Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff Col. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy announced that Russian specialists were examining rockets of the US-led coalition, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, captured in Syria and handed over to Moscow.
“Two [missiles] including a Tomahawk cruise missile and a high-precision aviation missile were delivered to Moscow… They are now being examined by our experts. The results of this work will be used to improve Russian weapons,” the military official told a briefing, showing the slides, featuring military parts of the rockets.
On April 14, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France fired over 100 missiles at multiple targets in Syria in response to an alleged use of chemical weapons by the government’s forces in the city of Douma.
Washington claimed that the majority of rockets had hit their designated targets, however, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, 71 out of the 103 missiles had been intercepted by the Syrian air defenses.
WASHINGTON: About 24,000 ‘madrassas’ in Pakistan are funded by Saudi Arabia which has unleashed a “tsunami of money” to “export intolerance”, a top American senator has said adding that the US needs to end its effective acquiescence to the Saudi sponsorship of radical Islamism.
Senator Chris Murphy said Pakistan is the best example of where money coming from Saudi Arabia is funnelled to religious schools that nurture hatred and terrorism.
“In 1956, there were 244 madrassas in Pakistan. Today, there are 24,000. These schools are multiplying all over the globe. These schools, by and large, don’t teach violence. They aren’t the minor leagues for al-Qaeda or ISIS. But they do teach a version of Islam that leads very nicely into an anti-Shia, anti-Western militancy.
“Those 24,000 religious schools in Pakistan – thousands of them are funded with money that originates in Saudi Arabia,” Murphy said in an address yesterday to the Council on Foreign Relations, a top American think-tank.
According to some estimates, since the 1960s, the Saudis have funnelled over USD 100 billion into funding schools and mosques all over the world with the mission of spreading puritanical Wahhabi Islam.
As a point of comparison, researchers estimate that the former Soviet Union spent about USD 7 billion exporting its communist ideology from 1920-1991.
“Less-well-funded governments and other strains of Islam can hardly keep up with the tsunami of money behind this export of intolerance,” Murphy said.
“The uncomfortable truth is for all the positive aspects of our alliance with Saudi Arabia, there is another side to Saudi Arabia that we can no longer afford to ignore as our fight against Islamic extremism becomes more focused and more complicated,” he said.
“The United States should suspend supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, at the very least until we get assurances that this campaign does not distract from the fight against IS and al-Qaeda, and until we make some progress on the Saudi export of Wahhabism,” he said.
Murphy demanded that Congress should not sign off on any more US military sales to Saudi Arabia until similar assurances are granted.
He said that the political alliance between the House of Saud – Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family – and orthodox Wahhabi clerics is as old as the nation, resulting in billions funnelled to and through the Wahhabi movement.
The vicious terrorist groups that Americans know by name are Sunni in derivation, and greatly influenced by Wahhabi and Salafist teachings, Murphy said adding that leaders of both Democratic and Republican parties should avoid the extremes of this debate, and enter into a real conversation about how America can help the moderate voices within Islam win out over those who sow seeds of extremism.
But in so doing, he may be losing political control over his country
Iranian and local militias are forcing Assad to concede many governing powers
Syria is becoming a feudal kingdom, says some experts
By Ty Joplin
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, once thought to be on the way out from power in Syria, is now working to eliminate the last pockets of resistance around Syria’s capital, Damascus.
The countries that called for his departure in order to re-make the Syrian government have grown quiet as there appears to be no formidable or just opposition left to empower.
Assad is the emergent victor in the Syrian Civil War.
But what has received far less attention is the extant Assad went to ensure his regime’s survival. In giving more power to paramilitary groups, and relying almost entirely on Russia and Iran for support, Assad’s victory may be a Pyrrhic one, meaning he may win the war but essentially lose his sovereign control over Syria.
Experts who have studied Assad’s relationship to local militias and allying countries have pointed out the risk of a rising ‘warlordism,’ inside Syria whereby local militia commanders who are nominally loyal to Assad govern according to their own interests.
Assad, who has long had no choice but to rely on unofficial paramilitaries for help, will eventually have to embark down the long road of reigning in local commanders and outside powers’ interests, which will likely require concessions to his ability to unilaterally control his own military and policy decisions.
A Quick History of Assad’s Declining Military Power
An Iranian proxy militias suspected of recruiting from Afghanistan (AFP/FILE)
When the Arab Spring-inspired protests began in Syria, Assad sought to silence the movement with the force of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), just as his father, Hafez al-Assad, had done to quell a rebellion against him in 1982.
