Sunday, 29 September 2013

The slave trade 'rescued slaves from night-black Africa'

It is clear that there are certain people who are free and certain who are slaves by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be slaves. Aristotle



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A former slave named Gordon shows his whipping scars. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863


It would be very interesting and perilous to write the history of the Africans in North America from an objective point of view. 

Slavery, as opposed to serfdom, faded out in Europe by the 12th century and was abolished by the British Empire in 1833 - other countries following us. Outside Europe, slavery had always existed and was probably justifiable in prehistoric times and in primitive tribal societies. Life in such societies was, in any case, nasty, brutish and frequently short.  

Slavery is in the forefront of people's minds these days not because it was a cruel institution, but because it was an example of white people exploiting brown ones. We hear less about the African slaves owned and traded by Arabs. We hear next to nothing about the 23 million Russian serfs, one-third of the Russian population, who greatly outnumbered the fewer than four million American slaves and who were freed in 1861 by Czar Alexander II. 

At school we might have heard of the English thralls, including those enslaved by the pagan Danes, but one rarely hears of the white slaves captured by the Barbary pirates, or of slavery in India or China. Slavery in China was abolished in 1909 but continued until 1949 under the Nationalists. Under Chinese Communism it continues to this day, of course - the slaves are nowadays prisoners. In its more traditional form, slavery continues in Mali and other parts of Muslim Africa.

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Slavery is therefore not something for which only Europeans, and in particular the British and Americans, are to be blamed. On the contrary, Europeans, in particular the British and to a lesser extent the Americans, can be credited with its abolition.

However terrible slavery in the Americas was, and it certainly very often was (as was serfdom in Europe), slavery was an African institution, as it was an institution in most primitive societies, which whites adopted. The African slaves were enslaved by other Africans, who sold some of the slaves to white men. 

Slavery is barbaric, but it brought African slaves to civilisation, as a very good interview with the (black) Governor-General of Jamaica in the Spectator reminds us.  I cannot forbear to quote a few lines from it:
As we waited for the tea, Cooke began to speak in patriotic terms of Jamaica as a colony of "marvellous antiquity", far older even than British India or Australia. 
"Now hear me on this. When Australia was just a convict settlement, Jamaica was an established outpost of British commerce and British civilisation. "Civilisation? "Yes," he replied. "Even during slavery the British were sending some very good people out to Jamaica . . . missionaries, reformers . . . but, as I said, to Australia, just convicts." 
"But Jamaica was a brutal place . . . the plantation," I said. 
Cooke was not going to condone slavery, was he? 
"Well, neither am I going to harp on about the wickedness of slavery. Jamaica's greatness was due entirely to slavery." 
Yes, the iniquities; yes, the horrors; but slavery, for all its manifest brutality, had rescued Cooke and his forebears from "night-black" Africa and shown them "true" (that is, British) civilisation.
Sir Howard Cooke is a British patriot to put both the BNP and British intellectuals to shame.

An interesting proof of the civilising effects of slavery is that the freed American slaves who settled Liberia did not intermarry with the natives but treated them as coolies and regarded themselves as representatives of a higher civilisation, which of course they were. I remember people wrote about Liberia as the first free black African country, when it was in fact the last colony. The rule of the 'Americo-Liberians', the black colonists, was only ended in 1980, by a military coup.

I once outraged a liberal Anglican parson friend of mine, who was a very intelligent trained philosopher, when I suggested slavery was a relative rather than an absolute evil. He congratulated himself that he did not think like this, but I have never known how Christians can square the idea of slavery as an absolute evil with the fact that the Old Testament takes it for granted and approves of it. I recently came across, thanks to Mr. Valentin Dimitrov, this very interesting explanation of why slavery might have been morally acceptable in the time of King David and later but not in America in the 18th or 19th centuries. 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Bishop Spong and the death of God


I came across these insightful words by John Shelby Spong, about priests facing the congregation, which seem accurate. Spong is the wildly liberal bishop of the Episcopalian Church in the U.S.A. 

