Africa inside out

Olavo de Carvalho

Diário do Comércio, September 14, 2009

The Third World movement, an invention of Stalin, turned out to be, and is still today, one of the major sources of the authority of the revolutionary spirit, instilling in the soul of Western civilization an inextinguishable guilt complex and obtaining from it every kind of moral, political and financial profit. Subscribed by international organizations, nourished by billionaire foundations and dozens of governments, trumpeted by indefatigable blabbermouths like Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, enshrined as official doctrine by all big media in Europe and the US, this ideology entirely made of opportunistic mendacity ended up impregnating itself so deeply in public opinion that any attempt at confronting it, even in a neutral and academic tone, is considered today as unequivocal proof of “racism”.

One of its main dogmas is exactly the charge of racism, thrown generically at the face of all Christendom by innumerable armies of activist intellectuals and, in the last decades, by all the speakers for radical Islam. Imbued with the belief in the innate inferiority of blacks, white European man would have been, according to this doctrine, the slave-master par excellence, decimating the African population and financing, through the disgrace of the black continent, the industrial revolution which made the West wealthy.

Everything in this theory is a lie, beginning with the chronological inversion. Europeans only arrived in Africa around the middle of the 15th century. Well before that time, racist contempt for blacks was common sense among Arabs, as one can see in the words of some of its most prominent intellectuals. I draw these examples from Bernard Lugan’s book, Afrique, l’Histoire à l’Endroit (Paris, Perrin, 1989).

Ibn Khaldun, the Tunisian historian (1332-1406), assures us that if the Sudanese are characterized by “levity and inconstancy”, in the more Southern regions “we only find men who are closer to animals than to an intelligent being. They live in wild places and in caves, eat herbs and raw grains and sometimes they eat each other. We cannot consider them human beings.”

The Egyptian writer Al-Abshihi (1388-1446) asks: “What can there be that is worse and more vile than black slaves? As for the mulattos, be good to them every day of your life and in every possible way, and they will have no gratitude for you: it will be as if you had done nothing for them. The better you treat them, the more they become insolent; but if you mistreat them, they will show humility and submission”.

Iyad Al-Sabti (1083-1149) writes that the blacks are “of all men the most corrupt and the most disposed to procreation. Their life is like that of an animal. They have no interest in any matter of the world, except for food and women. Apart from that, nothing merits their attention.”

Ibn Butlan, recognizing that black women have the rhythmic sense and the resistance for hard work, observes: “But one cannot obtain any pleasure from them, such is the odor of their armpits and the roughness of their body.”

In contrast, theories affirming the racial inferiority of blacks were not disseminated in cultured Europe before the 18th century (cf. Eric Voegelin, The History of the Race Idea. From Ray to Carus, vol. III of his Collected Works, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1998). That is to say that Europeans of the literate classes became racists almost at the same time as the slave trade declined and abolitionist movements began, of which there is no equivalent in the Arab world, as slavery is permitted by the Islamic religion, and nobody would dare to directly confront a commandment from the Koran.

Anti-black racism is a total Arab creation and in Europe it did not contribute at all to encourage slave trade.

Another typical inversion of historical time is the universally held stereotype of the European colonialist invading Africa with a crucifix in his hand, firmly resolved to impose the white man’s religion on defenseless populations. Christianity was the religion of blacks long before it was the religion of white Europeans. There were churches in Ethiopia during the time when the English were still pagan barbarians. More than a thousand years before the great navigations, it was in Africa that one could find the oldest Christian kingdoms, some of them very cultured and prosperous. It was the Arabs who destroyed them, in their craving to islamize everything by force. A good part of the region that stretches from Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Egypt to Sudan and Ethiopia was Christian until the Muslims arrived, burned down the churches and sold Christians as slaves. 80% of the prestige of the tales of the Third World movement lie on the occultation of this fact.

As it invariably occurs with the revolutionary discourse, the chronological inversion is accompanied by the inversion of moral responsibility. It is not necessary to say that the verbal fury of Arabs today against the “slave-trading Christian civilization” is purely projected guilt: if the Europeans brought between 12 and 15 million slaves to the Americas, Arab merchants took to Islamic countries approximately the same amount, with three differences: (1) the Arabs would capture them, something which the Europeans never did, except in Angola and for a brief period; (2) the Arabs castrated at least ten percent of the slaves, a custom that was not known to European slave-traders; (3) the Arabs continued to practice slave trade up to the 20th century. The slavery practiced by the Arabs was a forbidden subject for a long time, but the taboo can be considered broken since the publisher Gallimard, the most prestigious in France, agreed to publish the excellent study of the African author Tidiane N’Diaye, Le Genocide Voilé (2008), which I will comment some other day.

But it is not only the Arabs that have to cover up their guilt behind a discourse of resentful accusations. Slavery was the general norm in Africa well before the Arabs arrived there, and today we know that the largest part of captured slaves was sold in the internal market, while only a smaller number was taken abroad. When the apologists of African civilization praise the great black kingdoms of the past, they generally omit mentioning that these States (especially Benin, Dahomey, Ashanti and Oyo) owed their prosperity to the slave trade, on which their economy was entirely dependent. Particularly the kingdom of Oyo, writes Lugan, “developed a notable military imperialism since the end of the 17th century, seeking to reach the ocean in order to establish direct contacts with the white men. Even before this, the warring strength of the Oyo, especially their cavalry, enabled them to reap an abundant harvest of slaves which it imprisoned in the south, among the Yoruba, and in the north, among the Bariba and the Nupe. Traditionally the numerous captives became slaves in the victors’ society. With the establishment of European slave trade a part – but only a part – was sent to the coast.”

In a forthcoming article I will show some other prodigious inversions that the discourse of the Third World movement operates in the history of African slavery.





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