Friday, June 28, 2013

Who do you believe?

Detective story?          Hunting for facts, always a necessary chore, often means verifying sources and corroborating information. Using WIKIPEDIA for such work, I’m often told, should be avoided. If that’s the case, I wonder, what sources should I trust? The New York Times?

That question bothers me less and less. Consider this: according to WIKIPEDIA, the island of Goree in Senegal is only as long as ten football fields, wide as less than four.
Given those dimensions, I wasn’t surprised to read that:

Gorée was relatively unimportant in the slave trade. The claim that the "house of slaves" was a slave-shipping point was refuted in 1959 by Raymond Mauny, who shortly afterward was appointed the first professor of African history at the Sorbonne.[2]

Confirmation took little time; WIKIPEDIA got it right.

Sadly, the New York Times (a more trustworthy resource?) may not have fared as well. Here’s what I saw pictured from that speck of an island:

Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama, on Thursday on Senegal’s Gorée Island, stood in the “door of no return,” where Africans were led as slaves onto ships bound for America.

Even by WIKIPEDIA standards, the Times stooped to infomercial journalism. How can I make such a seemingly slanderous statement? I started with this:   Cached
The work of many minds, the U. S. Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.

Quickly perusing that site, I noted that our American Constitution breathed its first breaths in the (very) late 18th century. At that very same time, this is what had happened in Goree:

In March 1815, during his political comeback known as the Hundred Days, Napoleon definitively abolished the slave trade to build relations with Great Britain…As the trade in slaves declined in the late eighteenth century, Gorée converted to legitimate commerce. [my emphasis] The tiny city and port were ill situated for the shipment of industrial quantities of peanuts, which began arriving in bulk from the mainland…

But that’s not all. Slaves that were sent from Goree weren’t, as the caption hype under President Obama’s photo claims, headed “for America.” Even WIKIPEDIA knew better:

Probably no more than a few hundred slaves per year departed from here for transportation to the Americas. [my emphasis] They were more often transported as incidental passengers on ships carrying other cargoes rather than as the chief cargo on slave ships. After the decline of the slave trade from Senegal in the 1770s and 1780s, the town became an important port for the shipment of peanuts, peanut oil, gum arabic, ivory, and other products of the "legitimate" trade. It was probably in relation to this trade that the so-called Maison des Esclaves was built.[1]

All of us know that “the Americas” were a long way (then) from (the United States of) America.

Disinformation like this serves as photo op propaganda, sterile as tears in a bottle. Slavery was terrible, a monumental disgrace to be sure. But why aren’t we told who captured the ‘slaves’ and who sold them? Why isn’t it made clear that long after slavery was abolished in the Americas and America as well as Europe, African slavery continued to supply Muslim markets? And how were slaves treated there?

            African Slaves In The Arab World   While the European involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade to the Americas lasted for ... most of the male slaves destined for the Middle East were castrated, ...

BBC - Religions - Islam: Slavery in   CachedSlavery in Islam ... Slaves were owned in all Islamic societies, both sedentary and nomadic, ranging from Arabia in the centre to North Africa in the west and to what ...

If this were a classroom, I would offer the following advice:
1)   always check sources
2)   accurately state what your research reveals
3)   congratulate yourself for uncovering hidden agendas
4)   report your findings to me

                                    B.Koplen 6/27/13

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