We live in a politically correct time.
Under the core tenets of multiculturalism, all evils in the world are assigned to white Europeans. The trade in African slaves is represented as one of the foremost examples of white evil, and virtually the entire historical focus is on the Middle Passage from West Africa to the New World, in which white men play the part of primary villains.
What is generally ignored is an inconvenient truth: most black African slaves were in fact captured by Muslims and carried off to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to serve Muslim masters under the most brutal conditions imaginable.
A recent German documentary has gone a long way towards rectifying this historical amnesia. A subtitled version is below, divided into five parts. Many thanks to VH for the translation and Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:
Part 1 (introduction):
Parts 3 through 5 and a transcript are below the jump.
– – – – – – – – –
The entire program is also available on SevenLoad as a single video.
The transcript below is a slightly different version than the one that was used for subtitling:
Quite a while ago.
In the thirties.
A report by the famous writer
On the front page of the French
newspaper Le Matin.
In the heart of black Africa,
Kessel encountered something …
… that should have long ago
been relegated to the past… trade in humans.
With his own eyes he saw the caravans; men,
Women, and children, exhausted, chained.
Kessel wrote: “The ancestors of these
unfortunates had been raided for generations, …
… kidnapped and sold.
A provision store for human cattle.”
Doc en Stock/Arte France presents:
Kessel had spoken to those slaves.
One of them told him:
01:02 (female voice)
I can’t remember where I came from.
A long time ago my village next to a large
forest was set on fire.
Some men took me with them.
With great effort I had to march
long distances with them…
I had many masters and many children.
But I don’t want to think of them anymore.
The masters sold me.
They took my children away.
01:24 (voice over)
The overseers were Arabs, who drove their
human herd to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Kessel’s report caused a furor in Europe then,
but the matter was soon forgotten.
The Forgotten Slaves; Slaves for the Orient
A film by Antoune Vitkine
75 years later. For a long time the UN, with UNESCO,
have appointed a preserver of culture and history …
… to act as a sound box that rings the bell
for our collective memory.
As it does every year, UNESCO organizes a worldwide
commemoration day for slavery.
[On behalf of UNESCO I thank you for your cooperation in the commemoration of the greatest human tragedy, slavery]
But none of the renowned speakers addresses
the events on which Kessel reported in his time.
The trafficking of humans to the Arab
countries was completely hushed up.
Excerpt from “The Slave Route, UNESCO, 2004
”On behalf of UNESCO I want to thank you greatly
for the commemoration …
… of one of the greatest tragedies of humanity,
the trade in Negroes and slavery”
Human trafficking of black people was brutal
and inhuman, but was written in history on four continents.
[The cells measured 2.6 x 2.6 metres, and had 15 to 20 people in them]
The starting point for transatlantic trafficking
was the island of Gorée, off the coast of Senegal.
[They sat with their backs to the wall.
And their necks and arms were chained.]
A heinous place, but now a tourist attraction.
[In the middle of the chains hung a large ball which the captives had to carry between their legs.]
03:10 [Boubakar Joseph Ndiaye, curator of the memorial on Gorée]
”For 350 years they were hunted, snatched from
their homelands and roots, tortured, and humiliated.
“They were kept in groups of 15 to 20 in cells of 2.60 by 2.60 metres …
… chained by their necks and arms to the wall.”
The chains had a large ball they had to carry between their legs”
For three hundred years they were relentlessly tracked and hunted.
They were snatched from their homelands, taken from their roots, tortured and en humiliated.”
According to this map as used in schools,
over a time span of 350 years
twelve million black Africans were transported…
…to North and South America,
[part of the film, “The Slave Route”, UNESCO, 2004]
An unscrupulous, inhuman business
in barbaric conditions.
An uncompromising commitment
… degrading the black population
to the status of “untermenschen”.
04:20 [female voice]
“Most civilizations have known slavery,
but nowhere were they in any way comparable …
… to the transatlantic trafficking.”
04:33 [voice over]
Not comparable to the transatlantic trafficking.
That may be so.
But then just simply leave another, just as
cruel slave trade under the table?
Millions of people from Senegal and other
African countries …
… were shipped to the Americas.
But in the same way to the Arab Islamic world.
