05 July 2020 06:04:02 GMT

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Title : Black lives matter

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Date Submitted : 17-06-2020 17:46
Author : Paul G

This is a difficult piece to write because it expresses thoughts on a difficult subject.

Let me say first of all that I consider racism abhorrent.  Discriminating against anyone for the colour of their skin is a particularly evil aspect of racism and is entirely indefensible. Those who are guilty of it fall below what I would argue is the very minimum standard of civilised society.

And slavery, often based on an element of racism, is equally abhorrent and is now, at least officially, globally illegal.

I also acknowledge that even in the UK there are still various strains of racism widespread in society and I fully understand why those who are subject to racist discrimination are deeply aggrieved.

Furthermore it hardly needs to be said that the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was an outrageous and criminal abuse of police power and it is scarcely surprising that the nine minute video of the police extinguishing the life of a handcuffed man caused outrage around the world.

So far, I’m on the same page as what seems to be the global consensus.

But now I’m going to deviate just a tad. What on earth is going on?  Masses of demonstrators, wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Black lives matter” are on the march, demanding that the statues of anyone who didn’t espouse the current permissive, relativist morality of the 21st century should be expunged from history.

Of course black lives matter. BAME people should be and are equal before the law. And, insofar as members or sections of our society are prejudiced against them, we should condemn the bigots and defend their victims.

But has our society become so intellectually impoverished that it can in any way endorse the view that history must now be rewritten so as not to offend the sensibilities of a deluded and naïve minority in our society?

Why do I say deluded and naive? Racism and slavery have a long history. Sadly both are ubiquitous features of human society from the moment we abandoned hunting and gathering and settled into an agricultural way of life.  Throughout history, this is what man has done to man. The Egyptians enslaved the Hebrews (amongst others). The flower of 5th century ancient Greece which gave us the basis of Western philosophy, literature, mathematics and science flourished in the soil of a large helot (enslaved) population. The Romans conquered much of the known world, including most of England and enslaved those who resisted their rule. (We have moved on without any discernible resentment of the Italians.)

The Arabs and the peoples of Africa have a particularly notable contribution to the history of slavery. Long before Europeans became involved in slavery, the African leaders of African states conducted a thriving trade in seizing and selling their fellow men, and women and children to Arab slave-traders. Much of the trade involved the shipping of Africans through the port of Zanzibar to the Arabian peninsula. From time to time Arab slavers would conduct expedition into the interior of Africa and either seize or buy their human merchandise from African chieftains, many of whom grew rich from the trade. The fact that Africans sold other Africans to the slave traders should not cause surprise because slavery was common in sub-Saharan Africa long before the Arabs and the Europeans became involved, and persisted long after the Europeans countries had abandoned slavery and declared the slave trade illegal and unacceptable..

European involvement in the slave trade began in the 16th century. In 1526, the Portuguese crossed the Atlantic carrying their first shipment of African slaves to Brazil. The other leading European countries soon followed, generally establishing trading posts on the coast of Africa and buying slaves from African chieftains. Europeans rarely ventured into the interior, fearing for their safety and their health, They preferred to connect to the slave trade via the African leaders who happily gathered and sold their fellow countrymen to the Europeans.

There is no doubt that European involvement in the slave trade caused inexpressible tragedy to many of the millions who were enslaved.  Many died before they could reach the plantations in the Americas. Those who survived were destined to spend their lives, without freedom and without rights. I have no intention of defending the record of Europeans in the slave trade. I’m simply pointing out that they didn’t invent it; that  slavery has been considered social acceptable, if not inevitable, in most societies for most of human history; and that, if you go back a couple of hundred years, almost everyone was complicit in a society that, one way or another, either suffered or benefitted from slavery.

The United Kingdom played a major role in the abolition of slavery. On the 27th March 1807 the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was passed by the UK Parliament. In1833, the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act which, with the exception of India, banned slavery throughout the British Empire. (India had to wait until 1843 for the Indian Slavery Act.) The abolition of slavery by the UK was especially important in that, at the time, the British Empire covered to much of the world.

The French abolished slavery in 1794 but Napoleon re-instituted the practice in 1802 and it was not until 1848 that France abolished slavery in its colonies.

After a hard-fought civil war over the issue, the United States finally abolished slavery in 1865, with the 13th Amendment to the U.S Constitution.

So now, in the 21st century, civilised society agrees that human slavery is a great evil and entirely unacceptable. Good.

But only someone entirely ignorant of history and incapable of reason would argue that anyone tainted in any way by slavery or guilty of racism in any instance, should now be vilified and dishonoured, whatever else they had achieved in their lifetime. After all, what we now see as wrong was, in the main, generally acceptable when they lived.

Could I gently suggest to those iconoclastic warriors threatening this country's statuary that they might be better employed in vilifying those countries where racism is rife today and where slavery, virtual or actual, is still practised - in, for example countries in the Middle East and in the very Africa to which many of them claim to owe their loyalty.

It is a sad observation that the anti-racist militants of today seem more enthusiastic about re-writing the past than in contributing to the future. The past is done; only the future can be changed.  Their disgraceful behaviour in the middle of an epidemic, ignoring social distancing presumably in the hope of fatally infecting the generation that doesn’t agree with them, is deeply disappointing.