But while Hafez al-Assad was able to put down the attempted revolt using a massive, swift show of force that killed up to 40,000 people in less than a month, Bashar’s attempts to do the same was met with nationwide outrage that boiled over into an armed resistance movement.
A civil war began, and defections from the SAA began bleeding his military numbers. From a pre-war count of about 300,000 personnel, Assad’s official army dwindled to a total between 80,000 – 100,000. His armored divisions, once one of the most formidable and largest in the world, lost between 200 and 500 vehicles a year. Defections to the opposition ran rampant, desertion became nearly uncontrollable, and losses were steadily mounting.
The Assad family had long-relied on Alawite sect of Shia Islam to fill up the senior ranks in their regime military. Although they only make up about 12% of the country’s population, they constitute roughly 70-80% of career soldiers. But after years of Sunni defections from the military and Alawite deaths on the battlefield, even they became draft-dodgers and refused to serve in his army.
Knowing he could not hold onto power by relying on his official military, Assad facilitated the creation of paramilitary groups, or loyalist militias. These militias, such as the Desert Hawks or the organized crime syndicate, the shabiha, or ghosts, buttressed his struggling armed forces.
Still in force, many militias often recruit from the local townships where they have a presence, tying them more firmly to the territory they control. They represent a vast array of ethnic, ideological and material interests.
One of the biggest paramilitary groups is the National Defense Forces (NDF), which draws commanders from local areas and has roughly 100,000 soldiers. Iran is one of its biggest funders. More broadly, Iran funds much of the Syrian paramilitaries.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah has also maintained a consistent ground presence since nearly the beginning of the war.
But even with Iranian funding, logistical support, and boots on the ground, Assad was caught in a stalemate with the opposition. Iranian-backed militias may actually out-number the number SAA soldiers.
So he turned to Russia for support.
In late Sept. of 2015, Russia began intervening militarily on Assad’s behalf, and has relentlessly bombed targets throughout Syria ever since. Russia effectively turned the tide for the war, and has ensured Assad remain in power. But Russian and Iranian involvement has strings attached; conditions that may hamper Assad’s ability to rule without their input.
An Emerging, Feudal Syria
A soldier inside Syria (AFP/FILE)
In his desperation to save his regime, Assad may have given life to a new set of local and international rulers that he will have difficulty controlling.
“The pre-war centrality of Assad’s power changed early on in the Syrian war; whereas before all decisions big and small ran through Damascus the situation now is much more decentralized and more akin to a feudal empire,” said security analyst Nick Grinstead in an interview for Al Bawaba.
“Today the big decisions are made or approved by Assad and his inner circle but many matters regarding local governance and, in some instances security, have been farmed out to the regional or local level. Issues of water management and sanitation, for example, have been largely left up to local council across much of regime-held territory. In addition, security provision away from the frontlines has been farmed out to loyalist militias such as the NDF and Eagles of Whirlwind,” Grinstead added.
In addition, Assad has granted many militias a relatively large amount of autonomy so long as they do not directly challenge his rule. Because his army is still spread thin around all of Syria, Assad simply cannot afford to assert power over militia-held territory.
“The NDF has become central to Assad’s survival strategy, but while it officially operates under the regime’s control, its localized character has created new centers of authority and local powerbrokers,” argues Chris Zambelis, a security analyst for the Middle East.
These militias operating under the umbrella of the NDF, have clashed with each other over territorial control and will not likely cede power to Assad without demanding major concessions that would limit Assad’s ability to govern those areas centrally.
Although he has succeeded in disbanding militias that sought to offset Assad’s powers directly, like the Desert Hawks, some groups have direct ties to Iran, making them much more formidable to Assad and thus much less subordinate to his regime.
According to Grinstead, Russia appears far more willing to see paramilitary groups integrate into Assad’s post-war military. Satisfied that it has access to a warm-water port on the Mediterranean Sea and indefinite military installations inside Syria, Russia will be satisfied to see Assad remain a central power-holder.
Iran, on the other hand, wants a bigger piece of the regime pie.
For an example of how Iran organizes its proxy militias in relation to official armies, Iraq is a helpful analogy to what may happen in Syria.
A soldiers from the Iranian-backed PMU in Iraq (AFP/FILE)
After ISIS began its blitzkrieg through the deserts of northern Syria and Iraq, Iran reacted by forming the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), a mostly Shia militia group led by Iranian commanders. They, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters, fought ISIS back and steadily won back much of Iraq.
