country’s traditional rulers “raided communities and kidnapped people, shipping them away across the Sahara or across the Atlantic” on behalf of the slaves’ purchasers.

Other Africans supported the demand for an apology. They included Henry Bonsu, a British-born Ghanaian broadcaster and co-founder of the digital radio station, Colourful Radio. Bonsu had examined the issue himself in Ghana in a radio documentary. He said that some chiefs had accepted their responsible, and had visited Liverpool and the US in acts of atonement.

“I interviewed a chief who acknowledged there was collaboration and that without that involvement we wouldn’t have seen human trafficking on an industrial scale,” said Bonsu.

“An apology in Nigeria might be helpful because the chiefs did some terrible things and abetted a major crime.”

The call was also supported by Baffour Anning, the chief executive of the non-governmental agency Africa Human Right Heritage in Accra, Ghana. He said, !I certainly agree with the Nigeria Civil Rights Congress that the traditional leaders should render an apology for their role in the inhuman slavery administration.” He also believed it would accord with the UN’s position on human rights.

The article notes that the demands for an apology mostly came from the African diaspora, and that it wasn’t really a matter of public concern in Africa itself. It also noted that many traditional chiefs prefer to remain silent on this awkward and shameful issue. However, one of the exceptions was the former president of Uganda, Yoweri Musaveni, who in 1998 told Bill Clinton “African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologise it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.”

See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/18/africans-apologise-slave-trade

This adds a very interesting perspective on the current slavery debate, and one which very few here in the West are probably aware. It’s strange reading that Africans have come to Liverpool and the US seeking to atone for their ancestors crimes during the slave trade when so much of the debate has revolved around the responsibility of Liverpool, Bristol and others cities, and western nations as a whole, such as the US and Britain, for the abominable trade. One of my concerns about the demand for museums to slavery is that these would place the blame solely on western Whites, and so create not just a distorted view of slavery but another form of racism, in which slavery was only something that Whites inflicted on Blacks. If it is the Black diaspora that is demanding African chiefs recognise and apologise for their part in the slave trade, this may not be an issue.

Nevertheless, it needs to be remembered that slavery existed, in Africa and elsewhere, long before transatlantic slavery. Black Africans also enslaved each other, there was also a trade in slaves from east Africa to Arabia, India and Asia. At the same time the Turkish Empire also raided sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Sudan, for slaves. One of the reasons the British invaded and conquered much of Africa was to stop the slave trade and end it at its source. In many cases, I’ve no doubt that this was just a pretext to provide a spurious justification for military annexation against competition for territory by other European nations. But many of the officers and troopers involved in the suppression of the trade were sincere. This included the Royal Navy, whose officers were largely evangelical Anglican Christians, who took their duty to stamp out the trade very seriously.

In the years since then real slavery has returned to Africa. The Islamists, who have seized power in part of Libya ever since we bombed it to liberate it from Colonel Gadaffy have taken to enslaving the Black African migrants making their way there in the hope of reaching sanctuary and a better life in Europe. At the same time there have also been reports of a slave market opening in Uganda. And this is apart from the persistence of traditional slavery in countries such as Mauretania and disguised forms of servitude in Africa and elsewhere, which were described a quarter of a century ago in the book Disposable People.

While it’s natural that attention should focus on historic Black slavery in the west following the Black Lives Matter protests and western Blacks’ general underprivileged condition, it is disgusting and shameful that real slavery should continue to exist in the 21st century. It needs to be tackled as well, beyond the debates about the legacy of historic slavery.

 

 

A British Colonial Governor’s Attack on Racism

July 31, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. The Existence and Growth of Colour Prejudice

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

III. Negro Resentment of Colour Prejudice

IV. Political and Legal Discrimination Against Negroes

V. Social Discrimination Against Negroes

VI. Alleged Inferiority of the Negro

VII. Alleged Shortcomings of the Negro

VIII. Physical and Mental Differences between the Races

IX. Physical Repulsion between Races

X. Miscegenation

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

XII. Lack of Unity and Inferiority Complex Among Negroes

XIII. Conclusion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

We Should Not Sell Arms to Saudia Arabia, Let Alone Apologise to Them

July 12, 2020

On Friday, Mike published a very enlightening article showing just how concerned the Tories are about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia: they aren’t. They actually apologized to them about it. It seems that after BoJob announced sanctions against particular Saudi individuals for their crimes against humanity, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace phoned up the Saudi prince serving as their defence minister and apologized. This wasn’t publicized over here, but it was loudly trumpeted in the Saudi state press, and only reported in Blighty by the Independent.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/10/defence-secretary-phoned-saudi-arabia-to-apologise-for-human-rights-sanctions-claim/

What! Outrageous!

