Will I be cancelled?
One of my first geography – or was it history – lessons when I was about six, consisted of our teacher pulling down a map of the world and pointing to all the pink bits scattered plentifully around the globe. ‘This is the British Empire’, she said. I remember feeling very impressed.
I write this knowing how much cancelling, triggering, no-platforming and all the other latest cliches for being sent to Coventry will rain down upon my unapologetic, white privileged, cis, Silent Generation head ( I’m a proud pre-Boomer)
Later, I was even more impressed when I discovered that this vast network of territories around the world was administered by a tiny island whose tiny army was smaller than Serbia’s at the start of World War One. This must mean, I thought, that most people must be happy with the status quo, law and order, and the opportunity to live peaceful lives.
But judging by the torrent of constant aggrieved and angry condemnation of Colonialism which is now the daily ration of news in most media outlets, and by so many woke and anti-racist groups, I was hopelessly wrong. Even Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, accuses the west of racism because we’re upset about Ukraine, but we weren’t about Syria and Afghanistan. He’s right, we are concerned about Ukraine because it’s much nearer home, and could affect and is affecting the whole world. But has he also forgotten, or never knew that the British army liberated his country Ethiopia in 1941, when Mussolini’s Italians had invaded it and perpetrated terrible atrocities?
As their Emperor Haile Selassie told the world : “Special sprayers were installed on board aircraft so that they could vaporize, over vast areas of territory, a fine, death-dealing rain. Groups of nine, fifteen, eighteen aircraft followed one another so that the fog issuing from them formed a continuous sheet. It was thus that, as from the end of January 1936, soldiers, women, children, cattle, rivers, lakes, and pastures were drenched continually with this deadly rain. In order to kill off systematically all living creatures, in order to more surely poison waters and pastures, the Italian command made its aircraft pass over and over again. That was its chief method of warfare.
“When it comes to racism, the woke- racism weapon against the past is to see only the West’s part in the terrible historical centuries old crime of slavery and the apparent miseries of colonialism. Even a search of the internet, in entries about Africa, only mention the Atlantic West coast slavery,
.But Tidiiana N’Diaye, the Senegalese anthropologist, says that what happened in East Africa over the centuries should also be openly discussed.
“Most of the African authors have not yet published a book on the Arab-Muslim slave trade out of religious solidarity. There are 500 million Muslims in Africa, and it is better to blame the West than talk about the past crimes of Arab Muslims. Initially, the Arab Muslims in Eastern and Central Europe took white slaves to sell them to Arabia,” Tidiane N’Diaye said in an interview. “But the growing military power of Europe put an end to Islamic expansion and now that there was a shortage of slaves, Arab Muslims were looking massively to black Africa.”
When missionary David Livingstone was exploring central Africa, and based at Zanzibar, one of the centres of the slave trade , he estimated that 80,00 to 100,00 Africans were captured by Muslim Arab traders every year. He wrote: “The strangest disease in this country seems really to be broken heartedness, and it attacks free men who have been captured and made slaves”. And out of those huge numbers of slaves captured to be sold and transported from Zanzibar, only one in four survived the journey, most of them died from hunger and exhaustion. A stick was chained to their neck and linked to the next man in the long chain of desolate captives.
It was not until 1873 that Sultan Seyyid Barghash of Zanzibar, under pressure from Great Britain, signed a treaty that made the slave trade in his territories illegal. But that decree was not enforced effectively. It was not until 1909 that slavery was finally abolished in East Africa. It was the mid thirties before it ended in Ethiopia.
According to author N’Diaye, slavery still exists, albeit in a different form. It is estimated that nearly 40 million people worldwide still live in slavery. In Africa there are hundreds of thousands. “In Mauretania they say they have abolished slavery, but in reality the situation in North Africa has not changed much. Young people are enslaved against their will, forced to work and sexually exploited”
Between the late 1870’s to the 1960’s, Colonialism took over from tribal warfare throughout most African kingdoms, tribes, provinces. The tales of the atrocities and tortures and massacres that were visited previously on defenceless peoples, or on the beaten armies, or revolting tribes, are horrendous. James Bruce, the British explorer who traced the source of the Blue Nile in 1770, spent two years at the Ethiopian court, and described not only the dreadful fates of the king’s constantly warring enemies, but the Ethiopian habit of enjoying fresh meat cut from a living beast, describing one horrible victory feast when a bull was tethered and steaks systematically carved from the bellowing desperate creature.
The accounts of other explorers over the hundred years before western rule, tell of the same brutalities and cruelties by psychopathic rulers who inherited bloody tribal rites and continued them to practise them. In spite of ancient civilisations which had risen and fallen in other ages on this continent, the Africa the explorers found was primitive and bloodthirsty. In 1861, explorer Christopher Speke described King Rumanika of Karagwe’s harem, whose wives were force fed milk through pipes from a gourd, to become so horrendously fat that they couldn’t stand, but rolled around like seals, he said. Men with whips stood by to enforce the endless fattening up.