Once ISIS was all but beaten, former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for their disbandment as he claimed it was an Iranian violation of Iraqi sovereignty to have Iranian militias running rampant throughout the country and governing territory. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended the PMU and formally integrated it into Iraq’s military.
In essence, al-Abadi legalized Iran’s command over much of the Iraq army, making permanent and official Iranian influence in the country’s politics. Iran will likely push Assad to do the same, compelling him to formally integrate Iranian-backed militias into Assad’s post-war military.
This would guarantee that Iran has a dominant presence in the country and that part of Assad’s mandate as Syria leader would come from Iran. Decisions then, will need to go through Damascus and Tehran.
A Limited Ruler
Bashar al-Assad (AFP/FILE)
Assad may have in fact sacrificed his position as sovereign leader of Syria at the outset of the war, when he called on Iran for help.
“Assad sacrificed Syria’s absolute sovereignty early on in the war when he permitted Iranian security officials to advise on the suppression of the non-pro-Assad protests,” Grinstead said in an interview.
“From then on he has allowed greater Iranian involvement and the intervention of Hezbollah units and Russian military as a means to prevent the complete collapse of the Ba’ath regime to the pantheon of Islamist and rebel groups fighting against it. These friendly interventions… mean that these countries will have spheres of influence in Syria for the foreseeable future.”
This does not mean that Assad will be one of among many rulers governing Syria, but it does mean that in key decisions in structuring post-war Syria, he will likely need the consent of Russia, Iran and local militia leaders before continuing, dissipating his once central power to a number of local and international players.
For Syrians on the ground, Assad’s concessions will likely mean empowered militias will be free in conducting extortion activities from them, demanding money in exchange for protection, according to Grinstead.
As these militias transition from wartime mobilization to postwar local governance, community leaders will likely need their blessing in order to help govern civil society. Businesses may need to pay a portion of their revenues to these groups. They will likely be able to enforce their own set of laws, as is often the case in fragile post-war environments.
In making sure he remained as President of Syria, Assad has transformed Syria into a kind of client-state for Russia, Iran and local militias that utterly dependent upon them for support.
This month marks 15 years since the US-led invasion of Iraq. With all the talk of ‘totalitarianism’ in the Trump era, let’s not forget what came before
People talk a lot about “totalitarianism” in the Trump era. I’ve never really loved the category: it seems to paper over some pretty deep differences between the entities one might call totalitarian. But if there was a “totalitarian” moment in my lifetime, it is unquestionably the period between 9/11 and the Iraq war.
It’s not simply that war criminals enlisted the aid of the press and every other ideological apparatus in our country to launch a massively destructive, destabilizing, and completely unwarranted war of aggression (the principal crime against humanity), although they did.
It’s not simply that after 9/11 thousands of people were rounded up and preventively detained, despite not having any ties to terrorism, although they were (and with nary a word, except for a few brave souls, of protest). It’s that there was a palpable shift in what were now unutterable but real conditions for everyday life.
Suddenly, there were soldiers on the streets, and also little American flags everywhere, even in places where they would never have been before. Unanimity in the press and – with very, very few exceptions – unanimity from all political elites. But strangest of all, a bizarre performance from some that this was the way things had always been. When you could literally point to a flag or an obsequious gesture to loving the military and know that, say just a week or two before, it hadn’t been there and yet the conversant would insist no, it always had been that way.
The Iraq war was not the result of “inexperience”. Indeed, its architects were adults in the room of the highest order. The Iraq war and its calamitous outcomes were not “unknowable”; outside of what passes for “expertise” and “experience” in Washington and the op-ed pages of leading newspapers there was near-unanimity among incredibly disparate analystspredicting nearly every horrific outcome that came to pass.
And it did not in fact come about without protest. There were the largest protests in human history but they were easily integrated into a narrative woven together by political elites, national security apparatchiks, and the media working in lock-step.
Some Americans (knowing little about, say, China) like to point and laugh at a near-unanimous vote for removing term limits for Xi Jinping. There was exactly one vote in Congress – cast by Barbara Lee – three days after 9/11 against granting universal, unequivocal war powers to Bush II (beyond the already nearly limitless war powers the president had).
Although Trump still has plenty of time to catch up (and I fear he will), his crimes do not come close to the crimes against humanity committed by members of our ruling class from political leadership to the media in our lifetime. I won’t list names here because it would be too inflammatory, but there are dozens, hundreds, who would be facing tribunals if they were not American.
They not only walk free but are rewarded for their complicity in one of the key moments that is the short walk to now. Watching the sickening rehabilitation of political and media figures of this period – and for some the simple continuity – is also a reminder of the partial utility of that term “totalitarian”.