"This shift has become almost universal in liturgical churches over the last fifty years. Though it seems a minor change and has been defended by proponents in a variety of ways, it signifies to me the gradual realization of the death of theism. The priest or pastor with his or her back to the people is addressing the

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hague and Cameron should resign, because of what they did to Libya and what they wanted to do to Syria

William Hague and David Cameron are both very able men indeed - especially William Hague - but they should resign because of what they did to Libya and for losing the vote on Syria. Mr. Hague at least should go. But they do not face even a vote of confidence.

Bombing Syria would not have been about chemical weapons, as far as Mr. Hague and Mr. Cameron are concerned, but a way to achieve regime change. For Mr. Obama, an

The Prince of Wales is now the oldest heir to the throne since the Electress Sophia

21 September, 2013

HRH the Prince of Wales was already the heir to the throne who has remained heir apparent the longest. Today he passes the age when King William IV ascended the throne. He was 64 years, 10 months and 5 days old when he became King. He had been heir presumptive to his brother, King George IV (William was heir presumptive not heir apparent because the elderly King George IV could theoretically have married and fathered a child, who would have inherited the throne). 

Prince Charles will be, God willing, the oldest king in our history to ascend the throne. He is the oldest immediate heir to the throne for almost 300 years. 

The one older immediate heir to the throne was the Electress Sophia of Hanover, who died, aged 83, in 1714. after running to escape a shower of rain. (Sophia, of course, has a long 'i' - to rhyme with 'via'.) Queen Anne died a few weeks later at the age of 49 and Sophia's son became King George I. Or the usurper, George of Hanover, if you are a Jacobite. 

Sophia, who never visited England, was the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, James VI and I's daughter, who was for a few months the famous Winter Queen of Bohemia. The Electress Sophia, unlike her royal descendants, who have been singularly philistine (the present Prince of Wales is the first exception), was a woman of culture and erudition. She was a good friend of Liebnitz, with whom she corresponded. Like Jeeves, her favourite author was Spinoza.





There are some English people who say they have nothing against the royal family as people (how could they have?) - it's the idea of a hereditary unelected monarchy that they hate. I, on the other hand, am not interested in the members of the royal family, only in the institution, in the idea of inheritance, a line that goes back to King Edgar and before that to the men in skins who founded Wessex. 

But I make an exception for the Prince of Wales, whom I have come to love as I have watched him grow out of his long drawn-out and gawky hobbledehoyhood to become the eccentric toff he is today. I suppose being married to a woman with borderline disorder tried him in the fire. He is the Grand Young Fogey, fussing over traditional architecture and the countryside and wanting to reintroduce mutton to England's tables. Not by coincidence does he love Romania so much, as do many foreigners who feel out of place in the modern world. Some have even suggested he should be made King of Romania but Romania has a very good king already. 

The Prince is, by the way, a collateral descendant of Vlad Țepeș and is said to be  a direct descendant of, among many other illustrious men, the Prophet Mahomet, through Peter the Cruel of Portugal, though doubt has been cast on this.

I think the Prince of Wales is one of the best dressed man in the world but his good taste is not innate. At Cambridge he wanted a suit with horizontal stripes but was dissuaded by his tailor. Actually it might not have been a bad joke, but I don't think the Prince was the man to carry it off.

Headscarves



I was in Istanbul again last month. Every time I visit I see more and more head scarves, though I do not know how  many of the scarf-wearers are tourists, how many Turks. I spend my time, naturally, in the historic centre of the city, even though I avoid the hardcore

Second-hand bookshops weaned me

I always loved second-hand bookshops above all things - they were my true alma mater, not my university. But now I see that old books are also the last bastions of freedom of speech.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Quirimba diary




In Zanzibar they advertise Sunset Dhow Rides for tourists and this will be the fate of Ibo, but at the moment there are just teenage boys who come to the Miti Miwiri offering to guide us across the mangrove swamp at low tide to the next island, Quirimba, and bring us
back by boat at high tide. 

