Friday, 27 December 2013




COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study suggests that a million or more European Christians were enslaved by Muslims in North Africa between 1530 and 1780 – a far greater number than had ever been estimated before.
In a new book, Robert Davis, professor of history at Ohio State University, developed a unique methodology to calculate the number of white Christians who were enslaved along Africa’s Barbary Coast, arriving at much higher slave population estimates than any previous studies had found.

Most other accounts of slavery along the Barbary coast didn’t try to estimate the number of slaves, or only looked at the number of slaves in particular cities, Davis said. Most previously estimated slave counts have thus tended to be in the thousands, or at most in the tens of thousands. Davis, by contrast, has calculated that between 1 million and 1.25 million European Christians were captured and forced to work in North Africa from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Davis’s new estimates appear in the book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan).

“Enslavement was a very real possibility for anyone who traveled in the Mediterranean, or who lived along the shores in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and even as far north as England and Iceland.”

“Much of what has been written gives the impression that there were not many slaves and minimizes the impact that slavery had on Europe,” Davis said. “Most accounts only look at slavery in one place, or only for a short period of time. But when you take a broader, longer view, the massive scope of this slavery and its powerful impact become clear.”

Davis said it is useful to compare this Mediterranean slavery to the Atlantic slave trade that brought black Africans to the Americas. Over the course of four centuries, the Atlantic slave trade was much larger – about 10 to 12 million black Africans were brought to the Americas. But from 1500 to 1650, when trans-Atlantic slaving was still in its infancy, more white Christian slaves were probably taken to Barbary than black African slaves to the Americas, according to Davis.

“One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature – that only blacks have been slaves. But that is not true,” Davis said. “We cannot think of slavery as something that only white people did to black people.”

During the time period Davis studied, it was religion and ethnicity, as much as race, that determined who became slaves.

“Enslavement was a very real possibility for anyone who travelled in the Mediterranean, or who lived along the shores in places like Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and even as far north as England and Iceland,” he said.

Pirates (called corsairs) from cities along the Barbary Coast in north Africa – cities such as Tunis and Algiers – would raid ships in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, as well as seaside villages to capture men, women and children. The impact of these attacks were devastating – France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants. At its peak, the destruction and depopulation of some areas probably exceeded what European slavers would later inflict on the African interior.

Although hundreds of thousands of Christian slaves were taken from Mediterranean countries, Davis noted, the effects of Muslim slave raids was felt much further away: it appears, for example, that through most of the 17th century the English lost at least 400 sailors a year to the slavers.

Even Americans were not immune. For example, one American slave reported that 130 other American seamen had been enslaved by the Algerians in the Mediterranean and Atlantic just between 1785 and 1793.

Davis said the vast scope of slavery in North Africa has been ignored and minimized, in large part because it is on no one’s agenda to discuss what happened.

The enslavement of Europeans doesn’t fit the general theme of European world conquest and colonialism that is central to scholarship on the early modern era, he said. Many of the countries that were victims of slavery, such as France and Spain, would later conquer and colonize the areas of North Africa where their citizens were once held as slaves. Maybe because of this history, Western scholars have thought of the Europeans primarily as “evil colonialists” and not as the victims they sometimes were, Davis said.

Davis said another reason that Mediterranean slavery has been ignored or minimized has been that there have not been good estimates of the total number of people enslaved. People of the time – both Europeans and the Barbary Coast slave owners – did not keep detailed, trustworthy records of the number of slaves. In contrast, there are extensive records that document the number of Africans brought to the Americas as slaves.

So Davis developed a new methodology to come up with reasonable estimates of the number of slaves along the Barbary Coast. Davis found the best records available indicating how many slaves were at a particular location at a single time. He then estimated how many new slaves it would take to replace slaves as they died, escaped or were ransomed.

“The only way I could come up with hard numbers is to turn the whole problem upside down – figure out how many slaves they would have to capture to maintain a certain level,” he said. “It is not the best way to make population estimates, but it is the only way with the limited records available.”

Putting together such sources of attrition as deaths, escapes, ransomings, and conversions, Davis calculated that about one-fourth of slaves had to be replaced each year to keep the slave population stable, as it apparently was between 1580 and 1680. That meant about 8,500 new slaves had to be captured each year. Overall, this suggests nearly a million slaves would have been taken captive during this period. Using the same methodology, Davis has estimated as many as 475,000 additional slaves were taken in the previous and following centuries.

The result is that between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly 1 million and quite possibly as many as 1.25 million white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast.

Davis said his research into the treatment of these slaves suggests that, for most of them, their lives were every bit as difficult as that of slaves in America.

“As far as daily living conditions, the Mediterranean slaves certainly didn’t have it better,” he said.

