Posts Tagged ‘Middle Ages’

Convict Transportation to America and Penal Slavery

June 6, 2022

When most people think of the transportation of convicts, they probably think of Australia. But before Britain started sending its convicts there, the destination in the 17th and 18th centuries was America. There’s a ballad lamenting the fate of such criminals, ‘The Lads of Virginia’, in Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England From 1588 to the Present Day (London: B.T. Batsford 1979), p. 67. The section discussing the policy on the previous page, 66, taken from A.G.L Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, (Faber 1971) gives a short description of the history of the trade and the way the British government paid merchants to carry it out. It also suggests that once in America, the convicts were sold to the plantation masters. The extract runs

‘For most of the seventeenth century, merchants trading with the plantations were willing, and often anxious, to carry out the relatively few convicts who were sent; bu8t as time went on they found some, particularly women or bad characters, who were difficult to dispose of, and they became reluctant to take them… After the [Transportation] Act of 1718 the Treasury let regular contracts for the job, first for £3 a head from London and £5 from ‘other parts’ but after 1727, £5 for all; when added to the sale price this allowed a good profit, even taking into account losses through sickness or death on the voyage.

The ‘trade’ grew as the years went by. Between 1729 and 1745 the two contractors for London and the Home Counties sent out an average of 280 a year, which suggests that about 500 a year were sent from all England. In 1753 there were nearly 800. During the Seven Years’ War, 1756-63, fewer were transported, for many convicts were sent to the army, the navy and the dockyards… After 1763 transportation to America increased again, and between 1769 and 1776 about 960 convicts a year were sent out. The demand for convict labour in the plantations was so high that in 1772 the Treasury was able to stop paying its £5 subsidy, though contractors were for a time still able to persuade local authorities to pay…. Between 1719 and 1772, the years of the subsidy payments, 17,742 were sent from London and the Home Counties, and perhaps 30,000 from the whole of England. At least two-thirds went to Virginia and Maryland, and very probably more.

Was it an effective punishment? Sir John Fielding, magistrate and penal reformer, thought it was, though in 1766 Mr Justice Perrott declared that for common offenders it was no punishment at all….’

Those Monmouth rebels, who Judge Jefferies didn’t hang, were also transported to the new world and sold, though they were taken to the Caribbean colonies and sold to the planters for sacks of sugar. The transported convicts also included Irish rebels, and I’ve been told that you can still tell which of the slave cabins they occupied on the plantations by the shamrocks they painted on them.

I have to say that while I was aware of convict transportation, I wasn’t aware that once there they were sold, except in the case of the Monmouth rebels. This makes the practice look like penal slavery, which existed in ancient Rome and early medieval Europe. This punished certain types of criminals by selling them as slaves. I feel that the similarity between convict transportation and penal slavery also somewhat complicates the issue surrounding transatlantic African slavery, as it shows that certain punishments inflicted on Whites also approached a form of slavery or unfreedom. Back in Britain, the Scots miners at the time were also unfree. They were bondmen, who were effectively the property of the mine owners and even had to wear something like a slave collar around their necks. It also raises issues when it comes to the payment of reparations for slavery. If reparations are to be paid to the Black community for their abduction, exploitation and brutalisation during the era of the slave trade, it can also be argued that other groups, who suffered a similar fate like the transported criminals and rebels to America and the West Indies, and Scots mining communities in Britain for the enslavement of their ancestors.

A Black Woman Visits Qatar’s Museum of Slavery

April 3, 2022

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

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

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

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.

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 Medieval Russian State of Kiev

March 14, 2022

George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press 1948).

I picked this book up when I was at College in the mid-80s. I did medieval history at ‘A’ Level and Russian at school, and although that’s long ago, I still have an interest in eastern European history, culture and politics. One of atrocities of this war among so many is the Russian assault on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. President Zelenskyy has said that he’s afraid that his country, its history and culture will be wiped out. Kyiv is one of the great historic cities of Europe. Great Russian authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov have set their novels in the city, and in music its been celebrated by the great Russian musician and composer, Mussorgsky in his ‘The Great Gates of Kiev’. But from c. 10th to the early 13th century Kyiv, or Kiev as it is known in Russian, was the centre of a great medieval Russian empire.

