GET OFF YOUR KNEES! (1) COMMENTARY (2) by Grovelling in Chains to Apologise for Slavery, This Kindly but Misguided Man Distorts History and Fuels the Lie That We're to Blame for All the World's Ills

Daily Mail (London), June 23, 2006 | Go to article overview
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GET OFF YOUR KNEES! (1) COMMENTARY (2) by Grovelling in Chains to Apologise for Slavery, This Kindly but Misguided Man Distorts History and Fuels the Lie That We're to Blame for All the World's Ills


Byline: A.N. WILSON

THE PHOTOGRAPH is a powerful one. A European man, manacled in chains, kneels down before a crowd of Africans. He wears a Tshirt which reads 'So Sorry'.

His name is Andrew Hawkins, a descendant of the famous seagoing family of the 16th century.

He is atoning for the actions of his ancestor, Sir John Hawkins, the first Englishman to ship a cargo of slaves across the Atlantic.

Sir John did not set out to Africa with the aim of collecting the slaves.

What happened was that on his way to Tenerife in October 1562, he put in at Sierra Leone.

There he plundered Portuguese ships of their merchandise and, regrettably, that 'merchandise' contained more than 300 Africans whom Hawkins took to the island of Dominica, where he sold 'his English wares and all his negroes'.

Is his descendant right, then, to grovel to the Gambian vice-president in shackles and say: 'I recognise that it's a simple act to say sorry - but it was a handful of people who started the slave trade and the ripples of their actions caused evil throughout the continent of Africa'?

No, he very decidedly is not right.

All propagandists know that pictures speak louder than words. What does this picture say?

It says that white men of today, and Englishmen in particular, should grovel in apology because of something which was done by a few old seadogs in the 16th century.

The trouble with the picture, and the words of the present-day Andrew Hawkins, is that they so distort the truth as to be, in effect, a lie.

Sadly, it was not 'a handful of people who started the slave trade'. Slavery was endemic throughout the African continent, and in many African countries it still exists.

A few Europeans, especially Portuguese but later, shamefully, some Englishmen too, exploited the African slave trade. These slavers, be it understood, did not go to Africa and round up the native population.

In the case of these early European slavers in Africa, they went to bustling African slavemarkets. It was Africans who had already enslaved other Africans, and the Europeans wickedly exploited this evil.

NO DOUBT by shipping these men women and children across the Atlantic to work in the cotton and sugar plantations, they were also doing evil.

But why should that be the whole story?

It is a very strange fact that, although it is blindingly obvious to us that slavery is wicked, it was completely taken for granted by all human beings on this planet until the 18th century.

St Paul and Aristotle, two great moralists of the ancient world, where most of the population was held in slavery, insisted on the necessity of kindness to slaves. But they did not object to slavery itself.

The antislavery movement grew up in the 18th century, and it was almost entirely a British invention. Note that it was not started by men and women in the Gambia, or Senegal, or the Ivory Coast, nor by the men on the other side of Africa, in the Sudan, who went on doing a lively trade in slaves until the 20th century.

The reason that our great national song Rule Britannia contains the lines 'Britons never, never, never shall be slaves' is that we hated slavery. We fought wars throughout the 19th century to abolish it.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Duke of Wellington made all the signatories of the peace treaty pledge to abolish the trade in slaves.

Such robust Victorian Prime Ministers as Lord Palmerston saw it as their duty to send gunboats around the world, for example to the ports of Brazil, to bombard the slave owners and their disgusting trade.

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GET OFF YOUR KNEES! (1) COMMENTARY (2) by Grovelling in Chains to Apologise for Slavery, This Kindly but Misguided Man Distorts History and Fuels the Lie That We're to Blame for All the World's Ills
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