We’ve got absolutely no business selling arms to Saudi Arabia in the first place. A few years ago a Nigerian academic appeared on Radio 4 recommending a change of allies in the Middle East. Instead of supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should support and ally ourselves instead with Turkey and Iran. It’s a radical plan that has absolutely no hope of success, but it would be better than those two highly draconian and intolerant regimes. Turkey, until the accession of President Ergoyan, aspired to be a modern, western-looking, secular state. That was the programme of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Attaturk. Turkey has also has its problems with human rights abuses, such as its ethnic cleansing of the Kurds and official denial of the Armenian massacres. Iran is also a theocracy, but despite the Shah’s regime, which turned it into an absolute monarchy, and then the Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini, it does have a democratic component. They have a parliament – the majlis – whose members are elected, as is its president, although progress to a genuine, western-style democracy is blocked through an elected Supreme Leader, another ayatollah, and the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards. But even with these anti-democratic institutions, both countries are more tolerant and democratic than Saudi Arabia.

Iran officially recognizes in its constitution the country’s religious minorities – the Zoroastrians, descendants of the original monotheist faith of the Persian Empire, Armenian Christians and Jews. Four seats are reserved for them in the majlis. And despite American and Israeli propaganda to the contrary, Iranian Jews are tolerated and treated quite well. Possibly this is because some of the country’s great patriots of the 20th century, who were determined to resist its annexation by the imperial powers, were Jews.

This is in stark contrast to Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute, theocratic monarchy. The only tolerated religion is Wahhabi Islam. All other faiths, even they are varieties of Islam, are strictly proscribed. The Shi’a minority live in villages without electricity or running water. Their religious books may be seized and destroyed. And as the west has made grief-stricken overtures of sorrow and contrition for its racial intolerance and slavery, the Saudis have made no such gestures on their part. A few years ago one of the country’s leading clerics – I think it was the Grand Mufti, rather than the Sherif of Mecca, declared that the Shi’a were ‘heretics’ and ‘worthy of death’. It’s a declaration of genocide, an exact counterpart of the slogan ‘Baptism or extermination’ of the German crusading orders in their campaigns against the pagan Slavs in eastern Europe. Saudi Arabia only outlawed slavery in 1964, but it still occurs today in the appalling exploitation of migrant labourers under the countries’ sponsorship system. Domestic servants are also kept in conditions no different from real slavery, including those taken to Britain and Europe by their masters.

And it explains precisely why the Saudis are indiscriminately bombing and killing civilians, women and children, and mosques, hospitals and schools in Yemen.

We went to war in 1939 against a regime that was determined to the same to the Jews, as well as the Gypsies, Poles and the other Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe. If you want to hear some real horror stories, talk to Poles, Ukrainian and Russians about what happened when the Nazis and the SS moved in and occupied their countries, as well as the horrors Jews, Gypsies and the disabled went through.

Why should we be arming a similar regime?

And the Saudis are spreading this intolerance. Many Muslim countries were traditionally much more tolerant and pluralistic. One of Mike’s photos he brought back from his time in Bosnia showed a church and a mosque that were right next to each other. It’s a very clear demonstration that in that part of the country, Christians and Muslims had been friends and definitely not at each others throats. But I’ve read comments again and over again in books and articles from more moderate Muslims from different nations lamenting the increasing fanaticism in their countries. And they state that those responsible for it went to study in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Bosnian Islam, thanks to these influences, has become more rigid and austere. In the Balkans Islam was spread by the Sufi mystical orders that served that Turkish troops as chaplains. These forms of Islamic piety also absorbed elements from Christianity. But these are being purged as Wahhabism is exported to Bosnia. A few years ago the government was sending in bulldozers to destroy the traditional Muslim gravestones in its cemeteries.

And we shouldn’t sell the arms for simply self-preservation.

