Posts Tagged ‘Ottoman Empire’

Video on Black Turks and the Legacy of the Ottoman Slave Trade

October 3, 2022

This video comes from the German broadcaster DW’s channel on YouTube. It’s a very short film about Turkey’s Black minority following the efforts of one family to promote their heritage, fight racism and make contact with Black Africans. In this case, they have to rely on the Africans coming to them, as they’re too poor to go to Africa. This says something about the relative prosperity of the two communities. I’m putting it up because I comment on racial issues in the west, but there are also similar controversies and debates going on in the Middle East. We’re not aware of them, but we should, if only because it shows that all the cultures that enslaved Black Africans are faced with similar issues.

A Slavery Document from Nuzi of the Ancient Near East

September 23, 2022

I’ve got the impression that many of the people talking about the various issues connected with the British enslavement of Africans and its continuing legacy don’t actually realise that slavery existed long before the rise of Black transatlantic slavery in the European conquest and colonisation of the Americas. But the supporters of slavery were very much aware of it and used it as part of their polemic against the abolitionists. Slavery had existed in the ancient world, not just in ancient Rome, but also in Egypt, Persia and the other ancient civilisations. It also formed part of the social systems of present-day non-Western societies like the Ottoman Empire. This formed part of their argument that slavery was somehow natural, and that it was unfair for Britain to ban it when other nations and peoples all over the world still kept people in bondage.

As an example of just how ancient slavery was, there’s this document from ancient Nuzi, one of the city states of ancient Iraq. Twenty thousand clay tablets illustrating everyday life in the city c. 1500 BC were excavated by the University of Pennsylvania, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Harvard Semitic Museum and the Iraq Museum from 1925-1931. This was when Nuzi was under the control of the Hurrians. The tablets themselves were written in Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian empire.

Tablet JEN 845 documents the sale of a female slave by Ziliya, Sukriya, Tehip-sarri, and Silahi, the sons of Silwa-Tesup to Hut-arraphe son of Tisam-musini in return for movable goods that they’ve received.

See Ernest R. Lachman and Maynard P. Maidman, Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi adn the Hurrians, vol *: Join Expedition with the Iraqi Museum of Nuzi VII, Miscellaneous Texts (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 1989) 40, 268. This needs to be taken into account in any discussion of western slavery to counter the tendency to present it as something that only Whites did to Blacks. It also needs to be included in order to gain a proper appreciation of the difficulties the abolitionists had combating a system that was both global and ancient.

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.

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.

Short 19th Century Book on the Enslavement of Europeans by the North African Barbary Pirates

February 1, 2022

Charles Sumner, illustrated by E.R. Billings, White Slavery in the Barbary States (No date, printed by Amazon).

One of the points I’ve been trying to make in my various blog posts about the current controversy over Britain’s participation in the slave trade is that slavery was by no means something that only White Europeans did to Africans and other peoples of colour. It was practised by many African societies long before contact with Europe, as well as Islam. From the 17th century onwards Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algeria raided Europe as far as Iceland, even attacking American shipping in the Mediterranean, to carry off White westerners into slavery. It’s been estimated that about 2.35 million Europeans were enslaved by them.

I found this short illustrated history of the Barbary slave trade on Amazon. It’s only 81 pages long, and was published in the 19th century. It’s blurb reads

“First published in 1853 by Charles Sumner, “White Slavery in the Barbary States” outlines the history of the centuries in which Moslems enslaved Europeans and later, Americans, and what led to its halt.

The Barbary slave trade refers to the slave markets that flourished on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and middle of the 18th century. The Ottoman provinces in North Africa were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were mostly autonomous. The North African slave markets were part of the Arab slave trade.”

There are also a number of other excellent books on the subject, like Simon Webb’s The Forgotten Slave Trade, but I’m hoping this will act as a short but informative overview of this part of the global history of slavery. I intend to post a proper review of it in due course.