While Speke was detained at his court for months in 1860, he described King Mutesa of Buganda killing people at his court daily, for trivial reasons such as a girl speaking too loudly, or a page neglecting to open or close a door, innocent people burned alive, tortured and murdered in all manner of ways.,
So was the advent of colonial rule for that hundred years, really such a tyranny? In Nigeria for example, the governor, Sir Evelyn Lugard having brought peace to the warring north, ‘set out the same principles of the administrative system subsequently institutionalized as ‘indirect rule’. Essentially, local government was to be left in the hands of the traditional chiefs, subject to the guidance of European officers.
‘ Native institutions were utilized and interference with local customs kept to a minimum, although the British did not always understand the local customs. While this system had built-in contradictions, over the years the Nigerian system developed into a sophisticated form of local government, especially in the emirates and under the banner of “native administration,” which became the hallmark of British colonial rule in Africa. ‘
The colonial authorities of most nationalities, French, Portuguese, German, as well as British, left behind the rule of law, plus roads, hospitals, schools, railways, drains, and most of the advantages of western civilization. Since these countries gained independence, many have ignored ‘due process’ of law, press freedom, individual liberty and human rights’, in the words of Amnesty International. Systems of democratic government established at independence, have been dismantled, and corrupt authoritarian regimes imposed, with many presidents declaring themselves in office for life.
Since Independence there have been unspeakable massacres, tribal wars, repression of any dissent, and previously prosperous countries like Zimbabwe reduced to bankruptcy – though to read the internet, you would think it was a thriving happy prosperous society, untroubled by violence, famine, corruption, unemployment, and bulging prisons filled with people from the wrong tribe. ( I know, I have a close relative who was matron of the hospital in Harare. I have two friends who worked in Kenya for a few years, where they had to have an iron door fitted to their bedroom like everyone else so that they wouldn’t be murdered in their sleep by robbers. When they left, they left all their possessions, being allowed only enough cash to buy a coffee and bun at the airport.)
Human rights groups have gone on record as describing ‘extensive political repression, including illegal and arbitrary detention, threats or other forms of intimidation, disappearances, politically motivated trials, and the massacre of peacefully protesting civilians ‘ in many countries.
None of these regimes are castigated by the critics of the West. Both the crimes of the past, and the crimes of the present are ignored, overlooked or unknown to those pulling down statues and condemning European and American slave owners. Slave owners who were also philanthropists whose generosity sustains the very colleges and schools, hospitals and libraries, art galleries, orphanages, that today’s woke critics benefit from. And apart from all their other crimes, these were mostly old white dead males – an unbeatable combination if you’re inclined to find a good whipping boy… while woke culture requires that we change our minds and our beliefs about these men and about the past, and think as they do.
The philanthropy of many traders and owners, which contributed to the great civilization of the west, their gifts to the arts, to medicine, to science, to music, to literature, to architecture, to good government and a decent society may be forgotten in this present orgy of righteous indignation and judgement, but let us hope that the pendulum swings back before all that they gave and achieved is obliterated.
Those lovely words from the book of Ecclesiastes honour these sort of men,
‘Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begot us’… Some of the most famous and indispensable men in history have been slave owners – men who reflected the customs of their times and place. Like most of us they all had gifts and they all had flaws, and they were men of their time. They didn’t think like us. In time to come we may be abhorred too, by more advanced societies for the way we treat and eat other species, and exploit the natural world
These slave-owners include men like the Prophet Muhammad, William Penn, the great Quaker who founded Pennsylvania, and influenced Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the unforgettable words of the Declaration of Independence, Demosthenes, influential ancient Greek statesman, many US presidents, including George Washington, most rich Romans and ancient Greeks, not many British, they tended to have money invested in trading, and so we come to wonderful William Wilberforce, and his supporters who battled so long to abolish the slave trade.
Many of their descendants have been proud of the achievements of such men, others have been influenced by them, or inspired by them, while others have followed them – as in the case of Muhammad. So perhaps their critics could try to forgive them, leave their statues where grateful people erected them, and remember that it is because so many of them worked for a decent humane society, that we have the freedom to say what we think without the fear of criticism, or of being ‘cancelled – a freedom which applies to us all, white, privileged, Bame, Terf or transgender.
“I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls,” said Elizabeth I back in the 1550 ‘s, and I think she had the right idea.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
I discovered this wonderful lemon tart recipe in a gardening magazine, and with a few tweaks have made it my own !
Prepare a pastry case. Place a large chopped and de-seeded lemon ( I have also added half an orange or another lemon) in the stick whizzer. Add four eggs, 100gms melted butter, a generous cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and blend it all together. Put into the pastry case and bake at 180 for 30 minutes or more. When cooked, dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream. Divine !
Food for Thought
‘In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.’Czeslaw Milosz, poet and writer, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In its citation, the Swedish Academy called Miłosz a writer who “voices man’s exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts”.
He wrote The Captive Mind, a book about Stalinism