No matter how much they destroy, how many lines they cross, whom they murder en masse, their respectability is unaffected, their leadership de rigueur. This was not the failure of the rule of law: this is the rule of law in a system in which any attempt to transform power or even challenge it has been silenced.
This was not because “norms” or the constitution were violated; this was the absolute functioning of norms and the constitution. This was the America that some tell me was already great.
After the abolition of slavery, Britain paid millions in compensation – but every penny of it went to slave owners, and nothing to those they enslaved. We must stop overlooking the brutality of British history. By Kris Manjapra
On 3 August 1835, somewhere in the City of London, two of Europe’s most famous bankers came to an agreement with the chancellor of the exchequer. Two years earlier, the British government had passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery in most parts of the empire. Now it was taking out one of the largest loans in history, to finance the slave compensation package required by the 1833 act. Nathan Mayer Rothschild and his brother-in-law Moses Montefiore agreed to loan the British government £15m, with the government adding an additional £5m later. The total sum represented 40% of the government’s yearly income in those days, equivalent to some £300bn today.
You might expect this so-called “slave compensation” to have gone to the freed slaves to redress the injustices they suffered. Instead, the money went exclusively to the owners of slaves, who were being compensated for the loss of what had, until then, been considered their property. Not a single shilling of reparation, nor a single word of apology, has ever been granted by the British state to the people it enslaved, or their descendants.
Today, 1835 feels so long ago; so far away. But if you are a British taxpayer, what happened in that quiet room affects you directly. Your taxes were used to pay off the loan, and the payments only ended in 2015. Generations of Britons have been implicated in a legacy of financial support for one of the world’s most egregious crimes against humanity.
The fact that you, and your parents, and their parents in turn, may have been paying for a huge slave-owner compensation package from the 1830s only came to public attention last month. The revelation came on 9 February, in the form of a tweet by HM Treasury: “Here’s today’s surprising #FridayFact. Millions of you have helped end the slave trade through your taxes. Did you know? In 1833, Britain used £20 million, 40% of its national budget, to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire. The amount of money borrowed for the Slavery Abolition Act was so large that it wasn’t paid off until 2015. Which means that living British citizens helped pay to end the slave trade.”
The tweet, which the Treasury says was prompted by a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in January, generated a storm of anger and crowdsourced corrections. First, the British slave trade was not abolished in 1833, but in 1807. Second, slavery was not abolished in all parts of the British empire in 1833. The new law applied to the British Caribbean islands, Mauritius and the Cape Colony, in today’s South Africa, but not to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) or British India, for instance. Third, no freedom was “bought” for plantation slaves in 1833, as the enslaved were compelled to work in unfreedom, without pay and under the constant threat of punishment, until 1838. Most importantly, the Treasury’s tweet did not mention that generations of British taxpayers had been paying off a loan that had been used to compensate slave owners, rather than slaves.
The tweet, which was hastily deleted, had the stench of British historical amnesia and of institutionalised racism. A few days later, the historian David Olusoga wrote: “[This] is what happens when those communities for whom this history can never be reduced to a Friday factoid remain poorly represented within national institutions.”
The tweet was no aberration. It was emblematic of the way legacies of slavery continue to shape life for the descendants of the formerly enslaved, and for everyone who lives in Britain, whatever their origin. The legacies of slavery in Britain are not far off; they are in front of our eyes every single day.
We can only begin to understand slavery’s influence on Britain today by first allowing 500 years of human history to flash before our eyes. Beginning in the last decades of the 1400s, we see African people kidnapped from their families, crammed into the dark pits of slave forts, and then piled into the bowels of ships. We see voyagers and traders, such as John Hawkins in the 1560s, becoming some of the first British men to make massive fortunes from this trade in kidnapped Africans. By the late 17th century, we see the British coming to dominate the slave trade, having overtaken the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. We see tens of thousands of merchant ships making the “middle passage”, the voyage across the Atlantic that transformed captives from Africa into American slave commodities. Half of all the Africans transported into slavery during the 18th century were carried in the holds of British ships.