Prize Winning Turkish Novelist Arrested Again for Talking about Armenian Genocide

November 19, 2021

All around the world there are states and arseholes trying to cover up the genocides their countries and favoured political regimes have perpetrated. Over here, the right-wing pseudo-historian David Irving is notorious for his books minimising the Holocaust, for which he lost a libel case and ended up in an Austrian prison, where Holocaust denial is a crime. Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli ambassador, is an enthusiastic Judaeonazi who has declared that the Nakba – the Palestinian equivalent of the Holocaust when the indigenous Arab population was massacred and ethnically cleansed at the foundation of Israel – to be a ‘Palestinian lie’. She also support razing Palestinian villages to build Jewish settlements, believes that all of Palestine should belong to Israel and would like to start another war with Syria and Egypt. She’s a racist fanatic whose difference from European Nazis is one of race, not genocidal nationalism. And I caught I headline on the Internet yesterday reporting that the prize-winning Turkish novelist, Orhan Pamuk has been jailed once again for ‘insulting Turkish nationality’. What this means is that he committed the terrible crime of talking openly about the Armenian genocide and maintaining it was fact as opposed to the cover-ups and lies of the Turkish state.

The Armenian genocide was a series of massacres carried on the orders of the last Ottoman emperor in the last days of the Turkish empire. It was a response to a failed revolt by the Armenians during the First World War. The Armenians were encouraged to believe the west would help them, and were tragically let down. In response, the Ottoman emperor issued a firman, an imperial decree, the Armenians were rounded up en masse, forced to march through the desert, starved, shot, bayoneted and crucified amongst other horrible methods of extermination. No reputable historian believes that the massacres didn’t happen and there is plentiful evidence, documentary and eyewitness, to support it. Including by serving Turkish officers who were disgusted and opposed to it. But the Turkish state continues to deny it, and anyone maintaining that it actually occurred, like Pamuk, will be jailed under a law forbidding the insulting of Turkish nationality.

This has also caused problems at the annual commemoration of the Jewish Holocaust by the Nazis. A few years ago various other Holocausts experienced by other nations and peoples were also commemorated at the ceremonies around Holocaust Memorial Day. When Jackie Walker got accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish Labour Movement simply for asking what was going to be done about the commemoration of other Holocausts, such as that against her people, the Black Atlantic slave trade, at a workshop on Holocaust Memorial Day, she was actually asking a reasonable question. Other Holocausts were indeed mentioned on camera during the proceedings. Except the Armenian massacres. People, especially Armenians, were upset and wanted to know why. They were reassured that there was a ceremony to commemorate the Armenian Massacres, but that it was held off camera. Which is precisely the kind of mealy-mouthed double-talk you expected from Blair’s government.

I suspect the real reason was geopolitical diplomacy. Blair didn’t want to start a row with the Turks. The west needs Turkey to be a part of NATO and a bastion of western power in the Middle East. But not enough to allow Turkey to join the EU, and potentially flood Europe with even more Muslim immigrants as is the fear of certain right-wing Tories. Remember all that rubbish about 7 million Turkish immigrants finding their way to Europe if Turkey joined the EU?

But the Armenian Massacres have a direct connection to the Nazi Holocaust. They’ve been described as ‘the first genocide of the 20th century’. This isn’t quite true – the first genocide was the attempt by the German authorities in southern Africa to exterminate the Herero tribe after they revolted. The Armenian massacres were rather later. Nevertheless they had a far greater impact. The refusal of the great powers – Britain, France and America – to intervene taught Hitler that they could similarly persecute and murder the Jews with impunity. He summed it up in the phrase, ‘No-one remembers the Armenians’.

Well, to be fair, some Jews do. Years ago Mike and I went to see a play at Quaker’s Friar’s theatre in Bristol. Burning Issues was a updated version of King Lear, set in a struggling Jewish-owned publishers. It was a family drama centre around the conflict between the aging patriarch, who was head of the firm, and his children. The company is losing money hand over fist and the children wish to save it by publisher more popular books with a wider appeal to the reading public. The father, however, is determined to publish a lavish atlas of the Holocaust. As the play goes on and the man’s estrangement from his family worsens, it becomes clear that the old man may have been through the horror of the Shoah himself. He talks about coming back to nothing except a devastated Europe. The only person who really understands him his Armenian housekeeper, he feels. Because the Jews and the Armenians have clearly undergone similar horrors.

