Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan A.C. Brown’

A History of Racism in the Islamic Middle East

May 27, 2022

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

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

Arab Ethnic Identity Before Colour Prejudice

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

Development of Anti-Black Prejudice

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

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

Islamic Slavery and Slave Armies

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

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

The Myth of Muslim Non-Racism

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

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

Race and Slavery Compared with Brown’s Slavery & Islam

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

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

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

Importance of the Book for an Examination of Contemporary Racial Politics

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

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.

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

March 26, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitalism and Property Rights in the West and Islam

March 25, 2022

Private property is very much at the heart of modern Conservatism. Conservative intellectuals, politicians and activists maintain that private industry is more efficient and effective, and has raised more people out of poverty than alternative economic systems. It’s also a fundamental right, a mainstay of western democracy that has prevented Europeans and Americans from tyrannical government, whether absolute monarchies or soviet-style communist dictatorships. It’s also supposedly the reason why Britain and the West currently dominate the rest of the world. The Times journo Niall Ferguson wrote a book about this a few years ago, which accompanied a TV series. In his analysis, Britain was able to out-compete Spain as a colonial power because British democracy gave people a stake in their society, while the only stakeholder in Spain was the king.

This can be challenged from a number of directions. Firstly, early modern Britain wasn’t democratic. The vote was restricted to a small class of gentlemen, meaning people who were lower than the aristocracy, but nevertheless were still able and expected to live off their rents. At the same time, although the power of the monarchy was restricted by the constitution and parliament, it still possessed vast power. Kings could go for years without calling one. As for Drake and the Armada, we were also saved by the weather. There was a ‘Protestant wind’ which blew apart and disrupted the Spanish fleet. As for capitalism, more recent books like The Renaissance Bazaar have shown that the new capitalist institutions that were introduced in Italy and thence to the rest of Europe during the renaissance were based on those further east in the Islamic world. And far from western global domination being inevitable, in the 15th century Christian Europeans feared that they would be conquered by Islam. The Turks had blazed through the Balkans and took 2/3 of Hungary. One fifteenth century German soldier and writer, de Busbecq, feared that the Ottomans would conquer Christendom because of the meritocracy and professionalism of their armies. The Ottomans, along with other Muslim states, recruited their armies through enslavement. It’s the origin of the Mamlukes in Egypt and the slave dynasties in Delhi. But these slaves were given an intensive military training, as well as education in Islam and the Turkish language, and promoted on their merits. Jonathan A.C. Brown in his book, slavery & Islam, how further back in Islamic history Black African slaves had been appointed the governors of parts of Iraq. The result was that while the European armies were feudal, led by aristocrats who had been born to their position and held it despite their ability or lack thereof, the Ottoman’s were manned and led by well-trained soldiers who held their commands by merit. We had better armour than the Ottomans, but they were able to defeat us because they were simply better soldiers.

Property rights have been a fundamental part of western political theory for a very long time. The social contract theory of government held that the primordial human community had elected kings to protect their lives and property. But Islam also maintained that property was a fundamental human right. According to Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Islam & Slavery, from the 700s AD Muslim jurists discussed the issue of human rights – huquq al-‘Ibad, or the rights of (God’s) slaves, i.e. humans, or huquq al-Adamiyya, or Adamic rights, or human rights. These were held to be the rights possessed by all humans, whether Muslim or not. Under the great Islamic theologian al-Ghazzali, these were expanded into five universals: protection for the integrity of life, reason, religion, lineage and paternity and property. He concludes that ‘The Islamic rights of physical inviolability and property can be seen as counterparts or perhaps forerunners of these aims.’ (pp. 299-300). I’ll admit this came as something of a surprise to me, because unless you study Islam at a higher level, you don’t hear about it. And you definitely don’t hear about it from the conservative right, who seem to believe that property rights and virtuous capitalism are something that only the Anglo-Saxon peoples invented. Remember George W. Bush’s famous, ludicrous sneer at the French that they had ‘no word for entrepreneurship’. Well,, they have, as attested by the word ‘entrepreneur’.

And property rights are not automatically intrinsic to modern concepts of freedom and democracy. They arose long before the expansion of the franchi8se in the 19th century and the emergence of universal adult suffrage in the early 20th century. Over much of western history, property rights meant the rights of the property owning upper classes against the working masses. And slaves could not own property, as legally, following the precedent of Roman law, they were property. Anything they had automatically belonged to their masters. Property rights were also regularly invoked to defend slavery. That’s very apparent when you read the protests against the British government’s attempts to regulate and then finally abolish slavery in the 19th century. The slaveowners were incensed by what they viewed as a tyrannical governmental interference in their property rights.