From the 15th to the 19th centuries, more than 11 million shackled black captives were forcibly transported to the Americas, and unknown multitudes were lost at sea. Captives were often thrown overboard when they were too sick, or too strong-willed, or too numerous to feed. Those who survived the journey were dumped on the shores and sold to the highest bidder, then sold on again and again like financial assets. Mothers were separated from children, and husbands from wives, as persons were turned into property. Slaves were raped and lynched; their bodies were branded, flayed and mutilated. Many slave owners, in their diaries, manuals, newspaper writings and correspondence, readily admitted the punishments and violations they exacted on black people on the cane fields and in their homes. Take, for example, the unapologetic recollections of violence and predation that comprise the diary of Thomas Thistlewood, a British slave owner in Jamaica in the mid-1700s. Thistlewood recorded 3,852 acts of sexual intercourse with 136 enslaved women in his 37 years in Jamaica. In his 23 July 1756 entry, he described punishing a slave in the following manner: “Gave him a moderate whipping, pickled him well, made Hector shit in his mouth, immediately put a gag in it whilst his mouth was full and made him wear it 4 or 5 hours.”
In Barbados, the British established one of the first modern slave societies. Slavery had certainly been practised in many parts of the world since ancient times. But never before had a territory’s entire economy been based on slave labour for capitalist industry. Beginning in 1627, the enslaved were put to work in the intense cultivation of sugar cane, working in chain gangs in shifts that covered a 24-hour production cycle. In one of the greatest experiments in human terror the world has ever known, this system of plantation slavery expanded over the following centuries across the Caribbean, South America and the southern United States. Fear and torture were used to drive black workers to cut, mill, boil and “clay” the sugar, so it could be shipped to Britain as part of a lucrative “triangle of trade” between the west coast of Africa, the Americas and Britain. The trade in slaves, and the goods they were forced to produce – sugar, tobacco and eventually cotton – created the first lords of modern capitalism.
Britain could not have become the most powerful economic force on earth by the turn of the 19th century without commanding the largest slave plantation economies on earth, with more than 800,000 people enslaved. And the legacy of such large-scale, prolonged slavery touches everything that is familiar in Britain today, including buildings named after slave owners such as Colston Hall in Bristol; streets named after slave owners such as Buchanan and Dunlop Streets in Glasgow; and whole parts of cities built for slave owners, such as the West India Docks in London. The cultural legacy of slavery also infuses British tastes, from sweetened tea, to silver service, to cotton clothwork, to the endemic race and class inequalities that characterise everyday life.
Britain’s central role in 500 years of the slave trade and plantation slavery is often dissolved like a bitter pill into the much more palatable tonic of the nation’s role in the story of abolition. This narrative often begins in the pews of Holy Trinity Church in Clapham, where the cherubic William Wilberforce worshipped. Today, he can be seen on the stained glass above the altar of that church, giving the news of the 1807 abolition of the slave trade to a black woman who kneels before him. Around Wilberforce coalesced a group of Church of England social reformers, known as the Clapham Saints, who led the campaign against the slave trade, and then pressed onward to fight for the abolition of plantation slavery in 1833. Over the past few decades, scholars have also stressed the ways in which the antislavery movement depended on expanding democratic participation in civic debate, with British women and the working classes playing a crucial role in the abolitionist ranks. British parliamentarians were inundated with thousands of petitions from ordinary people pressing them to pass laws that eventually brought slavery to an end.
Abolitionists in Britain maintained that slavery was a violation of God’s will. Since every human being possessed a soul, they argued that no human being could be made into another man’s possession without also perverting the divine plan. To encourage their fellow citizens to look into the face of the enslaved and see fellow human beings, British abolitionists distributed autobiographies of people who had experienced slavery, such as works by Ignatius Sancho, Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince. If only the British public could hear the voices of black people through their writing, then they could empathise with their oppression. It would then become possible to look into the eyes of the enslaved and see a person staring back.
But narratives of abolition cannot be reduced to a story of angelic white benefactors gifting freedom to their black wards. (There are 32 images of William Wilberforce in the National Portrait Gallery, but just four images of black abolitionists and antislavery activists from the same period.) In Britain, the popular narrative too often ignores the fact that blacks on the plantations were convinced of their own personhood long before anyone else. Rebellions were endemic to slavery, and by the 1810s and 20s, many slave societies in the British Caribbean were experiencing insurgencies. Enslaved people rebelled in Barbados in 1816, and Demerara (today’s Guyana) in 1823. Shortly after Christmas 1831, an audacious rebellion broke out in Jamaica. Some 60,000 enslaved people went on strike. They burned the sugar cane in the fields and used their tools to smash up sugar mills. The rebels also showed remarkable discipline, imprisoning slave owners on their estates without physically harming them.
The British Jamaican government responded by violently stamping out the rebellion, killing more than 540 black people in combat, and later with firing squads and on the gallows. The uprising sent shockwaves through the British parliament and accelerated the push for the abolition of slavery. Henry Taylor, head of the West India division of the British Colonial Office, later commented, “this terrible event [of the rebellion]… was indirectly a death blow to slavery”.