It’s a great play, and if the lockdown is ever lifted and you feel that it’s the type of play you want to see, please go to see it. I can remember seeing a number of excellent plays performed locally in the ’90s when Mike was briefly the theatre critic with one of the local newspapers. Some of the very best were performed in pubs, ranging from 17th/18th century French comedic classics to far more modern plays, One of my favourites was an adaptation of the classic Key Largo, about a man struggling to come to terms with the his betrayal of the Internationalists after being captured by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. This won prizes when it appeared in the 1940s, and really is one of the great classics of 20th century stage and film. It’s theatre like this which, without sounding snobbish or pretentious, makes a city genuinely civilised.

Pamuk’s arrest simply for speaking the truth about the Armenian massacres is another assault on real objective history by a highly authoritarian state. Revealing the truth about your nation’s dark deeds is not insulting. Indeed, it’s necessary so that a society can come to terms with it and move on. Apart from the more simple fact that covering up massacres and genocide is a disgraceful act in itself. Unfortunately, I don’t expect Starmer to raise any questions about the proper commemoration of the Armenian Massacres. I doubt he even knows where Armenia is. He’s too concerned with trying to silence people in the Labour party who challenge Israel’s gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Orhan Pamuk is a courageous man, and I stand with him in his attempts to challenge official lies. As I do with everyone set against mass murder and violence.

And this is also why I believe that Tzipi Hotovely is a disgusting human being who should be thrown out of the country, rather than defended, regardless, or especially, because she’s the Israeli ambassador.

My Email to Simon Webb of History Debunked on Ideologies of Black Colonisation and the Slave Trade

June 8, 2021

I sent a couple of emails to various people last week discussing and attacking what I believe to be a dangerous form of anti-White racism within Black Lives Matter and similar Black, allegedly anti-racist activism. One of these was to Simon Webb, the vlogger behind History Debunked. Now Webb is a Torygraph-reading right-winger, who believes in the Bell curve stuff about Blacks having, on average, lower intelligence than Whites. It’s dangerous stuff and did lead to the passage of discriminatory immigration and eugenics legislation. But Webb does not believe in eugenics – indeed, he criticises it in one of his videos. He also denies being racist and states that he has many Black friends and has been involved in their education. He’s certainly provided evidence of this with photos of himself surrounded by Black children, to whom he’s reading. Now I’m aware that some of his statements must be taken with a pinch of salt. Both Brian Burden and Trev have shown very clearly that some British authorities, at least, were appealing to Caribbean workers to come to Britain at the time of the Windrush migration. But there are others posts he’s made where he cites his sources and where it seems that he is almost certainly correct.

I sent him this email as it describes my own experience of briefly collaborating with the Black And Asian Studies Association, and their hardly subtle anti-White bias. He has also discussed in several of his posts the apparent desire to airbrush Black African slavery out of history. This tallies with my experience in Bristol recently, where Cleo Lake and Asher Craig, in their demands for reparations for slavery for all ‘Afrikans’ seem to be determined to put the blame for slavery solely on White Europeans and Americans. While this is a private email, I hope it clarifies some of the reasons why I am so deeply suspicious and opposed to some of the policies now being articulated by the Black Lives Matter movement and associated activist groups.

I am very much aware that anti-Black structural racism exists, and have Black and Asian friends and colleagues who have suffered the most terrible abuse and threats simply because of their colour. But I don’t believe the distorted history and identity politics of BLM are helping the matter. Indeed, I firmly believe that they are driving White and Black apart, and that they are assisting the Tories by providing them unintentionally with material they can exploit to divide the great British working class.

