Britain’s colonial civilisational legacy, often condoned, is tainted by major actions against humanity, which clamour down the ages. These include the New World slave trade, which principled Englishmen such as William Wilberforce ended through their magnificent emancipation ‘jihad.’
However, other programs continued, causing wholesale devastation, such as Britain’s facilitation following the ignoble Balfour Declaration, during its Trusteeship of Palestine, for Zionists to establish a homeland, not in Britain, but on predominantly Palestinian-owned land; and Britain’s covert support in helping build Israel’s nuclear WMD capability. Israel’s existence continues to destabilise the Middle East.
Much of Britain’s industrial growth was related to slave-sourced products – sugar, cotton and tobacco.
Following the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, the Government raised £20m (£300bn today) to compensate slave-owners for emancipating slaves. The British Public were surprised to learn this loan was only finally paid-off in 2015.
Between the 1600s and 1807, Britain became a pre-eminent trader of African slaves surpassing all Europeans. British participation began in 1573 with support and investment by Elizabeth I.
Serfdom, like slavery but less onerous, was imposed on Britons by Norman Vikings. Britain continued in this and imperial Roman tradition – a source of ‘civilisational’ inspiration – to deal in slaves.
“Nothing in human history compares with the Atlantic Slave Trade (1441-1840) in its magnitude, cruelty or sustained brutality.”
Over 10 million Africans slaves were shipped to the Americas. Three million died during their capture and march to the coast and from inhumane conditions aboard slave ships.
“In the British colonies the slaves were treated as non-human: they were ‘chattels’, to be worked to death as it was cheaper to purchase another slave than to keep one alive. … There was no opprobrium attached to rape, torture, or beating your slaves to death. The enslaved in the British colonies had no legal rights.”
Roman Catholics reportedly treated slaves better as humans compared to British Protestants who forbade them church attendance and justified slavery and their atrocities by claiming they were barbaric savages.
Twenty percent of American slaves were Muslims.
Online Etymology Dictionary proffers the origin of the word ‘slaves’ to the Latin word sclavus, which was applied to Slavs enslaved from defeats suffered from the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I.
Muslim Moors enslaved by the Portuguese were the first West African slaves in this ‘nefarious trade.’
The Portuguese however, found this practice dangerous. Europeans found it easier to arm degenerate chiefs from states such as the Asante, Dahomey, Congo, Angola, who enslaved neighbours.
Muslim chiefs did not play significant roles.
Differing from traditional slavery, the European-backed approach promoted perpetual warfare, surprise raids and kidnapping of free natives.
Devastating impacts on West African societies continue until today.
Professor Nathan Nunn of Harvard University found that countries which are today Africa’s poorest are also those from which the most slaves were taken.
Without prisons in many other traditional societies, slave-hood securitised criminals or defeated populations after battles.
Islam raised the dignity and treatment of slaves who became members of owners’ households and were provided with similar food and clothing. Prophet Muhammad (s) encouraged freeing of slaves as worship (ibadah). The trajectory of his teachings should have led to wholesale emancipation.
Tony Blair in 2006 described Britain’s participation in slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’ and expressed deep sorrow without, however, apologising, while the US Senate apologised in 2009.
Blood stains from Britain’s civilisational legacy – from the West African slave trade, and today’s continuing turmoil in the Middle East – deserve severe opprobrium.