Posts Tagged ‘Barbary Pirates’

Simon Webb Has Written a Book on British Concentration Camps

August 16, 2022

Readers of this blog will be well aware that I have extremely mixed views about Simon Webb and History Debunked. I don’t share his High Toryism, heading into the ideological territory of parties like Reform, Reclaim or Patriotic Alternative, for example. I particularly reject his views that the IQ difference between Blacks and Whites is biologically determined, and that there is a further biological difference in IQ between Whites and Asians. Some of what he’s written about African history is just plain wrong, such as the statement that before the White man arrived, Black Africa was stuck in the Bronze Age. Not true – the Bantu cultures spread throughout Africa were very firmly Iron Age, as were the Kordofanian and Nilotic peoples and those of Ethiopia. His videos about the decline of South Africa after the end of apartheid and Zimbabwe after it passed to Black majority rule and the horrific dictatorship of Mugabe seem to be based on a nostalgia for White colonial rule.

But sometimes he also says something interesting and important. Looking through his website, there’s a piece on the non-fiction books he has written. Three are mentioned – one on the Suffragette Bombers, subtitled ‘Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists’, another on 1919; Britain’s Year of Revolution, which probably explains why he disputes the memorialization of Philip Wootton in Liverpool as an innocent victim of lynching, rather than a violent thug. But it’s the third that interests me here. This is British Concentration Camps: A Brief History from 1900-1975, published by Pen & Sword like his other books. He describes this book thus:

‘For many of us, the very expression ‘Concentration Camp’ is inextricably linked to Nazi Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust. The idea of British concentration camps is a strange and unsettling one. It was however the British, rather than the Germans, who were the chief driving force behind the development and use of concentration camps in the Twentieth Century. The operation by the British army of concentration camps during the Boer War led to the deaths of tens of thousands of children from starvation and disease. More recently, slave-labourers confined in a nationwide network of camps played an integral role in Britain’s post-war prosperity. In 1947, a quarter of the country’s agricultural workforce were prisoners in labour camps. Not only did the British government run their own concentration camps, they willingly acquiesced in the setting up of such establishments in the United Kingdom by other countries. During and after the Second World War, the Polish government-in-exile maintained a number of camps in Scotland where Jews, communists and homosexuals were imprisoned and sometimes killed. This book tells the terrible story of Britain’s involvement in the use of concentration camps, which did not finally end until the last political prisoners being held behind barbed wire in the United Kingdom were released in 1975. From England to Cyprus, Scotland to Malaya, Kenya to Northern Ireland; British Concentration Camps; A Brief History from 1900 to 1975 details some of the most shocking and least known events in British history.’

This looks like solid scholarship, and one those of us on the left can get behind. One of the female commenters on this blog years ago, a very staunch socialist, sent me information about the forced labour camps set up by the Labour party in the 1930s supposedly to train unemployed workers into the habit of working again. This was relevant because it was based on the same squalid attitude as Blair’s ‘welfare to work’ policy, in which the unemployed were only to be given their dole if they did unpaid work for various companies, including charities like Tomorrow’s People, and the big supermarkets. The declassification of government documents a few years ago following a court case brought by the victims of the brutal methods Britain used to suppress the Mao Mao in Kenya has resulted in another book about the concentration camps set up by Britain there, Africa’s Secret Gulags. Some of this book sounds very similar to John Newsinger’s book about the horrors committed under British imperialism, The Blood Never Dried. Newsinger is very much a man of the left, but his book also describes the atrocities committed by Britain when attempting to quell the independence forces of Britain’s former colonies. I did not know, however, about the concentration camps set up north of the border by the Polish government in exile to persecute its political enemies, including the same people targeted by the Nazis, Jews and gays.

The book and his research on this shocking topic clearly impressed others on the left. In the journalism section on his website there’s an article he wrote about it for Jacobin, a left-wing journal. He’s also written a fourth book, on the Barbary pirates, but this isn’t mentioned on his website.

In writing the book on British concentration camps, Webb’s clearly done something that can be supported by the left in bringing to light the way the British state and its allies have used forced labour and similar camps to exert its control in the home country and across its colonies. Brutal methods that should concern anyone who believes in democracy, human rights and humane government.