This book is a comprehensive history of Kievan Russia, looking not just at the reigns of its great tsars, but also the church and religion, its literature and culture, everyday life, relations with the other states and the position of national minorities. It has the following chapters, broken down thus into sections.

  1. Kievan Russia’s Place in History
  1. Is Russia Europe?
  2. Russia’s place in the medieval world.
  3. Divergent and parallel trends in Russian and European history.
  4. The notion of east European history.
  5. The challenge of geopolitics.
  6. The significance of the Kievan period in Russian history.

II. The imperial plan and its failure, 878-972

  1. The imperial plan: dreams and realities
  2. First successes – Oleg
  3. First setback – Igor
  4. A breathing spell – Olga
  5. The great adventure – Sviatoslav

III. Conversion to Christianity

  1. The Russian paganism
  2. Vladimir the Saint before his conversion (972-87)
  3. The story of Vladimir’s conversion
  4. Laying the foundations of the Russian church (990-1037)
  5. The significance of conversion: An early appraisal.

IV. The Kievan Realm, 990-1139

  1. Vladimir as Christian ruler (990-1015)
  2. The struggle between Vladimir’s sons (1015-36)
  3. The age of Iaroslav the Wise (1036-54)
  4. The triumvirate (1054-93)
  5. The reign of Sviatopolk II (1093-1113)
  6. A social legislator: Vladimir Monomach
  7. The first two monomashichi (1125-39)

V. Economic Foundations of Kievan Russia

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Natural resources and population
  3. Hunting, agriculture and fishing
  4. Agriculture and cattle breeding
  5. Metallurgy
  6. Building industries
  7. Textile arts, furriery, tanning, ceramics
  8. Commerce
  9. Money and credit
  10. Capital and labor
  11. National income
  12. Prosperity and depression

VI. Social organisation

  1. The basic social units
  2. Social stratification
  3. The upper classes
  4. The middle classes
  5. The lower classes
  6. The half-free
  7. The slaves
  8. The church people
  9. Woman
  10. The steppe frontiersmen
  11. National minorities
  12. Concluding queries: on “economic and social feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VII. Government and Administration

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The lands and the principalities
  3. The three elements of government
  4. The princely administration
  5. Branches of administration
  6. The city-state
  7. The local commune
  8. The manor
  9. The church
  10. The judiciary
  11. Concluding queries: on “political feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VIII. The Russian Federation, 1139-1237

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The struggle for Kiev (1139-69)
  3. Keeping the balance between east Russia and west Russia
  4. Defense of the frontier
  5. The first appearance of the Mongols: the Battle of the Kalka (1223)
  6. Time runs short (1223-37)

IX. Russian Civilisation in the Kievan Period

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Language and script
  3. Folklore
  4. Music
  5. Theater
  6. Fine arts
  7. Religion
  8. Literature
  9. Education
  10. The humanities
  11. Sciences and technlogy

X. The Way of Life

  1. City and country life
  2. Dwellings and furniture
  3. Dress
  4. Food
  5. Health and hygiene
  6. The cycle of life
  7. Public calamities

XI. Russia and the Outside World in the Kievan Period

  1. Preliminary remarks
  2. Russia and the Slavs
  3. Russia and Scandinavia
  4. Russia and the west
  5. Russia and Byzantium
  6. Russia and the Caucasus
  7. Russia and the east

It also has a map of Russia in the Kievan period as well as a list of sources, bibliography and index.

I’ve no doubt that some of the material in the book has become out of date in the nearly 80 years since it was first published. For example, the book describes the veche, a popular assembly, as a democratic institution. But others have said that it met too infrequently really to have been an instrument of popular, democratic government. Although you do wonder what history might have been like if it had been. Would we now be looking at the Ukraine as one of the major foundations of European democracy alongside the British parliament, the Swiss cantons and the Icelandic althing?

Despite its inaccuracies, I think that the book is nevertheless an excellent history of this most ancient Russian state and its people.

And I hope it is not too long before peace and justice is restored to this part of eastern Europe.

Book on the Gypsies and Their History

February 9, 2022

Angus Fraser, The Gypsies (Oxford: Blackwell 1992).

I’ve been meaning to blog about this book, off and on, for a little while now. This is largely in response to the right-wing, Tory and Blairite Labour racists, who screamed blue murder at any chance they could get to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, but who had absolutely no qualms about whipping up hatred against Roma, Sinti and other Travellers for their own political benefit. Anti-Gypsy hatred has become topical once again thanks to Jimmy Carr’s wretched joke about their genocide in the Nazi Holocaust somehow being a ‘positive’. Mike’s written extensively about that tasteless joke, as have very many others. He’s pointed out that it came just when Boris Johnson was passing legislation very similar to that of the Nazis, which would allow the cops to close down Gypsy encampments, move them on and impound their vehicles simply for suspecting they might be about to do something illegal. And when you get to eastern Europe, the prejudice against them is even more extreme and really does approach the genocidal hatred of the Nazis. A decade or so ago doctors in Czechoslovakia were caught operating a programme of involuntary sterilisation of Gypsy women very much like the Nazis’ eugenics programme against those of mixed race and the biologically unfit. Czech politicians were also very keen to have the Gypsies emigrate to Canada after a documentary was shown on television about a Czech Gypsy family finding a welcome in the land of the maple leaf and beaver. This was, like anti-Semitic and Nazi plans to force the Jews to move to Palestine, simply a way of forcing the Gypsies out of Czechoslovakia. One female Czech MP made this very clear when she screamed ‘They will go to Canada or the gas chambers!’ Such naked, genocidal bigotry means that Carr’s joke really, really isn’t funny. Respect, then, to the Auschwitz museum for taking the moment to offer him some of its courses on the murder of 27,000 Gypsies so that he could learn about the horrific reality.

The book’s blurb runs

‘Since their unexplained appearance in Europe over nine centuries ago, the Gypsies have refused to fall in with conventional settled life. They remain a people whose culture and customs are beset with misunderstandings, and who cling to their distinct identity in the teeth of persistent rejection and pressure to conform. The book describes their history.

The book opens with an investigation of Gypsy origins in India. The author then traces the Gypsy migration from the early Middle Ages to the present, through the Middle East, Europe and the world. Through their known history they have been recognised for their music, metal working, fortune telling, healing and horse-dealing, but from the outset they outraged the prejudices of the populations they encountered; they were enslaved, harassed, outlawed and hunted. Yet against all the odds the Gypsies have survived, preserving a distinctive heritage and culture that transcends national boundaries. How they did so is the compelling them of this book.

This new paperback edition has been revised to take account of recent research and of the political changes in Eastern Europe, which have sadly been followed by a resurgence of Gypsy persecution in a number of countries.’

The book has chapters on their origins, then subsequently traces their migration through Persia and Armenia, Greece and the Byzantine Empire, Serbia, Bulgaria, Wallachia and Moldavia, the provinces that are now part of modern Romania; Germany, Austria and Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal, the Low Countries, Italy, Hungary and Transylvania, now also part of Romania, Scotland and England and Scandinavia. It also discusses images and stereotypes, the pressures placed on them to assimilate, and persecution, including expulsion, transportation and extermination, both in Europe and the Ottoman Empire, as well as their survival. It also discusses changes in Gypsy society and culture, including their music, and their genocide under the Nazis – ‘The Forgotten Holocaust’. The final section discusses modern Gypsy society and culture.

It should be clear from this that the Gypsy Holocaust is, like that of the Jews, absolutely no joke. Carr has been defended by various members of the media set, including Victoria Coren. They’ve defended him as being good and kind. I don’t doubt he is. The problem is that there are some subjects that are too terrible to be the subject of jokes, as well as moral consistency. Carr clearly balked at telling jokes about the Jewish Holocaust, as he should. But if the Jewish Holocaust is unfit as a subject of humour, so should the Nazi murder of other racial groups, especially those still experiencing persecution.

The Lotus Eaters have run to Carrs defence, posting up a video of him as a ‘free speech berserker’. Now I don’t believe that Carr should be prosecuted for his joke. It was outrageous, but, in my opinion, not hateful. He wasn’t intending to stir up racial hatred, although I don’t doubt that some others, who would tell the joke would have definite malign intentions. In my view it’s really a case of a moral problem discussed by John Stuart Mill in his classic book On Liberty: just because something’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s moral. He put it in the following terms: just because there’s no law against chasing a Jew up an alley waving a piece of pork doesn’t mean that you should do it. I don’t believe that Carr has broken any law or should be prosecuted. He just shouldn’t have told the joke. The best thing now is for him to apologise and Netflix to cut the joke. Then perhaps we should move on to combatting some real Nazis.

