The abominable crime perpetrated in New Zealand by, we are told, a lone white-supremacist extremist, led to immediate calls in the mainstream press for a clampdown on rampant Islamophobia everywhere in society. When a thing (“Islamophobia”) is named as if it were a psychiatric disorder, but treated as a deadly sin, it is a little difficult to understand exactly what the neologism means. But the word appears at least, to include any negative opinion of any aspect of Islam, Arab nationalism, or Islamist terrorism shaken together, such negativity being interpreted as the inevitable precursor of crimes such as we saw last week.
This assumption of inexorable escalation from a root sin of Islamophobia into violence is illustrated by the way that not only satirical cartoons, but suggestions that a burka worn in court might prejudice justice, are adjudged “hate crimes.” In this there is actually a tenuous link with the ethics of Christ, who taught us for the first time that to hate our neighbour (whoever he or she is) is before God tantamount to murder, and to lust is adultery.
There are two differences, though, between Christ’s eternal ethic and the progressive new one. The first is that Jesus spoke of the state of our hearts before God at the last judgement – not the condemnation of our presumed thoughts, rather than our acts, by anonymous humans on social media. The second is the specificity of the sin of Islamophobia, which (in the media) is not balanced by any corresponding “phobia” making America the Great Satan (Columbophobia?), or labelling poor Christian women as blasphemers to be killed by mobs (Christianophobia?), by which to explain radicalisation to Islamist terrorism. It isn’t clear why Muslim “days of rage” are not “phobic,” whereas a novelist critiquing sharia law is. After all, the aftermath of a massacre in a mosque in New Zealand is not that different to that of a synagogue in Israel or a church in Pakistan.
This is especially odd since the hate-filled attacks against mosques we have seen clearly ape Isis or Al Quaeda tactics, which in turn were originally learned by the PLO from Marxist terrorists like the Baader-Meinhof gang in the sixties. The hatred of others, condemned by Christ, is the same in all cases: and yet the word “Islamophobia” suggests a specific sin by which all western skeptics of Islam, however peaceable, are branded, but no-one else.
Equally lopsided are the other pseudophobias coined over the last few years and rapidly becoming the only immoral acts in progressive canon law. An archbishop who refuses to host the “husband” of a gay bishop is accused by that bishop of the hate crime of homophobia (or of giving way to it by caring about the adherence to church doctrine of non-westerners in his communion). On the other hand, the gay activist theologians who claim that those who believe in the very concept of male and female are guilty of perpetrating the “Patriarchy” are not, it seems, guilty of “genderphobia” in their stated desire to abolish gender altogether. This is so even though there are much better grounds to consider that desire either a disorder, or an irrational hatred of humanity itself, since until Michel Foucault invented Queer Theory in the 60s, humanity universally took the reality of male and female as self-evident, and have demonstrably done so since time immemorial.
Incidentally, as an aside on sexuality, it’s interesting how LGBT+ lobbyists in the churches start with the God-givenness of sexuality and argue from that to the abolition of gender categories altogether; whereas Genesis 1 starts with the God-givenness of male and female and argues towards the goodness of sexuality in marriage, but not otherwise. That’s what comes, I suppose, from Moses missing the Foucault, Reich and Marcuse module during his Egyptian education.
But I want to move on to, perhaps, the first, and apparently the most heinous, of the progressivist sins – that of racism, a term popularised in the 1930s (but actually rare in Britain until after the 1960s, when “racialism” was replaced, perhaps because it didn’t sound offensive enough). That makes it so old that it isn’t even a phobia.
Now, it’s with good reason that there is such a strong mental association between racism and the transatlantic slave trade, which was an unmitigated evil. I won’t go into the complexities of that trade in relation to the pre-existing Muslim slave-trade and the African end of the cycle, and I’ve written before about the equally complex relationship between the slave trade, European mercentile exploration in general, the bigoted ideas of the early anthropologists and the post-Darwinian evolutionary justification of those like Galton and Haeckel. Racism is, of course, a sin based on a myth of “race” that simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written.
But although vested interests during the slave era twisted Scripture to justify chattel slavery, as people do for fashionable causes now, the fact remains that Exodus condemned stealing and selling men, Paul condemned slave-traders, and Jesus taught that the neighbour you must love is the other fellow, whoever he or she is. The label of “racism,” though, implies the hatred of those of another colour (aka “race”) and leads to the assumption that this ignorant hatred is what led to slavery, and that alone.
But that, in fact, is to muddy the morality, and the history too, of slavery. And bear with me, because to illustrate that, things get a little complicated here. In the last few years, some writers have uncovered, they say, a vast and forgotten trade in white Irish slaves to the plantations of the West Indies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most polemic put the numbers involved in the same order of magnitude as black slaves, and all place the blame squarely on the English Protestants under Cromwell.
A more measured, and very informative, response here shows that such accounts are both hugely exaggerated and over-simplified, to the detriment not only of truth, but of the real injustice suffered both by black and white slaves. The extent of the exaggeration, one should note, is itself a symptom of hatred of ones neighbour, in this case of the English – which if evenhandedness prevailed amongst progressives would be called “Anglophobia” and purged from the media.