See: https://www.simon-webb.com/non-fiction-books.html

Sultan and Khan Attack the Islamic Preachers of Jihad and Slavery

April 12, 2022

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery and Islam. I did so partly to see whether there was any truth in the accusation by the islamophobic right that the Muslim grooming gangs were rooted in Muslim sex slavery. They aren’t. They’re just evil men with a racist attitude to Whites, who wanted to rape and degrade young girls. Brown states in his introduction that his book was a response to the shock he and the overwhelming majority of Muslims the world over felt when ISIS revived sex slavery. His book is also partly an attempt to answer the question why, if slavery is such a monstrous crime, did it take so long for Christians, Muslims and other religions and philosophies to ban it. His conclusion is that slavery wasn’t condemned but regulated by religions like Christianity and Islam because it was too much a part of everyday life for previous civilisations to consider outlawing it. Not even rationalist philosophers like Aristotle argued against it, because they felt it was too indispensable. Aristotle apparently said that it could only be banned ‘when looms drive themselves’. Brown therefore concludes that abolitionism arose in the west when a series of social and technological changes showed that society could still survive and prosper economically without slavery. Part of his argument is that it survived so long in Islam because Muslim slavery was more benign than western chattel slavery and even the western treatment of free workers. It was heavily regulated, slaves had rights, most could expect to be manumitted in 8-10 years and female slave concubines could rise to become powerful women, the mothers of Ottoman emperors and caliphs.

Brown’s a White American convert to Islam and a professor of the religion at one of the American universities. He amasses a wealth of information and sources to prove his point. At the same time, it strikes me that he’s producing a biased account of Islamic slavery intended to impress the reader with its comparative mildness. Others have produce much more critical studies to Islamic slavery. The White European and American victims of the Barbary pirates complained of constant beating by their masters. They were given meagre rations and expected to make money for their masters. They lived in particular fear of being pressed into the pirates’ galleys. As oarsmen they were kept chained to their benched night and day, fed little and deprived of sleep. Many were driven to ‘strange ecstasies’ – madness. Another fear was that, if their relatives and friends back home could not raise the money to ransom them, their masters would sell them on to the big Ottoman slave market at Constantinople, and they would be lost among the enslaved masses of the Ottoman empire for ever.

Nevertheless, despite the book’s bias, Brown chronicles the process of abolition in the Islamic world and the attempts by Muslims themselves to abolish slavery. Sometimes this was by sincere reformers, who felt that Muhammed had intended slavery to be banned eventually, but circumstances prevented him from doing so in his own time. Sometimes the bans were simply for reasons of diplomatic expediency. Islamic states and rulers wanted to make treaties with western nations. These wanted to ban slavery around the globe, and so their Islamic partners did so. Brown notes the existence of radical Muslim groups we haven’t heard about in the West, because their radicalism is that of left-wing opponents of racism, sexism and homophobia in the West. These include movements like the Progressive Muslims.

But unfortunately, despite the hard work put in by Islamic abolitionists, the fanatics are coming back to preach aggressive jihad and the enslavement of the kufar.

Harris Sultan and Nuriyeh Khan are two ex-Muslim atheists with their own channel on YouTube, which attacks religion in general and Islam in particular. They are very concerned about the rising intolerance in the Islamic world, like Pakistan where people have been murdered on the mere accusation that they have committed blasphemy. A few days ago they discussed a recent case in which a schoolteacher was murdered by three of her pupils, because one of them apparently had a dream in which the teacher blasphemed against Islam. It’s sheer, mindless fanaticism, though there’s also the suspicion that there may have been more mundane motives for the killing. They’ve also attacked similar trends among extreme right-wing Hindus in India and also among the Sikhs. and recently they’ve put up a couple of videos showing Muslim preachers calling for or defending aggressive jihad and the enslavement of non-Muslims.

One was an Indonesian preacher on Zakir Naik’s PeaceTV. Naik’s a Muslim anti-Christian polemicist. This delightful preacher told his congregation that in 50-60 years, Muslims would be strong enough to make war and invade the non-Muslim world. If non-Muslims allowed them to take over their countries without struggle, they would be allowed to keep their homes and property. If, however, they fought back, or continued with un-Islamic practices like nightclubs after they allowed Islam to take over their countries, they would be conquered by military force and enslaved.

