Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Victim History ?

During the recent gleeful Dave Hill bashing at CiF, a few commenters mentioned a bit of British-Muslim history that Trev's not so keen on promoting - the Muslim slave trade of the Barbary coast.

Dave did make a valid point though, when he spoke of history being revised and rewritten "as different, often competing, emphases and interpretations are accorded to those already known".

The North African slave trade (aka 'Barbary Corsairs') has been known of and documented for centuries. Maybe a million Europeans were victims.

According to Robert Davis in "Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800", in the 1630s nearly as many Brits were being enslaved annually by (North) Africans as (West) Africans were being enslaved by Brits.

Once it had finally been suppressed, a whole genre of Victorian soft-porn art arose featuring swarthy chaps with towels on their heads examining the sumptuous curves of some poor benighted European maiden. Characters in novels as late as the mid 20th century (by which time it was seen as something of a joke, a spectre to frighten old maids) might mention "white slavers". Yet it's been curiously airbrushed out of English narrative history. Why ?

I'll hazard a guess that until the last 30 years or so we liked to see ourselves as winners - and while we may not have liked to see ourselves as oppressors, that was better than seeing ourselves as oppressed. After all, Britons never shall be slaves.

That's all changing now. Victimhood's where it's at. I've noted on the nationalist, nativist Right in the last few years the increasing co-option of the language of minority rights - which, given current demography, is only being a few steps ahead of the curve. I did it myself when I wrote of the indigenous Brits as the 'native Britons' - a conscious echo of what in the States and Canada are now the First Nations. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is quoted, not in hope that it will have any effect, but to highlight the plight of a nation seen as facing cultural effacement (of which Mr Phillips effort was perhaps one small part).

So I get the impression that "different emphases and interpretations" will include the rediscovery of the Muslim slave trade and its British victims. We shall see.


gabriel oak said...

"This may require that we rethink our belief that race was fundamental to pre-modern ideas about slavery. It also requires a new awareness of the impact of slave raids on Spain and Italy - and Britain - about which we currently know rather less than we do about slaving activities at the same time in Africa."

The first sentence above from the last page of the linked article caught my eye. What is this "our belief" of which he speaks?

Slavery was commonly practised in pre-modern societies, the Anglo-Saxons were avid slavers as were the Vikings, Dublin was a Viking slaving centre operating the largest slave market in western Europe during the 11th century. They weren't fussy

It might be the belief of narrow politically correct specialists, but hardly of anyone who has a wider interest in history.

Anonymous said...

in the 1630s nearly as many Brits were being enslaved annually by (North) Africans as (West) Africans were being enslaved by Brits.

I don't want to be picky Laban, in an article I otherwise agree with but "to enslave" is to make a free person a slave. Therefore the vast majority of West Africans were not technically, enslaved by the Brits but rather enslaved by co-Africans and bought by the Brits.

The importance of this distinction is that it is surely worse to deprive a man of his freedom (for no good reason) than to transfer ownership of a man who has already had his freedom removed. Is it worse to steal or to buy goods from a fence?

Anonymous said...

There's some kind of unpleasant thread linking the Corsairs to the Julie Bindel story... describe and discuss, as they say in examinations

dearieme said...

The Ancient Irish were keen slavers: remember that St Patrick was first carried off to Ireland by a slave-raid.

Ross said...

The Barbary slavers are interesting from a historic perspective, and useful to bring up in the context of politically correct idiots who believe that slavery was a Western invention inflicted upon the rest of the world.

However I don't think that it should be used to create a counter myth that the Arabs were responsible for a unique evil in enslaving Europeans. They weren't, they were doing what everyone did until a couple of hundred years ago if they could.

Anonymous said...

While I think that Ross is right, it is clear that the Arabs and the teachings of Islam made slavery their own. The Koran sets out in fair detail what you may do with your slaves, and much of what it preaches is pretty horific by christian standards. Saudi abolished slavery in name only, in the sixties, and arabs are the slavers in the Sudan and formerly right down the East African coast to Zanzibar. The arabs of the Ottoman empire practised slavery with all their conquered peoples, and threatened the whole of Europe with the blight in the 17th century.
The story of the Cornish boy Thomas Pelling of Penryn and the horrific years of slavery he spent in Morocco building a vast palace for a mad sultan with a million other white European slaves is well documented.

Anonymous said...

The unique thing about whites and slavery is that we ended it.

susan said...

OT but relevant:

A black person may have been present at the Battle of Culloden! Al-Beeb is ecstatic: