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The Forgotten Slave Trade, The White European Slaves Of Islam
A review of a book by Simon Webb
Europeans subjected and enslaved Africans, so Europeans were terrible. To atone for this distinctly evil past, people of European descent must feel awful about our history. We must pay reparations. Bowed heads and endless self-flagellation should be the order of the day. Everyone and everything denoting the white past should be condemned and cancelled. What would happen if those who regurgitate such narratives look attentively at the historical record? Maybe many would not feel a sense of shame enforced by the education system, media, and several politicians. More Europeans may realise that our heritage is something we should defend and celebrate. In The Forgotten Slave Trade, The White European Slaves of Islam, Simon Webb debunks an erroneous view of history that singles out whites for unique opprobrium. He provides a fascinating insight into an Islamic trade in white slaves that assailed Europe for centuries.
In Webb's introduction, he points out the glaring ignorance and bias evident in the treatment of historical slavery. In 2019, in her maiden speech to the European Parliament, the white former Conservative minister Ann Widdicombe compared the European Union to slave owners. She spoke of ‘oppressed people turning on their oppressors, slaves against their owners.'
The black Labour MP David Lammy was affronted and replied: ‘It is impossible to explain how offensive and ahistorical it is for you to equate my ancestors tearing off their chains with your small-minded nationalist project.’
Lammy assumed or pretended to think that Widdecombe had mentioned black slaves. Webb makes an interesting comparison between the heredity of Widdecombe and Lammy. He acknowledges that Lammy’s ancestors, from Guyana, were likely to include slaves. Guyana was known as Dutch Guiana from 1667. The Dutch imported slaves into the country. Guyana was claimed by the British in 1814, seven years after Britain abolished the slave trade.
What about Widdecombe? She was born in Somerset; her surname is habitational, meaning it most likely derives from a place name. Webb states that the most likely candidate for the origin of the Widdecombe name is the village of Withycombe, which lies within Exmoor National Park. Widdecombe’s family probably has ancient roots in that part of the West Country. She was born in Bath, twelve miles from Bristol. The role of Bristol during the Transatlantic Slave Trade is well known. The fact that Bristol traded slaves a thousand years before this is not as appreciated. By 1066, Bristol was an international centre for exporting English slaves to Ireland; slaves often ended up in Africa and Scandinavia. Webb’s analysis of the Widdecombe and Lammy episode relates the discussion of historical slavery to today and neatly draws in the reader.
Living near Bristol would not have been the only risk of capture for Widdecombe’s ancestors. Decades before England became seriously involved in trading Africans, slavers raided the English West Country and carried off entire villages for sale in African slave markets. In 1647, the island of Lundy, twelve miles from the coast of Devon, was occupied by slavers intermittently for five years. It was apt of the author to begin his work by noting the historical ignorance or feigned indignation of Lammy. Widdecombe had as much right as he did to talk about slaves turning against their owners. Webb points to contemporary multicultural society and a desire to understand the histories of ethnic minorities as a reason for the lack of recognition of the white experience of slavery. He says that guilt about empire and the transatlantic trade plays a vital role in the skewed approach of the education system, media, and several politicians.
In his Historia Ecclesiastica, the Venerable Bede, an English historian of the early eighth century, relays that Pope Gregory noticed children on sale at a market in Rome. On enquiring about their nationality, he found that they were Angles, meaning that they came from what is now England. ‘He made a witty pun, saying ‘Non Angli sed Angeli’; not Angles but angels.’ Bede began referring to the inhabitants of the southern part of Britain as English. He recognised that the Germanic tribes who had settled among the Romanised Britons had formed a people. The English experience of slavery was contemporary with English ethnogenesis.
Webb describes the process that prepared captives for export. In Venice and the French city of Verdun ‘castration houses’ produced eunuchs for Muslims with status. Young boys subjected to this ineffable horror were usually Slavs seized by Vikings. These boys were the preferred choice of a slave to be castrated. The castration of grown men caused higher death rates than when inflicted on the pre-pubescent. Most of those castrated did not survive. Ruling Muslims sought eunuchs to guard their harems as those castrated would be unable to seek sexual access to their concubines. The few pages that describe the atrocity of castration are excruciating. Thanks to what must have been mentally tough research, Webb apprises us of the nefarious acts. Such detail ensures the reader an understanding of the appalling brutality. Muslim slavers also purchased European women for their sexual gratification.
From the sixteenth century, Barbary pirates under Ottoman authority enslaved Europeans on an impressive scale. The middle chapters of this book contain gripping stories and well chosen anecdotes that bring to life slave raids and the European response. People from Ireland and Cornwall were among those taken from their homes. In much of Europe, people retreated from coastal lives to find refuge inland.
Disunity in Europe, exemplified by conflicts such as the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), goes some way to account for the failure of the West to curtail the aggression. However, Europe did retaliate. In the seventeenth century, men such as English Admiral Robert Blake unleashed a ferocious artillery bombardment on Tunis after his request to free slaves was refused. The French fought similarly. Such assaults assuaged Europe for a time but failed to solve the problem. It was common for European nations to resort to paying financial tribute to their attackers in exchange for a cessation of raids. This approach only worked intermittently.
It was not just Europe that suffered depredations at the hands of semi-autonomous provinces of the Barbary coast. Ships from the fledgling United States were targeted by pirates too. Initially, the US suffered extortion like other countries. They paid the raiders staggering amounts to not enslave them. Eventually, they mustered the resolve and power for a substantial military fightback. Webb points to the combined might of both the US and Britain as the decisive factor in the eventual victory of the West over the Islamic slavers in the early nineteenth century.
The book lasts only under two hundred pages. In places, it might not be intricate enough for some. Nevertheless, it is a valuable contribution. Its brevity and the fluidity of prose ensure that it is easier to enjoy. Perhaps its best feature is the breadth of history it imparts.
The Forgotten Slave Trade is a work that should disabuse those under the influence of the education system, various politicians, and the media. Those gullible enough to feel white guilt may see history more objectively after reading the book. Webb’s salvos disintegrate the trite arguments of those who claim there was a historical monopoly on violence and oppression. Over the centuries, Islamic slavers claimed millions of European people. This should be acknowledged.
Webb recognises the history of thousands of years of slavery and does not minimise the impact of other slave trades. He points out some facts conveniently overlooked today. Most cultures throughout history have viewed slavery as an acceptable system up until very recent times. The practice pervaded Africa long before Europeans came there. Even after the abolition of slavery within the British Empire in 1833, slavery continued in British dominions because Africans were committed to it. It would seem that those often pointed to as the primary victims of slavery are as guilty as any other culture and civilisation. Webb provides a historical context for slavery conspicuously absent in debates today. He dismantles arguments that label the Transatlantic Slave Trade ‘the slave trade'.
We can understand much about the current world by learning about Islamic slavery. Sbrenecia was the ‘logical conclusion of events which took place 700 years ago’ writes Webb. Islamic terrorists who hijack planes follow Barbary antecedents. Anxieties over Islamic immigration, particularly in eastern and central Europe, have their routes in the attacks of hundreds of years ago. In recent times, the US has acted as a ‘world policeman'. We can trace this interventionism to their efforts to combat Islamic slavers.
Today, there are demands for the West to pay reparations for the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Webb asks why those seeking such recompense do not ask the same of certain Muslim countries. We should seek the long overdue answer to this question.
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Simon Webb is the author of several history books. He has an excellent and growing YouTube channel called History Debunked.