Monday, April 02, 2007

The enslavement of history

The abolition of Britain's part in the slave trade was one of the most principled and inspiring events in this country's history. Yesterday's 200th anniversary of the Act that banned slavery in the British Empire should have been an occasion of national congratulation. But from the orgy of breast-beating which has marked it, you would have thought instead that this country had actually invented slavery rather than played such a historic role in stopping it.

Tony Blair said yesterday that slavery was among history's most 'shameful enterprises' and that Britain's participation was a matter of `deep sorrow and regret'. A national memorial service is to be held at Westminster Abbey tomorrow. An exhibition entitled Resistance And Remembrance is being held at the British Museum.

The church seems hardly to stop apologising for its part in the slave trade. The BBC, which has been running programmes about slavery for weeks, could barely contain its excitement at the opportunity for so much Britain-bashing. And people walked from Hull to London in chains or wooden yokes and wearing T-shirts bearing the legend `So sorry'.

But apparently Britain had not scourged itself sufficiently for its past iniquity. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, yesterday said the Prime Minister should make a formal apology for the slave trade and criticised him for not going far enough. The Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Amos, told a commemorative event in Ghana that the slave trade was one of the UK's most 'shameful and uncomfortable chapters'. More perversely still, the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, drew a link between slavery and the murder of black teenager Anthony Walker at the hands of racist thugs. The more he studied history, said the bishop, the more he believed `that our racism is rooted in the dehumanising treatment of black people by white people'. So a country which had led the way in abolishing slavery was now being damned as racist because, 200 years previously, it had taken part in it.

Bishop Jones should surely study history a little more. Yes, slavery was and is an evil. Yes, Britain did participate in it. But so did a host of other countries for whom slavery was until then an accepted and unchallenged way of life. The whole point of this anniversary was that Britain took a historic lead in challenging and stopping it. This initiative, which sprang from Christian principles about the equality and dignity of every human being, gave the lead for other similar movements against slavery around the western world. Furthermore, it did not merely abolish the British slave trade, but provided the template for a host of other social reform movements during the 19th century, from the democratic franchise to votes for women and the abolition of child labour, along with the great campaigns against poverty, drinking and prostitution.

The anti-slavery movement was thus nothing less than the motor of social justice and decency with which Britain came to be identified. It forged a sense of collective conscience, encapsulating the belief that society could be changed for the better and evil deeds resisted - the belief which lies at the very heart of progressive politics and a civilised society.

Yet this country seems to find it impossible to celebrate its achievements; impossible to take pride in anything in its past. It seems only to want to denigrate itself at every opportunity. And to do so it rewrites history. The very mention of the term `British Empire' seems to drive certain people wild. They appear to think that the Empire produced only bad things, and that all bad things started with the Empire.

But the assumption that the slave trade started with Britain's colonial adventures is simply false, as is the related belief that it involved only black victims of white slave-traders. Slavery is as old as human history, involving many different societies. In ancient times the Greeks, the Romans and the Egyptians were all at it. Many slave-traders were in fact black and some of the slaves were white. The Arab slave trade, which stretched from Saharan Africa across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, pre-dated and was more longstanding than the European trade across the Atlantic. There were also African slavetraders, particularly in East Africa, which was a fertile market for slaves sold to the Middle East and elsewhere.

Yet for decades, British schoolchildren have been taught that black people were only ever victims and white people only ever oppressors. Such distortion has bred division and resentment and given rise to an unending clamour for apology - and even for financial compensation. Across the world, the demand by black lobby groups for reparations for the slave trade amounts to an eyewatering $777 trillion.

But who precisely is to compensate whom, and for what? No one is alive today who profited from the transatlantic slave trade, or who personally suffered from it. Yet whole cities are being told to make amends, as indeed is the whole of Britain. Well, why stop there? Shouldn't we demand that the Greeks, Egyptians or Italians (on behalf of the Romans, who sadly are no longer with us to take their share of the blame) apologise for all the people they enslaved around the world? Shouldn't the Scandinavians say sorry to us for the rape and pillage of ancient Britain by the Vikings? Or how about the Queen making reparations to the Catholics for the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 16th century? Shouldn't we all simply apologise to everyone for everything that has ever happened?

The absurdity of all this was underlined when David Pott, one of those who walked to London in chains and who has taken it upon himself to apologise to Africa for Britain's part in slavery, acknowledged on BBC Radio Four's Moral Maze that he was aware he had thus apologised to the descendants of African slave-traders as well as slaves. But this was only right and proper, he said, because unlike the colonial British, the black slave-traders had no option but to buy and sell slaves.

This attitude, which utterly demeans black people by stripping them of equal responsibility for their own actions, fuels the wider culture of victimhood which ludicrously blames slavery for absent black fathers, black gang culture or even black-on-black crime.

To their credit, many black people refuse to go along with such a grotesque excuse, realising that it traps them in a culture of resentment which prevents them from making progress. And it has taken an Asian cleric, Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, to point out that if a civilisation is constantly denigrated in this way, its virtues will eventually be destroyed.

Slavery has not disappeared. It exists today all over the world. In the Sudan, where Africans are enslaved by the Islamic government; in Mauritania, where Muslims enslave other Muslims; and in Eastern Europe, where millions of women and children are trafficked - and from where they are sold into prostitution, shamefully, in 'slave auctions' at Britain's very own airports.

Slavery has been turned into yet another attack upon the West. But it should not divide us in this way. It is an evil that still exists throughout the world; and all decent people, of all colours and creeds, should unite to fight it - just as our ancestors did 200 years ago.