The Saudis have also exported their religious intolerance by funding and arming terrorist groups. Forget the stuff about Iran being responsible for most of the world’s terrorist groups. Muslim terrorism only ever counted for a fraction of global terrorism. Most of the terrorist groups around the world are either nationalists or Marxists. But it seems to me very strongly that the Saudis surpassed Iran long ago as the suppliers of Muslim terror. They matched the Americans in funding and supplying the Islamist guerrillas against the Russians in Afghanistan. The suppressed passages in the official report about 9/11 made it clear that atrocity was funded and led by the Saudis. It was impossible to follow the trail all the way, but the evidence pointed all the way to the top. And the reports on al-Qaeda’s campaigns in Iraq and Syria published in the volume Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities, edited by Christopher Heffelfinger and published by the Jamestown Foundation in 2005 state very clearly that al-Qaeda in those nations was being funded and supplied by the current head of Saudi intelligence. The Saudis were favourably disposed to Daesh, and only turned against them when ISIS declared the jihad against them.

If we sell them armaments, there is a very real chance that they will make their way to terrorists who will use them against our brave boys and girls and our allies.

The argument for selling what David Cameron called ‘this wonderful kit’ to Saudi Arabia and other nations is that this supposedly opens these countries up to other British products. It doesn’t. They don’t purchase more ordinary, peaceful British goods. They just concentrate on weapons. Weapons that they don’t actually need. We sold them, or one of the other Arab states, a whole batch of jet fighters a few years ago, despite the fact that the Saudis had no need for them, nowhere to put them, and no maintenance infrastructure.

But it all makes the arms companies richer. And they, no doubt, are also donating very handsomely to Tory party coffers.

Three Books on African Languages

June 19, 2020

Teach Yourself Swahili: A Complete Course for Beginners, Joan Russell, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1996).

Teach yourself Swahili Dictionary, D.V. Perrott, (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1965).

Teach Yourself Yoruba, E.C. Rowlands (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1969).

I’ve an interest in languages, and two that I considered learning are the African languages Swahili and Yoruba. I tried teaching myself a bit of Swahili when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in the 1990s and very early couple of years of this century.  I didn’t get very far with either of them, and haven’t really done anything more with the Yoruba book than look at it since I bought it. However, I thought some people out there might be interesting in knowing about them, especially now that the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked an interest in African culture and civilisation.

Kenneth Katzner in his book, Languages of the World (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1977) has this section on Swahili:

Swahili, more correctly called Kiswahili, is the most important language of east Africa. It is the official language of both Tanzania and Kenya, and is also spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. (In Zaire a separate dialect is spoken, known as Kingwana.) Swahili is the mother tongue of perhaps only a million people, but at least ten million more speak it fluently as a second language, and many millions more at least understand it to some degree.

Swahili is one of the Bantu languages, which form a branch of the Niger-Congo family. Its vocabulary is basically Bantu but with many words borrowed from Arabic. The name Swahili is derived from an Arabic word meaning “coastal”, having developed among Arabic-speaking settlers of the African coast beginning about the 7th century. During the 19th century it was carried inland by Arab tradesmen, and was later adopted by the Germans as the language of administration in Tanganyika. In modern Tanzania it is the national language, and in 1970 it was proclaimed the official language of Kenya.

The Swahili alphabet lacks the letters c, q, and x, but contains a number of its own. The dh is pronounced like the th of “this” (e.g., dhoruba-hurricane), gh like the German ch (ghali-expensive), and ng’ like the ng in “thing” but not as in “finger” (ng’ombe-cow). Whereas English grammatical inflections occur at the end of the word, in Swahili everything is done at the beginning. Kitabu is the Swahili word for “book” but the word for “books” is vitabu. This word falls into the so-called Ki Vi class, one of eight in the Swahili language. Others are the M Mi class (e.g., mkono-hand, mikono-hands; mji-town, miji-towns), and the M Wa class, used mainly for people (mtu-man, watu-men; mjinga-fool, wajinga-fools). Furthermore, these prefixes are carried over verbs of which the noun is the subject, as well as to numerals and modifying adjectives. Thus “one big book” in Swahili is kitabu kikbubwa kimoja (“book-big-one”), but “two big books” is vitabu vikubwa viwili.

Katzner gives as a example of a text in the language the poem, The Name, by Shaaban Robert. This runs

Mtego wanaotega, ninaswe nianguke,

Sife yangu kuvuruga, jina liaibike,

Mungu mwema mfuga, nilinde lisittendeke,

Na wawekao kaga, kudhuru watakasike.