Recent research estimates this encompassed
fifteen to seventeen million people.
Thomas Vernet, historian, University of Paris
And this human trafficking after all
lasted some 1400 years …
… from the 7th until the 20th century.
Can one simply tick this off with just a
few dots on the UNESCO map …
… although renowned historians have been
studying this issue?
These slaves must finally be released
from their shadowy existence.
They were the victims of yet another variety
of the trade in human beings.
And through our studies they should finally
be granted an honored rest.
Salah Habelzi is one of the most renowned
experts on the Muslim slave trade.
Also he is perplexed
about the ignorance.
Recently I took part in a
conference in Morocco.
One of the speakers took
the stage and said:
“I do not understand how one can compare
or connect the slavery in Islamic countries …
… with the other forms of slavery.
With us the slaves were always treated well.”
Why is this story hushed up not only in Arab countries,
but also in Europe, and indeed the whole world?
Since primeval times there have been slaves.
With the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans.
But while Christianity abolished it
in Western countries …
the Arab world remained
faithful to this tradition.
In the 7th century after Christ,
the situation intensified.
Islam was expanding.
Muslim troops pushed into new areas …
… and soon controlled
07:11 [Mohammed Ennaji, historian, Univ.Rabat]
It is known that as Islam expanded,
there was a sensational number of labourers.
The campaign of conquest also had as its aim,
apart from the expansion of the empire …
… to catch humans
and enslave them.
They were desperately needed for the many
building projects planned everywhere.
Soon, slaves were a familiar sight
in the entire Islamic world
Their function was even more
important than …
The Muslim Arab empire established itself,
and with that, the slave trade.
Like the overseas trade, trade in
fresh meat was also organized by profiteers.
A powerful dynasty of traders dominated
the business. For instance in Cairo.
From medieval times up to the 19th century,
there was even a cartel for the slave trade, …
… which divided the state orders.
And since religion in the Islamic world
rules the entire society …
… it also involved itself with slave trade.
The Quran, however, advises
not to treat slaves too harshly, but offers
nothing to apply against this praxis.
Slavery was not justified by religion,
but it does offer rules for slavery.
The point is that its society in practice
is based on disparity,
and this is accepted and justified
by its religious texts.
The Quran often mentions slaves
without putting their status in question.
And that is not surprising, because those
were simply the conditions at that time.
And this society would have been
unimaginable without slavery.
In principle, Islam allows slavery, under the precondition that slaves are not Muslims.
And in this way over the centuries, hundreds of thousands,
if not millions of Europeans were enslaved.
But the Western world resisted this.
And because white slaves grew ever harder to get,
… the Muslims turned their focus on Africa
to look for slaves.
On the black continent live many
But the Quran forbids enslaving
This contradiction though was soon overcome.
Parallel to the advance of Africa as
the most important slave supplier …
… in the Arab states a racism developed
that justified the trade in human beings.
This was not much different though
from the Americas.
Long before 19th century European anthropologists
formulated their well known theories on race …
… the inferiority of the black race was posited
as a near undeniable fact in the Arab world.
And this by highly respected scholars
such as Ibn Khaldun.
Ibn Khaldun, the great politician and historian
of the 14th century, wrote:
”The only people who accept slavery
are the Negroes …
… because they are inferior to other humans
and in their nature look like animals.”
Certainly there were many,
I have proven that.
Many designations and a viewpoint …
that classified the black race, the slaves …
… as inferior.
In Arabic there are different words for “slave”.
One can say Abt, Golem, Zanj or Aswad.
Interesting is that “Aswad” at the same time
Also “Zanj” took on a meaning that was used
for blacks from East Africa.
We can see how original ethnic or regional
meanings developed to synonyms for “slaves”.
Even today in the Maghreb countries, for instance
in Tunisia, one calls a black “Abd”, a “slave”.
Following these theses, during 1400 years
there were people enslaved.
Soldiers taken prisoners during wars were provided
by traders with orders to hunt humans.
These hunts were accompanied with
They set fire to houses, and frontally attacked
the completely defenseless population.
Then these people were brutally snatched
from their families and homelands.
For every captured slave on average
cost the life two to three others.
And in the villages awaited
very valuable goods.
One of the articles in demand
They adapted more easily to a new environment
and new circumstances.
