Posts Tagged ‘Empire and Commonwealth Museum’

Panorama Documentary Tomorrow on British War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

November 17, 2019

Okay, I’m sure that this is something that no-one wants to see: allegations of war crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m afraid I’ve only caught a glimpse of it, but there was a trailer tonight for tomorrow’s edition of Panorama, 18th November 2019, which showed that this would be the subject of its investigation.

I understand that much of the curriculum at Sandhurst is about the morality of war, and the British army has prided itself that it uses the minimum of force. And the British armed forces for centuries have been subject to the rule of law. One of the slavery documents I found in the archives when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol was a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of atrocities against women and children by British troops during a slave rebellion in the West Indies.

But the men and women in our armed forces aren’t moral supermen. For all their training, courage and professionalism, they are human beings under immense stress. They were sent in by Blair to fight an illegal war in Iraq, which is already a war crime, though one for which the former Prime Minister and his cabinet and advisers are culpable, rather than the troopers who fought it. There were problems with supplying them adequately with the right equipment, so much so that they were supposedly nicknamed ‘the borrowers’ by the Americans because our troops had to borrow theirs. And the enemy fights dirty. I’ve heard it said that the Taliban in Afghanistan used to smear their bullets in excrement so that people shot by them would become infected in addition to the gunshot wound. I’ve also read reports online of the allied forces coming upon individuals, who it was highly probably had been the very Taliban, who had been firing on them moments before, but who swore they were no such thing. Even when it looked like they were washing their hands to remove the cordite stains.

In the American territory in Iraq, decent conduct seems to have broken down completely. I’ve reblogged pieces from The Jimmy Dore Show and other American left-wing news shows, which described how a former American diplomat to the zone complained about what he found there. The mess of one set of American troops was adorned with Nazi emblems and regalia. The private military contractors – read ‘mercenaries’ – were out of control, running drugs and prostitution rings. They also casually shot Iraqi civilians for fun. The real-life trooper, who was the subject of the Eastwood flick, The Sniper, a few years ago, also claimed to have shot civilians, including women and children. And the American military command also collaborated with sectarian death squads.

In this chaos and carnage I can quite believe that some our troopers would also take out their frustrations and aggression on the very civilians that Blair told us he was sending them in to liberate.

I’ve no doubt that this is going to stir up controversy, and I hope that the documentary is thorough and balanced – much more so than its wretched smear job against the Labour Party. And if it is found that British soldiers and personnel have committed atrocities against civilians, it will also be remembered that the ultimate responsibility for these wars lies with Tony Blair and his fellow war criminal, George Bush.

Robert Mugabe, the Butcher of Zimbabwe, Dies

September 8, 2019

on Friday the media reported the death of Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had been the leader of one of the country’s two opposition, nationalist movements against White colonial rule. There’s seems to have been more than a little optimism over his taking over the mantle of government. Ian Smith, the country’s previous president, had been so opposed to Black majority rule that he had unilaterally declared the country independent of Britain. Nevertheless, he declared that Mugabe was the best man for the job. As a symbol of the country’s new, African identity, the country’s name was changed from Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes, the infamous 19th century British imperialist, to Zimbabwe. This is a massive fort, dating from at least the 12th century, whose size and construction so astonished western archaeologists that it was considered the work of outsiders – the Chinese or the Arabs – before it was firmly demonstrated that it was indeed the work of the indigenous peoples, probably the Shona.

These new hopes were to be tragically and horrifically disappointed. Mugabe soon demonstrated that he was a brutal thug, determined to use violence and mass murder to hang on to power. He and the other members of his wretched party looted the country of millions, enriching themselves while they forced the mass of its people into abject poverty and starvation. Mugabe was a member, I believe, of the Shona, historically one of the weakest and most persecuted peoples in that part of Africa. Mugabe was determined to reverse this, and began his reign by attacking and butchering the Ndebele. Zimbabwean soldiers entered Ndebele villages to beat and murder their inhabitants. And it wasn’t just the Ndebele. He soon moved on to other groups and peoples. The thug’s approach to campaigning was simple. During his elections he sent his thugs into villages to break the arms of the local people. They then told them that if the didn’t vote for Mugabe, they’d come back and break their other arms.  In the early part of this century he moved on to attacking White farmers. There appears to have been some agreement with the British government during the negotiations for Black majority rule that Britain would pay a sum to the Zimbabwean government, which would then be used to buy White-owned farms, which would then be handed over to Blacks. Mugabe claimed this money had not been paid, and moved his troops in. The farms were invaded, their owners brutally dispossessed. As with the Ndebele, those who resisted were savagely beaten and killed.