 

Kwa wingi natangaziwa, maovu nisiyotenda,

Na habari nasikia, kila ninapokwenda,

Lakini Allah mwelewa, stalifanya kuwanda,

Jina wanalochukia, badala y kukonda.

 

Badala ya kukonda, jina litaneenepa,

Ugenini litakwenda, lisipopendeza hapa,

Kutafuta kinbanda, ambako halitatupwa,

Huko wataolipenda, fadhili litawalipa.

 

A trap they set, for me to get caught,

My reputation they blemish, to spoil my name.

Oh, Lord the Keeper, save me from the plight,

And those who promise me harm, remove their aim.

 

Many slanderous charges are published against me,

And these I hear, wherever I go.

But God who understands, my name will clear,

The name they hate, He will surely emancipate.

 

Rather than wither, my name will thrive,

Abroad it will succeed, if here they will not heed,

Shelter it will find, where it will not be remiss,

Where those who care, it will reward and recompense.

 

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili runs

This is a complete course in spoken and written Swahili. If you have never learnt Swahili before, or if your Swahili needs brushing up, Teach Yourself Swahili is for you.

Joan Russell has created a practical course that is both fun and easy to work through.She explains everything clearly along the way and gives you plenty of opportunities to practise what you have learnt. The course structure means that you can work at your own pace, arranging your learning to suit your needs.

Based on the Council of Europe’s Threshold guide lines on language learning, the course contains:

  • Eighteen graded units of dialogues, culture notes, grammar and exercises
  • A guide to Swahili pronunciation
  • Swahili-English and English-Swahili vocabularies

By the end of the course you’ll be able to cope with a whole range of situations and participate confidently in life in Tanzania, Kenya and other Swahili-speaking areas.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Swahili Dictionary simply says that it is

A concise working dictionary that contains all the Swahili words you are likely to hear or read. The Swahili-English and English-Swahili sections of the dictionary provide clear definitions for a range of words and phrases, including words that are particularly appropriate to life in East Africa. A useful Swahili grammar and practical hints on pronunciation are also included at the beginning of the dictionary.

Katzner says of the Yoruba language that

Yoruba, with the stress on the first syllable, is one of the major languages of Nigeria. It is spoken in the southwestern part of the country, in the region whose principal city is Ibadan. There are about 12 million speakers. 

He also notes that it is a member of the Kwa languages, which are a subgroup of the Niger-Congo family. It’s written with grave and acute stresses over letters, which indicate the rise and fall of the voice.

The example he gives of a text in the language is a passage from A King’s Election in Yoruba Land. Here it is, but I’ve been unable to include the tone accents.

Ajo igbimo ti awon agbagba ni ima yan oba larin awon eniti nwon ni itan pataki kan ninu eje. Ilana kan ti o se ajeil ana saju iyan ti oba. Awon olori ama dan agbara ti iroju re ati ise akoso ara re wo. li ojo ti a yan fun dide e li ade, awon olori ama lo si afin oba, nwon a mu u dani pelu agbara, nwon a si na a pelu pasan. Bi oba ba farada aje n lai sun ara ki, nigbana nwon yio de e li ade, bi beko, nwon yio yan oba miran.

The king is chose by a council of elders from among those who have a certain blood descent. A curious ceremony precedes a king’s election. His powers of endurance and self-restraint are tested by the chiefs, who, on the day appointed for the coronation, go to the king’s palace, get hold of him forcibly, and flog him with a whip. If the ordeal is suffered without flinching, then the king is crowned; if not, another king is chosen.

The blurb for Teach Yourself Yoruba runs

This book provides a complete introductory course in Yoruba, the mother tongue of over 10 million people living in Western Nigeria, in parts of Northern Nigeria and Benin.

The book is concerned with the generally accepted “standard” Yoruba which is widely understood even where regional dialects exist. The course assumes no previous knowledge of the language and every stage is illustrated with examples and exercises. Pronunciation, grammar and syntax are comprehensively covered and the book will equip you with a basic, everyday vocabulary.

