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Don’t Forget Wilberforce 25 March 2007

Posted by David in Comment, World.

Last night there was plenty of coverage of the 200th anniversary of abolition – the end of slave trading anywhere under the Union Flag – but I was disappointed by it. Anyone tuning in would have seen not a celebration of Wilberforce and his heroic abolitionist’s victory, or the contribution made to the World by the emancipated slaves and their descendants, nor even a celebration of racial harmony, but rather a series of stunts in self-flagellation.

We had church leaders in chains, commentators saying “Britain is still living off wealth from slavery” but not explaining how or even what could be done about it, and John Prescott calling for a Slavery Day. Personally I’d rather have an Abolition of Slavery Day, can’t see how we’re living off 18th Century wealth, and don’t believe that the current population have inherited ancestral guilt – just as modern day Germans aren’t responsible for the Nazis.

Everything has to be pessimistic, down-beat and negative. Because of this we forget what people can achieve – like Wilberforce – which is remarkable and great. We lose inspiration and drive, and so fail to make similar achievements ever again. We quickly forget that we banned slavery, that the Royal Navy actively policed that ban across the globe, and that individual people – like Wilberforce and his other abolitionists – can change the World. There still is slavery, but self-flagellation about the past won’t fix it.

Update (1.04.07): An excellent article by Dan Hannan MEP – “You are descended from slaves. So am I. And from slave-owners, too, come to that. Statistically, it could hardly be otherwise. Forced servitude was common to all early human societies. It existed in the dark times, before cities and writing. It was carried into the first civilisations, in Ur and Sumer, in Egypt and Persia, in the Indus Valley and in Xia Dynasty China, in Meso-America and the Andes. It survived through the classical age, and into the mediaeval period. Slavery was endemic in African and Arab societies. Between 11 and 17 million people were taken from Africa by Muslim slavers between the seventh and nineteenth centuries. In the New World, too, slavery existed from the earliest moment of human settlement. The Mayans, Aztecs and Incas all practised it as, later, did the colonists. Although slavery sometimes had an ethnic basis, it was no great respecter of race. Muslim slavers traded in Christians: Georgians, Circassians, Armenians and others. Christians, for their part, enslaved Moors: as late as the sixteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Muslim slaves toiled on Spanish plantations. On the eve of the American civil war, there were 3,000 black slave-owners in the United States. We are, in other words, all in this together. Everyone alive today is descended from the exploiters and the exploited: it is simply a question of how far back you want to go. And that, surely, is what makes the arguments about apologies and reparations so silly. We can all agree that slavery was an abominable crime. From a contemporary perspective, it seems unbelievable that otherwise humane societies could tolerate it. It is understandable that, feeling wrenched with revulsion, we want to do something about it, or at least say tell people how miserable we feel about the whole thing. But tell whom? Anyone we choose to apologise to is statistically certain also to be descended from both owners and owned. What worries me about the campaign for reparations is that it unwittingly serves to sustain a racist view of humanity. By assigning guilt or victimhood on the basis of ethnicity, it implies that we are defined by our ancestry, rather than being free individuals. This was, of course, a popular Nazi idea, but I thought it had been widely discredited since. How strange to see so many well-meaning Lefties taking it up again.”



1. crushed by Ingsoc - 1 April 2007

What makes it ludicrous is that both the ens;lavers and the enslaved are long dead. And so who now apologises to who?
The Existing African don’t need apologising to. They stayed put. So are current Afro-Crribean and Afro- Americans being apologised too?
Most are descendants of Enslavers as well as enslaved, certainly in the direct male line…

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