This came at a time when race relations in this country were also fragile. I think it was about the same there was a general election, and once again immigration was an extremely contentious issue. Black groups, such as Operation Black Vote, were also campaigning for a greater number of Black and Asian MPs. I think part of the rise in racism at the time may well have been due these racial issues in Britain coinciding with genuine, anti-White political persecution in Zimbabwe. For those, who really fear and hate Blacks and Asians, the organised attack on the country’s White minority by its government may well have confirmed their deepest fears.

There may also have been something to Mugabe’s accusation that the money to purchase the farms properly had not been paid. When I was working as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum, a fellow volunteer asked me if I knew what going on at the National Archives. He’d been there in order to study a parliamentary paper from the 1980s about the negotiations for the handover to Black rule. However, he was told it was unavailable, and wondered whether it was being deliberately kept out of circulation for some very dubious reason.

Not that this makes Mugabe any better. As Mugabe filled agriculture and industry with his thugs and butchers, the country’s economy collapsed. Inflation reached the exorbitant levels of Weimar Germany. Previously, Zimbabwe had been one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It was actually an exporter of food, and called the continent’s breadbasket. Under Mugabe, this catastrophically collapsed. There was starvation and famine, except for Mugabe and his obscenely rich gang. Zimbabweans began fleeing over the border into South Africa as illegal immigrants simply to survive.

Mugabe fought off several challenges to his leadership, including by Musaveni, before eventually conceding some kind of power sharing agreement. I think he officially retired as President a few years ago. This was cautiously welcomed, as even though Mugabe himself was gone, his successors were still members of his party, who had been willingly complicit in his crimes against humanity.

Reflecting on the old thug’s death on the breakfast news, I heard John Simpson describing how fiercely intelligent Mugabe was. He excelled in embarrassing and humiliating reports by turning the questions against them. Simpson said that every action he did was clearly well thought out in advance. I can actually believe it. Contrary to what many people actually believe, intelligence and education doesn’t necessarily make anyone more moral.

As for Mugabe himself, his death reminded me of a passage from one Tom Sharpe’s books, Riotous Assembly. Published in 1971, this was savage satire of South African police force. One of the characters in it is Constabel Els, a brutal thug, who prides himself on having killed two Blacks with the same bullet. At the book’s climax, Els is himself nearly killed preparing the scaffold for the execution of an Anglican bishop he and his superiors have framed for the murder of a Black cook. The gibbet collapses, taking with it part of the jail, and freeing the Black prisoners. Believing Els to be dead, they dance and sing:

Els is dead, Els is dead,

He’s gone to the Devil where his soul belongs.

Raper of our women. Killer of our men,

We won’t see the swine again!

I think that probably describes how many feel the way about the passing of this old brute.

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

YouTube Video for My Book on Slavery in the British Empire, ‘The Global Campaign’

February 18, 2019

This is the video I’ve just uploaded on YouTube about my two volume book on slavery, its abolition and the campaign against it in the British Empire, The Global Campaign, which I’ve published with Lulu.

The video explains that it grew out of my work as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, helping to catalogue the archive of government documents that they had been granted by the Commonwealth Institute. I was busy summarizing these documents for a database on materials on slavery the Museum wanted to compile. Going through them, it became clear that the long process of its abolition in the Caribbean was just part of a wider attempt by the British to suppress it right across our empire, from Canada and the Caribbean across the Cape Colony, now part of South Africa, the Gold Coast, now Ghana, Sierra Leone, founded as a colony for freed slaves, central Africa, and what are now Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, Egypt, the Sudan and the North African parts of the Turkish Empire, to India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Java and Malaysia, and into the Pacific, in Fiji, Australia and the Pacific Island nations. Legislation in one section of the Empire, for example, the Caribbean, was also passed elsewhere, such as Cape Colony, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The British were aided in their campaign to stamp out slavery in Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda by the Egyptian ruler, the Khedive Ismail. They also signed treaties banning the slave trade from East Africa with the Imam of Muscat, now Oman, the ruler of Zanzibar and Pemba and the suzerain of some of the east African coastal states. There was also an invasion of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, in retaliation for their raiding of the neighbouring British territories for slaves.

As well as trying to suppress the enslavement of Africans, the British were also forced to attack other forms of slavery, such as the forced kidnapping and sale of indentured migrant labourers from India and China in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’, and the similar enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific for labour on the sugar plantations in Fiji and Queensland.

I also explain how one of the first English-speaking countries to ban slavery was Canada, where enlightened governors and judges twisted the interpretation of Canadian law to show that slavery did not officially exist there.

The video’s about ten minutes long. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything about the role Black resistance to slavery, from simple acts like running away, to full scale rebellions had in ending it, or of colonial governors and legislatures. But the book does mention them.

Here’s the video:

Video Debunking Rees-Mogg’s Poisonous Revisionist Lies about British Concentration Camps in Boer War

February 18, 2019

Yet more evidence to add to the growing mound of it that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a monster, who should not be let anywhere near high office, and that Question Time is horrendously biased. After John McDonnell made his remarks in an interview with Politico during the week, in which he said that Churchill was a villain because he sent in the British army to shoot down striking miners during the Tonypandy riots, Churchill’s legacy was apparently taken up and debated on Question Time. One of the guests on the panel was the Young Master, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared that the concentration camps in which Afrikaner women and children were imprisoned during the Boer War, also called by historians the Anglo-South African War, were beneficial to their residents, ‘humanitarian’ and that the death rate in them was no higher than in the Glasgow at the time.

This is, quite simply, a pack of utterly odious, reprehensible lies. The death toll in them was horrifically high, and generations of historians have condemned them as an atrocity. Rees-Mogg’s comparison of their death rate with that of Scotland’s great industrial toon provoked articles in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. I also found this video below on YouTube on the A Different Bias channel very effectively demolishing it and denouncing Mogg for what he is.

The presenter, Phil, begins by saying that there are two types of people on the subject of the British Empire. There is one set, who believe it is over and done with, while for another the Empire has not gone away. It has merely declined, and that is a good thing. He makes the point that there are misapprehensions of history on both sides, and that these need correcting. Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

He describes the background to the debate, and says that John McDonnell was naïve. Politico had set a trap for him, and instead of walking into it, declaring Churchill was a villain, he should have said, ‘Second World War – Hero’ and left it at that. He then moves on to talk about the concentration camps. He states that he believes the term ‘concentration camp’ first appeared during the Boer War. This erupted when the British tried to take over the gold fields in the free Afrikaner republics. The Afrikaner government granted concession after concession to the British, but this was not enough for Lord Milner, who wanted everything. And so War broke out.

However, despite the British forces outnumbering those of the Afrikaners, we were losing. We didn’t know the terrain; the Afrikaners did, and resorted to guerrilla warfare to defeat us. Lord Kitchener, the chief of the British forces, responded with a scorched earth policy. Boer farms were raised, their crops destroyed and livestock slaughtered. As a result, Afrikaner civilians displaced by the war fled to the camps, which were initially refugee camps. This became official military policy, with the British forcibly moving Afrikaner civilians into them. It was a deliberate attempt to defeat the Afrikaners through the detention of their women and children.