Helen Pluckrose on Combating Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory on GB News

September 15, 2021

As Zelo Street and others have pointed out, GB News appears to be heading down the tubes fast. Andrew Neil has departed and viewing figures continue to be dire, despite the broadcaster taking on Nigel Farage. They have tried and failed to entice Piers Morgan to join them, and are considering taking on Ann Widdecombe and Martin Daubney, both from the Brexit party, and the Conservative blogger Mahyar Tousi. The Street points out this is hardly likely to inspire more people to start watching, as Widdecombe is a joke and Daubney ‘a dishonest whacko’. The channel also seems to be losing younger staff, who wanted it to be a mainstream channel with a right-wing slant not the British equivalent of Faux News. These employees are particularly upset that GB News has been discussing culture war topics. I have to say that I’m in two minds about the channel’s demise. I’m not particularly unhappy that the right-wing alternative to the ‘woke, wet’ BBC looks like it’s in terminal decline. On the other hand, it is providing a valuable service by tackling the culture war and issues like Critical Race Theory and the trans ideology. At the moment its one of the very few people willing to broadcast interviews with Graham Linehan, the writer of Father Ted, the IT Crowd, Big Train and co-creator of Black Books, and allow him to explain why the trans ideology is so dangerous and harmful. Much of the media is determined to deny him and other gender critical activists space, or smear them as ‘TERFS’ and transphobes. It similarly appears to be one of the few British broadcasters willing to interview Helen Pluckrose, a feminist scholar who is a bitter critic of Postmodern ideologies like Queer Theory, which underpins the trans movement, and Critical Race Theory. Yesterday I found this video of an interview of Pluckrose by presenter Andrew Doyle.

Pluckrose’s background is in medieval literature. She first became alerted to the damage Postmodernism was doing to genuine academic research and scholarship when she was studying 14th century women’s religious writing. She was interested in how medieval women used the Christian narrative to empower themselves. However, her approach conflicted with that of her supervisors, who wished to see her pursue a postmodern approach to the topic. She also encountered the same opposition when trying to study Shakespeare. There is considerable interest amongst some academics in searching the Bard for racism. But she points out that the 17th century was the period when colour racism was only just emerging. Shakespeare, whom she considers to have been a Humanist with Roman Catholic elements, was behind the times. He belonged to an age when religion was still more important than race. She got into particular trouble when discussing why Desdemona was attracted to Othello. She believes it was because the Moor was a hero. She was, however, told that she couldn’t say that, because it would offend certain Black religious communities in America. So much for trying to see the past on its own terms.

As Pluckrose describes it, Postmodernism is a form of philosophy which rejects empirical science and debate in favour of viewing the world through the use of language. There is no objective truth, and what is considered knowledge is socially constructed, expressing and maintaining power relationships. Hence western science is fundamentally about maintaining the social status of elite White men. It’s based on the philosophy of Foucault, although she states that Foucault would not have been a fan of what his successors have made of his theories. She discusses intersectionality, and how it sees power in terms of the privileged relationships between distinct groups. Intersectional postmodernists, for example, would see her as possessing heterosexual privilege against Doyle, who I presume is gay. At the same Doyle has male privilege over her. Critical Race Theory developed from legal scholarship and sees race relations through the same lens. As I understand it, it sees White people as privileged and racist, without exception. These new forms of Postmodernism emerged with a new generation of activist scholars in the 1980s.