The other day they put up another video of a female professor of Islam at one of Islam’s most prestigious universities, al-Uzzah, as recorded and translated by Memri TV. This woman attacked the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis. But she was in favour of Muslims enslaving non-Muslim women as sex slaves, because this would humiliate them. This particularly shocked Nuriyeh Khan. As a modern, liberated woman she found it deeply distressing and incomprehensible to hear another woman advocating such vile treatment of the members of her own sex. Sultan also made the point that the Israelis weren’t enslaving Palestinian women for sex. If they did, this would be a crime against humanity and would be condemned by the international community. This is probably true, but condemnations by the UN haven’t stopped the decades long process of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli state, the erection of a system of apartheid or the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children.

To show what these policies meant in practice during Ottoman history, they show clips from a Hungarian TV series about Magyar, Serb and Croat girls, who are carried off into slavery by Ottoman raiders. These kill the girls’ fiances and husbands. At the slave market they are stripped and humiliated with their breasts and buttocks prodded by prospect male buyers. This is historically accurate. Under the sharia the only legitimate source of slaves was prisoners of war, and so Muslim states were engaged in warfare and raiding for slaves to supply the slave markets. And Brown states in his book that female slaves were treated like this.

Now this TV series raises a number of issues. There’s a bitter hatred of Muslims in Hungary and the Balkans. These countries were invaded and conquered by the Ottomans. The Turks only succeeded in conquering two-thirds of Hungary, and it was later reconquered by the Austrians, hence the Austro-Hungarian empire. But Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Greece, for example, spent five hundred years as provinces of the Ottomans. Most of the hatred, though, dates from atrocities committed by the Muslim forces during these nations’ wars of independence. A revolt on one of the Greek islands was put down with terrible massacres in the 1820s, after which 17,000 + Christian Greeks were enslaved. It should be noted too that the Christians were also capable of committing atrocities of their own against Muslims, but this received much less publicity in the west. During the Second World Bosnian Muslims united with the forces of Croatian Fascist leader Ante Pavelic to perpetrate appalling massacres on the Serbs. The Fascists wanted to have 1/3 of the Serbs converted to Roman Catholicism, a third forced in slavery and another third simply wiped out. Concentration camps like those for Jews in Nazi Germany were set up. Captured Serb women and children were thrown off mountains to kill them.

It was memory of these horrors that spurred the Serbs in their turn to commit horrific atrocities against Bosnian Muslims during the War in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. One of the paramilitary groups responsible, under a particular vicious brute called Arkan, had taken part a few years earlier in a re-enactment of the Battle of Kosovo Polje at the end of the fourteenth century in which the Ottoman forces defeated the Christian armies and conquered Serbia. However much based in fact the Hungarian TV series is, it worries me that it has the potential to inspire a similar genocidal hatred of Muslims. Hungary has attracted international criticism from the EU amongst other for refusing to admit Muslim asylum seekers. I also seem to recall that Serbia also refused to let the mass caravan of migrants from Syria and the Middle East pass through their country on the way to western Europe in 2012. But I might be wrong. At the moment Britain is going through a period of post-imperial guilt because of the enslavement of indigenous peoples during the empire. But I wonder how tolerant we would be, if we had not been the conquerors but the conquered.

But the Hungarian TV series also raises questions about TV series about the enslavement of Blacks in America and Europe, such as Alex Haley’s landmark book, Roots in the 1970s. Since then there have been a number of films, TV shows and documentaries about the enslavement of Blacks by westerners, such as Amistad and 12 Years A Slave. These are partly a response to the poverty, racism and marginalisation experienced by many western Black communities which it is argued have their basis in their enslavement. But if it is not only permissible but laudable to produce such historical dramas about transatlantic Black slavery, why shouldn’t series about the enslavement of Whites by Muslims also be shown? I doubt that any mainstream western European or American TV station would want to show such a series like the Hungarians because of the fear that it would promote islamophobia. But nevertheless, this occurred, and its legacy is felt in Orban’s Hungary and other parts of the Balkans.

But it’s also frightening to see that, after ISIS shocked decent people across the world, the preachers of hate in the Dar al-Islam by picking up their ideas and calling for jihad and sex slavery.

I wish the heirs of the great Islamic abolitionists every success in combating these intolerant fanatics, and the continuation of an international order marked by peace, respect and dignity for everyone, regardless of their colour or religion.

I haven’t posted the videos by Harris and Sultan here, because they make harsh comments about Islam as a whole. I’m not an atheist and genuinely don’t wish to upset Muslim readers of this blog. This is a time when the Conservatives are forcing working people of all religions into ever greater poverty. European Muslims are, in general, the most impoverished group after Blacks. See the book The Crisis in Islamic Civilisation. It shouldn’t matter what our individual religious faiths are or their absence thereof. We all need to stand together against genuine intolerance wherever it is found, and the Tories’ and neo-liberals to drive us further into poverty and despair.

