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Thursday, April 18, 2024
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HomeCulture WarSlavery is as old as humanity itself – get over it

Slavery is as old as humanity itself – get over it

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JUST when you thought the decadence and decay of our culture couldn’t deteriorate any further, out comes actor David Harewood, pronouncing his view that the government should ‘100 per cent’ apologise for Britain’s role in the slave trade after discovering that some of his ancestors were slaves on sugar plantations in Barbados.

The Homeland star told the BBC (who else?) that the government’s failure to do so was ‘detrimental to the many thousands of people in the country who are descended from slaves’.

This latest call comes amid a flurry of recent activity from the professional grievance-mongers, keen to keep their booming trade alive. Barbadian politicians are among those leading the calls for reparation money from the UK, presumably having already used the billions in bribes from China in adding some more zeroes to their Swiss bank accounts. 

The descendants of William Gladstone recently travelled to Guyana and abased themselves before bemused locals, apologising for the fact that their famous Victorian Prime Minister ancestor had a father involved in the slave trade, despite being staunchly opposed to it himself. 

There was some glimmer of resistance last Thursday, when the former Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach threatened to sue the University of Cambridge over an online TED Talk given by Malik Al Nasir, in which he decried her as the descendant of a merchant with links to the slave trade. 

Yet with depressing predictability she soon caved in, the very next day grovelling, ‘We have to look at the ongoing consequences of what we have done as a country. And of course, I apologise for the acts of my ancestors.’ 

Leaving aside the rank distastefulness of forcing a person to apologise for something for which she has no responsibility, one could point out that slavery has happened as long as there have been humans, and question why Western civilisation is held to a different standard from everyone else. 

Imperial China was among the longest continuous slave-states we know of, while the Islamic slave trade was far larger, and lasted much longer, than anything the Europeans got up to. Indeed, you could argue that the transatlantic slave trade was merely an expansion of the customer base for the Islamic slavers who had been operating in Africa for hundreds of years before any Christians arrived on the scene.

Ignore the recent BBC remake of Roots, where Kunta Kinte is portrayed as a black Muslim enslaved by evil whiteys. In reality, virtually every African slave bought by European nations and shipped to the New World was sold to them by Muslim traders.

Indeed, millions of white Europeans were captured and enslaved by Maghrebis well into the modern age. Just as in India, where tens of millions were forced into slavery during the Islamic invasion and subsequent colonisation of the sub-continent.

Incidentally, the ‘Hindu Kush’ region of Afghanistan translates as ‘Hindu killer,’ so named for the sheer number of Hindu and Buddhist slaves who perished in the mountain range as they were driven into Turkestan.

The Islamic world never fought a civil war to end slavery, nor did any abolitionist movement emerge organically from their own peoples. On the contrary, slavery is specifically permitted and encouraged in their religion. If the white Western nations, in particular Britain, hadn’t forced them to stop slaving, they likely never would have. Many would argue they never did in any case, as the slave markets in Syria today can attest.  

One could also point out that, long before Islam was even a twinkle in Muhammad’s eye, Great Britain itself was invaded and colonised by a hostile foreign empire. Roman imperialists slaughtered our ancestors at will, enslaving and subjugating them for hundreds of years.

Rather than the ‘many thousands of people in the country who are descended from slaves’ that Mr Harewood seems so concerned about, all seventy-odd million of us are undoubtedly descended from slaves and slavers both, as is every other human being alive today if you simply go back far enough.

In hindsight, of course, many historians would contend that the Roman occupation boosted our civilisation tremendously, as the Monty Python skit goes, by introducing a written alphabet, architecture, sanitation, law and order etc, but that’s beside the point. The point is, does anyone truly believe that Britons in 2023 have a right to demand the Italian people apologise and pay reparations for what their ancestors did to ours? It’s absurd.

One could argue all these things and far more besides, but the debate increasingly reminds me of a fable from Aesop, in which a lamb tries eloquently, rationally and reasonably to argue why the hungry wolf has no justifiable reason to eat her:

The wolf called out to the Lamb, How dare you muddle my drinking water?

No, said the Lamb; if the water is muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.

Well, then, said the Wolf, why did you call me bad names this time last year?

That cannot be, said the Lamb; I am only six months old.

I don’t care, snarled the Wolf; if it was not you, it was your father; and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her all up.

But before she died she gasped out: Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

Tyranny is always capricious, and rational arguments can work only on rational individuals. We are sorely mistaken to believe that those who howl and agitate against the British Empire, colonialism and white people in general are genuinely concerned with historical facts. They are not. The one thing they care about is finding any cudgel with which to beat Western civilisation into submission, for only then can they replace it with their own competing versions of utopia.

Consider the controversies over Churchill, Clive of India and all the rest. It has nothing to do with the individual vices or virtues of these historical figures, but only about destroying a people’s history, and therefore, their sense of collective identity.

A people are held together as much by the great men of their past as by the great events those men took part in. As Cicero said, ‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?’

Cicero owned slaves, by the way, many of them, as did Aristotle and Plato, and yet the Greeks remain rightly proud of them. Go to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and you will find a golden statue of Genghis Khan more than 100ft high. Propose tearing that down and the locals will laugh and dare you to see what happens if you try. Heroes and villains are always a matter of perspective:  Genghis Khan was great for Mongolians . . . not so much for non-Mongolians.

The 20th century historian E H Carr was correct when he said that history is an unending dialogue between the present and the past. At the moment, all we have is a monologue from the present, a lecture about the sins of the past.

A people who don’t have a history also don’t have a future, but I suppose that is the whole point.

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