Wednesday, November 16, 2016

“We’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington.” -- Hillary Clinton


Not long ago, Hugh Fitzgerald did a good job dispatching the shoddy historiography of Mary Thompson, official historian of George Washington's Mount Vernon.

Thus, about a George Washington slave, Sambo Anderson, Hugh first quotes her:

The documented history of an African-born carpenter at Mount Vernon known as Sambo Anderson suggests that he was a practicing Muslim…Sambo Anderson was described as having mahogany-colored skin, with high cheekbones, and a stout build. His face was marked by both tribal cuts and tattooing, and he wore gold rings in both ears. Interestingly, Sambo told several people that he was of royal birth, and that his father was a king.

And writes:

What is it about the “documented history” of Sambo Anderson that “suggests he was a practicing Muslim”? In fact, there is nothing, but the writer keeps up a patter, piling on irrelevant details to make you think some connection to Islam has been made.

He goes on to unpack her "patter" and points out, among other crucial things, the fact that tattooing, far from indicating Islam, indicates he was not Muslim, since tattooing is forbidden in Islam.

Thus Hugh found that every time the historian Mary Thompson got around to providing evidence for her claims, her locutions became fuzzy and infirm.  Example:

The names of at least three female slaves at Mount Vernon indicate an Islamic influence on the Estate, if not the actual practice of Islam... [bold emphasis in original]

One of the things Sambo probably brought with him to Mount Vernon was Islam. The ethnic group from which he most likely came, the Hausa, was heavily influenced by both the Arabic language and Islamic religion, which spread to them from Mali beginning in the late fourteenth century.

The bolded portions show locutions that simultaneously project uncertainty and yet nudge the reader to accept what is, when examined closely, purely speculative.

"indicate"... "if not"...
"most likely" 

And so forth.  Hugh's analysis palpates many more such locutions.

His thoughts on the matter were occasioned by what Hillary had blurted out during the second debate with Trump:

“We’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington.” 


From Hugh's overall tone, and from the many comments by Jihad Watch regulars, however, one gets the sense that they just don't realize how broadly & deeply prevalent this PC MC mentality is.

Case in point -- someone far more influential than Mary Thompson, another historian by the name of Sylviane Diouf, who also adduces Islamic presence in early America.  Let's take a long look at her curriculum vitae, and let the considerable weight of her mainstream ballast sink in:

“Sylviane A. Diouf is an award-winning historian of the African Diaspora.

“The daughter of a Senegalese father and a French mother, she was born and grew up in France. She has lived in Gabon, Italy, and Senegal, and resides in New York.

“She is the author of Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons (NYU Press, 2014); and Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas ( NYU Press, 1998). The fifteenth anniversary edition of Servants of Allah—named Outstanding Academic Book in 1999—was released in 2013.

“ Diouf's book Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America (Oxford University Press, 2007) received the 2007 Wesley-Logan Prize of the American Historical Association, the 2009 Sulzby Award of the Alabama Historical Association and was a finalist for the 2008 Hurston/​Wright Legacy Award.

“ She is the editor of Black Power 50 (The New Press, 2016), Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies (Ohio University Press, 2003) and In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience (National Geographic, 2005).

“ Diouf has written books for children on African history and American slavery. Kings and Queens of West Africa, part of a four-book series, won the African Studies Association 2001 Africana Book Award for Older Readers. Her illustrated book Bintou's Braids has been translated into French and Portuguese.

“ A recipient of the Rosa Parks Award, the Dr. Betty Shabazz Achievement Award, and the Pen and Brush Achievement Award. Dr. Diouf is the Director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery and a Curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library.”

Sylviane, incidentally, is also quite a photogenic black woman -- a plus in our PC MC world.

But only when, unlike Ayaan Hirsi Ali (also a photogenic black woman), you advocate for Muslims.  As Sylviane does.

Scholarly Reviews:

Checking out Sylviane's reputation in scholarly journals, I came across mostly fawning reviews of her books, particularly Servants of Islam: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas:

Richard Brent Turner, in The American Historical Review (Vol. 105, No. 5 (Dec., 2000), p. 1704 [a one-page review]), writes:

Sylviane A. Diouf has written a sophisticated and important book on the history of West African slaves in the New World.  The author's cogent analyses of source materials from Old World-West African Islam and New World-transatlantic slave communities establishes [sic] a strong and persuasive case for rich and extensive Islamic influences in black religious and cultural traditions in Brazil, the United States, and the Caribbean islands before the twentieth century.