If you want to see their videos, please look for them on YouTube. Their titles are

Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem unveils the GRAND plan of Islam

Female Islamic scholar says Muslim men have a right to humiliate infidel women

Just remember, these monsters don’t speak for all Muslims.

A Black Woman Visits Qatar’s Museum of Slavery

April 3, 2022

Very interesting video posted by Angela B. on her channel on YouTube. It was posted five years ago for Black history month. The hostess is an English-speaking Black woman, who lives in the Middle East. One of her parents is African, while the other comes from the Virgin Islands, which gives her a personal connection to the history of slavery. The video is her visit to a museum of slave trade in Qatar. This covers the history of slavery from ancient Greece and the use of enslaved Ethiopians in the bath houses, which understandably chills Angela B on what they saw and what they were used for – through the Atlantic slave trade and then the Arabic slave trade. It has animated displays and the voices of the enslaved describing their capture, the forced march through the desert during which many were left to die where they fell before arriving in Zanzibar, Kilwa and other east African islands under Arab suzerainty. The museum describes the enslavement of boys as pearl fishers and the abolition of slavery in Qatar in 1951. It also goes on to discuss the persistence of slavery in the modern world. Angela B is personally chilled, as someone with ancestors from the Virgin Islands, by the sight of the slave manacles in the museum. Interestingly, the explanatory panels in the museum also talk about serfdom in medieval Europe, which she doesn’t comment on. Serfdom is one of the numerous forms of unfree labour that is now considered a form of slavery by the international authorities. It’s interesting to see it referenced in an Arabic museum to slavery, when it is largely excluded from the debate over slavery in the West, which largely centres around the transatlantic slave trade. The recorded speech and voiceovers in the Museum are in Arabic, but the written texts are bilingual in Arabic and English.

The video’s also interesting in what the museum and Angela B include and comment on, and what they omit. There’s a bias towards Black slavery, though how much of this is the museum and how much Angela B obviously attracted to the part of the slave trade that affected people of her own race is debatable. Slavery was widespread as an unremarkable part of life in the Ancient Near East long before ancient Greece. There exist the lists of slaves working on the great estates from ancient Egypt, some of whom had definite Jewish names like Menachem. Slavery also existed among the Hittites in what is now Turkey, Babylonia and Assyria, but this isn’t mentioned in the video. If the museum doesn’t mention this, it might be from diplomatic reasons to avoid upsetting other, neighbouring middle eastern states. Or it could be for religious reasons. Islam regards the period before Mohammed as the ‘Jaihiliyya’, or ‘Age of Darkness’, and discourages interest in it. This is perhaps why it was significant a few years ago that the Saudi monarchy permitted the exhibition in the country’s museums of ancient Arabian pre-Islamic gods, except for those idols which were depicted nude. If the museum did include that era, then Angela B may have skipped over it because her video is concentrating and Black slaves. At the same time, the video doesn’t show the enslavement of White Europeans by the Barbary pirates and other Muslims. This may also be due to the same reason. The ancient Greeks used slaves in a variety of roles, including as craftsmen and agricultural labourers. Some of the pottery shows female sex slaves being used in orgies. There’s also a piece of pottery in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in the shape of a sleeping Ethiopian boy curled up around a wine pot. I wonder if the piece about enslaved Ethiopians serving as bath attendants was selected for inclusion in the museum because it was similar to forms of slavery they would have been familiar with.

The video’s fascinating because it, like another video about the Arab slave trade I posted and commented on a few days ago, it shows how the issue of slavery and Black civil rights has penetrated the Arab world. The other video included not only discussion of Libya’s wretched slave markets, but also covered modern Afro-Iraqis and their demand for civil rights and political representation. These are issues we really don’t hear about in the west, unless you’re an academic at one of the universities or watch al-Jazeera. But there’s also an issue with the museum. While it naturally condemns historic slavery, Qatar and the other Gulf Arab states effectively enslave and exploit the foreign migrant workers that come to the country. This has provoked protests and criticism at the country hosting the World Cup and one of the Grand Prix’.

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.