I’ve no doubt that other books are available on these languages, and that these may well be a little dated after all this time. Reading about them, it’s clear that they’re very different, and therefore very difficult for speakers of European languages like English. Nevertheless, I thought that people interested in Africa and its languages might like to know about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 3 Series Next Week on Paul Robeson

March 26, 2020

Radio 3’s The Essay next week is doing a series of programmes on Paul Robeson. The show’s called ‘The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs’, and is on from Monday to Friday at 10.45 pm. The short description of the series by David McGillivray on page 122 of the Radio Times runs

The turbulent life of Paul Robeson, the American performer whose career was shamefully curtailed by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, is reflected in five of his songs in a series of essays through the week. His was one of the most magnificent bass baritone voices of the 20th century, and the story behind his biggest hit, Ol’ Man River, is told by his granddaughter tomorrow [Tuesday]. Robeson’s most sustained success in films was in the UK but mostly the roles offered him were demeaning and he turned to political activism. The trade union ballad, Joe Hill (Friday) provides a melancholic epitaph.

Here are the blurbs for the individual episodes by day.

Monday.

No More Auction Block

The life and struggles of New Jersey-born bass-baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) are explored through five of his songs. Robeson’s signature performances include Show Boat and Othello, but spirituals defined his early career, and in 1925, Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown turned them into “art music”. In this first installment, scholar and professor of black music Shana Redmond explores the ways in which Robeson’s performances of No More Auction Block map his own struggles.

Tuesday

Ol’ Man River

Susan Robeson explores the personal and political aspects of the song that is forever identified with her grandfather  – Ol’ Man River, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein expressly for Robeson for their groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. But the singer would not wrap his unique voice around it  until the following year in the London production. He would have a lasting and complex relationship with the song, especially as a black superstar performing for white audiences. “My grandfather transformed Ol’ Man River from a song of submission and despair into a song of resistance.”

Wednesday

The Canoe Song

Paul Robeson and film should have been a perfect fit. The 20th Century’s first black superstar had presence, voice and fierce intelligence that projected from the screen. British audiences adored him, but for Robeson cinema was a constant betrayal of his political idealism. Matthew Sweet considers the confusing threads that make up Zoltan Korda’s 1935 Empire flag-waver Sanders of the River, which still hummed to the astonishing power of Robeson’s voice in the Canoe Song, prompting British audiences to declare him as “our Paul”. 

Thursday

Zog Nit Keynmol

When Paul Robeson stood before a Moscow audience on the evening of 14th June 1949 in the Tchaikowski Hall, few expected to hear him perform the Yiddish Partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say). His rendition of this fierce anthem of defiance, composed in the middle of Nazi slaughter, was thick with emotion, and at the end the crowd either fiercely applauded or booed. Robeson had sung for those he knew were already murdered, imprisoned or facing death as a new wave of Stalinist repression against Soviet Jews was underway. Nigerian-born actor and singer Tayo Aluko explores Robeson’s torment and contradictory emotions that make this performance so dramatic.

Friday

Joe Hill

London-based cultural historian Marybeth Hamilton summons up the ghosts of both Earl Robinson’s 1936 song Joe Hill – about the Swedish-American labour activist – and Paul Robeson as she explores the ways Robeson was so completely erased from culture and memory for many Americans. “If any one song in Robeson’s repertoire sums up those histories of denial silencing it is Joe Hill.

Paul Robeson – one of the left-wing giants of the 20th century. I had a very left-wing aunt, who was a massive fan of Robeson. She would have loved this. I also wondered if all the Israel-critical Jews smeared and vilified by the Israel lobby shouldn’t sing Zog Nit Keynmol. From what I gather from reading David Rosenberg’s and Tony Greenbstein’s blog’s, the greatest resistance against the Nazis, including the Warsaw ghetto, came from the anti-Zionist Bund. The Zionists all too often made deals with the Nazis, as when the Zionist newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, praised the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and urged its readers to ‘wear your yellow stars with pride.” Or when Rudolf Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in occupied Hungary, cut a deal with the Nazis whereby tens of thousands were deported to Auschwitz in return for a few being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

Ordinary Brits React to Boris Johnson’s Racism, Misogyny and Bigotry

December 11, 2019

Mike posted this video from Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday. It’s of an Asian chap in a town’s centre reading out some of the vile racist remarks our unfunny walking farce of a Prime Minister has made to ordinary people on the street and asking them for their comments in turn. In order to get their reactions, he doesn’t tell them who made them. The people asked are both White and black. And the remarks they’re asked about are some of Johnson’s most notorious:

‘The children of single mothers are ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’.

‘All the young people I know have an almost Nigerian interest in making money’.

‘Tribal warriors in the Congo will all break out in watermelon smiles’.

‘You must accept that the problem is Islam, Islam is the problem’.