Inside the camps, conditions were atrocious. Hunger and disease were rampant. 50,000 died, 80 per cent of whom were children. This is illustrated very clearly by the photo Phil uses as the background for his talk, which shows a skeletally emaciated Afrikaner child. And the death rate at the time was nowhere near that of contemporary Glasgow. The death rate in the camps was 50 per cent. In Glasgow it was about 2 per cent. He gives the exact figures in the video. Furthermore, the suffering in the concentration camps was deliberately inflicted, while no-one was trying to kill the Glaswegians, except possibly other Glaswegians on a Friday night. The camps’ horrors were widely reported in the British press, creating a storm of public outrage. The government commissioned a committee of inquiry hoping to whitewash it all. Instead of finding that the reports were mistaken and the suffering exaggerated, the committee found that in fact conditions were actually far worse. As a result, the British government was forced to hand over management of the camps to the committee, who managed to reduce the death rate to 2 per cent.

At the beginning of his video, Phil asks rhetorically if there’s anyone who believes that concentration camps are beneficial to those interned in them, or that they do anything but bring shame upon their masters. He concludes, ‘No’, and so goes on to discuss them. He states that when Rees-Mogg came out with this vile nonsense, he was clapped by the audience and the presenter did not interrupt him.

Phil also recognizes that there are many shameful incidents in the past, which are only seen as atrocities in hindsight today, through the lens of our modern values. But the concentration camps aren’t one of them. They were seen as abnormal and barbaric at the time. He ends by describing Mogg as a monster, and he is ashamed and concerned that he has such a grip over the British people.

Absolutely. One of the people I worked with at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a White anti-racism activist, who had lived for a time in the former Rhodesia and had friends in South Africa. I gathered from him that while the Afrikaners liked us, referring to us as ‘nefe Brit’ – ‘nephew Brit’, the concentration camps and the atrocities of the Boer War were still bitterly resented. There was a museum to them, and one of the items on display was supposedly the bits of glass and nails that were put into the prisoners’ food.

There is absolutely no doubt that the concentration camps were an atrocity and are very definitely a deep stain on the history of the British Empire. Rees-Mogg’s attempts to justify them on Question Time really can’t be seen as anything less than an act of historical revisionism, as noxious as any other attempt to erase atrocities from historical memory. Mogg is polite, and studied history at Oxford, though no-one seems to know precisely what period or subjects he studied. He’s either thus deeply ignorant or a liar. I think he’s probably the latter. He should have been stopped, and someone with better knowledge of this period allowed to speak. Now the video does show Mogg making these terrible statements, and a female panelist looking incredulous at him and trying to rebut him. But he goes on with them nonetheless.

It’s the responsibility of historians to look at past events critically and try to strive for accuracy and objectivity, not matter how uncomfortable, distressing or shameful the subject. Mogg has not done so. He has shown himself indifferent to human suffering, both of past generations and of the present, where people are being reduced to starvation through the Tories’ wretched austerity programme and Brexit. As for those, who clapped him, well, what can you say? They have shown themselves to be the ‘gammon’ of fervent Brexiteers that get outraged whenever anyone dares to challenge their conception of Britishness or right-wing British values. And they can’t bear to acknowledge that we were also responsible for committing atrocities in our imperial heyday.

Mogg indeed is a monster. He is unsuited to be an MP, and, like Boris Johnson, his patriotic, Tory views of the past and the Empire are a threat to British people at home, and our standing and friendship with other nations in the wider world. And the ignorance and bigoted nationalism of his followers are also a threat and a disgrace. Just as it is also disgraceful that they are the audience the Beeb’s Question Time now seems determined to play up to.

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.

Richard Coughlan Talks about His Video Debunking Holocaust Denial

September 22, 2017

Yesterday I put up a 25 minute video by the stand-up comedian, Richard Coughlan, debunking Holocaust denial. It’s a grim video, complete with images of the emaciated victims of the Shoah and the bodies packed into mass graves. It is, however, necessary with the Alt Right and the other Nazis trying to claw their way into power, and Coughlan did a very good job of it.

This video’s somewhat longer at half an hour. In it, Coughlan talks about how glad he is that his first video was so well received, and describes the immense amount of research he did to make it. He compares learning about the Holocaust to tugging at a loose piece of thread in your jumper – it looks tiny, but once you pull much more comes away. He says he spent many months preparing the video, to the point where it felt that he spent his whole life making it. He read extensively, the first couple of books were The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. The latter book was the true memoirs of a British soldier, who escaped from a P.O.W. camp. The escapee heard about the death camps, and in order to investigate the truth of what he’d heard actually broke out into the most notorious – Auschwitz. His book was covered on British breakfast television about a year or so ago when it was first published. Not only did he break into Auschwitz, exchanging clothes with a Jewish prisoner, but he did it twice.