History Debunked on the Comparative Lack of Interest in British Asian History

December 17, 2021

This is a related video to the one I put up from Simon Webb’s History Debunked this afternoon, which discussed how the Beeb had race-swapped the characters in their adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. Phileas Fogg’s servant, Passepartout, is now Black, but the leading lady, who is Indian in the book, is now White. ‘Cause you can’t have two non-White leads apparently. Or Blacks must be given preference over Asians when it comes to casting non-White roles. In this video Webb discusses the case of Hsien Fan Sun, a Chinese gent who worked as a librarian at the court of James II. If Sun had been Black, then knowledge of him would have been promoted as it has been about Mary Seacole and John Blank, the Black trumpeter at the Tudor court. But he isn’t, because he’s Chinese. It’s another example of how, to Webb, diversity means primarily Black people. Which left me wondering why this should be so.

Racism to and Enslavement of Asian Indentured Workers

Asians have suffered their share of western racism and enslavement. During the infamous ‘coolie trade’, Asian workers from India and China were recruited as indentured labourers to work on plantations in the Caribbean, Fiji and elsewhere to replace the Black slaves, who had been emancipated. They worked in horrendous conditions, which in many cases were worse than those endured by the Black slaves. The system was widely denounced by Indian nationalists and humanitarians, including the Anglican Church and leading politicos, as ‘A New System of Slavery’. Which is the title of an excellent book on it by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses. There were riots against the coolie trade in India and China, and the British authorities were also keen to stamp out the enslavement of Asians. The Indian police raided warehouses where Indians were being forcibly confined after they had been kidnapped, or tricked into signing indenture papers. It was such a scandal that the government issued a series of regulations demanding that Asian labourers should have access to an interpreter and understand the terms and conditions of the contract, that there should be a minimum level of acceptable living conditions aboard ships, children should be with women rather than left with the men, and a minimum number of women should emigrate with the male workers. There should also be opportunities for correspondence home and the remittance of money. I think the Britiish government first discussed the recruitment of the Chinese in particular in 1816 or so. They wanted replacements for the Black slaves, and the Chinese were decided upon because they were hardworking and less likely to complain or rebel. The prejudice against Chinese workers continued into the 20th century, when the early Labour party at one meeting denounced the government’s ‘Chinese slavery’ and put up a picture of a Chinese man. There were anti-Chinese riots in 1909, although this was caused by British firms sacking their White employees and replacing them with Chinese during an industrial dispute.

The Asian Presence in British and European History

There isn’t a total lack of interest in the Asian presence in British history. The book Under the Imperial Carpet, whose editors were Asian, also discussed Asian British history. Before the present set of ethnic minority MPs were elected in the ’70s and ’80s, Britain had BAME MPs. Webb put up a video about an Indian rajah, who became a Conservative MP in the 19th century. Other Asians became Liberal and even Communist MPs later in the early 20th. I’m not entirely surprised by the presence of Sun at James II’s court. This was the age when Europe was expanding, not just across the Atlantic, but also into Asia. The Jesuits were establishing missions in China, and scientific and technical knowledge flowed back and forth. I think the Chinese were impressed by European clockmaking, while Europeans were impressed by the Chinese skill at making automatons. By the following century upper class Europeans were consuming tea, Chinese porcelain, decorating their homes with wallpaper and furniture with Chinese art and motifs. Chinese literature was also being translated into European languages. The great religious sceptic, David Hume, read at least one Chinese novel. What impressed him was not how different it was, but how it was comprehensible, given the difference between Chinese and European culture.

Asian Stars on British Television

There are and have been Asian actors and presenters on British TV. I’ve mentioned Anita Rani, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Adil Ray in my previous post. But before them there was David Yip way back in the ’70s, who starred as The Chinese Detective. Dino Shafeek and Andy Ho appeared as the Indian and Burmese staff in the comedy It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. The classical Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar gained widespread popularity among the Hippy crowd through his friendship with Beatle George Harrison. He’s said since that this wasn’t altogether beneficial, as you should approach classical Indian music with the same attitude you approach western classical music, rather than listen to it like pop. And were any number of western groups taking over oriental instruments, like sitars, and rhythms. This in turn led to the rise of World Music, a genre that encompasses music and its performers from across continents, and which includes both traditional and more modern forms.