‘Late at night, when I come across that bunch of black kids shrieking in the spooky corner by the disused gents, I would love to pretend that I don’t turn a hair.’

‘The best way to deal with a woman colleague giving you advice is to just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way.’

Needless to say, the peeps interviewed aren’t impressed with these bigoted comments, which are described as mad, wrong, rude, horrible, racist. They feel that the remark about Islam particularly crosses the line by insulting someone’s religion, even though, as one woman makes clear, they’re not Muslim. They’re also not impressed by his characterisation of Nigerians. A white man simply doesn’t understand it, while a tall Black woman says that she’s Nigerian and has to live with the stereotype. The interviewer also says that the remark of Black boys perpetuates the stereotype that they’re trouble. The reality could be that they’re just hanging about, playing Pokemon or something. Two of the women shown, one young and Black, the other older and White, also very definitely did not agree with Johnson’s sexist, patronising remark about how to handle women.

When asked for their opinion about the person who said all that, the people said that he needed to widen his world and he wasn’t happy.  And they reacted with incredulity and laughter when informed it was Boris.  A White women said that he should be ashamed of himself. A black man in a market stall says that as a leader, you should lead without prejudice. The interviewer also comments that his worry is that if he’s saying all this publicly, what’s he saying privately? When asked if they want him to be their Prime Minister, they make it very clear they don’t. One Black man says that when he thinks of him, he thinks of Windrush and the way they kicked them out of the country. How, he says, can he vote Conservative when they do that to our Black people? The video ends with the Nigerian woman and the Black man, who remembered Windrush, advising people to vote Labour. In fact, the Black man and the interviewer even join together in chanting a little ditty about it at the end.

Boris and the Tories have tried to shrug this off my saying that it’s just the Prime Minister being straight-talking. But it isn’t. His comments are ignorant and offensive. Yes, there are problems with multiculturalism, but Boris’ comments don’t help. They make the situation worse. After Johnson’s odious comments about women in burqas looking like bin bags, for example, there was a spike in racist incidents including assaults. And his remarks about getting rid of women giving unwanted advice by patting them on the rear could very easily get the man who tried it hauled up in front of a sexual harassment tribunal. And the Tory bigotry Johnson expresses has also had very real, and unjust consequences as the Black gent in the video says. It was those attitudes that convinced the Tories they could deport the Windrush migrants and their children, people who were here perfectly legally, but whose right of citizenship was torn up by David Cameron and Tweezer.

Boris Johnson is an oaf and his views insulting and dangerous. He isn’t fit to be Prime Minister. Britain deserves better.

And there is one. Jeremy Corbyn, who has always stuck up for the rights of all the people of this country, regardless of their colour and gender.

Get Johnson out, and him in!

 

Elderly Rabbi Arrested at Extinction Rebellion Protest

October 16, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Tuesday, 15th October 2019, carried an article by Jennifer Logan reporting that an elderly rabbi had been arrested by the rozzers after praying at an Extinction Rebellion protest in London. The article ran

A rabbi who was arrested after kneeling and praying in the middle of a road during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London said yesterday that he was “standing up for his grandchildren.”

Police have now arrested 1,405 people in connection with the protests, which will continue tomorrow when activists are understood to be planning to block roads outside MI5 on what will be the seventh day of direct action over the global climate crisis.

Jeffrey Newman, the Rabbi Emeritus of Finchley Reform Synagogue in north London, was protesting alongside about 30 Jewish activists. He was arrested near the Bank of England as hundreds of people descended upon the financial centre for a second week of protests.

The 77-year-old, who was wearing a white yarmulka branded with the black Extinction Rebellion logo, said: “I see it as my religious and moral duty to stand up for what I believe in, and what I care about, for my grandchildren.

“I haven’t tried to involve the synagogue, because if you are asking for permission, you might not get it. I think it’s much more important to do what I’m doing.”

After last week’s protests, which blockaded Parliament and targeted City Airport, protesters are now focusing on the City of London over financial backing for fossil fuels. They claim that trillions of pounds are flowing through financial markets to invest in fossil fuels which damage the climate.

Extinction Rebellion said dozens of activists were due to appear in court this week, including trials connected with previous action in April.