This creative and refreshing interpretation of West African-Islamic spiritual continuities in the African diaspora is fascinating and very readable.

Yes, "creative" and "refreshing" doesn't necessarily mean plausibly accurate interpretations of the data.  I.e., his review is so much fluff of a puff-piece.

In summing up her sources, Turner notes his own book among what he calls the "new wave of recent scholarship on African-American Islam that has been established by comprehensive texts..."

Then we have Timothy W. Marr, whose review was published in 2000 (The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 690-692).  Marr opens by writing that Diouf's book is:

...a thorough and ambitious attempt to reconstruct the ways that the bonds of belief in orthodox Islam assisted hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans to retain their cultural integrity as they were forced to live out their lives in bondage in the Americas.  Meticulously constructing her narrative out of hundreds of references to Islamic practices and artifacts from a large variety of sources in several languages, Sylviane A. Diouf assembles solid evidence of the importance of Muslims as a distinct population within slave communities in Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America.

Well, Diouf may "assemble" solid evidence in her "thorough and ambitious attempt to reconstruct"; but is that solid evidence really backing up the reconstruction she has cobbled together?

Diouf's informed inquiry enables her to advance intriguing new hypotheses, which she hopes to see tested by further research into an area that has been understudied by historians of slavery.

Ah, there we go: "hypotheses, which she hopes to see tested by further research..."  We now see, between the lines, the airy level of theory on which her scholarship is floating.

Between 2.5 and 3 million Muslims, she estimates, were sold into slavery in the Americas; they were "probably more numerous in the Americas than any other group among the arriving Africans"...

Here we go again, with the nuanced locutions of uncertainty interspersed, as gently and as unobtrusively as a kindly grandmother might put walnuts into her banana bread, into a textual context otherwise supposing solid evidence.

I won't even go into the annoying indulgence of Marr's review in Diouf's Islamophiliac theories, such as:

Other intriguing assertions puncture surviving notions of the superiority of European slaveholders.  Diouf argues that the Muslim slave community was more democratic and progressive than that of their masters; it probably had a higher literacy rate; and unlike the European population in the Americas, "no condemned debtors, offenders, or criminals were among the Muslims who landed in the New World"...

Probably Diouf found no evidence of such criminality in the records (records notoriously lacking in specifics anyway, and remarkably jumbled) and assumed the absence proved the actual absence in the Muslim slaves themselves.  Did Diouf compare this with other, non-Muslim transatlantic slave populations?  Did she find non-Muslim slaves to have had such criminality on their records?  And where did she get that "more democratic" business from?  What about the Sharia of Islam could possibly be "more democratic"?

Another problem with Diouf emerges from between the lines: she seems to have tended to elide the South American and Caribbean evidences of some small demographic of Muslim Africans among slaves there, with North American slaves, where she had no real evidence, but made assumptions anyway.

Getting into the nitty gritty of this problem, we see, for example, among the "evidence" of the Muslim identity of American slaves Diouf adduces, according to Marr's review, the following:

She associates the saraka cakes cooked on Sapelo Island in Georgia with sadakha or meritorious alms offered in the name of Allah and conjectures that the circular shuffling of the ring shout might be an American recreation of a sha'wt or circumambulation of the Kaaba during the pilgrimages of Mecca.

Notice again the fudgy locutions amid the historiographic text:  "She associates" -- well, great.  But why does she "associate" these things, and on what basis?  It's a nice locution for "the historian guesses that what is in the historical data really means X" rather than, "the historian found X in the historical data."  Then, she... "conjectures that"... blah blah "might be"... blah blah.  I.e., she's reading into data and fancifully interpreting connections where there may well be no connections.

Now, one problem with Diouf's thesis percolates out of something else Marr's review goes into.  One thing Diouf apparently argues in her book -- indeed, it is her "major thesis" according to Marr -- is that:

...the experience of enslavement in the Americas deepened rather than destroyed the religious fervor of Muslim believers. Organizing her book around the premise that enslaved Muslims were not disposed to reject their belief systems, Diouf locates evidence that they went to great efforts to preserve the pillars of Islamic ritual because it allowed them "to impose a discipline on themselves rather than to submit to another people's discipline"...

