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Enslaved, But Saved?


No philosophy is very new, if all it does, is to tenderly stroke the minds of the past, and their pet theories.

It is a given that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was a black eye for Western Civilization. Does that hold under hyper-critical scrutiny? A few remarks:

1) It’s plutocrats who organized the slave trade, not “Western Civilization”. The average European knew nothing about slavery, as it had been unlawful in (what the Franks called) “Europe” for a millennium. Plutocrats organize a lot of things nowadays, far from prying eyes.

Bottom Line: Slavery Was Unlawful Inside Europe Since 660 CE
Bottom Line: Slavery Was Unlawful Inside Europe Since 660 CE

Bottom Line: Slavery Was Unlawful Inside Europe Since 660 CE

2) It is better to (let) drown Africans by the thousands as they try to reach Europe, as is practiced nowadays? Is it worse to be put in chains, laying on one’s back like sardines, rather than drowning in the Med? And on this latter point, we can’t say we never heard about it.

3) At least, indeed, slave traders were keen not to drown their expensively purchased slaves.

Let’s dig in the slave logic.

The claim is generally made that 11 million Africans were transported in slave ships, from Africa to the Americas. Once arrived there, they were used as living robots. They were moreover generally submitted to racism, the idea that they were not quite human. Accordingly they were treated inhumanly.

Between 650 CE and 1920 CE, 18 million Africans were transported to Muslim countries. Many were castrated, and suffered high death rates, so the slave population did not increase much. Islamist jurisprudence frowned upon enslaving born Muslims (and initially Jews and Christians, except if captured in war; however, that was rescinded soon).

The transatlantic slave trade was organized by pretty satanic individuals.

However, differently from slaves in Muslim countries, American slaves were not castrated, and however inhumanly treated, not only suffered much lower death rates than in Muslim countries, but grew and multiplied.

African slaves in the Americas were never treated so badly that they engaged in as a large scale rebellion such as the Zanj (= East African Great Lakes Bantus). 500,000 African slaves captured the large port of Basra in Iraq, and fought for 15 years. (The largest North American slave rebellion involved barely more than one plantation, and killed a few dozen people… Who all knew each other.)

The slave population in the Americas augmented rapidly… From doing what comes naturally when conditions are not so bad.

But let’s reconsider the basic point. How did Euro-American plutocrats get their slaves? By buying them. (Europeans hunting Africans down was tried a bit by the Portuguese early on, but proved way too expensive and dangerous, past the first element of surprise.)

African states and empires were well armed (with native steel arrowheads). Starting in 1300 CE, in the empire of Senegambia and Mali, one third of the population was enslaved. Slavery does not have to do with riches: the emperor of Mali went to Mecca and blinded all the Arabs with his incredible wealth (Mali was full of gold and slaves to extract it). He was probably the Earth’s richest person.

In Madagascar, half of the population was enslaved. In Zanzibar, 90%. Slavery was all over Africa, and it had nothing to do with evil white men.

And the natural question is this: had these slaves not been sold, would they have lived?

Africa was crisscrossed by wars. Ever since the Carthaginians, white men had been unable to conquer it, because Africans were expert at war, and mastered steel technology. It’s only after 1850 CE that Europeans achieved military technology so advanced that they made local, African soldiers into conquering armies (or, at least, that’s the way the French did it; the British used their own soldiers and suffered two tremendous defeats, one in West Africa, the other at the hands of the Zulus).

So would have these prisoners of war and other criminals live, but for the slave trade?

The observation is the perennial one, the great enforcer of the Dark Side in the human species: the first thing humanity always had to kill, was overpopulation.

Bartolome’ de las Casas stopped all by himself the Conquista of the Americas by Spain (he did not like the genocide and persuaded Charles V). He also condemned the African slave trade, pointing out that it “incited Africans to sell their own children”.

A fine, very humanitarian, cute and cuddly argument, but is it really true? Could one cut and paste European ethical logic onto Black Africa?

In truth we know that mass human sacrifices as happened during the “Customs” in Dahomey were stopped, because the captives got sold as slaves instead of being chopped into bits.

It is no accident that, shortly before its civil war, Rwanda was the most densely populated country in Africa. 20% of the population was killed. In three months. (And the story is more complicated, and troubling, than usually told, as it seems a majority of the people killed were Hutu, not Tutsi, as supported by the evidence that the “genocide” happened during the invasion of Rwanda by the Tutsi “Rwanda Patriotic Front”.)

Morocco closed its last slave market in 1920. It helped that it was under French supervision. Saudi Arabia made slavery unlawful in the 1960s. (Islam, by giving a precise legal framework to slavery, allowed it to fester forever.) Mauritania, a country of ineffable charm, which I have resided in, criminalized slavery in 2007. 600,000 people, 20% of the population, are currently enslaved there (the French had abolished slavery in Mauritania in 1920, but the country became independent in the 1960s, allowing to re-establish slavery).

A well-known reason brandished to justify the invasion and occupation of Africa by European powers was the presence of slavery in Africa (the source of the Transatlantic Slave Trade). That argument failed in Christian Ethiopia, which, although attacked by Italy, was never conquered… But also was never part of the slave trade.

Amusingly, as “passengers” are packed like cattle in planes nowadays, getting strokes by the thousands, as a result, nobody points out that slaves at least enjoyed flat beds. (I had still another friend who died, yesterday, from a stroke within days of flying; not a subject airlines and their sponsors are keen to examine.)

Once transported to the Americas, slaves were branded, and treated worse than 3,500 years prior in Mesopotamia. Well, that was a problem with the inhuman character of the laws in the Americas. And yes, it is unforgivable.

However, as far as the slaves were concerned, enslaving them may have saved their lives. I am not saying that this is sure, obvious, and proven.

Just, that it seems likely. Reality is harder than fiction.

Think, but verify.

Meanwhile, please consider the possibility that the situation with thousands drowning in the Mediterranean is actually worse than the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Patrice Ayme’


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