While African slaves did grueling labor on sugar and cotton plantations in the Americas, European Christian slaves were often worked just as hard and as lethally – in quarries, in heavy construction, and above all rowing the corsair galleys themselves.

Davis said his findings suggest that this invisible slavery of European Christians deserves more attention from scholars.

“We have lost the sense of how large enslavement could loom for those who lived around the Mediterranean and the threat they were under,” he said. “Slaves were still slaves, whether they are black or white, and whether they suffered in America or North Africa.”

#Ohio State University, 2010

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Civic nationalism has no future


Civic nationalism has no future


On what basis do nations exist? It was once thought that a nation was a people sharing a common ethnicity living together in the same country and governed by their own state.

This kind of nationalism fell out of favour in the modern West because it was held to discriminate on the basis of an unchosen quality, namely ethnicity. It was replaced by a civic nationalism, in which membership of a nation was determined by citizenship, and in which national identity was based on liberal political values, such as non-discrimination.

But can a civic nationalism do the job? Can it maintain the existing nations of the West? The answer seems to be clearly no.

One problem is that a civic nationalism blurs the boundaries of what is or isn't part of a nation. For instance, if it is a belief in liberal poltical values which makes me an Australian, then why can't people everywhere who believe in the same values also be considered a part of my nation?

And if it is a belief in liberal political values that defines a nation, then why shouldn't nations be merged together if there is an economic or diplomatic advantage in doing so? Why not abandon the traditional nations of Europe in order to build a European Union? Why not abandon Australia to build a Pacific Union?

There's one further problem with a civic nationalism. The older type of nationalism was rejected on the grounds that it discriminated against people. But so too does civic nationalism: it discriminates between citizens and non-citizens. Therefore, it will increasingly be seen by the more rigorously intellectual types as being immoral and illegitimate.

Enter Professor Peter Spiro, author of Beyond Citizenship: American Identity After Globalization. He has done what intellectuals will inevitably do, and taken the ideas of civic nationalism to their logical conclusion.

His argument is that a territorial citizenship is becoming increasingly more difficult to justify. If being an American is based on liberal political ideals, then membership of the nation should include those living outside America who agree with these ideals:

But here's something that really is new: the underinclusion of members-in-fact outside the territory of the United States.

One of the commenters on my first post pressed the proposition that America is an idea. That's completely consistent with strong civic notions of American citizenship and identity.

At one time, that idea was distinct. No longer. The American idea of constitutional democracy has gone global. That's American's triumph, but it may also be its downfall.

As I ask in the book, if that person in Bangalore wants to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, on what grounds can we deny him membership? ... And what of the child born in Juarez, whose interests and identity will be connected to El Paso, Austin and Washington ... but who has the bad luck to have been born a mile on the wrong side of the line? ...

So: whatever it means to be American, it's everywhere. But that makes it all the harder to draw the membership line in a meaningful way.

Another person to have followed through with the logic of civic nationalism is the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. He has called for the European Union to be extended to include non-European countries. Specifically he wants the countries of the Mahgreb (North Africa) and the Middle East to join a European Union free trade association "not as an alternative to membership, but potentially as a step towards it". Miliband believes that such an enlarged EU would develop shared values and overcome an east/west divide, whilst providing trade and investment opportunities. This is where civic nationalism leads: to membership of a state with no definable borders.

Finally, there's the issue of citizenship and discrimination. Our former PM, Paul Keating, was in the vanguard on this issue, railing against the "exclusiveness" of civic nationalism which involves:

constructing arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community ... if you ask what is the common policy of the Le Pens, the Terreblanches, Hansons and Howards of this world, in a word, it is “citizenship”. Who is in and who is out.

For Keating, it was "parochial" to establish any kind of community other than an international "human" community. Keating thought that a civic nationalism was a radical, extremist form of discrimination.

Lawrence Auster wrote a good post recently on this theme, in which he observed that:

To a consistent liberal, and thus to a consistent libertarian, there can be no justification for any kind of unequal or exclusionary treatment. If a country comes into existence by the use of force (as all countries throughout history have done), well, the use of force is a form of inequality and oppression, meaning that the country is illegitimate. If a country simply exists as a country with borders, its very existence distinguishes between members and non-members and thus it violates the equal freedom of all humans and is illegitimate. If a country has a state, that represents a further inequality in which some people exercise power over others. If a country elects its government through democratic elections, that means that the majority has more power than the minority, which is also a violation of equality.

As I've said many times, liberalism, consistently applied, is incompatible with the existence of any organic, self-governing institution or society, since all such societies and institutions violate the liberal principle of the equal freedom of all human persons.

The nations of the West will not be held together by civic nationalism. The logic of a civic nationalism is toward its own dissolution.