Not only did blacks mobilise for their own liberation, but by the 1820s slavery was also beginning to clash with an economic principle that was becoming an article of faith for British capitalists: free trade. Eric Williams, a historian of slavery who also became the first prime minister of independent Trinidad in 1962, has argued that slavery in the British empire was only abolished after it had ceased to be economically useful. Many British merchants involved in selling Cuban, Brazilian and East Indian sugar in Britain wanted to see an end to all duties and protections that safeguarded the West Indian sugar monopoly. British capitalists also saw fresh possibilities for profit across the globe, from South America to Australia, as new transportation and military technologies – steamships, gunboats and railways – made it possible for European settlers to penetrate new frontiers. The economic system of British slavery was moribund by 1833, but it still needed to be officially slain.
By 1830, debates were raging in the British parliament, and in the public sphere, about ending slavery. The powerful West India interest – a group of around 80 MPs who had ties to Caribbean slavery – opposed abolition. They were joined by an additional group of some 10 MPs who did not possess slaves themselves, but still opposed any proposal to tamper with slave owners’ right to property – that property, in this case, being human beings. The faction presented “compensated emancipation”, or the payment of money to slave owners at abolition, as a way of upholding property rights. Beyond parliament, many thousands of Britons across the country – slave owners, West India merchants, sugar refiners, trade brokers, ship owners, bankers, military men, members of the gentry and clergymen – actively championed the principle of compensation by attending public rallies organised by various West India Committees.
This notion of “compensated emancipation” was relatively new. When slaves were emancipated in northern US states in the years before 1804, no compensation to their owners was paid. Only in the 1810s did the British government take the unprecedented step of paying compensation to Spain, Portugal and some West African states to solicit their cooperation in the suppression of the slave trade. The attempt failed, however, as Spain and Portugal pocketed British money and continued their slave trading until the later 19th century. British slave owners nonetheless demanded, in the 1830s, that this international precedent be applied to them.
The argument for slave-owner compensation relied on perverse logic. Under English law, it was difficult to claim compensation for the loss of chattel property, since rights to movable things – such as household possessions, or tools, or livestock – were considered inherently unstable, expendable and ambiguous. So, the West India interest in parliament, led by the likes of Patrick Maxwell Stewart, a rich London merchant who owned slaves in Tobago, made fanciful arguments to align the enslaved more with land or buildings, or even with body parts, than with human beings. According to one line of argument, because the government paid money to landowners when it took over fields for public works such as docks, roads, bridges and railways, so too it had to pay slave owners for taking over their slaves. According to another argument, because the government paid soldiers for the injury to organs or the loss of limbs during war, so too it had to provide slave owners aid for cutting them off from their slaves, which maimed slave owners’ economic interests.
Many mainstream abolitionists felt uncomfortable about the compensation of slave owners, but justified it as a pragmatic, if imperfect, way to achieve a worthy goal. Other abolitionists, especially a vanguard group within the Anti-Slavery Society called the “Agency Committee”, railed against the idea. “It would reconcile us to the crime,” wrote one contributor to the Anti-Slavery Monthly Report in 1829. “It would be a sap on public virtue,” wrote another the following year. Some activists even demanded that compensation be paid to the enslaved. “To the slave-holder, nothing is due; to the slave, everything,” said an antislavery pamphlet in 1826. Many antislavery members of parliament, such as Thomas Fowell Buxton and William Clay, spoke out vociferously against slave-owner compensation. Hundreds of petitions were also sent in by the corps of abolitionists beyond the ramparts of the political elite, insisting that no money go to the perpetrators of crimes against God’s will.
The decision to compensate slave owners was not just an inevitable expression of the widespread beliefs of those times. Political decisions reflect who is in the room when the decisions are being made. The Reform Act of 1832 drastically transformed the British electoral system and extended the franchise, to the detriment of the West India interest. But even in the reformed House of Commons, scores of MPs still had close financial or family ties to slave ownership. On the other hand, it bears remembering that the first black Britons were not elected to the House of Commons until near the end of the following century, more than 150 years later.
Other slave-owning states, including France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Brazil, would follow the British example of compensated emancipation in the coming decades. But the compensation that Britain paid to its slave owners was by far the most generous. Britain stood out among European states in its willingness to appease slave owners, and to burden future generations of its citizens with the responsibility of paying for it.