If this is true, knowing Muslims, we would have seen a lot more visible and potent signs of Muslim resistance (i.e. organized violence in the form of razzias and attempts at jihad) throughout the Colonial period and into the Early American period of the late 18th, and throughout the 19th century.  But we don't.  It seems far more likely that, given that Muslims were in charge of the global slave trading network centered in Africa, had indeed created that network by invading sub-Saharan Africa beginning in the 8th century A.D. and had been enslaving black Africans for centuries before Europeans even got into Age of Exploration (beginning in the 16th century) -- and given that Islam forbids enslaving fellow Muslims -- that the very process of the African slave trade would have been like an Islamo-logically "Darwinian" system of ensuring that the vast majority of slaves purchased by Europeans (and later Americans) were, in fact, non-Muslim African victims of Islam.

Of course, none of these reviewers, nor Diouf herself apparently, ever mentions the painfully relevant fact of the Muslim provenance of the African slave network.

Speaking of which, Diouf, with the help of Marr's review, goes down an unintentionally revealing road in her labile praise of the allegedly Muslim slaves:

Arabic literacy generated powers of resistance because it served as a resource for spiritual inspiration and communal organization.  "A tradition of defiance and rebellion"... and martial experience that Muslims brought with them to the Americas, Diouf suggests, not only prompted the Spanish to pass anti-Muslim legislation in the sixteenth century but also provided essential leadership in the Haitian Revolution and the uprisings in Bahia, Brazil [nascent jihads...?]

Of course, what Diouf means by her amusingly elliptical and nice-sounding phrase "Arabic literacy" is that Muslims in the New World, by keeping alive their fanatical devotion to the Koran (and possibly also Hadiths), thereby kept alive their fanatical devotion to the uniquely Islamic doctrine of religious subversion and war based upon a supremacist hatred of the Other; for the Koran (and the Hadiths) constitute an inspirational manual and blueprint for subversion, war and hatred.  The lack of such jihadist activity in North America (and actions taken against them, as with the Spanish anti-Muslim legislation Diouf cites) therefore is a telling indication that Diouf's thesis -- for North America -- is as flimsy as that of the claims of the official historian of Mount Vernon, Mary Thompson, which we saw Hugh Fitzgerald refute.


An insight into how the data on the ground about the sprawling, protracted saga that was the transatlantic slave trade may be more complex than Diouf makes it out to be in her artful theories may be gleaned from some remarks made by historian Lorena S. Walsh, writing in The William and Mary Quarterly (Vol. 58, No. 1, "New Perspectives on the Transatlantic Slave Trade" (Jan., 2001), pp. 139-170):

Information on the geographic and cultural origins of these migrants has been presumed lacking.  Almost no individual life histories survive, and even their sex, ages, and names (whether self-stated or assigned) are often unknown.  Moreover, they are a group set apart from other migrants by enslavement and by racial prejudice.  Consequently, in contrast to other migrant groups, scant attention has been paid to the role that ethnicity may have played in forging new African-American identities, especially in mainland America. 

...Even if one concedes that new evidence on transatlantic migration patterns is sufficient to contradict the widely accepted supposition of almost random migration flows, interpretation of the range of surviving evidence for specific ethnic continuities and discontinuities still presents heroic challenges.

Discussion Resumed:

Before we leave Marr, let's examine some of his treaclier prose praising Diouf:

Indeed, Diouf depicts Muslim slaves in heroic superlatives; theirs is "a story of courage, insuperable faith, fortitude, and fidelity to their culture, religion, and social values"...  Such emphasis on the integrity of Islamic belief has several advantages: it offers clarity and breadth to Diouf's research and narrative; it enables her to educate readers about the contours of Muslim practice; and it allows her to check orientalist understanding of Islamic belief... [for some inexplicable reason, Marr at this precise juncture sees fit to insert parenthetically how Diouf criticizes the Nation of Islam for not being authentically Islamic]

So Diouf's Islamophiliac superlatives "offer clarity and breadth" to her "research and narrative"...?  What is that even supposed to mean?  It "enables her to educate [read: propagandize] readers about the contours of Muslim practice..."  What the heck are "contours" in this context?  And of course, he has to take a potshot at "orientalist understanding" as though that is axiomatically deplorable (see my essay He Said, Ed Said, for a discussion of this politically correct buzz word, "Orientalism").

