Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Reality, Acknowledged

It was in June of 2014, during the No Drama Obama period, that the piece "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates appeared in The Atlantic. Reparations arose as an issue almost nine years later with a decision by the College Board pertaining to its AP African American studies course. At that time, conservative scholar and author Thomas Sowell presented about reparations an argument which would also prove relevant to the war precipitated by Hamas several months later. In this interview (as seen in at 2:28 of the video below) Sowell contended

Because the number of whites, for example, who were enslaved in north Africa by the Barbary pirates exceeded the number of Africans enslaved in the United states and in the American colonies before that- put together. But nobody is going to north Africa to ask for reparations because nobody is going to be fool enough to give it to them.

Certainly, there were more slaves in the colonies and the USA than taken by the Barbary pirates because the women who became slaves here begat more children, as did their female children. However, as Sowell presumably was maintaining, there appears to have been more white Europeans taken as slaves by North African scoundrels than black Africans taken by whites and sold into slavery in what has been referred to as "America's original sin." 

We learn from a book, described here by an Ohio journalist, that retired Ohio State University history professor Robert Davis 

devised a unique methodology to calculate the number of white Christians who were enslaved along Africa’s Barbary Coast, arriving at much higher slave population estimates than any previous studies had found.

Most other accounts of slavery along the Barbary coast didn’t try to estimate the number of slaves, or only looked at the number of slaves in particular cities, Davis said. Most previously estimated slave counts have thus tended to be in the thousands, or at most in the tens of thousands. Davis, by contrast, has calculated that between 1 million and 1.25 million European Christians were captured and forced to work in North Africa from the 16th to 18th centuries.

According to Henry Louis Gates, there were only about 388,000 black persons "shipped directly to North America." That would be roughly 388,000 too many. Though some individuals were taken because of race, others became victims on the basis of ethnicity or religion as

“Enslavement was a very real possibility for anyone who traveled in the Mediterranean, or who lived along the shores in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and even as far north as England and Iceland,” he said.

Pirates (called corsairs) from cities along the Barbary Coast in north Africa – cities such as Tunis and Algiers – would raid ships in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, as well as seaside villages to capture men, women and children. The impact of these attacks were devastating – France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants. At its peak, the destruction and depopulation of some areas probably exceeded what European slavers would later inflict on the African interior.

According to Davis, the slaves in north Africa generally were treated as badly as slaves in the Americas and “slaves were still slaves, whether they are black or white, and whether they suffered in America or North Africa.”

The plight of those unlucky Europeans is rarely taught and often completely ignored. That doesn't suggest that black, or African-American, history should not be part of curricula in secondary schools and colleges across the nation. We could continue in sort of a Balkanization of western history, with the contributions and persecution of blacks, Latinos, and Asians taught, each as a unit. Or instead, we could try something radical: teaching the past completely, fully, and objectively, neither demonizing the West (as is increasingly common) nor ignoring the impact of all ethnic groups. We could call it "history."

Yet, there is another moral to the research of Davis and the (valid) insistence of Sowell that not all evil has been perpetrated by Westerners and/or whites. Note that

Although hundreds of thousands of Christian slaves were taken from Mediterranean countries, Davis noted, the effects of Muslim slave raids was felt much further away: it appears, for example, that through most of the 17th century the English lost at least 400 sailors a year to the slavers (and) between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly 1 million and quite possibly as many as 1.25 million white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast.

The book is called Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800. Had it been written 19-20 years later, "Christian" and "Muslim" likely would have been excised by the publisher. Acknowledgment of the effect of religion has been all but cancelled.

Viewing the full scope of the history of oppression, we should recognize that the problem is not one of Israel vs. Palestine or Israelis vs. Palestinians. It is not primarily ethnic, especially given that Hamas' greatest support is not from the Arab world, but from Persian Iran. Nor is it racial, especially as the racial difference between Arabs born and raised in the land of Palestine is not dramatically different than that of Jews born and raised in the land of Palestine.

Rather, this war and the ongoing unrest in the region is primarily a matter of religion. Israel, in past years often referred to as "the Jewish state of Israel," was established as a haven from oppression for Jews. And although non-Jews enjoy more rights there than do the residents of nearly all (if not all) Arab and Persian nations, it is nevertheless advantageous in Israel to be Jewish. 

Muslims vs. Jews? You don't hear that in the media, traditional or social, in this country and probably not elsewhere. The issues in this conflict and beyond thus get muddled. It becomes less so when we are reminded by the likes of Thomas Sowell that slavery has existed for several hundreds of years and in numerous continents.  It becomes clearer still when we admit that Muslim masters have existed and can be as evil as Christian ones.

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