Saturday, April 23, 2005

White Gold

When most people think of slavery they probably have an image of a white slave owner and a black slave. This is the picture of slavery we have been given through countless books, films and TV shows.

It's an image which fits in well with left-wing theories that white men have established a dominant power structure which oppresses other races, and that therefore white society is morally illegitimate and must be deconstructed.

Up to now, the main argument against such a left-wing view has been that it was actually white men who ended the slave trade. This is a good and effective argument, but it now appears that much more ought to have been said against the left-wing view.

Last year, Professor Robert C. Davis wrote a book which revealed that more than a million Europeans had been enslaved in Muslim North Africa over a period of three centuries.

And now Giles Milton has written a work of popular history on the same theme, entitled White Gold. Milton writes for the mass market, and his works are likely to be stocked by your local bookshop. So a hidden part of European history has now been well and truly revealed.

What's even better is that White Gold is an exceptionally well-written book. It follows the extraordinary story of one European slave, Thomas Pellow, whilst also giving the broader history of the trade in European slaves in North Africa.

Many of the European slaves were captured at sea by pirates, although there were also raids on coastal villages. For instance, in 1625 a corsair fleet attacked the coast of Cornwall. The pirates captured 60 villagers at Mount's Bay and 80 at the fishing village of Looe which they then torched. A second corsair fleet then captured Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel as a base and raised the standard of Islam. By the end of 1625 the two pirate fleets had captured about 1000 Englishmen for the slave market.

Many slaves were taken to the port of Sale on the coast of Morocco. There they were crowded into unhygienic underground pens before being sold. The slaves were shackled with heavy leg irons and many were employed by the sultan to perform hard labour on his grandiose palace building project.

Some slaves were allowed to remain Christian but many others were forced, often with the use of torture, to convert to Islam. A combination of meagre rations, hard labour and unhygienic conditions meant that the mortality rate was very high.

The European slaves were on the bottom rung of the hierarchy in the North African system. The Muslim slave owners were served by loyal black slaves who acted as bodyguards, personal attendants and palace troops and were also overseers of the European slaves. There are many accounts of beatings and executions by the black African overseers of the European slaves.

European slavery in North Africa only ceased in 1816 - nine years after the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire. Even then it was only stopped by force of arms when Sir Edward Pellew led a British and Dutch fleet to Algiers and bombarded the city into submission.

This is, of course, only the most cursory description of the facts of European slavery in North Africa. To get a truer grasp of the extent and nature of this slavery you would have to read a book like White Gold.

Even so, it should be enough to show just how false the left-wing theory of a dominant power structure established by whites to oppress other races is. The left-wing theory has relied for effect on a "filtering" of history in which only those cases in which Europeans were dominant are emphasised.

So we hear a lot about slavery in North America because that's an instance where Europeans were generally in charge. The slavery in North Africa has been, in contrast, almost hidden away up to now, as it shows Europeans not in their ideologically assigned role as oppressors but very much as the oppressed.

1 comment:

  1. Its no myth. In my own family there was tales of raids by Moors on my Welsh forbears.