Something close to the truth seems to be this: in the aftermath of an Irish rebellion that began in Charles I’s time (1641) Oliver Cromwell pursued violent military campaigns against Ireland on both religious and political grounds (as, earlier, had Good Queen Bess – remember Sir Walter Raleigh?). Ireland was always (as so often in the past) overcrowded, and the loss of fathers, crops, and settlements in war caused great starvation, which of course especially affected children.
The Commonwealth government, probably both for expedient and compassionate reasons, agreed in 1653 to the offer made by businessmen to take destitute and vagabond children to the colonies as indentured bond-servants, thus preserving their lives, preventing their becoming criminals and allowing them a future in a new land after seven years, when their indentures expired. If that sounds like slavery, it was a form of it – but in theory voluntary, limited in time and not unlike the deal given to the kids that Britain sent to work in Australia from 1869 until even the 1970s.
In the latter case, abuse occurred on a large scale, and the repercussions are still being argued out in courts 150 years later. The same exploitation happened in 17th century Ireland, only at an earlier stage in the proceedings. For a start, children were taken by force or deceit, not by consent. More significantly for my theme, the traders were not in the least particular to take only children, and dragooned adults as well when they could get away with it. Once the victims got to the Caribbean, they were not only ill-treated, but cheated by being contracted (without consent) for longer than the law permitted.
Now, English traders enslaving Irishmen cannot come under the condemnation of racism, because both nations are white – in fact, at that time they had been one nation since 1542. Morally, though, it’s hard to see much difference – the hatred was, it appears, strong enough to lead to man-stealing and enslavement in both cases.
But it’s more complicated than that. The traders weren’t even particular about picking on the Irish – a good number of English people also ended up being transported to Jamaica as, effectively, slaves. One famous example was Henry Morgan, subsequently the famous buccaneer. Apparently kidnapped from Bristol and sold in the West Indies, he subsequently escaped, got rich by piracy, and ended up keeping plenty of slaves of his own, and becoming Governor under the crypto-Catholic Charles II, and a knight of the realm, to boot.
Now, Morgan doesn’t come out of it as a moral paragon, and neither do the traders – but they surely can’t be accused, in enslaving him in the West Indies, of racism. Their motive was far less specific and “phobic” – it was pure avarice, combined with lack of love for their neighbour, whether English, Irish, or African. It was contempt for God and his commandments.
In fact, it looks as if their old-fashioned immorality wrongfooted a gullible Puritan government back home (as it seems to have beguiled the female philanthropists of the “Home Children” scheme), for whilst the government had its own moral ambiguities about both slavery and Irish Catholics, as the linked article shows, the arrangement was abolished after less than 4 years:
Cromwell’s policy of transportation of vagrants from Ireland was abandoned on 4 March 1657. It was abolished because it was being abused to such an extent by merchants and their agents. It is also interesting that these kidnappers did not discriminate between Irish or English victims. The cancellation order reads as follows
…having received many complaints of the abuse of some orders granted to several persons to carry away idle and vagabond persons to the West Indies, who… employ persons to delude and deceive poor people by false pretences, either by getting them aboard the ships or in other by-places into their power, and forcing them away, the person so employed having so much a-piece for they so delude, and for the money’s sake have enticed and forced women from their husbands and children from their parents, who maintained them at school, and that they have not only dealt so with the Irish but also with the English [the Council now] do think fit and order that all Orders, granted to any person whatsoever (being now in force) to take up and carry idle and vagabond persons as aforesaid, be henceforth made null and void.
In fact, even before this, in 1655, the reporting of abuses showed that “racist slavery” was naive or negligent, but never what had been envisaged officially:
…under the colour of some later orders from this Board for transporting rogues and vagrants to Barbados, several Irish and others are surreptitiously apprehended and forcibly put on board a ship in this harbour of Dublin, bound for that island, who are not comprehended as vagrants or idlers.
So, like all actual history, the moral background to this relatively small episode in the transatlantic slave trade is more complicated that one might first assume. Before God’s judgement seat, many will have to give an account of their lovelessness, carelessness for others, avarice, cruelty, ingratitude and whatever else offends against God’s law of love. And it is fortunate that their judge will be Christ, for such judgement is hard, and only God is in a position to weigh the hearts of sinners, who will sometimes even do evil thinking it to be good. Human courts might judge individual offences, but motives – ah, that’s another matter.
Did I say it was hard to judge? It’s not at all, if you’re a progressive or a Facebook user! Cromwell and his government were racists. The traders were fascists. And the whole bunch of them were anti-feminists and in all likelihood transphobes. The problem would have been easily solved by eradicating the lot of them or, failing that, writing them out of history. Or both. Except for the Irish indentured servants of course, who were slaves and victims needing to be affirmed and remembered with anger… so long as they aren’t regarded as white Jamaicans, which would suggest that whites have some colonialist claim on a black country…
Does that inclusive attitude to Irish slaves include Henry Morgan, you say, who ended up attacking innocent ships, making war on Spaniards, torturing prisoners, getting rich as Governor of Jamaica and drinking himself to death with rum whilst his 100+ slaves worked the plantation? Well of course it does – how can you condemn a man for reacting that way after all the oppression he’d suffered from the Patriarchy?