Therefore they were easier to control
than adults …
… who did not easily accept
Once captured, whether child or adult,
a long period of suffering began for the slaves.
Over 1400 years the slave trade followed
the same schedule.
But where in America this was addressed
in the history books …
… the traces of the other slaves
vanished in the sands of the Sahara.
Seven million humans were forced
to march through the desert …
… guarded by Ghalabs, cattle drivers,
who did not distinguish slaves from animals.
When the captives after three months
reached the North or East coast …
… they were fully exhausted.
Some studies suspect that the first marches
on the African continent …
… caused the most human sacrifice.
Only those with a strong constitution made it
with the caravans to the destination.
Water shortage, illnesses, exhaustion.
20-30% of the captives stayed behind …
… a mortality rate that comes close
to that of the transatlantic slave trade.
Further transport was with ships.
To the Arabian peninsula or to Cairo.
Well into the 20th century there were still
slaves shipped over the Red Sea.
In total some 8 million people.
Packed together in dhows, the typical sailing ships
that were certainly not more comfortable
than the ships to America.
This operation was fatal for 70-80%,
a number that points at the scale of the massacre.
This also explains the extraordinary market value
Despite all these cruelties, the Arab slave trade
still flourished at the beginning of the 20th century
Without ever being called into question.
Where one in the old days had to rely on drawings
and documents, now there were photographs.
In 1880, English travelers encountered ships
with slaves and captured it with cameras.
They came from the island of Zanzibar,
off the coast of Tanzania.
Since the 18th century the pivot point
of the slave trade.
Zanzibar was as transshipment point
at least as important as the Senegal island of Gorée.
But that has been completely forgotten now,
and visitors are hardly ever welcomed here.
Yearly, there were 115,000 slaves
Under the worst conditions, before they were
transported to the Arab countries or Brazil.
The more than century-old photographs
testify to the conditions.
In this remarkable picture, slaves are seen at work.
On a spice trade plantation.
In 1830 there were hundreds of thousands of slaves
working on the plantations of Zanzibar.
Under similar conditions as in
North and South America.
The plantation owners did not care about the needs of their workers,
and the mortality rate was unusually high.
A small group of planters ruled over a herd
of servants who did the bulk of the production.
This system was called a “slave company”
This meant: the slaves represented the largest part
of the company, but had no influence …
… on the social fabric, although it largely depended
on the productions of their labor.
The palace of the Sultan testifies of the wealth
that could be earned from the trade in humans.
Again a comparison emerges with the European slave companies and its pivotal points.
Background: “Launching the United Nations International Year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition by the director general of UNESCO – Goree Coast Castle”
But the African slave market has another side
which is ever memorialized.
For that side, 2004 was proclaimed the International Year to commemorate slavery.
After the celebration speeches, a theatre play which in the truest sense displays a black-white view point.
Not a word that Europeans were not
the only bad guys, but also the Arabs. And the Africans.
For the history of slavery also has grey zones.
Though to many that is too complicated.
The widely-renowned historian Ibrahima Thioub
is one of the few Africans to make a study
of this side of the slave trade.
One of the few who also denounces the African profiteers
in the transatlantic and Arabic trade.
Did the slaves just fall out of the sky?
Somebody must have come up with them.
There is not a power in the world that has
the political, economic and technical capabilities …
… to simply sail to the African coast,
penetrate the inner continent …
… gather the people from the villages,
and take them out of the country.
There were certain social groups in Africa,
the African elite …
… who understood how to exploit
the export of these communities.
They were the middlemen of the slave trade
and had built a truly efficient system.
The moral aspect did not play any role then.
Only in this era do we have moral problems.
— The Africans first had to learn from
Europeans what slavery is.
— And now the question arises:
Can victims also be guilty?
— But we prefer a simple scenario in which it is clear who are the bad and the good.
— With this the order is often not quite unambiguous.
For hundreds of years, their African warlords sold their captives
as slaves to Arab and European traders.
This intermediary trade is one of the largest …
[end section 22:38]
A slave is alien to others. Whoever enslaves strangers
will always find justification to view them as savages.
Many peoples considered their neighbors
as being uncultivated. One could easily say:
a savage is just another expression
for “the others”.
