But, of course, starting with Great Britain, no colonialist country wanted to be seen as a "plunderer" and to go down in history as such. For this reason, they were looking for an explanation to show that they were right in what they were doing. Such an explanation might be to portray the colonised peoples as "primitive people" or "animal-like living creatures." In this way, for those who were massacred and subjected to inhuman treatment to be able to be seen not as human beings, but as half-human half-animal creatures, and their mistreatment would not be regarded as a crime.
Actually, this search was not new: the first spread of colonialism in the world went back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Claims to the effect that some races had semi-animal characteristics were first put forward by Christopher Columbus on his American journey. According to these claims, Native Americans were not human beings, but a species of developed animal. For this reason they could be put to the service of the Spanish colonialists.
No matter how much Columbus is portrayed in films about the discovery of America as having a warm and humane attitude to the natives, the fact is that Columbus did not regard the native people as human. 13
Christopher Columbus was the person who first set in motion a great massacre. Columbus established Spanish colonies in the places he discovered, made slaves of the natives and was responsible for the starting of the slave trade. The Spanish "conquistadors" saw the policy of oppression and exploitation that Columbus implemented, and continued it: the massacres carried out reached enormous dimensions. For example, the population of one island, 200,000 when Columbus first came to it, was only 50,000 20 years later, and by 1540 only a thousand people remained. When the most famous of the Spanish conquistadors, Cortes, first set foot in Mexico in February 1519, the total native population was 25 million, but in 1605 this had fallen to 1 million. On the island of Hispaniola, the population, which was 7-8 million in 1492, fell to 4 million in 1496, and to just 125 people in 1570. According to historians' figures, in less than a century after Columbus first set foot on the continent 95 million were massacred by the colonialists. When Columbus discovered America 30 million natives were living on the continent. As a result of the massacres between then and now they have come to the position of being a lost race of less than 2 million.
The reason for these massacres reaching such pitiless proportions was the indigenous peoples' not being seen as human beings, as being looked on as animals.
But these claims of the colonialists did not win many supporters. In Europe at that time, the truth that all people were created equal by Allah and that they all descended from one ancestor-Adam-was so widely accepted that the Catholic Church in particular took a clear position against such plundering invasions. One of the best known examples of this is the reply by the bishop of Chiapas, Bartolome de las Casas, who set foot in the New World together with Columbus, who said that the natives were "each a real human being," in reply to the colonists' claim that the natives were "a species of animal." Pope Paul III cursed the savage treatment of the natives in a papal bull in 1537, and declared that the natives were real human beings with the capacity for faith. 14
But in the 19th century the situation changed. Together with the spread of materialist philosophy and societies' growing distant from religion, the truth that human beings were created by Allah began to be denied. This, as was touched on in the preceding pages, was at the same time the rise of racism.
With the rise of Darwinist-materialist philosophy in the 19th century, racism grew stronger, and this created a great support for Europe's imperialist system.
James Joll, who spent long years as professor of history at such universities as Oxford, Stanford and Harvard, in his source book Europe Since 1870, which is still used as a text book in universities, describes the ideological relationship between Darwinism, imperialism, and racism.
The most profound groups of ideas inspiring the concept of imperialism were those which can be roughly classified as 'social Darwinism', and which saw the relations between states as a perpetual struggle for survival in which some races were regarded as 'superior' to others in an evolutionary process in which the strongest had constantly to assert themselves.
Charles Darwin, the English naturalist whose books On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, and The Descent of Man, which followed in 1871, launched controversies which affected many branches of European thought... The ideas of Darwin, and of some of his contemporaries such as the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, ...were rapidly applied to questions far removed from the immediate scientific ones... The element of Darwinism which appeared most applicable to the development of society was the belief that the excess of population over the means of support necessitated a constant struggle for survival in which it was the strongest or the 'fittest' who won. From this it was easy for some social thinkers to give a moral content to the notion of the fittest, so that the species or races which did survive were those morally entitled to do so.
The doctrine of natural selection could, therefore, very easily become associated with another train of thought developed by the French writer, Count Joseph-Arthur Gobineau, who published an Essay on the Inequality of Human Races in 1853. Gobineau insisted that the most important factor in development was race; and that those races which remained superior were those which kept their racial purity intact. Of these, according to Gobineau, it was the Aryan race which had survived best... It was... Houston Stewart Chamberlain who contributed to carrying some of these ideas a stage further... Hitler himself admired the author (Chamberlain) sufficiently to visit him on his deathbed in 1927. 15
As has been shown, there is an ideological chain linking Darwin to racist thinkers and imperialists, and stretching from there as far as Hitler. Darwinism is the ideological basis of both imperialism, which drowned the world in blood in the 19th century, and Nazism, which did the same thing in the 20th.
Victorian Great Britain also found its so-called "scientific basis" in Darwinism. Great Britain made great profits out of colonialism, and saw no reason not to visit disasters upon the heads of those living under that colonialism for its own advantage. One example of British imperialism's dirty politics was the "Opium Wars" against China. Great Britain began to smuggle the opium it grew in India into China from the first quarter of the 19th century. This opium smuggling was speeded up as time passed to make good the deficit in its foreign trade. The flow of the drug into the country also had the effect of weakening the Chinese state's authority over its own territory. The collapse in society soon reached serious dimensions. The prohibition of opium, which the Chinese government had to implement after a long period of doubt, led to the first Opium War (1838-1842). There is no doubt that this war dragged the country to bankruptcy. China was forced to bow its head because of the inadequacy of its army in every confrontation with the foreign forces and to accept their ever-growing demands. The Westerners slowly formed settlement centres inside Chinese territory from the year 1842. They took large port quarters (concessions) from out of the hands of the Chinese, rented their fields, and obliged the country to open up to the outside world in a way that would bring the most benefit to themselves. As a result of all of this, the poverty in the country, the weakness of the government, and the slow loss of Chinese territory led to many rebellions.
The experiences in China were only one of the results of British policy. Throughout the 19th century the oppression and painful dimensions of British imperialism were experienced in such regions as South Africa, India, and Australia.
The job of justifying this oppressive system of Britain's and attempting to show it was in the right, fell to various British sociologists and scientists. And Charles Darwin was the most important and effective of these. It was Darwin who claimed that throughout evolution there had been "superior races," that these were the "white race," and showed that the whites' oppression of the others was a "natural law."
Because of the justification which Darwin provided for colonialist racism, the famous scientist, Kenneth J. Hsü, the head of the Geography department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and himself of Chinese descent, describes Darwin as "a gentleman scientist of the Victorian Era, and an establishment member of a society that sent gunboats to forcibly import opium into China, all in the name of competition (in free trade) and survival of the fittest." 16
Piltdown Man Forgery
One of the most interesting indications of the inspiration the theory of evolution offered to Britishimperialism, was the Piltdown man scandal.
In 1912, a strange skull was found in Piltdown, England. Charles Dawson, the scientist who found the skull together with his team, declared that it belonged to a creature which was half ape-half human. Arthur Keith, the renowned evolutionist anatomist examined the fossil and confirmed the results.
However, Dawson and Keith emphasised an important point. The brain of the fossil was as big as that of modern man. The jawbone, however, had ape-like features.
Suddenly the brain of Piltdown man became a matter of pride for the British. Since this skull was found in England, it had to be the ancestor of the British. According to the British people, the greater volume of the brain indicated that British had evolved before other races, and were thus superior to other races.
That is why the discovery of Piltdown man aroused great excitement in England. Newspapers ran headlines and crowds joyously celebrated the discovery. The British government, on the other hand, granted a knighthood to Arthur Keith for his famous discovery.
The famous evolutionist palaeontologist, Don Johanson, describes the relationship between the Piltdown fossil and English imperialism:
The Piltdown discovery was very eurocentric. Not only did the brain have pre-eminence, but the English had pre-eminence, too. 17
The inspiration the English derived from Piltdown man lasted only until 1953, when Kenneth Oakley, a scientist who re-examined the fossil in detail, revealed it to be the greatest forgery of the 20th century. The fossil had been produced by affixing an orang-utan jaw to a human skull.
1- A.E. Wilder-Smith, Man's Origin Man's Destiny, The Word for Today Publishing, 1993, p.166
2- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd edition, New York, A L. Burt Co., 1874, p. 178
3- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd edition, New York, A L. Burt Co., 1874, p. 171
4- Godfrey Lienhardt, Social Anthropology, Oxford University Press, p. 11
5- Benjamin Farrington, What Darwin Really Said, London: Sphere Books, 1971, pp. 54-56
6- James Ferguson, "The Laboratory of Racism", New Scientist, vol. 103, (September 1984, p. 18)
7- Lalita Prasad Vidyarthi, Racism, Science and Pseudo-Science, Unesco, France, Vendôme, 1983. p. 54
8- David N. Menton, Ph.D., The Religion of Nature: Social Darwinism, St. Louis MetroVoice, September 1994, Vol. 4, No. 9
9- Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin, W. W. Norton & Company, New York 1992, p. 217
10- Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin, W. W. Norton & Company, New York 1992, p. 220
11- Alaeddin Senel, Irk ve Irkçilik Düsüncesi (The Idea of Race and Racism), Ankara:Bilim ve Sanat Yayinlari, 1993, p. 67-68
12- Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p.81 cited in Alaeddin Senel, Irk ve Irkçilik Düsüncesi (The Idea of Race and Racism), Ankara:Bilim ve Sanat Yayinlari, 1993, p. 68
13- Jacques Attali, 1492, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1991, p.197
14- François de Fontette, Le Racisme (Racism), 6th ed. Presses Universitaires de France, 1988, p. 40-41
15- James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History, Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1990, p. 102-103
16- Kenneth J. Hsü., reply to comment on "Darwin's Three Mistakes", Geology, vol. 15, April 1987, p. 377
17- Don Johanson, In Search of Human Origins, 1994 WGBH Educational Foundation