Dear Simon,

I hope you will forgive my contacting you like this rather than commenting on your great YouTube channel. I’ve been watching your videos for a little while. Although I have to say that we probably don’t have the same party political views, I do share your concerns with the way myth and deliberate falsifications which are now being passed as authentic Black history by activists, educators and the media., I thought you might be interested to hear of my experiences with certain Black groups.

Way back in the 1990s and very early years of the present century I did voluntary work at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum at Bristol’s Temple Meads station. I really enjoyed working there, and met some great people, which include Black volunteers and historians. I was tasked with putting together a database of the Museum’s holdings on slavery. These were mostly copies of text documents and official papers the Museum had acquired from the Commonwealth Office. There was also a library of books people had kindly donated to the museum. These included not just the classic texts and studies against transatlantic slavery but also contemporary studies, including those of it in modern Black Africa. I also briefly cooperated with a Black organisatiion, the Black and Asian Studies Association in providing them with materials for Black history week. 

This cooperation ended when I had a look at a copy of their wretched magazine. I think it was number 32/33. I took immediate exception to the tone. While there were exceptions, the attitude behind most of it was that all White people were automatically racist unless shown to be otherwise. Moreover, that issue came out after the Observer had run an article predicting that by the middle years of this century, Whites would be a minority in Britain. The magazine simply reported this in its ‘things you should know about’ column. However, a few lines later it sternly rejected any limits on Black and Asian immigration to Britain as racist, and stated that Blacks needed their own, special, exclusive spaces. This is, in my view, colonialist. It resembles what we did in our colonies. 

I sent them a reply, which reminded them that certain parts of the Arab world also enslaved Blacks, backed up by an obituary in the Independent of a Sudanese Black civil rights activist, who had been told by his Arab compatriots that Blacks shouldn’t be educated and were to be used as slaves. I also pointed out that there was unreported class of White poor in South Africa, as covered by another piece in the Independent about a photographic exhibition of works on them, ‘Outlands’, as well as other bits and pieces. They sent me back a letter telling me not go get in touch with them again.

A few years agoafter I left the museum, I tried writing a book based on the material I had amassed at the Museum. This was rejected by the mainstream publishers, so I have had it self-published with Lulu. It’s in two volumes, and is entitled The Global Campaign. In it, I tried to set British transatlantic slavery in its wider imperial setting. America and the Caribbean weren’t the only British slave colonies. There was also Cape Colony, Mauritius, Ceylon and India, as well as the kidnapping of girls in Hong Kong, and slavery in Java and Sumatra. I also covered the infamous ‘coolie trade’ and the enslavement of indigenous Pacific Islanders.

And that, I believe, is one of the reasons why I think I was turned down. Slavery and its history has always been linked to Black civil rights activism ever since W.E.B. Dubois, who wanted equality for Black in America and independence for Black Africa. The problem here is that much of the slavery the British pledged to end was indigenous. It was by other Blacks in Africa, as well as by Arabs, Indians, Sri Lankans and the peoples of modern Malaya and Malaysia. It contradicts the cosy, received narrative that it was all Whites’ fault.

I also believe that it may have been unacceptable because not only did I deal with indigenous African slavery, I also showed its parallels with European serfdom, and argued that Europeans turned to the enslavement of Africans because their traditional sources of slaves – eastern European Slavs – had been cut off by the expanding Ottoman Empire. There were other reasons, I’m sure. A friend suggested that I may well have been turned down because, not being a tenured academic, I was outside the closed guild of people publishing on it.

If you want to read the book for yourself, it’s available from Lulu or I can send you a copy.

I‘ve also tried corresponding with Asher Craig, the Black head of equalities in Bristol in response to her comments about slavery in the city during an interview last years, and with her and Cleo Lake, a local Green councillor, after they both pushed through a motion in the city council calling for reparations for slavery to be paid to all ‘Afrikians’, which I also criticised for creating an ahistorical division between Whites and Blacks. I haven’t had a response from either of these two ladies.

Yours with very best wishes,

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

April 23, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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