She describes the real intolerance at the heart of Critical Race Theorists like Robin di Angelo and Ibrahim X. Kehindi. These two see the world purely in black and white terms. You’re either racist or anti-racist. Anti-racist means you agree with them. If you’re race neutral, you’re still racist. You’re also racist if you disagree with them. And from what I heard here, some of their doctrines seem designed to cause racism rather than cure it. In one of her wretched books, for example, di Angelo claims that White people being nice to Blacks is also a form of racism. Doyle looks astonished and says, ‘She can’t mean we must be…’ He is met with a silent, rueful nod from Pluckrose. Pluckrose goes on to describe how, when she was reading the book in which di Angelo argues this nonsense, she found herself checking herself when she met a Black woman and her little girl out walking. The little girl was lovely, and so Pluckrose smiled at her. She then started worrying about that simple gesture of ordinary humanity in case she was perpetuating racism. I realise Black people have complained about being patronised by Whites expressing friendship, but attitudes like di Angelo’s make genuine good relations between people of different races extremely difficult.

At the same time, the Postmodernists’ concern with language also causes difficulty. They don’t regard something as existing before a word was invented to describe it. Thus, despite the existence of bisexuality in ancient Greece, they don’t believe homosexuals existed until the word was coined sometime in the 19th or 20th centuries. They are also extremely fragile and do everything they can to silence their critics rather than engage with them, and react with extreme rage to any criticism. Pluckrose states that it is because they really do believe that counterarguments are a form of violence comparable to physical attack. Doyle states that he has had personal experience of this. When he was debating someone from one of the Postmodernist groups they burst into tears, complaining that by advancing his arguments Doyle somehow wished to harm them.

Pluckrose herself has founded an organisation to help people, who have become victims of this nonsense, and describes how it can be combated. She describes herself as a liberal, who wishes issues to be settled by the Enlightenment methods of science and rational debate. She wants Postmodernists to engage with liberals, who believe in individualism, science and universalism, as well as Marxists. But they won’t. She’d like there to be a conversation between trans activists and gender critical feminists, but this isn’t happening. While she’s not aligned with the extremists on either side, she is more worried about the gender critical feminists as they are being denied their right to speak. She also talks about the fundamental disagreement between the two groups. Gender critical feminists see everything as determined by biological sex. The trans activists stress gender, socially constructed sexual identity. Thus the two aren’t talking about the same thing when it comes to debate, hence part of the failure to find a common ground for agreement. When it comes to racism, she advises her viewers on the way to reply to any communications from HR departments about being put on anti-racist courses. She believes that one of the reasons Critical Race Theory has made such deep inroads is because most people genuinely don’t want to be, or to be seen to be, racist. At the same time, anti-racist activists have become more intolerant because the legislation designed to combat racism is unable to remove other forms of racism. She genuinely wants to see racism and other forms of bigotry fought, and objects to Critical Race Theory and Postmodernism because it is actually extremely poor at doing so. She advises her viewers that if they get any messages about anti-racism training from their employer, they are to reply congratulating them about doing something to tackle racism. However, they are to follow this up with other messages asking for assurances that this training will not require Whites and Blacks to feel a particularly way. In the case of Whites, this is guilt for their institutional privilege and racism, and in the case of Blacks, to feel they are victims of White privilege and racism.

This is important, as the BBC, NHS, Oxfam and various big companies have all bought into Critical Race Theory, while it also seems supported by left-wing newspapers like the Guardian. Oxfam and the NHS have demanded their workers fill questionnaires about how they see White privilege, for example. And some of those promoting Critical Race Theory could themselves be seen as racist. They discuss Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of colonial and post-colonial literature at Oxbridge. Gopal talks much about ‘Whiteness’, but its clear that sometimes she’s not talking about ‘Whiteness’ but about White people. A few months ago she tweeted that ‘White lives have no value’ adding underneath ‘as White lives’. They state that she maintains she wasn’t being racist, but she would have been well aware how her comments would have been interpreted. At one level, Critical Race Theory’s assumption that all Whites are racist is nothing new. My mother was told she had to be racist back in the 1980s by a group of anti-racism activists sent in to her school. She must be racist, she was told, because she was White and middle class. This says volumes about the unacknowledged racism of these activists.

Postmodern doctrines like Critical Race Theory are seriously damaging real scholarship while at the same time propagating their own forms of racism and intolerance. Pluckrose and her fellows are to be applauded for doing what they can to combat them. And while GB News really is a terrible right-wing broadcaster, it is actually doing immense good by providing an opportunity for the critics of such irrationality and intolerance to speak.