Coughlan also goes on to talk about how he got the transcripts of the trial between Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving. Irving’s an extreme right-wing historian, who wrote at least one book minimizing the scale of the atrocity. Lipstadt’s an American academic, who called Irving what he was: a Holocaust denier. So he sued her, and lost. Coughlan says that by that point, Irving was losing popularity and credibility. Even so, I can remember the immense controversy that was caused when the Oxford Union invited him to speak. I can also remember talking to a co-worker at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, who had been in the public gallery watching the proceedings of the trial. He states that during the proceedings Irving himself was extremely confident and ebullient compared to some of the witnesses testifying against him. Not that it did Irving any good whatsoever. The trial exposed just how sloppy and fraudulent his own work on the Holocaust was. There were vital facts he didn’t mention, and he mistranslated some texts from the German. The trial resulted in Lipstadt being acquitted, and Irving’s reputation as an historian in tatters. I don’t think he’s ever recovered, and the last thing I heard the Austrians had sent him down in their country for Holocaust denial, which is a crime there and in Germany.

He also talks about one text he also read online. This was an encyclopedia of the death camps, also 45,000 or so of them. The book is divided into two volumes, each volume further divided into two parts. Each part is about 900 pages. And that’s just only some of the books he read.

He also talks about the monstrous horrors the Nazis perpetrated, such as the amount of ash generated by the cremation of the victims’ bodies, and the rooms full of the victims’ belongings and clothes. One room was full of children’s shoes. The victims’ were shaved, and their hair collected. In one camp, it was found stuffed into packs, so that there was a roomful of it, the total weighing many kilos. He wonders at the mindset of the guards, who could walk past these rooms full of their victims’ remains with complete indifference.

He also talks about how the people, who perpetrated this atrocity weren’t any different from us, citing once again the Stanford prison experiment. This was a psychological experiment, in which people were asked to play at being cops. After three days it was called off because these ordinary Americans were actually too brutal. Coughlan says that there have been three movies made of it. There was also a documentary about it shown on British television, which repeated the experiment. However, the documentary also added a few facts that I had never heard of. Such as when the experiment began, the volunteers playing the cops actually were too lenient, and those playing at the prisoners were more or less running amuck. So the experiment was stopped, and they were more or less encouraged by the experimenters to adopt a tougher approach.

And the psychology of some of high level officers responsible for implementing the Final Solution is bizarre. Joachim C. Fest in his book, The Face of the Third Reich, which is a collection of potted biographies of the leading Nazis, includes Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz. Hoess is a vile character, who oversaw the mass murder of millions of innocents without any scruple. But he claimed he was no sadist. He said he was always at the back of the crowd, or tried to be away from it in his office, when the guards were beating or setting the dogs on the inmates. The Italian writer and chemist, Primo Levi, who had been imprisoned in the death camps, states that the guards ‘had our faces’. In other words, they were no different than we are. Coughlan says that Stamford Prison Experiment and the Holocaust shows how easy it is to turn ordinary people into monsters. And they do it gradually, drawing you into it little by little, until it all seems completely natural.

Coughlan highly recommends that his viewers take an interest in the subject, and do their own reading and research, ”cause it’s good to know stuff.’ Especially if you’re confronted by someone – and here he goes into a lengthy piece of invective to describe that kind of person- who tries to tell you that it didn’t happen, or that six million didn’t really die. At one point he mocks those, who try to argue for a lower number of deaths, such as two million, asking rhetorically what makes them think this will impress anyone. It’s still an horrific number.

He also says that studying the Holocaust teaches you so much, about politics, the media, how hate can be generated and used, and so on. He jokes about the old anti-Semitic remark about the media being full of Jews, who control it. Well, if that were to happen to him or people like him, he would definitely make sure his people would go into the media to stop it ever happening again. He also rebuts the objection to studying the Holocaust because there have been so many others. ‘No, not like the Holocaust’.