A third review I found was written by Emily West, lecturer in American history at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, who reviewed Diouf's book in 1999 (in Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 19, no. 2, 1999, pp. 332–334).

While she also praises the book, one senses between the lines a scholar's discomfiture with the indications of eisegesis passing for exegesis in Diouf's scholarship:

Overall, Diouf shows a remarkably detailed knowledge of her subject and her work is meticulously researched...  However, perhaps Diouf tries to accomplish too much within this volume. A narrower focus or shorter scale time-scale might have allowed for more thorough analysis. She also might possibly be accused of arguing beyond her evidence. Many of the claims she makes African Islamic survivals in the Americas are only tentative and would require further investigation.

She also makes some tentative suggestions as to the number of Muslims who were taken to the New World. She suggests that out of around fifteen million African taken to the New World, between two-and-a-quarter and three million were Muslims.

Incidentally, in explaining why this supposed "original American Islam" didn't really survive, and Islam only had to be reintroduced in the latter 20th century (and even more so post-911), Diouf reaches for Islamosentimental explanations but at least notes, as the reviewer puts it:

There were also limits to what Islam could absorb. Syncretism was not acceptable [333]

I.e., this supposedly thriving early American Islam essentially died out because Muslims weren't flexible enough to mix and match their Islam with non-Islamic mores, cultures, religious motifs.  Why?  "Syncretism was not acceptable."  And why is that, Ms. Diouf?  Hm...?  The answer is that Islam enshrines a supremacist hatred of the Other.  The non-Believer is literally filth (cf. Koran 9:28).  But as we noted earlier, this seems to contradict what Diouf elsewhere argues:

...the experience of enslavement in the Americas deepened rather than destroyed the religious fervor of Muslim believers.

The only way Diouf could resolve this paradox is to amp up the evil cruelty of the white Christian society of early America that must have extinguished these noble, peaceful, wonderfully wise Muslims.  But since she does have evidence, small as it is, of such anti-Muslim actions taken by the Spanish in South America and in the Caribbean, her thesis would have to rest, preposterously, on the claim that early American slaveholding society was markedly more ruthless than that of the Spanish to the south; when in fact, it is arguable that early American slaveholding practices, as bad as they were in principle, were among the most lenient in world history -- while those of Islamic slaveholders throughout the centuries, far more numerous than that of the Romans or the Europeans (and incidentally including Europeans, Asians, and black Africans), were by far the cruelest and most sadistic in all world history.


The climax of Diouf's book on its closing page (p. 283; preview available from Google Books) is an exquisite expression of the preposterous propaganda that would tug on the heartstrings of the typical PC MC:

To understand the communities of the African Diaspora... it is essential to search for the African story of the uprooted men and women who peopled the Americas, as evidenced by the study of the Muslims. To recognize the African Muslims and to delineate their contribution is indispensable if one is to make sense of the unexplained features of the cultures of the people of African descent in the New World.

Turbaned men and veiled women, their prayer beads around their necks, chopped cotton, cut cane, and rolled tobacco from sunup to sundown.  Like other slaves, they were beaten, whipped, cursed, raped, maimed, and humiliated.  They saw their families torn apart and their loved ones killed. In the midst of abuse and comtempt, they continued to pray, fast, be charitable, read, write, help one another, sing their lonesome tunes, and display pride in themselves, their religion, and their culture.

The African Muslims may have been, in the Americas, slaves of Christian masters, but their minds were free.  They were the servants of Allah.


Egghead said...

The faked history of Islam in early America is the result of inferior affirmative action supported 'scholarship' combined with ongoing dawah to African Americans.

Being from the South myself, I long ago told you that many black people mythologize and idealize Islam as their founding religion as a foil to the Christianity of the white man.

The mythology of Islam vis a vis black people presents an added layer of complexity that handily 'converts' Islamophobia into racism which is WHY the USA is experiencing colonization by black Africans - with various sponsors fully intending to make it a 'racial' issue when white Western Christians attempt to defend against the depredations of - or imprison - or deport - violent low-IQ black Muslims.

Anonymous said...

For myself it was 9/11 that made me aware we've had moslems in America.