The Forgotten Slave Trade: The White European Slaves of Islam, Simon Webb, 2021, Pen & Sword, reviewed by Ed Dutton
At time when British people are being increasingly instilled with a sense of guilt about the “slave trade” – which the British, anyway, led the way in abolishing – what an important book Simon Webb’s The Forgotten Slave Trade is. It is also marvellously well-written, incredibly detailed, and brimming with fascinating, and once widely known, facts.
Mr Webb is acutely concerned with “historical erasure,” whereby political ideologues cause us to forget aspects of history that might make us wary of, in this instance, Multiculturalism or the white guilt that is key to sustaining this. He thus begins by explaining that until quite recently the term “The Slave Trade” did not refer exclusively to the Triangular African slave trade between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Almost all historic civilizations have pursued slavery, whether the Israelites, the Greeks and Romans, the Saxons, or the Islamic world. Around 10% of English people, in 1066, were slaves. Apparently, 25% of Ancient Greeks were slaves and the scale of this slave trade dwarfed the mere 10 million blacks that were enslaved in the 350 years of the Triangular Trade. The conditions of these forgotten white slaves were also far worse. And this was also dwarfed by the Black enslavement of their own and of the other races of Africa from 2500 BC onwards as the Bantu (Blacks) expanded out of Nigeria and Cameroon. The other races with whom they came into contact, the Pygmies and the Bushmen, were duly enslaved. Indeed, slavery was so accepted in Africa that the colonial British were compelled to tolerate it to “keep the peace” with African natives.
Mr Webb charts, by examining history books, how these other slaveries have been played down over time until, a few years ago, Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe was pilloried for proclaiming that the EU had turned Britain into “slaves.” Black Labour MP David Lammy complained that this was offensive to his slave ancestors, the assumption being that this is all that could be meant by “slavery.” Webb cleverly uses this as his launching point, arguing that Widdecombe’s ancestors were from the West Country, an area that was besieged by Islamic slavers until the end of the seventeenth century. In fact, Webb argues, we can only make sense of modern Europe at all if we understand the previous clash between Christendom and Islam, with Muslims enslaving Christians being at the heart of it.
Muslims could not enslave Muslims, so they required non-Muslim slaves. The Vikings founded Dublin, and other Irish coastal towns, solely as ports from which to sell Saxons into slavery in the Islamic world. The conditions for many of these slaves were particularly brutal. Some of the males would become galley slaves, spending the rest of their lives chained-up below decks, excreting where they sat. Others would guard harems, for which they had to be castrated and their penises cut off, as an erection can apparently occur even in the absence of testicles. Islam forbade castration, so enterprising Europeans set up “castration houses,” as in Venice, to do this before selling men into slavery. Captured females would, of course, become sex slaves and, in a few cases, queens. Some of these slaves, in the Ottoman Empire, were more trusted than fellow-Muslims, and thus, ironically ended-up pretty much controlling the Ottoman Empire. One English slave, who was castrated, rose to be Treasurer of Algeria. The book is full of interesting details of this kind. Eastern Europe was constantly subject to slave raids, which according to Webb explains the intense hostility to Islam in Eastern Europe, and especially in the Balkans, to this day. Huge swathes of Eastern Europe were part of the Ottoman Empire or only narrowly avoided becoming part of it, as the Ottomans eventually besieged Vienna, directed by governors who were themselves slaves. Being enslaved was such a large part of Eastern European life that we call them “Slavs,” that is “slaves.” For much of its history, the threat of being enslaved was an ever-present worry in this part of the world.
The most relevant part for the British reader is Webb’s discussion of the corsairs who harried the southwest of England for centuries. Lundy Island, their based of operations, was occupied by Islamic slavers led by a Dutchman who had once been a slave, who had converted to Islam, and become a slaver himself. In 1645, 240 people were abducted in a village in Cornwall by Muslim Corsairs and taken into slavery. In 1625, 60 people were dragged out of a Cornish church to suffer the same fate. Between 1609 and 1616, 466 English ships, some bound for America, were intercepted by Muslim corsairs and all their crew and passengers became slaves. Samuel Pepys recalled meeting escaped slaves in his diary and noted the cruelty with which they had been treated. The Muslims corsairs took slaves from as far north as the coast of Iceland. It was Cromwell who gradually managed to put an end to the problem and the author notes that the lines in “Rule Britannia” – now increasingly condemned as insensitive – that “Britons, never, never, never shall be slaves”, were penned in 1740. At that time, until recently, many Britons had been slaves. The lines were the celebration of an accomplishment; not insensitive jingoism.
There is so much new information in this book, written in such a way that the pages simply fly by. But most striking of all is the suggestion that the British built up a strong navy partly in order to stop British people being enslaved by Muslims. It follows that the British Empire, possible due to our strong Navy, was indirectly caused by Muslim corsairs. The American Navy – and thus eventual American policing of the world – was also developed to stop the enslavement of their seamen and other citizens by Muslims. The ethnocentric nature of many Eastern European people seems to be partly a result of the enslavement of so many of their ancestors by Muslims and it could even be argued that our dominance, under empire, of the Muslim world was partly motivated by not wanting to be enslaved by Muslims.
Certainly, the takeaway is that the British should feel no guilt about “the slave trade” when we consider that our own people were being enslaved in far crueller ways (by Muslims) until relatively recently and that almost all cultures have practiced slavery, including African with particular intensity. If David Lammy’s ancestors hadn’t been enslaved by the Dutch – not by us as Mr Webb notes – they would have been enslaved by Africans or Muslims and would, therefore, have been far less likely to have survived. This is a truly eye-opening book.
Prof. Edward Dutton runs a channel called The Jolly Heretic where he interviews controversial academics who are side-lined by our politicised universities. His interview with Simon Webb can be watched here: https://odysee.com/@JollyHeretic:d/History-Debunked’s-Simon-Webb-Enjoys-Old-English-Ale-at-The-Jolly-Heretic:d A full list of Dutton’s books and academic articles can be found at www.edwarddutton.com