The owners of slaves in British society were not just the super-rich. Recent research by historians at University College London has shown the striking diversity of the people who received compensation, from widows in York to clergymen in the Midlands, attorneys in Durham to glass manufacturers in Bristol. Still, most of the money ended up in the pockets of the richest citizens, who owned the greatest number of slaves. More than 50% of the total compensation money went to just 6% of the total number of claimants. The benefits of slave-owner compensation were passed down from generation to generation of Britain’s elite. Among the descendants of the recipients of slave-owner compensation is the former prime minister David Cameron.
The decision to emancipate slaves by treating them like property, and not like persons, was no mere theoretical exercise. Rather than putting a sudden end to their suffering, the process of emancipation marked a new phase of British atrocities and the terrorisation of blacks.
The emancipation process was minutely orchestrated by government bureaucrats. In September 1835, less than a month after the government received its loan, slave owners began their feeding frenzy as they obtained compensation cheques at the National Debt Office. Payment amounts were determined based on application forms that asked claimants to itemise the number and kinds of enslaved people in their possession, and to provide certificates from the slave registrar. There were some 47,000 recipients of compensation in total.
In addition to money, slave owners received another form of compensation: the guaranteed free labour of blacks on plantations for a period of years after emancipation. The enslaved were thus forced to pay reverse reparations to their oppressors. At the stroke of midnight on 1 August 1834, the enslaved were freed from the legal category of slavery – and instantly plunged into a new institution, called “apprenticeship”. The arrangement was initially to last for 12 years, but was ultimately shortened to four. During this period of apprenticeship, Britain declared it would teach blacks how to use their freedom responsibly, and would train them out of their natural state of savagery. But this training involved continued unpaid labour for the same masters on the very same plantations on which they had worked the day before.
In some ways, the “apprenticeship” years were arguably even more brutal than what had preceded them. With the Slavery Abolition Act, the duty to punish former slaves now shifted from individual slave owners to officers of the state. A state-funded, 100-person corps of police, jailers and enforcers was hired in Britain and sent to the plantation colonies. They were called the “stipendiary magistrates”. If apprentices were too slow in drawing water, or in cutting cane, or in washing linens, or if they took Saturdays off, their masters could have them punished by these magistrates.
Punishments were doled out according to a standardised formula, and often involved the most “modern” punishment device of those times: the treadmill. This torture device, which was supposed to inculcate a work ethic, was a huge turning wheel with thick, splintering wooden slats. Apprentices accused of laziness – what slave owners called the “negro disease” – were hung by their hands from a plank and forced to “dance” the treadmill barefoot, often for hours. If they fell or lost their step, they would be battered on their chest, feet and shins by the wooden planks. The punishment was often combined with whippings. The treadmill was used more during the apprenticeship period than it ever was under slavery, precisely because it was said to be a scientific, measurable and modern form of disciplinary re-education, in line with bureaucratic oversight. One apprentice, James Williams, in an account of his life published in 1837, recalled he was punished much more after 1834 than before. Indeed, it is likely that slave-owners sweated their labour under apprenticeship, in order to squeeze out the last ounces of unpaid labour before full emancipation finally came in 1838.
While the British state, even after emancipation, still failed to see black people as persons, the enslaved themselves inhabited a complex society of their own creation. Enslaved people called the experience of slavery “barbarity time”. And during the barbarity, they developed their own internal banking and legal systems. They created extensive trading relations between towns and villages, and across plantation enclaves. They had their own spiritual practices, such as Obeah, an Afro-centric repertoire of divination and social communion cultivated alongside the religion bestowed by the Christian missionaries. Slaves had their own rich musical forms and traditions of storytelling. They were engineers, chemists and medics on the plantation fields they inhabited. Many of their innovations contributed to making life under slavery livable, such as the architectural design of the tapia house in Trinidad. Even if the official white gaze could not see the 800,000 persons that lived in the plantation colonies, those persons still persisted.
Benjamin Disraeli, the great Tory prime minister of the late 19th century, once described the “forlorn Antilles”, or Caribbean, as millstones around the neck of Britain. Here in Disraeli’s remark, is the British habit of externalising the problem of slavery as playing out in some distant place, rather than within Britain’s own heart of darkness. Today, evading the question of British slave legacies takes the form of celebratory national narratives about British abolition, and in the nervous reflex of switching the topic to “modern slavery” whenever the history of British slavery is raised for discussion. Slavery becomes comfortable for the British nation if it can be situated “out there”, among the dark-skinned peoples of the earth, in countries far away.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the British establishment has been so resistant to hearing calls for reparations for slavery. In 1997, manacled human remains were found on a beach in Devon. It was soon determined that the bones were those of enslaved blacks who had probably been kept in the hold of The London, a vessel shipwrecked in 1796. The enslaved people, who were probably from the Caribbean, were supposed to be sold on the British slave market. Labour MP Bernie Grant, a reparations advocate and one of the first black members of parliament, took the occasion to make a pilgrimage to Devon, and to renew the call for reparations.
