According to critical race theory, whites are historic oppressors, and ‘people of colour’ are historic victims. British imperial history – white history – must therefore be thoroughly deconstructed. Yet when we look back through world history, we see people of colour engaged in positive orgies of oppression, brutality, colonial exploitation, enslavement, violence, and barbarity.
‘People of colour’, given the chance, have behaved just like whites. The annals of coloured oppression are so extensive and grisly that it is hard to know where to begin. But a few examples will suffice.
The Barbary pirates of North Africa are estimated to have enslaved a million and a half Europeans living mostly along the Mediterranean coast between the 16th and 18th centuries. Slave markets across the Middle East traded in the victims. In the 17th century, raids on Devon and Cornwall were a daily occurrence, with 240 men, women and children being carried away in a single raid in 1645.
The Arab slave trade saw an estimated ten million black Africans transported to the Middle East over a period of over a thousand years. Up to half died in transit. Women and girls were especially popular as sex slaves, while men and boys were often castrated to ensure they never reproduced, assuming they survived the operation. David Livingstone was instrumental in ending the trade in the 19th century, and Royal Naval ships enforced the ban.
Then there is the Muslim conquest of India. The American historian Will Durant argued in his The Story of Civilisation: Our Oriental Heritage that ‘The Mohammedan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. The Islamic historians and scholars have recorded with great glee and pride the slaughters of Hindus, forced conversions, abduction of Hindu women and children to slave markets and the destruction of temples.’
More recently, Francois Gautier has gone further and written, in Rewriting Indian History, that ‘The massacres perpetrated by Muslims in India are unparalleled in history, bigger than the Holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis; or the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks; more extensive even than the slaughter of the South American native populations by the invading Spanish and Portuguese.’
The Japanese empire or ‘co-prosperity sphere’ of the 1930s and early 1940s deserves honourable mention, short-lived but unspeakably barbaric. Even Nazi Germany protested at the infamous Rape of Nanking, during which Japanese soldiers disembowelled women, decapitated men, conducted live burials and castrations, roasted people alive, and bayonetted babies among other horrors that left up to half a million dead.
But pride of place must inevitably go to Genghis Khan and his Mongolian hordes, who are estimated to have killed ten per cent of the world’s population, an achievement that Hitler or Stalin could only have dreamed of, even in the age of mechanised warfare. Genghis specialised in empire building through exterminating every man, woman, and child of the host population. The skulls of the victims were often piled high in great ‘white’ pyramids.
None of these episodes should really surprise us because imperial conquest, enslavement, and oppression have characterised the history of the world from the dawn of time, implicating people of all races and ethnicities. One tribe subjugated another because it was more powerful, more numerous, more technologically advanced, or more skilled in its military tactics.
For there is no doubt that people of all colours, races and creeds share the same positive and negative human characteristics. The annals of human barbarity are truly colour blind. Yet the history books fall strangely silent when it comes to the annals of coloured oppression. Were there no victims? Was there no racism? Was there no legacy of historic victimhood? Must the Taj Mahal be left standing as a monument to Mughal oppression?
It is high time these hidden histories were told, the voices of the victims heard. Perhaps the National Trust could be brought on board. The British empire could then be appraised and judged as it always should have been, which is relative to other empires.
Compared to the gratuitous slaughter indulged in by the Mongols, the Mughals, and the Japanese (for example), it was positively benign. Its civilising mission was real. Let us once again celebrate Drake, Raleigh, Captain Cook, Clive of India, Cecil Rhodes, and Baden Powell.