One boy suggested this to us, for a reasonable price and we agreed, but he was undercut a moment later by Ibrahim who offered to do take us for whatever we wanted to pay.  He seemed a more enjoyable companion, so my Austrian friends decided to go with him. The first boy was very angry and the next day went to the police to lodge a complaint against the Austrians and the police called on the Miti twice while we were away. I didn’t hear
the end of that story. They were looking for 'a German woman', so the trail was not very hot.

I do not ask enough questions. The walk turned out to take three hours. The mangrove swamps at low tide are a very slithery labyrinth and most of the time we were knee deep in water. It was an interesting walk, fun, but it was not too soon that we came to the open seabed.



As we walked across the seabed the island came into view. Cerulean sky, strange trees, wooden boats on the beach. I suppose one of the most beautiful places I ever saw. And then we saw a Land Rover pull up across on the island, timed perfectly, and one of us said that Johannes has arrived. And so he had. And that meant, after three hours hard walking, that there would be coffee. Good coffee too, because grown locally.





The Portuguese must have felt as if they had found a new planet when they first landed in Africa. When they disembarked at Quirimba they found an important trading post, governed by the Arabs. Perhaps it had been held by the Arabs since the twelfth century, perhaps earlier. Quirimba has not changed very much in eight centuries, although the Arabs are long gone and the Portuguese Empire is gone too. The most important changes, after the conversion of the natives to Islam, probably took place after Mozambique became Communist in 1975: it now has a school, some modern medicine and the people mostly wear flip-flops. The island today has a population of four thousand blacks and two Germans, Johannes and his sister, both in their late fifties. 

Johannes drove us through an Anglo-Saxon village. Huts. A forge.  One man was dressed in scarlet robes and was, Johannes told us, the Muslim priest. Johannes and he are foes. According to Johannes, the priest battens off the villagers and manipulates them to do what he wants,  'because he is slightly more intelligent than they are'.  

Soon we were in their house, being offered brandy, wine or beer – I took local coffee, which tasted good – and Johannes told us his story, which fascinated me.

He and his sister were I suppose among the last survivors of Germany's African empire, which was created by Bismarck and conquered by the British during the First World War, though I know there are some (often very right-wing) Germans in Namibia. I wonder if there are any in Tanzania. These two spoke German, according to the Austrians, of  a dated 19th century kind. They are  German citizens but, until their fifties, neither had been to Germany. Contemporary Berlin was a surprise.

I liked Johannes, a very emotional man, who was dedicating himself to keeping up a tradition that deserved to be kept up and keeping seventy villagers employed. He drank brandy in the morning and smoked hard, which made me feel relaxed in his company. Perhaps he is a Joseph Conrad character. 

Their grandfather had lived in Tanganyika  and, wanting to return to Africa after the Great War, had landed a job in Uganda. One day he decided to leave, ‘took two boys with him’ and began to walk. He walked until he came to Ibo, where he settled. He founded the coconut farm.

At first I thought the Germans were a couple but they were brother and sister and brothers and sisters never grow up in one another’s  eyes and bring out the child in each other. They left the island for South Africa at the age of six but his daughter came back to nurse her father in his last illness and the brother and sister sold their businesses in Johannesburg and came back here six years ago. Things are worse for the blacks they say than in the Portuguese times. Witches from the mainland, whom the Portuguese would never have tolerated, come to the island and con the villagers into paying for potions and spells. One witch conned a man out of his life savings and then gave him a medicine that killed him. I wonder what sort of savings the unfortunate man had.

Johannes does not have a permit for paying guests but they are allowed to have friends to stay. I am tempted to return. With many books on a kindle. No internet.

Do they have any hunting? 
'Only monkeys.' 
Monkeys were everywhere on the island, slipping from trees like small, bald old men.