Things had also been like that
in the old wars.
Such slaves mostly are prisoners of wars
that African nations were constantly waging.
In medieval times the empires of Ghana
and Mali enslaved tens of thousands.
The impression is that it was usually
military troops, that went through the land …
… and mostly caught woman and children.
The men were simply killed.
That is different from society to society.
Also abductions occurred.
This of course causes great uncertainty,
for one not only should be alert in time of war,
but it can happen anytime that one’s wife,
son or daughter …
while taking a walk is captured
and carried away.
From Mombassa there were several reports
that children were kidnapped and sold elsewhere.
Then humans suddenly become trade goods.
One sees a child and does not think:
”what a beautiful child”, but
”that one can make a profit for me”.
A perverse thought.
And that is why slavery
is a disruptive element for society.
One begins to judge humans on their market value;
human relations become irrelevant.
Often village chiefs sold children and adults
to pay off their debts.
Since the old days, slavery has been a red thread
running through African history.
Trade in humans, hidden, without witnesses,
The arrival of Europeans became a turning point
in the 17th century. The demand explodes.
Not just the usual demand had to be covered.
There were also the white gentlemen who wanted black slaves.
The transatlantic slave trade caused an unusual
outbreak of violence in African communities.
Kingdoms flourished and had owed their wealth
exclusively to the slave trade.
They waged endless wars to ensure
In the 19th century the inter-African slave trade
reached its peak.
The system collaborated. Many societies
had as many free people, as slaves.
Whether Arabs or Europeans, the entire world
took part in the black slave trade.
And for a long time nobody has put the
ruling viewpoints in question.
But then the Western world came
to denounce this barbarity.
To Europe came the Enlightenment. Freedom.
Equality, brotherhood, is the new answer.
In the 19th century, slavery
was abolished in Europe.
Also the slaves in the French Antilles
demand their freedom.
Petition against the slave trade in Senegal.
The Chamber of Deputies [J. Morenas]
Now the public openly condemns the practices
they had been accepting for so long.
And is appalled by the cruelties of both
the Atlantic and the African slave trade.
In the newspapers, expressive illustrations
and descriptions are published.
Petitions are signed.
The struggle against slavery was used as
a justification for colonization.
27:28 [Mohammed Ennaji, Historian, Univ.Rabat]
In Zanzibar the English stop the slave ships
and further trading …
… and they incorporate the island
in the British empire
In the Maghreb and West Africa, the French
liberate the slaves and take command.
The abolition of slavery therefore
was enforced upon the Africans and Arabs.
And that had consequences.
— The disappearance of slavery in most Muslim
countries is clearly due to external influences.
Just as the modernization of the economy and
social structures was influenced from abroad.
The western world became a global power.
And in this way slavery was abolished.
Promoting development of modern societies
was not limited to just a few countries.
In countries where slavery was most common,
like Morocco, it disappeared almost unnoticed.
28:37 [Ibrahima Thioub, historian, University of Dakar]
I think this is an important aspect.
It disappeared without ever having been
addressed as a problem.
Which is a pity …
Because I think it would have been
of great use if this had been addressed.
That might have been an important step
on the road to modernity.
Also black Africa on its difficult road to
independence stayed silent on this topic.
One prefers to forget the problem
that others have cleared out of the way.
— This can be difficult
for the African consciousness.
Ministry of Culture — House of Slavery
Politically seen, Africa was not involved
in the abolition of slavery.
But the unity needed for the anti-colonial struggle
would never have been possible …
… if one had addressed the
contradictions in certain African communities.
They therefore massively ignore this,
and prefer to focus on their shared problem:
… The Occident.
The moment has come to close this chapter.
Why is it so hard for UNESCO, the keeper of world heritage, to demand an account of all involved?
Ali Moussa, leader of UNESCO project “The Slave Route” has assigned himself on a difficult task.
Over and over he appeals to the member states to finally engage themselves on this issue.
And often encounters resistance.
30:29 [Ali Moussa Iye]
— Many countries show themselves unwilling,
I honestly have to admit that.
—The problem recalls
bitter memories for them.
— Old wounds are open here,
and strong emotions released.
In any case there is the resistance form the side of the governments, the political decision makers.
