The majority of slaves in a shameful world history were Christians from Europe.21 June 2020
Sadly, I fear, not only was much of that anger wasted but it may have contributed to causing deeper communitarian ressentiments.
There are at least two reasons for this.
To start with, Floyd’s death was hijacked by merchants of grievances always on the lookout for an excuse to attack Western democracies, especially the United States. They transformed Floyd into a “martyr” of American “imperialism” and pretended that the United States, along with other Western democracies, was a bastion of “racism”.
Floyd died because a police technique used in more than 20 countries went badly wrong. But the policeman who became the agent of Floyd’s death had not wished or planned to murder him.
The next trick used was to pretend that Floyd was killed because he was black. They ignored the fact that the same choking technique of arrest in 2019 claimed several other lives, white and black, in the United States and France.
Thus the real issue, the need for reviewing and/or dropping a technique of arrest that could lead to the death, was forgotten.
With extrapolation, the self-styled defenders of humanity saw the Minneapolis incident as an example of state-racism. However, racism is one thing and racial prejudice, even hatred, is another.
Racism denotes a world-view developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, dividing mankind into five races distinguished by real or imagined colour of their skins.
Like other monistic world-views that reduce human beings into a single element of their complex existence, racism, though deceptive in its simplicity, served as a barrier to scientific ethnography until the 20th century, preventing serious study of humanity in its rich diversity.
Other monochrome doctrines, for example Marxism with its division of mankind into classes — proletariat good, bourgeois evil — have a similar effect.
The racist world-view was an element in the composition of enduring state structures in all pre-modern Westphalian nations. In that regard the United States is no exception. However, it is something of an exception in being the only major nation-state to have struggled with and, as time went by, against, racism.
The War of Secession, successive civil rights movements, the fight against segregation and methods such as positive discrimination tell the story of a nation seeking to move away from racism.
This does not mean that there is no racism in the US; there is, but it would be unfair to present it as a structural ingredient. By claiming that the US is a racist state, one would only encourage the white supremacists who wish that were the case.
Extrapolating further, the merchants of rage linked their claim of racism to the trans-Atlantic slave trade in a bid to cast all Western democracies as the devils incarnate.
However, slavery was a routine part of human existence from the start, and in some lands still is. Nor were black Africans the only human beings to become slaves.
According to Xenophon, some 30 percent of the population of Athens, the birthplace of Hellenic civilization, were slaves, all white men and women from the Balkans and Asia Minor.
Even earlier than that, the first states in human history — Sumer, Akkad and Babylon — held slaves, none of them from Africa.
The Roman Empire was a great slave-holding power. Crassus, the notorious general, was a leading slave merchant as was Julius Caesar, dealing in slaves from Western and northern Europe, today’s France and Britain.
The famous revolt of slaves led by Spartacus almost exclusively involved captives from the European continent. Crassus had 10,000 of them crucified on the Appian Way.
In Russia, slavery took the form of serfdom and again, concerned almost exclusively white and Asian victims.
There was also a major slave trade in the American continents long before Christopher Columbus ended up there by mistake. Again, none of the slaves there were from Africa, which was unknown to Incas and Aztecs.
In Asia, Khan Balugh, the seat of power in medieval China, was a major centre for the slave trade, as was Khiva in what is now Uzbekistan. Again, Africans were not involved in that dastardly trade in Asia that claimed countless victims for more than 1,000 years.
In the Persian and Ottoman Empires slaves came from the Caucasus, Scandinavia and what is now Russia. Again, no black Africans were involved.
Seizing black Africans as slaves may have started under Ramses II, the Egyptian Pharaoh who needed Nubian labourers to build the Ouaji-Seboua temple.
Next, there was some exporting of black slaves by the Carthaginians to Rome after the dismantling of Hannibal’s empire. Once the Romans had annexed northern Africa they used Garmant and Afri tribes of black warriors to procure slaves for the empire. Within a decade, slave-taking raids were extended beyond Tibesti and close to Lake Chad.
Thus started the history of black African involvement in capturing fellow Africans for sale as slaves.
Without the service of African tribal chiefs and rulers, no outside power would have been able to raid deep into Africa to tap endless sources of slaves.
In 652 AD, Arab General Abdallah bin Sa’id signed a trade treaty, known as “bakht”, with the ruler of Darfur for the supply of 20,000 slaves a year in exchange for gold. The “bakht” remained in operation for 13 centuries.
Black African rulers and tribal chiefs were also deeply involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Sardona of Sokoto, in West Africa, made his fortune by selling slaves to Portuguese, British and French slave-traders. In his book Timbuktu School for Nomads, British author Nicholas Jubber introduces a slave trader from the Sahel who had become the richest man in the world of his time.
It is unfair to demand the removal of Colbert’s statue in Paris. He enacted the first slave code designed to impose legal control on the obnoxious trade and ensure some rights for the victims. It is ls unfair to forget about African rulers who kidnapped and sold their own people.
Slavery was a common disease that affected every community on earth; a shameful secret of the whole human family.
In fact, although it lasted four centuries, black Africans of the transatlantic trade accounted for a smaller number than European and Asian victims worldwide. And that’s not to mention other enslavement routes, including Africans “exported” from the Horn of Africa and Zanzibar (to the Gulf).
When it comes to slavery, we were all involved both as perpetrators and victims. Expiating that shame from our human existence is a task for us all, regardless of colour and creed. Only thus can the current cocktail of grievances produce useful results.
Amir Taheri has worked at or written for numerous publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.
This article originally appeared in Asharq al-Awsat. It is republished by correspondent.world, with some grammatical alterations and a location mentioned in brackets, to give an alternative view of (and an historical perspective on) the current controversy. It is not intended to reflect the opinion of correspondent.world.