Johannes took us on a tour but we were pressed for time. He showed us how coconuts are processed. He is busy planting trees, which will take fifteen years to yield useful fruit and have a life expectancy of seventy years. Many trees planted by his grandfather are dying now.  In the coconut warehouse I noticed an odd device made of wood – it was a bow and arrow. The guards use them to keep thieves away and for shooting monkeys. 'I hope they do not kill any people with them', I said. ‘Oh no. Not for twenty years’, Johannes answered airily.

Then he brought us to quite the most wonderful white beach, green turquoise water and one or two children. Reader, if deserted beaches are your thing - but no bars or restaurants - then Quirimba may be for you.

Then back to the house, a coconut curry and much South African wine and we heard more of their story. When the two give up the farm the sister's children will not take it on. They have left Johannesburg for the suburbs of Birmingham and do not want to return to Africa. She said she loves Birmingham. I have always intended not to visit Johannesburg but, hearing that, the picture I had of Jo’burg darkened. 

She said that she had been surprised at how many white people live in Birmingham and told terrible stories of savage murders and rapes in South Africa. These crimes are not racist it seems, just crimes. If whites are often victims it is because they have more stuff. I can see why Quirimba is an attractive alternative.


We could have spent much longer on the island but the tide was high and we had to go. Instead of a three hour walk our dhow ride took an hour and a half through the labyrinthine channels between the mangroves, as darkness fell.  Utter beauty and silence except for the splash of waves and sound of birds.



We had not agreed a price - it was left up to us to give what we thought the day was worth.  We paid $60. We were five so it came to twelve dollars each. Ibrahim, a nice boy, seemed very satisfied. It's a monthly wage in Mozambique.

I wish I were back there now.

For the next stage in my journey, click here,




Friday, 13 September 2013

The Middle East DOES NOT MATTER, people!

Syria is a proxy war between Iran and Russia on the one hand and America, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the other. Russia and America alike are actuated by a mixture of healthy national egoism and some principles. Israel thinks that a victory for Assad in Syria will endanger Israel's security more than a failed state on her borders much of it ran by  Al Qaeda. Israel probably knows her interests best but it seems to me that for the rest of us the status quo ante is much preferable - a strong (very bad) man in Syria, allied to Iran and Hezbollah, but keeping order, operating a secular state and protecting Christians, Druse and other minorities. Though of course a complete victory for the Assad regime is, I imagine, very unlikely and the cantonisation of Syria, with the regime in place in Damascus, Aleppo and the coast, is the nearest to victory that the regime can achieve. 

Israel's security is not the most pressing concern for me but I think Israel has lived with the Assads for a long time and does not have nearly so much to fear from them as from chaos. Israel, however, fears Iran.

By the way, Putin suppressed Chechnya with extreme brutality - and 100,000 or 200,000 dead. Putin made a desert and called it peace. Still it worked and might work in Syria - but Assad and Putin are on a par when it comes to respect for human rights. And many of their enemies are just as cruel as they are.

What is clear, even to an imperialist like me, is that most of the problems in the Middle East stem from Western interference, from the Franco-British conquest of the region during the Great War and the Balfour Declaration to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the intervention in Libya last year. The people of the Middle East want to be left alone by us and we should leave them alone. 

It also seems to me that we should realise that the Middle East is a charming, picturesque area of no real importance. A bit like the Balkans up to 1914. Please read Edward Luttwak's brilliant explanation of why this is so. 

Professor Luttwak, by the way, is a Jew from Arad. He talked about the subject of Syria a few months ago and spoke much sense.

'The United States has other new responsibilities: To respond effectively to a rising China, it is essential to disengage from the futile pursuit of stability in North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Their endless crises capture far too much policy attention and generate pressures for extremely costly military interventions that increase rather than reduce terrorist violence.' 

Yes. Where I disagree with with him is where, more recently, he said that prolonged war in Syria was the best outcome and would weaken and tie down both Iran and Al Qaeda. Apart from the inhumanity of this, I am not convinced that a limited victory for Assad, and by extension Iran, would do any harm to US or Western interests. This seems to contradict his thesis that the West has no important interest in the Middle East. 

