Islam, racism, and answering a critic.

August 1, 2013

It tends to be the case, that those without legitimate argument, or consideration, resort to the most ludicrous and uninspired diatribes, just to be heard. Their thoughtless minds crave recognition beyond what they are actually capable of achieving through serious inquiry and comment. This is true of my newest – and I’d say, most ridiculous – critic. In his article on ‘Western Man’s Hatred For Muhammad’, Hakeem Muhammad makes a lot of points. Mainly aimed at me. The theme overall is, if you criticise the Prophet Muhammad, you’re a racist. I will seek to discredit practically everything his ridiculous article had to say, point by point. But first, allow me to demonstrate what kind of person we’re dealing with. When, on twitter, someone referred to Hakeem as the village idiot, Hakeem replied:

– So, that’s the level of debate we’re dealing with. To the point where, my white windowsill, in Hakeem’s mind, can only mean that I don’t think black paint worthy enough to circle my window.
Whilst analysing the points Hakeem raises in his article, keep close in your mind, the fact that he thinks the phrase ‘village idiot’ is a racist slur.

The fallacies keep on coming. When one tweet from an Atheist read “oh god!” Hakeem, ingeniously jumped in with:

– Yes! Exactly! If I say “unicorn” it invariably means I must believe that unicorns exist.

So, onto the points. I have identified six key points, that I wish to address:

Point 1:

“…the egotistical belief of Western man that anyone other than a white man could have such power and meaning in the world.”

– Here Hakeem has completely exhausted the object of ‘Western man’. All Western men (apparently this doesn’t apply to women) cannot possibly stand anyone but a white man in a position of power. All Western men. All of them. When he notes ‘all’, this suggests an in-built trait. Perhaps a subconscious cultural trait, that ALL Western men cannot escape. We filter out any social and intellectual progress, if it happened to come from someone with darker skin, according to Hakeem. This means, ALL Western scholars in any field, naturally do not pay attention to established science, if it has come from someone with darker skin. That’s the suggestion Hakeem is making with his ill-thought out phrasing. The word ‘all’ is key. So, if someone wants to point out to Hakeem that the President of the USA is not a white man, and that at least one white man, must have voted for the President, that’d be great. On this point alone, Hakeem falls short of logic a five year old could see through.

Secondly, because it is aimed at me, I trust Hakeem will do the decent thing, read through my articles on American politics, and note my support for President Obama (I base my support of the President, on his values; race is meaningless to me), and my articles describing the horrendous racism of certain Republicans in the US. Such as, my article on Dan Riehl, for example. I will not be misrepresented, by someone trying to score cheap points, simply because he has no reasonable contribution to make to this debate.

My beliefs are based on concepts; secularism, democracy, social justice, equality, science. Race plays no part. Race is meaningless. By shaping criticism or satire of Islam, as a race issue, Hakeem loses, because he fails to answer the criticisms of the faith itself, choosing instead to reframe our arguments, to suit his nonsense. It is ideological supremacy and anchored morality that I object to.

He also fails to note the horrendous racism pushed by Islamic scholars (including the Prophet) in the past. More on that, in point 4. Faith is colourless. It is simply an idea. A concept. Like Communism, like Capitalism; both colourless. Islam is no different. It is therefore open to all forms of ridicule and critique that every idea is open to.

Point 2:

“futileDemocracy” (whose criticisms I will respond to in a later article). My critic states that he became an atheist “by discovering that Thomas Paine, Charles Darwin, and John Stuart Mill were greater than every prophet combined.” All of his ideological role models are white men. It is only one of many examples that illustrate that Western man only looks to white men as a source of enlightenment in this world; in their minds, only a white man is capable of holding such a position of esteem.”