Actually, the unique nature of the Holocaust is a problem for historians and scholars of international law and politics. There are a number of different definitions of genocide. These can differ significantly, so that some cover certain forms of persecution to the exclusion of the others. The only thing they have in common is that they all cover the Holocaust. This means that some scholars advocate abandoning the quest to produce exact definitions of genocide in order to try to prevent the violent persecution of different groups at the societal level and prosecute those responsible as they really are and occur, unencumbered by too much ideological baggage.

What also comes out of this video is the sheer brazenness of the Holocaust deniers in seeking to refute what has been so extensively documented and witnessed. I’ve already mentioned how one judge in California ruled against one of the Nazi rags in his state that there was just so much supporting evidence for the Holocaust that it could not be reasonably regarded as anything other than a fact. Way back in the 1990s, when there were concerns about racist attacks in Bristol and the BNP nationally was trying to revive itself, one of the Black groups in the city held an evening, where the speaker was a Holocaust survivor, to hear his testimony about the reality of Nazism. They’re about, but obviously there are few of them because of old age, and the sheer, horrific efficiency with which the Nazis set about their extermination.

Coughlan describes how Holocaust deniers and Nazi apologists try to discredit descriptions and accounts of the death camps, by focusing on small discrepancies between them. Like in one account, it says there were 12 steps down to the gas chambers, but others say there are only eleven. They then move from this to the conclusion that this shows that people were making it all up. As if it followed from what had just been said. He also at one point describes how long it took for the victims to die when they were gassed with Zyklon B: 20 minutes. It’s another horrifying detail, and Coughlan appears quite naturally deeply moved by the fact.

This is a great video adding more information to his original piece. He also encourages others to learn as much about it as possible, so that they have all the information available to them to refute the lies of those who deny it ever happened, when they meet them, information which he couldn’t really put into the video here.

Two Films Urging the Cancellation of Third World Debt

March 17, 2016

At the Lent Course run by one of the priests at my local church last week, we were shown these two films urging the cancellation of the crushing debt of the Developing World.

The second video features a number of famous faces. The only two I recognised were Alun Michael, who amongst other things has starred in the series about a group of elderly rozzers solving old crimes, New Tricks, and the comedian Marcus Brigstocke. Both show its fundamental iniquity. The second video actually makes you question our collective priorities and the whole moral foundation of the banking system. After all, when the money given to bail out AIG is £170,000,000,000 + – the amount equal to the whole of Africa south of the Sahara, it’s a blindingly fair and good question why we are giving money to these banksters, but not willing to cancel such a terrible financial black hole to the world’s neediest peoples.

And there’s another disturbing statistic in there: for ever pound given in aid, we get seven pounds back. As our priest said, ‘It makes you wonder who’s carrying whom.’ Indeed. I used to do voluntary work at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. One evening there was a presentation given by a man, who had traced the early route in southern Africa used by one of the great Victorian pioneer explorers. He said at one point he had been taken ill, and had had to be carried across one stretch of the country by one of their African crew. He stated that at the man stopped carrying him, because he became acutely uncomfortable about the situation and how it resembled, metaphorically, Africa bearing the West.

After watching those videos, I’m convinced that the reason it’s allowed to go on, is because it’s just another way of the rich West screwing money out of the Developing World, just as we did under imperialism. It’s a disgusting situation, whether you’re religious or not. And I hope whatever our personal religious beliefs, we can find some way of changing this situation, before too many more people die in the poverty, squalor and starvation that this toxic debt is creating.

‘Frivolous and Vexatious’: Legal Obstruction to the Official Inquiry into the Deaths of Slaves

August 19, 2015

I’m aware that I haven’t been blogging as much as I should have over the past few weeks. As I’ve explained, I’ve got caught up in other things. I’ve also been too depressed and angry at the government and its smarmy, self-satisfied aristocratic servants that I really haven’t been able to face sitting down at the computer to write about them.

This little piece of historical fact was so telling, that I felt I had to put it up. It shows how little official attitudes towards the deaths of the poor and powerless have changed in certain sections of the establishment since the days of slavery.