But often also from the side of the population.
As I mentioned, this is a most delicate matter,
that is why the reserved attitude is understandable.
For many this would really open a Pandora’s box,
with all possible consequences.
Many would possibly regard it as
an admission of guilt.
31:06 Representation of the Arab League to UNESCO
A word that causes fear.
31:17 [Nassif Hitti, Arab League Ambassador]
Are the UNESCO representatives
of Arab countries …
… prepared to admit their complicity
with the slave trade?
And eventually show their regret?
When one talks with Africans, they of course
do not enthusiastically address the issue of slavery.
31:32 [woman’s voice]
— Is this chapter closed?
Then that is a general requirement.
And slavery itself is of course condemned.
The problem only existed under certain circumstances
that hardly ever occurred in the Arab world.
I believe many want to make it a big issue,
those who maybe have anti-Arab or anti-African views.
They generalize this problem
and exaggerate it disproportionately.
I might as well say then: I don’t want anything
to do with the Occident …
… because they
undertook the Crusades.
I certainly do not want to avoid this matter
and fully and completely condemn slavery.
I would appreciate if some European countries
showed more courage addressing this problem.
Especially with colonization
Bit not many intellectuals do that, and from
the official side not much comes about.
From the official Arab side, no preparedness
to admit responsibility for the slave trade.
One rather keeps the focus on
32:52 [Tidiana N’Diaye, economist, anthropologist]
The ruling strata in African countries, for a large part Muslim shaped, show solidarity with the Arab world.
I am therefore very much interested to take on
the account of this history.
Here one believes that everything bad
can only come from the West …
… but never from their Muslim neighbors
to the North.
North Africans and many in Middle Eastern states
have become good friends of African nations.
This of course developed
behind the back of the West.
And it was agreed upon not to reopen
this painful chapter.
But there are also brave historians and other
intellectuals who dare to point at this history.
Often withstanding the resistance
of their own people.
One of them is professor Tioub.
One event has formed him:
the conference in 2001.
Because he had dared to deviate
from the main theme …
… that was established in advance,
and he lecture on all forms of the slave trade.
How did the audience respond?
In the audience were Europeans and Africans.
I purposely do not say black and white …
… although that would also
have been appropriate.
To me, the problems that I addressed
had nothing to do with skin color.
There were quite commonplace questions.
No core issues.
And I had not expected an unusual response
from the audience.
The audience, most of all the Africans,
responded with a fury that totally surprised me.
I had never thought that this theme could be
such a hot issue.
That it could cause such emotions.
I was really not aware of that.
I heard voices from the audience that said:
”You are telling fables.
Those are generalizations.”
But there was no scientifically based criticism.
The reason why I found out immediately afterwards.
After my lecture, which provoked such aroused
and unqualified expressions, I left the hall.
Then some Africans came to me there.
They were not many, but what they said
seems reasonably representative to me.
They said: “Your statements are quite right,
one should absolutely study that aspect more.
But you should not address such matters
in front of a white audience.”
And Europeans came to me, separately of course,
and said: “Congratulations, I think like you.”
Bit you have the courage to express it.
I would not dare to …
… for they would call me a racist.”
After I learned of both these views,
which I could understand very well …
… I asked myself: where are the historians?
It is about time to take the bull by the horns.
Without doubt, Ibrahim Tioub’s explanations
were much too complex for a simple truth.
In a time in which fear makes people blind.
The fear of a heritage of cruelties
with still unhealed wounds.
Also in the West the real truth of slavery
has never really been opened up.
Saint Antoine d’Exupéry
Ignorance or shared guilt, …
… one does not want to hassle
the former colonies with it..
Or, on the contrary, is it out of the aftermath
of the old feelings of superiority of the white race …
… that all alone they now take over
the responsibility for the past.
That they only address their own regret.
That would be a very subtle form
of underestimating other peoples.
One judges themselves to be capable
of committing such a crime.
Antoine de Saint Exupéry described in “Wind, Sand and Stars” of 1939, a scene he witnessed in Morocco.
— Occasionally, a chewing black slave
in front of the door enjoys the evening wind.
— In this body become plump due to a life
of in captivity, no memories rise up again.
— For he now has become too old to earn simple clothes.