I thought these words were thought-provoking. 
One is tempted to explain the common fate of these exceedingly different countries by invoking the role of Islam in politics. Islam may well preclude democracy -- to cite Turkey as the counterexample is perverse, for doing so ignores that the country was founded by an authoritarian as a secular state, which its current Islamist rulers are eroding day by day. But there is no reason to trip over the vast problems of contemporary Islam, because the economic level of the populations in these North African states would not support effective democratic governance anyway.The Arab Spring has indeed been consequential in awakening populations from passivity. But this merely precludes dictatorial rule, even while these countries' fundamental conditions continue to preclude democracy.Only varieties of anarchy remain. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

September 11 twelve years on: is the USA still a superpower?

September 11, 2013

Twelve years later, a thought.

We all consider Austria-Hungary started the First World War in 1914 (or at least I do) because she was unjustified in invading Serbia to punish the murder of the heir to the throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Yet almost everyone thinks that the US was right to invade Afghanistan in 2001 because of 3,000 murders. I wonder how to distinguish those two.

Nostalgia is not what it used to be

Ammianus Marcelinus c 390, after the defeat at the Battle of Adrianople 378, called for all and sundry to return to sobria vetustas (sobriety of ancient times). I do not know whether they did but doubt it. Classical literature teems with such imprecations, of course. What is interesting is that suddenly - in the last hundred years - people have stopped celebrating the past and now automatically consider it oppressive and wicked unless proven otherwise. This is very morbid indeed.


Has a historian explained why this happened? The First World War, Freud, technology, popular culture, the 
decline of religion and the decline of studying the classics, these all were factors. A bigger factor than any of those, I think, was Bolshevism and the baleful influence of the Frankfurt School.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Vladimir Putin master class



Vladimir Putin (whom I do not like in general) is giving Mr. Obama a master class in how to conduct foreign policy. Even the ranks of Tuscany in America (liberals and conservatives and Mr. Obama, though not Mr. Kerry or the State Department) can scarce forbear to cheer. 
An American surgical strike like Reagan's bombing of Tripoli might have been a good idea - without any need for allies like England or France - but my fear is it would have helped defeat Assad and thus helped Al Qaeda. Reagan after all was trying to kill Gadaffi. That would have been regime change (and assassinations, by the way, were against U.S. law). But today America looks ridiculous and weak. As under Bush and let's remember how very much worse he was than Obama. America is in decline, tragically. Henry Kissinger thinks the US must make a short sharp limited intervention. I think we should have negotiations between Syria, the rebels, Iran, the Saudis, Russia, America, France.


But what a disaster for America this is. Another milestone in her decline. Assad, like the other players in the game, only understands force. He was frightened the USA would try to kill him or overthrow him but now he thinks he is safe. Gestures about chemical weapons are not his language.

I wonder if the USA should leave Iran, Israel and the Saudis to squabble and detach from the Middle East? I suppose this is what Mr. Obama has been trying to do?

Monday, 2 September 2013

Which is better - to be a saved or betrayed Syrian?


A.J.P. Taylor once asked this question.

In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six and a half million Poles were killed. Which was better – to be a betrayed Czech or a saved Pole?

Is it better to be a saved Iraqi or Libyan than to have been left under Saddam's or Gadaffi's rule? We know the answer. So it would be again in Syria if the Americans intervene to

Sunday, 1 September 2013

England is a democracy after all

I stopped off at Tesco's on the corner of Haymarket and Jermyn St (yes there is a Tesco's in Jermyn St) and saw on the television (in a supermarket, which I did not stop to think was odd) the result of the vote in the House on Syria.  I could not quite take it in at first. I had dined well.

Having taken it in, I was never happier (well, not since the royal baby turned out to be a prince not a princess, but apart from that since...well since Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope and before that never.) 

For the first time in my life I thanked God for the Labour Party.