Articles on Bristol’s Jewish Community

September 11, 2021

I found a couple of very interesting articles on Bristol’s Jewish community in Max Barnes’ Bristol A-Z: Fascinating Stories of Bristol through the ages, published by the Bristol Evening Post c. 1970. Bristol has had a Jewish community for centuries. There was a Jewish quarter in the city in the Middle Ages. Way back in the 90s a miqveh, a Jewish ritual bath, with the Hebrew inscription, ‘Zacklim’, ‘flowing’, was found on Jacob’s Wells’ Road. They were expelled by Edward I along with the rest of England’s Jews, but returned after Oliver Cromwell once again opened the doors to Jewish immigrants. They were certainly present in the 18th century, when one Bristolian, looking for a doctor, said that he had no objection to a Jewish doctor, provided he claimed to believe in Christianity. In the 1820s one outraged commenter complained that the city’s corporation included not just Anglicans, but also Protestant non-Conformists and even Jews! There was also a very imposing synagogue in Park Row. This had giant Hebrew characters over its entrance and seemed to be cut into the very rock of St. Michael’s Hill. I haven’t seen it recently, so I wonder whether it’s still around, or if it’s simply the case that more recent building work has covered up the Hebrew inscription.

The article ‘Jews’ in the book runs

The first Jews settled in a confined area between St John’s Gate and St. Gile’s Gate. As Jews they were banned from living inside the walled town itself.

Their sole business was money lending. Like Jews down through the ages they suffered a lot of persecution. Once their houses were pillaged and burned by a mob led by William Giffard, a man who had had many financial dealings with the Jews and in 1275 took this brutal course to destroy the records and clear his debts.

Another Jew who refused to pay heavy ransom money to King John was hauled off to Bristol castle.

The king’s torturers pulled out one of his molar teeth each day. He had lost seven teeth before he paid up.

I think it was the poor man’s daughter who persuaded him to pay the money before he lost all his teeth. I think money lending was the only trade Jews in this country could legally pursue. Giffard’s pogrom against them was, I think, part of a number of anti-Semitic attacks and riots led by members of the aristocracy. The real reason behind them was that aristocracy at the time was in debt to Jewish moneylenders, and this was their way of getting out of it.

There’s another article on the Jewish author, Israel Zangwill, who also apparently was educated in Bristol. I doubt many people have heard of him today except experts in modern Jewish literature, but from reading the article he seems to have been a powerful force in the development of modern Jewish literature. The article says

Novelist and playwright (1864-1926) went to school in Bristol.

He was the son of a Russian Jewish refugee who escaped from Russia in 1848 from a death sentence for a military offence. Zangwill was known as a richly gifted but outspoken humanist. He was a champion of unpopular causes. His novel “Children of the Ghetto” was dramatised in 1899 and played in Yiddish and English in New York.

Imperial Russia had a policy of conscripting Jews into the army. It was used as a method of forced conversion, with Jewish troopers singled out for bullying and beating. I suspect that Zangwill’s father may have not taken the abuse, hence the death sentence for some kind of military offence. More recent victims of such maltreatment in the Russian army included Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostalist Christians under Communism. I can’t remember which one, but one of these sects was persecuted because they’re pacifists who reject military service. And the Pentecostalists were subjected to the persecution under the guise of all kinds of stupid conspiracy theories. They’re abstainers, refusing to touch tobacco and alcohol, and as a result tended to be wealthier than ordinary Russians. As a result, there was a story propagated that accused them of receiving money from the CIA through a ship that landed annually at a secret location. It’s the same kind of stupid, murderous rumour about treachery as the source of secret wealth that has been used against our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Bristol’s Jewish community seems to have had a fascinating history, and its monuments are part of the city’s rich architectural heritage.

And real persecution and conspiracy theories are wrong and dangerous, whether levelled against Jews, Christians, Muslims or anyone. They are not things to be cynically used to expel left-wing peeps and non-Zionist Jews from Labour.

A French Historian’s Examination of Medieval Slavery

June 27, 2021

Pierre Dockes, Medieval Slavery and Liberation, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (London: Methuen 1982).

I got this book through the post yesterday from the secondhand book company, World of Books. I ordered it because it seems to me that there is too little awareness of the existence of indigenous White European slavery and serfdom. It very much seems that anti-racist and Black activists are presenting a false view of slavery as something that only White Europeans and Americans did to Black Africans. Its existence in ancient and medieval Europe, as well as in Africa and Islam, is deliberately ignored or downplayed. At the same time, the Tories are also intent on presenting their terribly simplified view of British history as a kind of ‘merrie England’ when everyone was free and prosperous, and the peasants lived happily under the benign rule of the aristocracy and factory masters. Dockes, the author of the above book, was professor of political economy at the university of Lyons. He’s described as a member of the Annales school of French historians. I was taught in the historiography part of the MA history course at UWE that the Annales school is, roughly, the French equivalent of History Today. In other words, mainstream academic history. He seems to be approaching the subject from a left-wing direction, as several sections concentrate on the role of class conflict and warfare.

The blurb for the book runs:

How and why did ancient slavery come to an end in the Middle Ages? In this study, Pierre Dockes, a controversial figure in the younger generation of Annales historians, approaches the question not only from the historian’s legitimate concern to understand the transformations of ancient societies but also out of the belief that slavery is more than merely a simple moment in the past. It is rather the primary relationship of exploitation, from which serfdom and wage-labour have stemmed.

Dockes criticises the deterministic accounts of ancient slavery and medieval liberation put forward by both bourgeois and Marxist scholars. He describes the organisation of the Roman villa and its place in the slaveholding society and in the formation of the imperial state, and goes on to show how it was ultimately slave revolts that erased this form of exploitation. Imperial society was reduced to two antagonistic classes and, the author argues, it was slaveholding which undermined the social base upon which Caesar’s and Augustus’s state was constructed.

The end of slaveholding took centuries to accomplish. Each resurgence of the power of the state meant the resurgence of slavery, which did not end until the late ninth century when slave revolts contributed to the breakdown of the Carolingian political order. Dockes concludes that imperialism and slavery are inextricably intertwined, and that even today, ‘after centuries of struggle, exploitation does indeed continue to exist. Only the form has changed.’

The book contains the following chapters and constituent sections.

Introduction

Definition of slavery

The Role of the Class Struggle

The Class Struggle and the State

Appendix: Note on the Determinism of the Productive Forces in History.

  1. The Villa, Society and the State

Genesis of the Villa Slave System

“Ends” of Slavery

Forms of Exploitation in the Early Middle Ages and Challenges to Them

The Elaboration of a “New” Feudal Mode of Production

Outline of the Following Chapters

2. Questions to Historians about Economism

The Question of the Rationality of the Great Slaveholding Landowner

The Question of Productivity

The Question of the Profitability of Slavery

Reproduction of the Work Force: Razzia and Breeding

Marc Bloch’s “Economic Conditions”

The Moral and Religious Factor

3. Productive Forces and Feudal Relations

The Collapse of the Slave Empire, or the Struggle of the Lower Classes

“Build the Material Foundations of Feudalism First”

“Large” Water Mills: Where Does Technological Progress Come From?

Appendix: The Banal Mill – Advantageous to the Peasant or Not?

Dues of the Banal Mill

The Time “Wasted” in Milling by Hand

Estimation of the Average Costs

A Calculation at the Margin

4. Class Struggles in Europe (Third to Ninth Centuries)

Slaves and the Struggles of Others

Slave Struggles and the State

5. Epilogue: By Way of Conclusion.

I’m sure that in the nearly forty years since its publication parts of the book have become dated. For example, Dockes states that slavery continued in England until the 13th century, while more recent books state that slavery had died out by the end of the twelfth century as serfdom became the predominant form of unfree labour. Nevertheless, I think it’s an extremely useful examination of medieval European slavery and the role of class warfare and struggle in its removal and transformation.

Daniel Hussein, Islam and Satanic Crime

June 11, 2021

One of the most shocking stories this week is the trial of Daniel Hussein, who is accused of having murdered two Black women as part of a demonic pact. When the rozzers searched Hussein’s home, they found a handwritten document in which Hussein pledged to sacrifice a woman a month to a demon in return for which the demon would make him win the national lottery, allow him to live in luxury and wealth and protect him from being discovered. Well, as the old proverb goes, ‘the Devil is a gentleman who doesn’t keep his word’. It’s an horrific crime of the type that’s committed by evil maniacs and which used to furnish plots for the X-Files.

Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video yesterday commenting on it. He pointed out that while such pacts with Satan and the forces of hell were part of the medieval European, Christian worldview, as shown in the Faust legend about the 16th century German magician who sold his soul to the Devil, it’s been absent in the West for six hundred years. So what has caused it’s return? He points to Islam. He says that he has nothing against the religion, but it surprised at how little westerners actually know about it. In his experience, the belief in djinn – the genies of the Arabian Nights – witchcraft and sorcery is a major part of the worldview of the average Muslim, and mentions that the other Friday he was talking to three young Muslim men of 17-19 at a further education college about the djinn that was supposed to be tormenting one of them. It is this worldview, held by two million Muslims in this country, that has meant that parts of Britain have regressed to the Middle Ages without anyone noticing.

Okay, belief in the djinn is part of the Muslim worldview. They’re mentioned in the Qu’ran, which states that one of their number is Iblis, Shaitan or the Devil. The ex-Muslim atheist vlogger Harris Sultan put up a video a month or so ago laughing at a Pakistani mullah, who was claiming to have met the djinn and officiated at their marriages. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, a Yemeni newspaper apparently caused a sensation by printing photos of what it claimed were the djinn. Alas not. They were really carvings at an adventure park somewhere in Britain.

But the prevalence of a belief in djinn doesn’t explain a crime like this. There are, after all, large numbers of Christians worldwide who believe in a real, literal Devil, but that hasn’t meant that crimes like Hussein’s are any more common in Christianity. The black magician Aleister Crowley spent more time than almost anyone else casting spells and summoning demons while posing as ‘the Great Beast 666’ but he only joked about sacrificing children. I think he was simply enjoying himself far too much with a life of sex, drugs, necromancy and mountaineering to want to do anything really evil.

It’s also open to doubt how rationalistic the West really is. A survey of mystical experiences among the western public in the 2000s showed that actually they were quite common, but people were simply reluctant to talk about them in case people thought they were mad. The historian of modern witchcraft, Owen Davies, found that ordinary people retained a very strong belief in the existence of witchcraft long after the passage of the 1736 Witchcraft Act. This act effectively ended the witch-hunts in Britain by making it illegal to pretend to be a witch or have occult powers for monetary gain. It saw witchcraft as a form of fraud, rather than a real, demonic force. But the records of court cases in which mostly elderly women were attacked and cut on their foreheads shows that the mass of the British population still believed in it. In folklore, it was believed one way to get rid of a witch’s curse was to attack them and cut them ‘above the breath’. Davies’ book, published in the 90s, provides a wealth of supporting information that shows that belief in real, Satanic witchcraft continued into the 20th century. This is apart from the rise of Wicca and modern neo-paganism, which is a separate thing entirely, in my opinion, which owes more to 19th century occultism and ritual magic than traditional British folklore.

What the murders remind me of most is some of the horrific Satanic crimes carried out back in the 1990s. This was the age of the Satanism scare, when some fanatical evangelical Christians and militant feminists were running around accusing perfectly innocent people of membership of Satanic covens and the ritual abuse and murder of children. The Fontaine Report, an official government investigation into this, found that there was no evidence such covens existed.

In addition to this, there were unfortunately, real, unpleasant people who did torture and murder people for Satanic kicks. These were mostly mixed-up teenagers and young people, like the Haemogoblins, a teenage gang in America who thought they were vampires. There was also a whole vampire subculture based on the novels of Anne Rice, some of whose members may have taken the whole thing waaaay too seriously. But most of these really shocking crimes were committed by youngsters, who’d read too much bad horror literature. Quite often what they knew about Satanism came from one of the rubbish evangelical books supposedly revealingly it, or from Heavy Metal records. Which has caused problems for some rock stars, who were only interested in producing awesome music. As Ozzy Osbourne told the British investigative reporter Robin Cook, ‘I have enough trouble conjuring myself out of bed in the morning, let alone evil spirits.’

The ritual murder of which Hussein is accused looks far more like the crimes committed by these mixed-up, White nutters than something uniquely Muslim. And I think that if he did commit it, then the same factors will probably be found to have motivated him.

I don’t think we have to worry about large numbers of Muslims making pacts with the Devil and dragging us back to the Middle Ages just yet.