Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Slavery Reparations

David Cameron has become the first British Prime Minister in 14 years to visit Jamaica. I, for one, am particularly pleased about this, as I think we should be doing more to forge closer links with other Commonwealth Nations and Realms.

Unfortunately, his visit seems to have been overshadowed by calls from campaigners for the United Kingdom to pay reparations for its role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. This is further brought to light by the fact that one of Cameron's descendants was a slave-owner.

Let's be very clear about the Atlantic Slave Trade. It was an appalling chapter in human history, with the better part of 13 million people being trafficked from Africa into the Caribbean and the Americas to act as slave labour. The level of suffering and death were considerable, and it arguably takes its place alongside the Holocaust as one of the most despicable acts ever perpetrated. The UK was a party to these shameful events, and it is perfectly reasonable that, with the benefit of hindsight, we, as a nation, should apologise for our role, in the same way that Germany has apologised for the Nazi atrocities in World War II.

But it is also important to place the Atlantic Slave Trade in its historical context, and therefore worth noting a few facts which contribute significantly to the debate:

  1. Britain was not the only party involved. Holland, Spain, France and Portugal were also heavily involved in the slave trade - indeed, the Portuguese shipped more slaves than the British. Added onto this was the fact that the European powers often did not capture slaves directly - they left that to the sub-Saharan African states to abduct them from various parts of the continent. The colonial authorities in the Americas - often at least semi-autonomous, and the direct successors to the modern Latin American states - were also active participants;
  2. Britain was at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade. Court cases as early as 1569 ruled that slavery was incompatible with English law, and that slavery was effectively illegal within the British Isles. Parliament passed an Act in 1807 expressly prohibiting the slave trade and emancipating all slaves throughout the British Empire. The Royal Navy was used to unilaterally enforce this on other Powers, including the Spanish and Portuguese. Throughout the 1800s, various Powers capitulated to British pressure, signing treaties to outlaw slavery;
  3. The Atlantic Slave Trade was by no means the earliest example of slavery in human history. It was a relatively common state of affairs, widespread across numerous civilisations including the Arab Caliphates, China and South East Asia, Africa, Ancient Rome, Greece & Egypt, the Aztec, Mayan & Inca Empires, the Mongolian Empire, Medieval Europe, Viking & Celtic tribes and even some Polynesian tribes such as the Maori. Western involvement in slavery was by no means a special case - it was an affliction which affected every civilisation;
  4. Modern demands for reparations based on events which happened over 200 years ago are vexatious. No one currently alive in the former slave colonies has ever been a slave, nor has anyone currently alive in the old slave Powers ever owned such a slave. If the UK (and others) were to pay reparations now, it would effectively mean that people who have never owned slaves would be forced to pay compensation to people who have never been slaves. It would be like demanding that Germany continue to pay reparations for World War II indefinitely;
  5. Just how far back can we take reparation demands? Just about every country on Earth has suffered from slavery at some point in the past. Britain has been invaded by the Romans, Saxons, Angles, Vikings and Normans, and even suffered from Barbary coastal attacks in Medieval times. Arguably, that gives the UK the right to claim reparations from Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France and half a dozen African states. It even gives Israel the right to claim reparations from Egypt.

This is typical of left-wing activism - feminists complain about how women are treated in the Western world, and yet ignore the far greater ordeals they have to face in less civilised parts of the world. Supporters of Palestine rail against Israeli excesses in Gaza and the West Bank, but don't criticise when the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah attack schools and hospitals with suicide bombers. Unilateralists demand that Western powers decommission their nuclear arsenals, but say nothing as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea gradually move towards developing their own. Anti-war protesters demand an end to Western occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and American imperialism in South America, but say nothing when Russia annexes whole sections of Georgia and Ukraine. And anti-slavery protesters demand reparations from Western nations which criminalised slavery hundreds of years ago, whilst ignoring the active practice of slavery by countries in the Middle East and Africa. This kind of two-faced hypocrisy really makes my piss boil.

So actually, you can fuck off with your pious, holier-than-thou bullshit. No nation on earth has done more for humanity than Britain. Sure, we've done some shit. There's plenty of blood in the ledger, but the good far outweighs the bad. Britain's greatest association with the slave trade is that we abolished it. Our legacy to the world is the rule of law, habeus corpus, democracy and the destruction of fascism. How many people has Britain saved and granted freedom to through those advances?