Now I agree people do have a right to private property, though private enterprise in many spheres is certainly not adequate to provide decent services. These are the utilities, education and healthcare. I also believe that, following Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, the west was able to gain ascendancy through technological and scientific advances, particularly military. I think the development of western capitalism also played a part in creating a mass, industrial society that was more efficient and advanced than the craft economies of the Islamic world. But this does not mean capitalism, or at least its antecedents, were absent from Islam or that Islam had no conception of property rights.

Perhaps, before we go to war with these countries to liberate them for multinational corporations, we should stop listening to Conservatives and listen more to those academics and experts, who actually know something about Islam.

Moroccan Judges’ Rulings against Violent Husbands

March 23, 2022

Here’s another very interesting snippet from Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam. It’s in a passage about the right of rulers,, under Islamic rule, to overrule a strict interpretation of the sharia under specific circumstances. In this instance, it’s the judges’ and the states’ attempt to prevent and punish domestic violence. The passage reads

‘Another was the practice in Marrakesh of judges assigning a social senior guarantor to a husband accused of beating his wife. Normally the couple would be placed under observation by a trusted neighbour or, if the husband were found guilty, he would owe his wife compensation and/;or the marriage would be dissolved. This additional requirement of the guarantor aimed at holding a further threat over the husband’s head: his fear of disgracing his patron if he reoffended.’ (pp.226).

Violence against women has been a major issue since the murder of Sarah Everard and the incel gunman in Cornwall who killed five people, including his own mother and a female toddler and her grandfather. Sadiq Khan has raised right-wing hackles by calling for lessons on misogyny and sexism to be taught in schools. One of the negative images of Islam is that it’s a very masculine, misogynist faith in which women are terrorised by male violence. The Asian funsters of Goodness Gracious Me took the mick out of that stereotype over a decade or so ago in a sketch which showed a very ordinary Muslim father standing in his garden stroking a belt while the voiceover talked about the threat of violence he presented to his daughter. It was obviously meant as a caricature of the stereotype. There are problems in Islam regarding women’s rights, as there are just about everywhere. But it is interesting that the Muslim jurists of that part of Morocco at least were determined to act against domestic violence.

Ahmad Bey’s 1846 Decree Abolishing Slavery in Tunis

March 23, 2022

Jonathan A.C. Brown’s book, Islam & Slavery, naturally discusses the abolitionist movements in the Muslim world and the arguments advanced by Muslims for the abolition of slavery. Many of these are based on the detailed regulations regarding slaves governing who could be legitimately enslaved, their protection and rights, and especially Mohammed’s urging masters to free their slaves as a righteous and beneficent act. This has led many Muslims to conclude that although the Quran and hadith legitimised slavery, the real goal and aim of Islam has been its abolition. And regarding their treatment of slaves, the book notes the various western visitors to the Islamic world who considered that Muslims treated their slaves exceptionally well, indeed far better than the miserable wretched enslaved on the plantations in the Caribbean and America. Indeed, Muslim visitors to these areas were shocked at how appallingly those slaves were treated, and British officials and commenters noted how this had lowered Britain and Europe in Muslim eyes.

Ahmed Bey was the 19th century ruler of Tunis. In 1841 the British consul requested him to do something to stop the slave trade and slavery in his realm. Bey shocked him by promptly abolishing the slave trade and the slave market. Five years later he promulgated this decree outlawing slavery altogether.

‘To proceed: it has been established beyond all doubt that most of the people in our state in this time are not properly exercising ownership (milkiyya) over Black African slaves (Sudan), who have no power or means themselves, since, according to discussions among the scholars, the basis of their ownership has not been established. This is particularly the case since the faith (of Islam) dawned n the (Sahel) region some time ago.

So where are those who own their brothers in the legitimate legal manner that the Lord of Messengers (Muhammad) taught to us in his final lesson, at the end of his time in this world and the beginning of his time in the next, that among the principles of his Sacred Law is aspiring to freedom and obliging the slave’s owner to manumit him on the basis of harms (done to him).

Thus our concern that kindness be done for those poor (enslaved) people in their earthly life, and also for their owners in their afterlife, in our current condition, entails that we prohibit people from this permanent (masbih) but disagreed on practice (i.e., slavery) This is out of our worry that the slave holders) might fall into something agreed upon by commonsense and study as forbidden, namely their harming their brothers whom God put in their care. And in this we also have common political interests, among them the (slaves) fleeing to the sanctuaries of officials outside their nation (i.e., European consulates).