And there is an interest in recovering an Asian, as well as Black British past. The Black rights and history organisation with whom I briefly corresponded when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was the Black and Asian Studies Association. Researchers on Islam in Britain, when I was studying the religion at College in the 1980s, were particularly interested in the discovery of tombs with inscription in Arabic dating from the 17th century in Yorkshire. A more recent programme on the Barbary Pirates on Radio 4 in the early part of this century suggested instead that they may have been the graves of indigenous White Brits, who had been captured by the north African pirates and forcibly converted to Islam before either escaping or being ransomed. And a year or so ago there was a programme on Radio 3 about the Muslim servant of one of the ministers responsible for carrying through the Reformation over here. There have also been history books written about ‘The Muslim Discovery of Europe’. With the rise of capitalism, the stock exchange and the nascent consumer culture in the 18th century came popular ballads celebrating how people of all races and creeds, Jew, Christian and Turk, were all united in the peaceful work of making money. I don’t think there’s any shortage of material. My great-grandfather was a docker, and I can remember my grandmother telling me about the lascar and Chinese sailors that came into Bristol docks. But in general Webb is right: as a rule diversity means Blacks rather than Asians. Why is this?

Blacks More Determined than Asians to Be A Part of Mainstream British Culture?

I think some of it may be that Blacks have a greater determination to be a conspicuous part of western culture than Asians. Blacks have certainly formed a large part of the British and American entertainment industries since White youth started tuning into Jazz in the 1920s. There were Black screen actors, although quite often the roles they were given were demeaning before Sidney Poitier revolutionised the portrayal of Blacks on screen, paving the way for contemporary Black leading men. But then, so did Bruce Lee and stars of Chinese martial arts cinema like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And some of us still remember the TV adaptations of the Chinese classics The Water Margin and Monkey, the latter based on Wu Cheng-en’s epic novel.

I wonder if some of it may be that some Asian cultures are more inward looking, and likely to look more toward their homelands and its culture for their roots and identity than Britain. Please note: I am certainly not suggesting that they are somehow less British than the rest of us. But I can remember coming across an academic, ethnographic study British Asians entitled The Myth of Return. This probably took its title from the initial conviction among many Asian immigrants that they were coming here only to make enough money so that they could afford to retire back to their home countries in comfort. This aspiration certainly wasn’t confined to them. Many Black West Indians also shared it, as did the Irish correspondent to the Groan whose letter began, ‘Sir, I am an Irishman, who came to Britain to make enough money to go back to Ireland again.’ In the ’70s there was a difference in integration between Muslim and Christian Pakistanis. Both groups were equally Pakistani in their culture at home, but the Christians were far more integrated into wider British culture. For example, their children mixed at school with the White children. By contrast ethnographers found that the Muslims took their children straight to school and straight back, and really didn’t allow them to share the same afterschool activities as their White classmates. This might explain why there were Islamist segregationists, who wanted there to be self-governing Muslim enclaves in Britain and Belgium, with Arabic as the official language, governed by shariah law. I hasten to add that things are rather different now. There was a Big Iftar around the country, a giant feast marking the end of Ramadan, celebrated by the Muslim community, who also invited their non-Muslim neighbours to partake. And polls have shown that only five percent of British Muslims want shariah law. But I think the Asian community may be more likely to get their entertainment from their ancestral countries through the Internet, satellite TV and video and DVD.

Asians More Culturally Confident?

I also wonder if part of the answer is that Asians, and specifically Indians and Chinese, may be more culturally confident than western Blacks. India and China were highly advanced, literate civilisations with histories going back millennia. A glance through books on the history of inventions and mathematics shows any number of works and innovations by Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese scholars. The first instance of plastic surgery, for example, comes from 8-9th century India, when one of the leading surgeons repaired the nose of a Indian princes. Muslim mathematicians and scientists studied astronomy, alchemy, medicine. And the Chinese had printing – though not with movable type, that was definitely Gutenberg’s invention – gunpowder, rockets, paper money and toilet paper, to name but a few. Sometimes this cultural confidence has formed the basis for humour. One of the characters on Goodness, Gracious Me – or was it the Kumars at No. 42? was a father, who was excessively proud of his home country’s achievements. He shouted out ‘India!’ every time various inventions were mentioned. I also remember one episode of Lovejoy in which the dodgy antique dealer was in negotiations with a Hong Kong businessman. This man was also conscious of how his country had led the world in science and invention for centuries, to the point where he believed the Chinese had more or less invented everything. At one point this is too much for his interpreter, who says to him, ‘Oh no, Mr -, I don’t think we invented motorcycles’.