– Firstly, I didn’t “become” an Atheist. I’ve never had faith. Right from birth. Hakeem became a Muslim. Paine, Darwin, and Mill simply strengthen my lack of faith and my displeasure at religious prejudice and privilege within the public realm. The second point Hakeem lazily makes is that by only mentioning three white men (this was in a tweet, by the way), I am quite obviously an awful racist. So, let’s follow that line of reasoning through: I also only mentioned men. I must therefore be an awful, racist, misogynist. I also only mentioned three heterosexual men. I must therefore be an awful, racist, misogynist, homophobe. I also only mentioned three English-born men. I must therefore be an awful, racist, misogynist, homophobe, who hates anyone who isn’t English. I also only mentioned three English men, all born below Junction 30 of the M1. I must therefore be an awful, racist, misogynist, homophobe, who hates anyone who isn’t born between Chesterfield, and the English Channel. Do you see how intensely irrational this logic is? Even more so, when we point out that Islam, is not a race. Perhaps he is then suggesting, that I have couldn’t possibly consider the thoughts of an Arab to be important to my personal values. Not true either. As my article on the great Arab free-thinker, Al-Ma’arri suggests. I end this article with:

“And that is what makes Al-Ma’arri – one of the few I name as personal heroes – worthy of greatness.”

– Predictably, Hakeem ignored the entire post in which I write just how much of a genius Al-Ma’arri was, but circled in on one particular sentence, to prove my awful white supremacy. Here:

“As far your admiration of Al-Ma’arri goes, even your praise of him takes racist overtones:
“Al-Marri seems to us, to be better suited to walking and talking in the streets of 19th Century Philadelphia with Thomas Paine, or sitting around a fire place, with a whiskey, deep in discussions in the mid-20th Century with Bertrand Russell, or joining Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris on stage for merciless debates with religious apologists in the early 21st Century; than he does to the Middle Ages.”
Were the people of color that were Al-Marrie’s intellectual contemporaries to unworthy for him? So much so that he needed white philosophers, white scientists, and white neo-atheists to have a dialogue with? Why do you want to take a thinker of color and say he is better suited to be in modern white supremacist society?”

– Again, I could also point out that the people mentioned are all men, and so it must prove my inherent misogyny. I could also point out that they’re all heterosexual, which must prove my inherent homophobia.
To his first point, no. The people ‘of colour’ were not ‘unworthy of him’. That entirely misses the point. Al-Ma’arri was an Enlightenment thinker, centuries before the Enlightenment. I simply suggest he is better suited to Enlightenment era, than the Theocratic era that he existed within. Race, again, is meaningless. It is the ideological atmosphere that I refer to, not skin tone. It is as irrelevant as eye colour, to the point I was making. To suggest otherwise is hideously manipulative. Al Ma’arri happened to live in the Middle East, so of course he is surrounded by people of Middle Eastern origin. Their race to this discussion, is meaningless. It is Hakeem who calls him “a thinker of color”. Ignoring his thoughts, his ideas, and his character entirely. Again, Hakeem introduces race. Not me.

I maintain that all supremacy based on traits or beliefs, are a great evil. Supremacy based on race, gender, sexuality, or religion are cancerous. They necessitate an unwelcome, and unjustifiable usurping of power for one specific group, and that cannot be spun to be acceptable. Equal rights under the law, and the democratic right to choose who you wish to place into positions of power is the very best and fairest system of governance the World has thus far imagined. And it works. Hakeem is angry, because his desire for a system based on patriarchy, hetereosexual, Theocratic supremacy… has no justification, and must be called out for the dangerous poison that it is.

Equally, had a white European, in 8th Century Europe, surrounded by deadly Papal power, produced works that would not be replicated until the Enlightenment, then I would suggest he (or she, gay, or straight, bald, or hairy) would also be better suited to the home of the Enlightenment too. Race, is meaningless. Hakeem reduces human beings down to what colour their skin is at every possible opportunity. Their achievements, are irrelevant to Hakeem. It is also important to note that the Prophets of Islam, are all Middle Eastern. Does this mean Hakeem must have a severe hatred for white Europeans? Or Chinese people? or anyone not from the Middle East? By his own mode of reasoning, that’s exactly what it means.

Hakeem says:

“Western man only looks to white men as a source of enlightenment.”

He takes this, from three names I mentioned on twitter, as his source. It is absurd to suggest that ‘Western men’ seek out white men, to the dismissal of anyone with darker skin, for progression of thought. Absurd, and insulting. We simply don’t see race as an issue. We can admire Thomas Paine without seeing his skin colour. Similarly, we can admire Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, or Frederick Douglass, with the same colourless admiration. I am certain those three, would wish us to see them, without race. Our Western society is built, maintained, and progressed by different races, sexualities, genders. All of those are irrelevant to the forward march of progress. Their aims, goals, and ideas are what is important, or as Martin Luther King summarises: The content of their character.

Hakeem’s constant attempts to categorise all Western men, is becoming eerily similar to the racism he apparently doesn’t like.

Hakeem’s nonsense continues:

“You are so misguided by white privilege that you cannot even think of such basic racialized barriers to such discussions and want to absorb thinkers of color into your white philosophical traditions.”

– This is a beautifully crafted line of condescension and idiocy in which Hakeem, again, exhausts the object. I struggle to know where to begin. Firstly, I am almost certain that people who are not white, yet promote secularism, democracy, and the scientific method would be insulted at the suggestion that they are “absorbed into white philosophical traditions”. Hakeem is obsessed with race. He summarises my positions – secularism, democracy, atheism – as ‘white’ traditions. Here, he completely disenfranchises anyone who isn’t white, who has made valuable contributions to the progression of Western traditions. Frederick Douglass, dismissed. Democrat and secularist, Martin Luther King, dismissed. Rosa Parks, breaking down racial barriers, dismissed. Neil deGrasse Tyson, dismissed. Nelson Mandela, dismissed. Recently, Maryam Namazie and her commitment to freedom of expression, and women’s rights, dismissed. All of these people – democrats, secularists, feminists, humanists – are important names in the progress of what Hakeem calls “white philosophical traditions”. Hakeem’s refusal to acknowledge such wonderful names in the development of Western thought, goes to prove that his main problem is quite simply; those people aren’t advocating a Theocratic, Islamic Empire, and therefore, must be racist.

Point 3:
Hakeem then issues a diatribe of complete irrelevance, at the beliefs of Charles Darwin. Two points need to be made here. Firstly, I couldn’t care less what Darwin personally believed, about, well, anything. I don’t care what his favourite drink was. I don’t care if he slept around. I don’t care if he stripped naked in public and scared old ladies. I couldn’t care less. My admiration for Charles Darwin is derived from his most wonderful discovery and his method. The very basis of modern biology, zoology, medicine, rests on the discovery Darwin so brilliantly made. Similarly, I enjoy the art of Caravaggio (a white, straight man; I’m so racist/sexist/homophobic). My admiration for Caravaggio’s works, in no way suggests I condone the terrible crimes he committed.

Secondly, only a fool/religious fanatic, would choose to place Darwin, the man, in the context of the 21st Century. Hakeem writes his confused mess from a point of privilege that Darwin didn’t have the luxury of; because of the wonderful developments in genetics, and biology in the 100+ years since Darwin’s death, Hakeem has the hindsight to show us where Darwin was mistaken. Darwin did not have 21st century information, in the middle of the 19th Century. Darwin was of course influenced by the prejudices of his era. He also did not have a fully developed evolutionary theory. He was also limited by the prejudicial lexicon of his day, which is why we often see him use the term ‘savages’. Evolutionary theory, was in its infancy, and had centuries of religious intolerance, power, and dogma to contend with.

Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1858, the same year as the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates. The slavery question had plagued both sides of the Atlantic for centuries, and now, in order to attempt to justify the unjustifiable, pro-slavery advocates were looking for ‘scientific’ rationale for the institution, given that religious logic wasn’t cutting it anymore. Arguments coming out of the pro-slavery camp, from writers like Fitzhugh, and Lewis Henry Morgan, were used to back up the prevalent idea at the time, that the African American race, had fallen away from God, become ‘uncivilised’ and had no way of improving that condition. It was religious based logic.

This wasn’t lost on Muslims either. Ibn Khaldun (whose statue stands in Tunisia today) in the 15th Century said:

“The only people who accept slavery are the Negroes, owing to their low degree of humanity and proximity to the animal stage.”

– Hakeem of course, in trying to protect the vile structure of religious abuse and dogma, conveniently chooses to absent Islamic racist history, because it doesn’t work to strengthen the system of horrendous power he advocates.

Of course, Western religious writers were just as racist. John T. Roberts in 1878, wrote the book “Adamites and Preadamites” in which he suggests that Adam, was the father of the white race, and the black race, came from ‘preadamites’, who were to be treated like animals, as God had, by putting them on the ark, equal to animals. This is the level of racial prejudice advanced in Darwin’s time. It was largely based on religion, but now demanded ‘scientific’ rationale to back it up. Darwin did not offer that. If he were truly basing his work, on white supremacy, his findings would have been far different, and far similar to other notable naturalists at the time, whose findings were all made to fit racial prejudice. Darwin however, was neither trying to prove the ‘white race’ superior, nor disprove it. He was trying to rationalise the very very limited evidence he had gathered. Here, in The Descent of Man from 1871, we see just how groundbreaking his research was, in breaking down the notions of white supremacy that dominated every aspect of life in mid-19th Century:

“I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Feugians on board the “Beagle,” with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.”

– He was ‘incessantly struck’. Which suggests, the whole idea of such close similarities between races, up until that very moment, for Darwin, was unthinkable. This demonstrates the World he inhabited, the subconscious prejudices he inherited, and the importance of his work on progressing scientific understanding of ‘race’.
He then completely blows away the argument that the ‘white race’ and ‘black race’ are from two separate lines ordained by God as superior and inferior:

“As it is improbable that the numerous and unimportant points of resemblance between the several races of man in bodily structure and mental faculties (I do not here refer to similar customs) should all have been independently acquired, they must have been inherited from progenitors who had these same characters.”

– An incredibly revolutionary idea for the time. Hakeem though, sees Darwin as being static. Like Muhammad. Whose thoughts are timeless. He is entirely incapable of understanding the difference between dogma, and method. Enlightenment methods, are what I appreciate. The famous names of the Enlightenment, I do not seek to emulate their personal lives and beliefs. They are not infallible. They were subject to the same cultural prejudices that we all are. Hakeem, cannot understand that concept. Being religious, dogma is all he knows.

Darwin, whilst of course still displaying 19th Century prejudice, still managed to advance the argument beyond the understanding of the time. Darwin argued that people are not different species, that all people are descended from ‘savages’, that religion plays no part in the advancement of civilisation as suggested by his contemporaries, and that it was culture responsible for progression, not biological traits. He overturned the common ideas on race in the 21st Century, by providing scientific explanations. Of course, science is incomplete, and that was true of Darwin’s time. Darwin absolutely managed to somewhat break the barriers of the time. He was not a Prophet, he was not in contact with the Divine, and therefore, he cannot transcend the time period.

Unfortunately for Hakeem, the same cannot be said for the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet is in contact with a Being that can absolutely transcend all confines of time, which makes His laws, binding forever. His view is as ‘right’ in 7th Century Middle East, is it is in 21st Century Britain, according to Muslims.

And yet, that Being doesn’t see fit to tell the Prophet that it might be unwise to marry a 9 year old girl, that it might lead to problems surrounding child marriage in future Patriarchal Islamic nations, and that, actually, it is just wrong. It just isn’t on His list of cares. He intervenes to tell the Prophet to pray facing Mecca, yet doesn’t bother to intervene to prevent the Prophet marrying a child. Which suggests that to Allah, child marriage isn’t actually wrong in principle.
Darwin didn’t have all the answers. His was a search dedicated to progression, over time. He set the tone. The Prophet Muhammad on the otherhand, apparently had all the answers, and they just so happened to be incredibly misogynistic, homophobic, violent answers.

If criticism of Islam can be considered a race issue, that surely, Hakeem’s criticism of Atheism, has racist connotations. Well, yes, it would appear so:

Point 4:
Hakeem’s most impressively funny point:

“Neo-Atheism is the result of Western man’s white supremacist ideology.”

– Bare in mind, no one else, other than Hakeem, has mentioned race at all up until this point, he is the one obsessed with pointing out just how shitty he considers white, Western people to be. (Islamist superiority complex, as I call it).
He then goes on to contradict himself, by suggesting that it isn’t only new Atheists that are “the result of Western man’s white supremacist ideology”, but also, the free-thinkers of the Enlightenment:

“The European “Age of Reason” predictably coincided with pseudo-scientific racism, which classified blacks as being less than human, unworthy scum.”

– So, Atheism in general, is written off, as white supremacist by its very nature. I cannot even begin to tell you how insulting this is. How, Hakeem thinks Atheists are inherently white supremacists. This is a horrid line of reasoning, for which he offers no evidence. Secularism, and Democracy are not inherently racist ideologies.
He is of course, quite right, that the 18th/19th Enlightenment built on already established racist attitudes. But it also eventually began to crush them, as you would expect, from a method based on reason. The Enlightenment is named as it is, because it inspired rational thought based on available evidence, challenging religious dogma. It promoted progress, – sometimes it got it wrong – it eventually lead to the abolition of slavery (though, the Ottoman Empire continued to use slaves, until around 1890, 25 years after it was abolished in the US). It eventually lead to universal suffrage. It eventually lead to the decriminalisation of Homosexuality. Try being gay in Saudi Arabia. We musn’t forget that the Enlightenment inherited racism and prejudice from religious societies of old. Christians had long been insisting that there was a World Wide Jewish conspiracy to kill Christian children. Religion is divisive by its very nature.

Let us also not forget, that racism is most certainly not confined to the West (which Hakeem seems to be suggesting), and certainly not a completely new phenomena, created and perpetuated by the Colonial Western powers. Islam is no better. Al-Tabari, a very important Islamic historian and Qur’an commentator, writing in the 9th century, said:

“Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds.”

– It’d take a brave Islamist to suggest Al-Tabari’s blatant racism and Arab supremacy, is the result of ‘white’ Western philosophy. It would take just as brave a man to suggest this superiority complex, isn’t still prevalent among those wishing for a Pan-Arab Caliphate.

If we are to claim that philosophical traditions are the result of ‘white supremacy’ we must also point out, that Islam, was based on Quraish supremacy, and so will naturally reflect the prejudices of the Quraish. Sahih Bukhari 9:89:329:

“Narrated Jabir bin Samura: I heard the Prophet saying, “There will be twelve Muslim rulers (who will rule all the Islamic world).” He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, “All of them (those rulers) will be from Quraish.”

In fact, it appears that the Prophet was hard at work forging racism, long before the Colonial powers took up the mantle. Sahih Bukhari 9:89:256:

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah’s Apostle said, “You should listen to and obey, your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian (black) slave whose head looks like a raisin.”

That racist tradition, was carried on. Renowned Islamic scholar Ibn Qutaybah said that Africans:

“…are ugly and misshapen, because they live in a hot country.”

The great Islamic scientist, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (also influenced by the prejudices of his time, much like Darwin) said:

“Many have seen that the ape is more capable of being trained than the Negro, and more intelligent.”

– Racism is far more prolific within the writings of certain revered Muslims, than any modern ‘neo’-Atheist.

Hakeem’s refusal to acknowledge horrendous racism in Arab nations, shows his intent to promote typically Islamist anti-Western hypocritical “principles”. Egyptian writer and journalist Mona Eltahawy noted that racism was responsible for police brutality in Egypt that led to the crackdown on Sudanese refugees. Eltahawy noted:

“The racism I saw on the Cairo Metro has an echo in the Arab world at large, where the suffering in Darfur goes ignored because its victims are black and because those who are creating the misery in Darfur are not Americans or Israelis and we only pay attention when America and Israel behave badly.”

– Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, wrote a song in which she refers to Nubian people in Egypt as “monkeys”. This is the result of pan-Arab nationalism, the notion that Muslim Arabs, are superior. Walid Phares, a Professor of Middle Eastern Affairs, wrote that Arabism and its desire to degrade indigenous non-Arabs, was an exercise in politico-cultural ethnic cleansing. Arabism – another word for Islamist imperialism – is racism.

The Enlightenment promoted the concept of free thought, and social progression through reason, this gives room for prejudices to eventually be overcome, for improvement; a generation builds on the advancement of the previous generation, of course it struggles at times, and of course it doesn’t get it right all of the time. But it places its faith in people – regardless of skin colour, gender, or sexuality. We are seeing this today, with gay marriage becoming more and more accepted. This is an Enlightenment achievement, whilst the Catholic Church, and Islamists continue to humiliate gay people. Islamism, promotes static dogma. It promotes 7th Century ‘values’ that cannot update, nor progress. That is the difference. Of course, Hakeem will find some ridiculous way to blame the West for this, being the Islamist supremacist that he is.

Point 5:
Here, Hakeem gives us the true reason, that he dislikes all things that aren’t Islamic:

“They also seek domain over God; hence, they have adopted neo-atheism. What better way to rule God than to deny God’s very existence?”

– To summarise, Atheism threatens the power structures – like Patriarchy – that Hakeem holds so dear. He wishes to control people, with dogma. With threats of hell. With barbaric punishment that has no rational basis. He wishes people to be slaves to his faith. And so, as pointed out at the top of this article, he is willing to argue in the most ludicrous of terms, just to defend that illegitimate power structure that benefits him so much. He is obsessed with controlling others. He doesn’t wish you to think for yourself. His whole miserable article can be summed up with that. And so, it isn’t just criticism of the Prophet he now has a problem with, it’s Atheism itself. He categorises those who simply dismiss the idea of a God based on a lack of evidence, as white supremacists. The desperation of those seeking to uphold archaic power structures, is, I’m sure you’ll agree, hysterical.

Point 6:
And after slowly losing all mental capacities, Hakeem treats us to the most hypocritical of all of his points:

“In the next article, I will explain why secular egalitarian ideologies such as socialism, anarchism, and secular humanism lack a moral foundation.”

– Great! More reasons why anyone who isn’t Muslim, is inherently terrible. Philosophies he considers to be “white” (his words, not mine), are lacking a moral basis? By his own logic, we must conclude that Hakeem believes white people, do not have a moral basis. The idea of religion providing the only source for which morality is anchored, is an old one. It is an argument that was destroyed about 130 years ago by Kropotkin, and has been repeatedly destroyed over and over, yet seems to still be used by (admittedly, only a few now) religious apologists who have seemingly never read anything other than literature that backs up their own point.

The suggestion of racism, to describe anyone who has a criticism of Islam, must stop. It is killing important discourse before it is allowed to begin. Islam is an idea, a concept. Nothing more. All ideas and concepts must be open to criticism, satire, and ridicule. This is how humanity progresses. I dislike the Prophet Muhammad. I find him to be a violent, sexual predator. I find him to be dangerous, I find his words and his deeds to be disastrous. I find him to be a fraud and a thug. This would be the case, whether he be white, black, Asian, straight, gay, male, female, tall, short and any other biological trait. If we are to suggest that criticism of Muhammad, is race based, then try to point specifically to the racist remarks of those doing the criticism.

By being so broad in your suggestion that criticism of Islam or the Prophet is inherently racist, you simply seem overly defensive of your ideology, that you will play any taboo card, in order to try to discredit the argument in lieu of actually discrediting the argument. If we are to seriously suggest that criticism of the Prophet is inherently racist, then we must suggest that Islam itself has a race element, an ideology based on race (from the words of the Prophet, and famous racist scholars of Islam, this isn’t far fetched)? Exclusive, to it’s own definition of ‘race’. If we note that Islam has no element based on race, then we must conclude that criticism of Islam and its doctrines, are also not based on race. The Qur’an calls us ‘unbelievers’ (whilst threatening us with hell), some Muslims call us ‘Kuffar’, Hakeem calls us ‘neo-Atheists’. Either way, Hakeem, and others like him – those without rational arguments – are far more guilty of the discrimination and derogatory dogma that they claim to abhor, than they’d ever care to admit.


Racism in America: Lincoln

March 2, 2011

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought with it the utopic notion that racism in the United States of America was over. I certainly do not the doubt the momentous appointment of an African American man to the office of President of a country that was built on racial genocide and slavery. A country that less than a century ago, during the life time of my grandparents, did not allow a white child to attend the same school as a black child simply on the basis of race. The elevation of a black man to the highest office in American politics is symbolically another step on the road to tackling the evils of racism.

This blog isn’t meant as an analysis of Obama. He is essentially part of an establishment that favours financial institutions, oil companies and private health insurers above the lives of the less wealthy, and panders to the apparently widespread American belief that the very wealthy deserve massive tax cuts at the behest of the most vulnerable. He is no different in that respect regardless of his skin colour.

I wanted instead to focus on the beliefs of America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and his complex and often contradictory approach to slavery. Like Jefferson before him, it is almost impossible to figure out where Lincoln stood on the issue, and conflicting books are widespread. Lincoln’s party politics and his true beliefs seem to be confused much of the time, and yet history tends to stick entirely to his party politics regardless of the motives. I wanted to explore those motives more in depth.

Yesterday I went along to see an hour long lecture by Professor Richard Carwardin, the President of Corpus Christi College Oxford and winner of the Lincoln Prize for his book “Lincoln: A life of purpose and power“, a favourite of George W.Bush. Obviously there is a very limited and narrow version of Lincoln’s life one can present in just an hour, but Carwardin alluded to Lincoln as a great emancipator, as if he had been way a head of his time and the progressive champion for the freedom of black slaves, willing to fight a war for its eradication.
I would argue differently.

Lincoln wasn’t happy with the fact that slavery had become an issue by the time he took office. Lincoln told the esteemed journalist Henry Villard;

“I will be damned if I don’t feel almost sorry for being elected when the niggers is the first thing I have to attend to.”

Lincoln was not prepared to go to war for the abolition of slavery in itself. He had agreed to back an amendment to the Constitution, penned by the Representative from Ohio, Thomas Corwin, that would have made it Unconstitutional for Congress to amend rules or abolish slavery. Lincoln backed it.
The Corwin amendment read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State

In his inaugural address, Lincoln referenced the proposed amendment, stating:

“Holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Interestingly, the amendment passed Congress by the two-thirds majority needed, but was never fully ratified in the State legislatures, and is still up for ratification, as it was never thrown out. If it had been fully ratified, one must wonder just how different the U.S would look today. The fact remains though that up until the outbreak of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln supported a Constitutional Amendment rendering it impossible to abolish the institution of slavery.

The worry from the Republican Party of the Lincoln years, was not so much the moral implications of ethical dilemma of the owning of slave labour, but the economic problems it creates. They worried that slave labour merely worked to undermine wages of the poor white working classes, and just created a new dominant class known as “Slave Power”. They worried that the Slave owning classes in the South were just violent and expansionist people with a goal of Empire. This paranoia wasn’t without merit, but it was borne out of the relatively new Nation’s deep suspicion of Empire and too much power. Lincoln charged that the Southern Democrats and slave owning classes were out to take over Cuba and the war on Mexico seemed to confirm those suspicions. The Civil War Confederate cry of “States rights!!” was simply the right for the very wealthy land owners in the South to keep and abuse people with darker skin, and the right to centralise power within very few hands. Only the free States were fighting for States rights.

Lincoln’s famous signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is doubtful whether the proclamation actually freed any slaves whatsoever. Depending on your source, it was either the greatest achievement of the short Presidency of Lincoln, or it was useless. No one really knows. One thing is for sure, Lincoln signed the proclamation as a further attack on the South (rightfully so). In September 1862, he demanded they return to the Union or he would free their slaves. Not “and i’ll free your slave“. It’s an ultimatum. If you rejoin the USA, you get to keep your slaves… if you don’t, we’re freeing them. He is more concerned here with preserving the Union – an abstract concept – than ending slavery. The Proclamation not only didn’t free slaves in the Confederacy, it didn’t free slaves in the slave holding States in the Union – Kentucky and Maryland.

The Proclamation looked good for Lincoln, as it put real pressure on the Confederacy. France and Britain were very anti-slavery, and he needed support and recognition of the legitimacy of the USA in a war that at the time, no one knew which way it might go. With the support of France and Britain, and so legitimacy, it helped Lincolns case. It was similar in a way, to how old European powers gained legitimacy. When Henry Tudor took the Kingship away from Richard III, he was a nobody on the European stage and England was at civil war, much like America. Tudor needed an air of legitimacy, so he married Elizabeth of York; she happened to be the niece of Richard, and daughter of King Edward IV. This was the legitimacy Henry required, and won. He rather secured himself, by marrying his son – Arthur – off to the daughter – Catherine of Aragon – of the most powerful family in Europe; the King and Queen of Spain. The marriages and alliances were all about protecting himself, and securing his throne, not about love nor about the wellbeing of his Kingdom. Lincoln signed the Emancipation declaration, to protect his Throne by winning the support of the English and the French. Up until the Proclamation was signed, it seemed Britain was on the side of the Confederacy, having been involved in the provision of the British made warships the CSS Alabama and the CSS Florida.

Lincoln knew the Proclamation, which freed black slaves in Confederate States that fell to the Union forces, would compel black slaves and freed slaves to help the Union armies. He stressed in a letter to his friend James C. Conkling:

“I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union.”

The freedom of the slaves with the passing of the 13th Amendment was a tiny ripple in the water. Saying to a group of people who have had no access to education, to family ties, to survival, to anything other than a system that treated them as less than human for so long, that they are now “free”, is worthless. It is not freedom. It would take another 100 years before the real reforms were introduced. Lincoln was not a head of his time. The abolitionists were calling for equality, not just the ending of slavery. Economically, black Americans would be held down for more than a century in place of White privilege. Lincoln may have given them freedom, but he certainly did not give them anything anywhere near equality, and he knew it.

Even the banning of slavery expanding into new territories was a rather obscure policy that was not designed for the sake of the wellbeing of black Americans, rather it was an attempt to keep black people from being shipped to America full stop. It was a white supremacist policy that today would be deplored as vicious and racist. Lincoln, when talking about the banning of slavery expanding to new territories stated that he did not want the United States:

…….to become an asylum for slavery and niggers

The expansion into the West was an opportunity to spread the white race for Lincoln, who had no desire to see black people live there, stating in 1858 in Illinois, that:

in favor of our new territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home … as an outlet for free white people everywhere, the world over.

Lincoln was therefore using race as an unnecessary social divide. Race had only really became an issue, during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Up until then, nobody really cared what race you were. White slaves existed in the Colonies way before black slaves. The worry was that they would join hands and rise up, so race was used to divide them. Tell a poor white slave that he is more important in God’s eyes than a poor black slave, and suddenly there is no chance they will rise up together and overthrow the economic powers that hold them both down.

In 1853, Lincoln backed the Illinois State law that banned freed black people from moving to Illinois. They weren’t so free afterall. Lincoln it seems, was obsessed with the division of black and white, and even Mexicans, whom he referred to, out of the blue, for no reason, as:

“most decidedly a race of mongrels. I understand that there is not more than one person there out of eight who is pure white.”

He was a power obsessed, white supremacist.

The great emancipators in the Congress and the abolitionist leaders who pressured and pressured for Lincoln to keep to his line on abolition. Thaddeus Stevens, in the House of Representatives, and Chairman of the Ways and Means committee was a committed Abolitionist. This man was ahead of his time. He helped runaway slaves escape to Canada. He protected the rights of Jewish and Chinese Americans and he defended the rights of Native Americans. Stevens was a hero of the Civil War era and should be remembered as such, far above Lincoln. But one man stood out as great, even beyond that of Thaddeus Stevens, and that man was Charles Sumner, the Senator from Massachusetts.

Charles Sumner absolutely hated the institution of slavery. As did his father before him. He argued that freeing the slaves would achieve nothing, unless it was accompanied by a raft of legislation promoting equal rights both politically and economically. This was 100 years before equal rights began to take shape. He is responsible for one of my favourite quotes from history, that I tend to live by when shaping my political thoughts:

“The Utopias of one age have been the realities of the next.”

Sumner argued in a court case, that segregation was an abomination. The year was 1848. The case was Roberts VS Boston. It lead to the ban on segregation on the basis of race in all public schools in Massachusetts. It was over 100 years before the rest of the country would catch up.

Sumner’s extraordinary career taught me that it is okay to think radically, even if the rest of your contemporaries think that you are an idealist living in a dream land. The contemporary Senators did not like Sumner for his radical ideas on racial integration and equality, one Senator suggested that Sumner was unimportant and should be ignored:

“The ravings of a maniac may sometimes be dangerous, but the barking of a puppy never did any harm.”

It is a myth that Lincoln was a great emancipator and forward thinker and it is a great injustice that men like Charles Sumner go unrecognised and ignored by history.
Sumner’s face should be on Mount Rushmore. Not Lincoln’s.

Anyway, as Sumner argued, The Proclamation was meaningless, the 13th Amendment was the result of much pressure put on the administration. Lincoln himself once remarked quite tellingly:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

He stresses exactly why he felt compelled to free the slaves. It was not on grounds of compassion or freedom or respect for the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, far from it, he did it for the sake of his own power:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Abraham Lincoln was not a great emancipator. Nor was he one of the great forward thinking abolitionists of the time. He was a racist and a white supremacist who put his own position and power above that of the rights of a group of people who had different coloured skin. It is quite extraordinary that history teaches us that President Lincoln was one of the great Presidents who ended the horrific institution of slavery. The reality is far more ambiguous. It is much like the celebrating of Columbus day as a great day in American history, when in fact it simply marked the beginnings of a mass genocide. History should be taught with equal weight to both interpretations, if the subject is as ambiguous as that of President Lincoln and the question of slavery.