So, we have assigned official notaries to the Sufi lodge (zawiya) of Sidi Muhriz of the Bakriyya, and of Sidi Mansur to record (documentary) proof of our ruling on manumission for any (slave) who comes seeking aid against his owner, which should be presented to us for us to seal. And you all, may God guard you, if a slave should come to you all seeking aid against his master, or if you should hear of some instance of a slave being owned, send the slave to us. And beware of his owner seeking out means against him, for your sanctuary is being sought for emancipation (fakk, ragabatihi) by those whose proper ownership is most probably not valid. And we would not rule in favor of the (slave owner) claiming that it was (valid) in this current age. And avoiding what is permitted out of fear of falling into the realm of the forbidden is part of the Sacred Law, especially since this factor has now been added to by what the common good (maslaha) demands. So people must be directed to this end. And God guides us to what is straightest and gives good tidings of great reward to those believers who do good deeds. And peace.’ (Pp.228-9).

God bless the Bey, and all who fight for human freedom and dignity.

The Enlightenment Philosophers Who Wanted the Enslavement of the British Poor

March 22, 2022

I found this very interesting snippet in Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam. Brown’s an American lecturer on Islam and a White convert to the religion. The book is an overview of slavery in the Muslim world and its abolition. Brown was partly moved to write the book from the horror and outrage the vast majority of Muslims around the world feel at the revival of sex slavery by ISIS’ monstrous fanatics. But it also attempts to tackle a series of related problems this raises – how can slavery be effectively condemned when it can differ so immensely across different times and places; and how can ancient religious, philosophical and political authorities still be respected and used for moral guidance when all of them, until very recently, accepted slavery. Slavery was accepted not just by Islam, but also by Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Philosophers from Aristotle to Kant also believed it was acceptable on rational grounds. The book therefore not only provides a detailed study of slavery in the dar al-Islam, but also western attitudes and arguments concerning slavery and its legitimacy from the ancient world onwards. And one of the interesting facts it discusses regarding western slavery is that during the 18th century three British philosophers argued for the enslavement of the British poor as a way of saving them from poverty.

‘Slavery was a choice made, sometimes by the powerful and sometimes by the vulnerable, because it was the preferred solution to the material, economic challenges at hand. This is how we explain three British Enlightenment thinkers, each an advocate of the natural right of liberty, separately proposing that the problem of widespread and severe poverty in eighteenth century Britain be dealt with by enslaving the poor to save them from ruin. Liberty was of tremendous importance to these philosophers, but it could not be enjoyed by all people all the time. They concluded that, in the case of the very poor in their society, it had to be sacrificed to stabilise what they saw as the bottom rung of that society. (Ironically, their description of this restricted form of slavery was similar to riqq in Islamic law.) (p. 180)

This sound very much like the Tory MP in Blackadder III whose policies included slavery for everyone who didn’t have a knighthood, and Dean Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ that the poor should eat their children, but made seriously. And I wonder if it’s also the ultimate endpoint of the welfare to work programmes, which send the unemployed out to work for the profit of private companies for their welfare cheques.

Should we expect Boris to include it in the next Tory manifesto, enthusiastically supported by Iain Duncan Smith and embraced by Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves and Jess Philips as true Labour values?

Bonded Miners, Indentured Servants and the Victorian Labour Laws

March 17, 2022

I’ve been reading Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam (London: Oneworld Academic 2019), and it is fascinating. Brown’s a White American convert to Islam, and he ties in the debate about slavery in Islam to the contemporary American debate about slavery and its legacy in American and western society. He also begins the book with the question of definition and the problem presented in forming a universal and transhistorical definition of slavery that applies in all circumstances. This is because under different types of slavery, the slave could have more power and respect that nominally free people. For example, the viziers of the Ottoman Empire were slaves, but they ran the Ottoman Empire, had bodyguards, who were also slaves, often married the sultan’s daughter and were clearly men of immense power and respect. At the same time, slavery existed in Chinese society but wasn’t defined as such, for the simple reason that there was no such thing as a ‘thing’ in Chinese law.

But he also discusses certain types of servitude and unfreedom in British and American history. This includes the indentured servants who were used to populate the British colonies in North America. He states that it’s difficult distinguishing them from slaves. He writes

‘The division between slavery and indentured service can similarly b e hard to pin down. Indentured servants from Britain, who made up two-thirds of the immigrants in British North America before 1776, could be sold, worked to exhaustion and beaten for misbehavior. They could not marry and, in Virginia at least, could be mutilated if they tried to escape. In Maryland the punishment was death. Slavery in colonial America was worse, but only in that it was permanent.’ (p.49).

He also notes that the bonded miners in Scotland had to wear a ring on their necks with their master’s name on,, and he includes the ‘master/servant’ relationship on a list of various forms of servitude. He writes of this form of service

‘when serfdom disappeared from Western Europe, it was replaced by the relationship between the laborer and the landowner/employer. Unlike our modern notion of a worker’s contract, however, failing to live up to this contract was a criminal offense. Only in the British colonies in North America did a notion of free labor eventually appear in the 1700s, and this did not make its way back to Britain until 1875.'(p.,48.) Earlier, Brown gives the example of a shop worker in 1860. If he didn’t turn up for work, he was guilty of theft under British law, and could be imprisoned. (p.30).