I have to say that Extinction Rebellion aren’t exactly my favourite protest group, because their demonstrations seem to inconvenience the general public more than the politicians and the big corporations behind the fossil fuel industries and global warming. But they have a very, very good cause. Meteorologists, ecologists, along with other scientists and broadcasters like Sir David Attenborough have been warning for decades that unless something is done, our beautiful world may very well die and humanity along with it. When I was studying for my doctorate in Archaeology at Bristol Uni, one of the postgraduate seminars in the department was by an archaeologist on the impact of climate change on human cultures throughout history. He was particularly concerned about drought and desertification, which certainly has catastrophically affected human civilisations around the world. One of the most dramatic examples was the abandonment of the Amerindian pueblo cities in the Canyon de Chelly in the American southwest around the 12th century AD. The pueblo cultures had created an extensive irrigation to supply water to their crops in the southwestern desert. However, in the 12th century that part of America entered an extremely dry period during which the available water dried up. Civilisation was not destroyed, as the Amerindian peoples themselves survived by retreating to more fertile areas. Nevertheless, it resulted in those pueblos, which had survived for centuries, being abandoned.

And now we face a similar crisis in the 21st century, thanks in part to global warming and an increasingly intense demand for water. Back in the 1990s one edition of the Financial Times predicted that climate change and competition for water resources would be the major force for war in the 21st century. In West Africa one of the reasons for the conflict in the north of Nigeria, for example, between Christians and Muslims is the desertification of the traditional grazing territory of nomadic pastoralists. These are mainly Muslim, who have been forced to move south onto land belonging to mainly Christian peoples in order to feed their flocks. The result has been ethnic and religious conflict. But it’s important to realise that the roots of this conflict are primarily ecological. It is not simply about religion. Examples of desertification and global dry periods in the past have been used by the Right to argue that the current climate crisis really isn’t as acute as scientists have claimed. It’s just the world’s natural climatic cycle repeating itself. This certainly wasn’t the view of the archaeologist giving that talk at uni, who warned that there was only a finite amount of water and urged us all to use it sparingly.

It was interesting to read the good rabbi’s concern for the planet and his grandchildren. People of all faiths are now worried about climate change. One of the priests at our local church preached a very long sermon on Sunday, no doubt partly inspired by the coming Extinction Rebellion protests, on the need to save the planet. I’ve no doubt that the involvement of practising Jews in this protest, and others, will cause something of a problem for some of the propaganda used to attack Green groups. Because there was a very strong ecological aspect to Nazism, the Right tries to close off sympathy for Green politics as a whole by smearing it as a form of Nazism, even when it’s blatantly clear that they aren’t. But the IHRC definition of anti-Semitism states that it is anti-Semitic to describe a Jew as a Nazi. Which is going to make it rather difficult for the organisations and rags that follow this line to claim that Jewish Greens are somehow supporting Nazism for getting involved in protests like this.

But it seems the cops are becoming very heavy-handed in their treatment of protesters. Mike over on his blog condemned the arrest of a 91/2 year old gentleman on another climate protest. This spirited old chap used the same explanation for his actions as Rabbi Newman: he was worried for the future of his grandchildren. Or great-grandchildren. He was arrested because he was caught protesting outside the Cabinet Office, and so frightened that doughty defender of British freedom, Boris Johnson. Yeah, our current excuse for a Prime Minister, who seems to fancy himself as the heir to Julius Caesar, Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill, was ‘frit’ – to use Thatcher’s word – of a 91 or 92 year old gent. Mike concluded of this gentleman’s arrest

Conclusion: John was committing an offence against nobody but Boris Johnson. A Boris Johnson government is an offence against the very environment in which we live.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/92-year-old-man-arrested-while-supporting-extinction-rebellion-because-the-tories-dont-like-it/

As ever, Mike is correct. In a subsequent article he showed that the Tories are far more likely than Labour to vote for policies that actively harm the planet. BoJo himself ‘was also among 10 ministers who received donations or gifts from oil companies, airports, petrostates, climate sceptics or thinktanks identified as spreading information against climate action.’ Mike’s article was based on a Guardian piece, that developed a scoreboard for the parties’ and individual politicians’ voting record. The Tories on average scored 17. Labour scored 90, and Jeremy Corbyn 92. Mike’s conclusion:

if you want a government that acts against climate change and to protect the environment for you, your children and future generations, you need to vote LABOUR.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/12/worried-about-climate-change-then-dont-vote-tory/

And we have to stop the cops being used as BoJo’s private police force, so that no more decent people, including senior citizens and members of the clergy of this country’s diverse religious communities, are picked up because they dare to frighten BoJob and his wretched corporate backers.