Black African Cultures Less Well-Known and Admired

This is in contrast to Africa, whose great civilisations and monuments are less appreciated. Ancient Egypt has been claimed as Black civilisation by the Afro-Centrists, but this is controversial and they could well be wrong. Nubia and Meroe in what is now the Sudan died out centuries ago. Christian Nubia was conquered by the Muslims. It’s predecessors in the Sudan unfortunately spoke languages that are now extinct. The Nubians took over the culture and alphabet of the Ancient Egyptians. Frustratingly, we can read their inscriptions but have no idea what they mean until the appearance of a Rosetta Stone that will give us the key to translating them. Abyssinia was a literate, Christian empire while the Kiswahili were also an advanced Islamic civilisation. As was Mali and other states in northwest Africa. But I think these have been seen as the exceptions rather than the rule. Although many of the civilisations of north and Saharan Africa were capable of building large structures, like house and mosques from mud brick, I suspect the popular image of Africa remains that of mud huts. And until the introduction of Islam and Christianity on the continent, many of these peoples were illiterate. The result has been that the attitude of many western scholars towards African civilisation was wholly negative. The book Colour and Colour Prejudice, by the last British governor of Ghana, has page after page of quotes from various western scholars, almost all of whom declare that African culture is worthless and that the continent’s people have discovered nothing. Obvious this has been and is being challenged by Black activists and scholars.

Blacks and Affirmative Action

Much of the promotion of Blacks as a specific group has come from concern at the poor conditions of the Black community in America and Britain. Other groups have also suffered racism. I can remember one of my uncles telling me with disgust about the horrible ‘jokes’ the other White workers played on an Indian comrade. As a rule, I think Blacks are at the bottom of the racial hierarchy when it comes to academic performance and employment. Above them, but still disadvantaged, are Muslims. Indians are about the same level as Whites, or just below, while Chinese actually outperform us. Black history as a specific subject in schools is being promoted as the solution to the problems of the Black community. If Black people were aware of their achievements and presence in American and British history, then they would develop the self-respect and confidence to perform better at school, and challenge the racism that still sees them as outsiders and foreigners. Unfortunately, this has led to Black activists claiming the credit for Blacks for scientific achievements that came from others. I think the entertainment industry is part of this drive for Black empowerment too. I have a feeling that some of roles created for Black performers are intended to provide positive images of Blacks as just as urbane and middle class as everyone else. Or proper, respectable working class. I’ve no doubt its done to challenge the negative racist stereotypes Whites may hold, while at the same time hold up positive role models to the Black community. To show that Black people also live in families with fathers, where the parents are respectable, upstanding citizens who work to support their children and give them the best life they can. I’m not aware that family breakdown is the same issue in Asian communities as it is amongst Blacks and the White poor, so some of the issues that have led to a specific emphasis on Blacks in diversity may simply not be as pressing. It thus seems to me that, in general, Asians may be so much more confident in their culture that they don’t see the same urgency in establishing and insisting on their historic presence in Europe.

Blacks More Vociferous and Forceful in Attacking Racism

I also think it may also come from Blacks complaining the most forcefully about racism. One of the key events in the introduction of positive discrimination in Britain were the 1980s/81 race riots, where Black communities in Bristol, Brixton in London and Toxteth erupted in rioting. It led to various official reports, which recommended affirmative action programmes to give greater opportunities to Blacks, as was being done at the same time in America. There have been protests in the Asian community, and interethnic violence between Asians and Whites, along with Asian anti-racist activism. But I don’t recall the Asians rioting in the same way Black Brits did. And the protests held by Britain’s Muslims seem to be about specifically Islamic issues, like the publication of the Satanic Verses, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and general Islamophobia, rather than issues like employment or education although those have also been present. As a result, I think it’s probably true that Asians are less represented than Blacks in moves for ethnic diversity, although it should be stressed that they aren’t completely absent.

But these are just my ideas based on my own impressions. I may be wrong, and there may be other factors involved. I’d be interested to know what others think about it.

As an example of a TV series with an Asian leading man, here’s the titles to the Chinese Detective, starring David Yip, which I found on Robert Telfer’s channel on YouTube. Since then we’ve had Luther, starring the awesome Idris Elba as a Black detective. I like Elba – I think he’s a great actor, who could easily play Bond. I haven’t watched Luther, however, as the crimes he investigates all seem too grim and ‘orrible, like the serial killers tracked by Linda La Plante’s heroines. But perhaps it might be time once again for an Asian detective.

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

October 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.