The current debate over slavery and its legacy doesn’t include those aspects of British or western society that also approached slavery as they affected Whites, although there is now a debate about the ‘Irish slave trade’ – the trade in indentured servants from Ireland. The similarity between White indentured servitude and slavery is closer when you consider that originally the Dutch limited the period of slavery to 25 years. This was more than three times the length of the usual contract for indentured service, and slavery soon became permanent. But it also explains how indentured servants also frequently took part in slave uprisings and even intermarried with slaves.

I knew that the Scots miners were also unfree, bonded to their masters. I think it was one of the reasons Scots working people had great sympathy with Black slaves, to the extent that the slaves’ masters grumbled about them helping them to escape. The neck ring is the classic thrall ring, also used in the middle ages and Roman Empire to mark slaves out as property.

I wasn’t aware, however, that the Victorian labour laws could have you imprisoned for not turning up for work. It’s not quite slavery, but does come close.

And given the current lot of exploiters in government, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were people in the Conservatives who’d dearly like to bring it back.

Book on Islam and Slavery

February 3, 2022

Jonathan A.C. Brown, Slavery & Islam (London: Oneworld Publications 2919).

This is another book I’ve bought for my reading on non-western forms of slavery. The book’s blurb runs

‘Every major religion and philosophy has once once condoned or approved of slavery, but in modern times nothing is seen as more evil. Americans confront this crisis of authority when they erect statues of Founding Fathers who slept with their slaves. And Muslims faced it when ISIS revived sex slavery, justifying it with verses from the Quran and the practice of Muhammad.

Exploring the moral and ultimately theological problem of slavery, Jonathan A.C., Brown traces how the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions have tried to reconcile modern moral certainties with the infallibility of God’s message. He lays out how Islam viewed slavery in theory, and the reality of how it was practiced across Islamic civilisation. Finally Brown carefully examines arguments put forward by Muslims for the abolition of slavery.’

Brown is Professor of Islamic Civilisation at Georgetown University, and this is very much an academic book. It begins with a statement of Brown’s argument and a denial that it is an apology for slavery, followed by pages about the very definition of slavery. While many people will feel it’s unnecessary, it’s important to distinguish slavery from other forms of unfreedom, like serfdom. The book then discusses slavery in the Qur’an and Sunna, the traditions about Mohammed which are considered sound and reliable by Muslims. It then examines the Muslim reform of slavery, the influence of previous civilisations, slavery as regulated and defined by shariah. The chapter on slavery and Islamic civilisation discusses issues like the classic slavery zone, slavery and racial intermixing, and the social roles slaves could perform from domestic worker to scholar, saint, poet or elite administrator. Then there’s a chapter presenting the moral arguments against slavery and it’s intrinsic evil, especially as this confronts Americans and Muslims, followed by a chapter on Islamic attempts and arguments for slavery’s abolition. The succeeding chapter is on the Prophet and ISIS, examining issues such as whether Islamic attempts at abolition are successful or morally acceptable, whether slavery in the Islamic world could ever be legalised again and ISIS and slavery. The last chapter is about concubinage and sex slavery, which is obviously the major issue that provoked the author to write his book. There are six appendices, 1, is on a slave saint of Basra; 2 on western Enlightenment thinkers and slavery; 3 on whether the 1926 Muslim world congress actually condemned slavery; 4 on whether Mariya was Muhammad’s wife or concubine; 5 on whether shariah law considers freedom a human right, and 6 on the enslavement Muslim unbelievers or apostates.

The book appears to be an exhaustive examination of the issue, and I’ve no doubt the vast majority of Muslims were as shocked by ISIS’ revival of sex slavery as everyone else. But unfortunately sex slavery isn’t the only form of slavery that has been revived. The sponsorship system for migrant workers in the Gulf Arab states very much acts as a form of enslavement. During the Sudanese civil war Arabs enslaved the country’s Black population, and since then slave markets selling Black African migrants have opened in the part of Libya held by Islamists.

Of course Islam isn’t the only culture facing a revival of slavery. Way back in the 1990s the book Disposable People examined the persistence of slavery around the world, from enslaved workers in Brazil and the far east to traditional slaves in Africa and slaves brought to the west by their Arab masters in the guise of servants. The book estimated that there were 20 million people enslaved around the world. I’ve no doubt that, thanks to neoliberalism and the global assault on workers’ rights and conditions, this number has increased. Hopefully books like this will clarify the issues and help to combat it so that it can be genuinely consigned to the past.