Grant’s programme began with the demand for an apology from the British state for the legacies of British slavery. “I am going to write to the Queen,” Grant had said in a speech in Birmingham in 1993. “I know she is a very reasonable woman.” He died in 2000 without ever receiving that very reasonable apology.
In 2013, a powerful renewed call for reparations arose among representatives of Caribbean nations, stimulated by the publication of the book Britain’s Black Debt. The following year, its author, Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, and chair of the Caribbean Reparations Commission, gave an address to a group of British MPs and peers in the UK parliament’s British-Caribbean all-party group. His voice booming across Committee Room 14, Beckles argued that Britain has a “case to answer in respect of reparatory justice”.
He anchored his demand for reparations in the need for the British state to admit its role in forcefully extracting wealth from the Caribbean, impeding industrialisation and causing chronic poverty. The Caribbean, by the late 20th century, became one of the largest centres of predatory lending, orchestrated by the IMF and World Bank, as well as by European and American banks. Even today, the economies of Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua find themselves dangling precariously between life and debt, suspended by their historically enforced dependence on foreign finance.
The legacies of slavery and racism are no less present in Britain, where black workers are more than twice as likely than white workers to work in temporary or insecure forms of employment. While 3% of Britain’s general population is black, black people comprise 12% of the incarcerated. And people of colour are still hugely underrepresented in positions of power in Britain – in politics, academia and the judiciary, in particular.
Six months after Beckles’ speech, the Treasury finally finished repaying the debt on its Abolition of Slavery Act loan. And a further six months after that, in July 2015, then-prime minister David Cameron travelled to Jamaica on an official visit. There, on behalf of the British nation, he took a big leap backwards. It is time to “move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future,” he stated glibly.
But how can you move on from something that has not yet stopped happening? Neither the history of British slavery, nor the process of emancipation that re-enacted slavery, nor the bones of the enslaved that wash up on British shores, nor the debt for slave-owner compensation that continued for so long to cycle through British national accounts, seem ever to be able to bring the nation’s representatives to acknowledge its crimes against humanity and to provide restitution.
The scholar Christina Sharpe has written about the “residence time” of black bodies thrown into the dark sea during the “middle passage”. This is the span of time, measured in thousands of years, that it takes for the atoms of jettisoned slaves’ bodies to pass out of the oceanic system. The Atlantic is one kind of vault of slavery’s aftermath. But so too is the ocean of British national debt, through which the ghosts of the enslaved circulated for centuries, waiting for their moment of due reckoning; waiting for an apology from the British state, and for its commitment to redress what British slavery sought to obliterate: the personhood of black folk who emerged out of this empire, like me and my ancestors.
MOSCOW, April 20 (Xinhua) — Russia will soon present evidence that the Syrian air defense forces shot down more than half of the missiles fired in the recent U.S.-led strikes, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.
Syrian forces used Soviet-era air defense systems and fired 112 surface-to-air missiles to repel the U.S.-led strikes, destroying 71 out of the 103 missiles launched by the Western coalition last week, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. [ However, the Pentagon said the missiles “successfully hit every target”.
“Our general staff has a very clear picture (of the strikes). We watched everything happening in real time. We are ready to be responsible for the statistics that our military provided,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russia Today.
He asked the United States and its allies to prove that their all missiles hit the targets.
Lavrov also said that earlier, Russia had decided not to supply its modern S-300 air defense system to Syria following the request of Western countries, which said the move could destabilize the situation, although the system is purely defensive.
“Now we have no such moral obligation,” he remarked.
The S-300 system was first deployed in the former Soviet Union in 1979 and has been upgraded several times since then to become one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world.
The United States, along with Britain and France, launched joint airstrikes on military targets in Syria on April 14 for the Bashar al-Assad government’s alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital, earlier this month.
Syria denies the allegation, which has not been independently investigated and verified.
Damascus Countryside, SANA – As per the agreement for evacuating terrorists from al-Rheibeh, Jairoud, and al-Nasseriyeh towns in the Eastern Qalamoun region in Damascus Countryside, the terrorists handed over their heavy and medium weapons and ammo caches before leaving the area and heading north.