Saturday, August 09, 2008

Word of the day:

"Slave"

My interest was piqued by this post on the Iconoclast:

"Georgia is also a firmly Christian country, with a history of resisting Islam, just as Islam, or Muslim slavers, have a history of kidnapping not only all kinds of "Slavs" to serve as -- hence the word -- slaves, but also of seizing Georgian (and Circassian) girls for their harems. Georgia is firmly, by its historical memory, in the anti-Islam camp."

According to the online etymological dictionary:

slave (n.)

c.1290, "person who is the property of another," from O.Fr. esclave, from M.L. Sclavus "slave" (cf. It. schiavo, Fr. esclave, Sp. esclavo), originally "Slav" (see Slav), so called because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

"This sense development arose in the consequence of the wars waged by Otto the Great and his successors against the Slavs, a great number of whom they took captive and sold into slavery." [Klein] O.E. Wealh "Briton" also began to be used in the sense of "serf, slave" c.850; and Skt. dasa-, which can mean "slave," is apparently connected to dasyu- "pre-Aryan inhabitant of India." More common O.E. words for slave were þeow (related to þeowian "to serve") and þræl (see
thrall). The Slavic words for "slave" (Rus. rab, Serbo-Croatian rob, O.C.S. rabu) are from O.Slav. *orbu, from the PIE base *orbh- (also source of orphan) the ground sense of which seems to be "thing that changes allegiance" (in the case of the slave, from himself to his master). The Slavic word is also the source of robot. Applied to devices from 1904, especially those which are controlled by others (cf. slave jib in sailing, similarly of locomotives, flash bulbs, amplifiers). Slavery is from 1551; slavish is attested from 1565; in the sense of "servilely imitative" it is from 1753. slave-driver is attested from 1807. In U.S. history, slavocracy "the political dominance of slave-owners" is attested from 1840.

So who was Otto the Great (912-973)?

Otto I or the Great is considered by many historians to be the founder of the Holy Roman Empire. He was an effective military warrior who encouraged military expansion, colonization, and missionary activity eastward into the Slavic world. His campaign was to restore kingship on the Carolingian model.

From the post on the Iconoclast, I got the impression that the name "slav" began its linguistic service as "slave" when Muslims slavers kidnapped Slavs for captivity and serfdom. But the dictionary actually traces the origin of the word to the practices of a Holy Roman Emperor.

So what about Muslims and slaves, then? Not a glorious history, there.

The slave trade in Islam was seriously different. It began in the middle of the seventh century and survives today in Mauritania and Sudan. With the Islamic slave trade, we're talking of 14 centuries rather than four.

Whereas the gender ratio of slaves in the Atlantic trade was two males to every female, in the Islamic trade, it was two females to every male. Very large numbers of slaves were used for domestic purposes. Concubinage was for those who could afford it and there was no disrepute attached to having women as sexual objects. In fact, they married them. Some harems could be enormous. One ruler had 14,000 concubines. In one respect, women slaves were a status symbol.


Linguistically, a slave in Arabic is "abd" (related to the Hebrew word, "eved" which comes from the root "a.b.d.", denoting "labour, work").

According to this source "By the Middle Ages, the Arab word "abd" was in general use to denote a black slave while the word "mamluk" referred to a white slave. "

Ronald Segal's book "Islam's Black Slaves" tells us:

"that Islamic teachers throughout the centuries consistently defended slavery: "For there must be masters and slaves." Others noted that blacks "lack self-control and steadiness of mind and they are overcome by fickleness, foolishness and ignorance. Such are the blacks who live in the extremity of the land of Ethiopia, the Nubians, Zanj and the like."

Ibn Khaldun (1332 - 1406) the pre-eminent Islamic medieval historian and social thinker wrote: "The Negro nations are as a rule submissive to slavery.because they have attributes that are quite similar to dumb animals."

Wikipedia has more on the historical and geographical context of the Arab slave trade.

The wiki entry is matter-of-fact in tone and delivery of information. The article in the "Christian Action Magazine" appears to be more polemical in intent. Ronald Segal's book is sympathetic to Islam and the African-American experience in America, as one can deduce from this part of the interview.

Well, looks like the facts are known and incontrovertible. As would often happen in such "hot" and contested topics, the various condemnations emphasize certain details, while the mitigations prefer to highlight others. Just another attempt, neither futile nor decisive, to find out precise truth and objective morality on the Internet.

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