I used to do voluntary work in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum when it was here in Bristol, helping to catalogue the materials they had on slavery and the slave trade. One of the official government papers published in 1831 describing the reforms the British government was trying to push through the Caribbean legislatures to improve the conditions for its enslaved peoples contained the official correspondence on cruelty cases in St. Kitt’s and Nevis, and the failure of the islands’ grand jury to convict Walley and Swindell, the manager and attorney of Stapleton’s Estate belonging to Lord Combermere. Walley and Swindell had been prosecuted for the murder of three slaves – Bolam, Davis, and Cousins; the manslaughter of a fourth, Innes, and the maltreatment of three more, Frances, Monmouth and George Tobin. The Grand Jury, however, had thrown these out, declaring them to be ‘frivolous and vexatious’. See the government blue book – House of Commons Papers 1831: The Slave Population 1831.

Sound familiar? I’m afraid it does!

I’ve blogged repeatedly about how Mike over at Vox Political/ Benefits Bloodbath, and the other Left-wing bloggers demanding the release of the government’s stats on the numbers who’ve died after ATOS declared them fit and well have had their requests turned down. And in their case, the government’s excuse had been exactly the same – the requests were vexatious.

Vexatious: That’s how a jury composed of planters and other slave owners in the 1830s Caribbean described their government’s attempts to prosecute two of their members for the murder and abuse of seven human beings, who were denied their freedom as the private property of their owners.

It’s how the DWP under the Gentleman Ranker, Iain Duncan Smith, serving a government led by two aristos, Cameron and Osborne, describe attempts by ordinary citizens to hold them to account for those killed by their policies.

I’ve blogged along with Mike, the Angry Yorkshireman, and so many others, about the way workfare has effectively become a form of slavery. This provides further proof that Cameron, Osborne, IDS and co really are throwbacks to the 19th century slavemasters, jealous of their power of life and death over their workers.

There is one difference, however. In the 19th century even some of the most reactionary of the British Tories could be determined to end slavery. In those cases, the head of the Colonial Office, Viscount Goderich, along with the Chief Justice for Nevis, George Webbe, and Presidents Maxwell of St. Kitt’s and Maynard of Nevis were angered by the failure of prosecution to demand further action and changes to the law in order to prevent further miscarriages of justice. This present Tory crew and their media cheerleaders are determined to do the opposite, and make it even more difficult for ordinary people, the powerless, the disabled, to hold their masters to justice. And if we let them carry on, there will be slavery, real slavery, in 21st century Britain, presided over by a cruel, indifferent and sneering establishment.

A First World War Indian Army Recruiting Poster

November 6, 2014

Indian Recruiting Poster

This week I’ve been blogging about the contribution of non-White servicemen and women and that of Chinese labourers to the imperial forces during the First World War. This has partly been because, as Guy Debord’s Cat reported earlier this week, one of the Nazi splinter groups of the Fascist Right has been selling poppies and other merchandise. They’re trying to cash in on the patriotic mourning in Remembrance Day, and appropriate it for White Nationalism.

This is in complete contradiction to history. I’ve described in my previous blog posts how the scholars at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres have researched and teach the multicultural composition of the British imperial forces. The former British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol even had a display on it. After nearly a century of scandalous neglect, there is now a monument to these brave men and women amongst the monuments to the White fallen in Flanders. Radio 4 has also broadcast a programme on the contribution of the Chinese labourers, and tomorrow at 9 pm, Radio 2 will also broadcast a show on the Indian squaddies, who did their patriotic duty and joined up.

I found this recruiting poster for the Indian Army in one of the history books I’ve got here at home, simply entitled History of the World: the Last Five Hundred Years, edited by Esmond Wright, and published by W.H. Smith in 1984. The text reads: ‘This soldier is guarding India. He is guarding his home and his household. Thus we are guarding your home and you must join the army.’ While the British exploitation of India under the Empire is a fact of history, this shows without doubt that Indian soldiers fought in the imperial forces for their homeland. It disproves any attempt to claim Remembrance Day by White bigots for themselves.