Back to pre-industrial wood-burning -- with all that lovely smoke pollution! Greenies running around in circles yet again

Britain hopes to slash carbon emissions by burning more home-grown wood under a new government plan announced on Wednesday. The Forestry Commission's Woodfuel Strategy for England aims to make 2 million tonnes a year more wood available for fuel by 2020 through better forest management and support. Burning this much wood, equal to about 3.6 million barrels of oil a year, should avoid an estimated 400,000 tonnes of carbon annually, biodiversity minister Barry Gardiner said. "Using wood instead of fossil fuels means that sustainably managed woodland can be a significant resource for a low-carbon economy," Gardiner said in a statement.

Wood production in England will have to increase by 60 percent to achieve the target and current wood supply chains are not capable of getting that much material to market, the Forestry Commission said in its report. The carbon released into the atmosphere by burning wood is partially absorbed by growing more trees, which means lowering emissions from the energy sector compared to coal, gas or oil.

Rather than importing other biofuels, which can come from environmentally-questionable sources, Britain should use its own woodland areas in an environmentally sustainable way, the plan's backers say. The Forestry Commission, which manages more than a million hectares of UK woodland, says more investment is needed to get the woodfuel market working more efficiently.

The government has set a domestic target to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2010 and 60 percent by 2050 and the biggest contribution biomass can make to that goal is through heat generation, the Commission said. Unlike some European countries where communal heating systems are widely used, making the switch to biomass fairly cheap and easy, British homes are nearly all heated individually with gas, coal or oil. This is a major obstacle to the growth of biomass heating and support from government is needed to ensure dirty fossil fuel boilers are replaced with wood-burning ones quickly enough to establish effective supply chains, the Commission said. Currently, biomass provides 3 percent of UK energy needs.


Dangerous ambulance service lies in Britain

Ambulance staff in Wiltshire routinely and systematically altered data to make it look as if the service was meeting targets. A report from the Audit Commission found that in less than 15 months between April 2005 and July 2006 staff altered the timing of 594 emergency calls to make it appear that ambulances had reached callers within the target of eight minutes. Staff also altered the details of 89 lower-priority calls, which are supposed to be reached in 19 minutes. Many changes were made to call categories to make results look better.

Despite these changes, Wiltshire Ambulance Service (now amalgamated into Great Western Ambulance Service) failed to meet the targets for either the “immediately life-threatening” category A calls or the “serious” category B calls. Three quarters of category A calls are supposed to be reached within eight minutes, and 95 per cent of category B calls within 19 minutes. In 2005-06, Wiltshire Ambulance Trust scored 71.2 per cent and 91.4 per cent respectively.

Richard Lott, the auditor, said: “The key performance indicator for ambulance trusts is how quickly the ambulance arrives. It is crucially important that the public has confidence in the integrity of the data.” Last August the Department of Health admitted widespread altering of ambulance figures. A report showed that six out of 31 trusts had misreported response times. Wiltshire was not among them.


Ancient history dropped in British schools

The teaching of Ancient History in schools is to become, well, ancient history. The only examination board offering an A level in the subject is to drop it in favour of a new Classical Civilisation qualification. Boris Johnson, the Tory higher education spokesman and president of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT), criticised the OCR exam board for its “demented” decision to replace “a tough, rewarding, crunchy” subject with a softer option. “You can’t just subsume the study of Ancient History into the study of Classical Civilisation. You might as well say that you can learn English history through the study of English language and literature. If we lose Ancient History A level, we lose yet another battle in the general dumbing-down of Britain,” he said.

David Tristram, head of The Kingswood School in Corby, Northamptonshire and chair of the JACT council, described the move as “disgraceful”. “Cicero once said that not to know what took place before you were born is to remain forever a child. The cradle of democracy was Greece, and Western civilisation developed out of the Roman and Greek civilisations — their study is crucial to our own culture and civilisation,” he said.

Graham Able, head of Dulwich College, said that the move reinforced his own decision to opt out of the entire A-level system in favour of the new PreU examination. “Ancient History is a bona fide academic subject in its own right whereas Classical Civilisation tends to be a watered-down version with less historical rigour.”

The Ancient History syllabus covers 21 different aspects and eras of ancient Greek and Roman history, such as the conflict of Greece and Persia in 499BC to 479BC and the reign of Nero. Under the Classical Civilisation A level, history will be dealt with in units, such as “Romano-British society and history as depicted in the literary and archaeological record”.

The move by the OCR exam board follows a revival of interest in ancient history, the result of movie blockbusters such as 300,about the battle of Thermo-pylae , as well as books and TV programmes including the BBC’s Rome.Peter Jones, of the National Coordinating Committee for Classics, said that it made no sense to axe the subject when numbers studying it at AS and A2 level since 2000 had risen by 300 per cent.

Tony Little, Head Master of Eton College, cautioned against a more general trend to “whittle away” valuable periods from the study of history in secondary school: “The notion that history has to be mid-20th century and exclusively focused on the Nazis seems to undervalue history as a subject.”

An OCR spokesman denied watering down the subject. “Similar content to that in Ancient History is covered. In addition, there is a new ethos, which requires candidates to study sources in their historical and cultural context,” he said. New specifications for Classics are published as part of broader changes to A levels, designed to make them more testing for the brightest teenagers from next year.


'Immigrant' is a Racist Word in Britain

We read:

"Use of the word immigrant as an insult can amount to proof of racial hostility, the court of appeal ruled yesterday. The court held that a charge of racially aggravated assault against a woman who attacked a GP after referring to him as "an immigrant doctor" had been wrongly thrown out by Judge Breen at Luton crown court in January.

He decided that "immigrant" did not denote membership of a specific racial group under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. But three appeal judges said he should have left the matter to the jury.


No comments: