The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | Articles | Africa | Proclamation by the French Consulate-General, Tangier, [1862]

Email to a friend
Printer friendly

Proclamation by the French Consulate-General, Tangier, [1862]

Archives of Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Quai d'Orsay, Paris, M.D. Maroc 10 183-186

You should reflect on the evacuation of Tetuan, an important town in Morocco, and of Peking, the capital of China, by victorious European armies, in order to understand the Europeans' conduct towards the Muslims and peoples of the East. Then you will understand that the Europeans had no wish to reduce those they had conquered to slavery and permanently seize their countries.

The purpose of the Europeans was to be able to help the progress of their commerce, to facilitate the export of their own manufactured goods and the import of primary products that they needed, and finally to protect their merchants and countrymen. Once they had gained these objectives, they took nothing else.

If this was not so, why did they evacuate Tetuan or Peking? Was it through weakness, or because they had too few troops in their expeditionary forces? No: we have seen how, with only a handful of men, they have gained victory over formidable armies. To conquer China and take its capital, they used no more than 8000 men, while the population of China is more than 350,000,000.

Nevertheless, the Chinese boast that they are the oldest of all civilised peoples, that they have made the greatest progress in arts and sciences and that they have perfected their technology. They say that other nations have borrowed everything from them, although today they have been left behind. Now, if the Europeans could triumph like this over the Chinese, can you imagine the ease of their victory over peoples plunged into the depths of ignorance?

When things are carefully considered, it will be seen that the Christians and the Muslims need each other. It is true that Europe provides all the cloth with which Muslims cloth themselves in Morocco, in Africa and elsewhere: sheets, material of all sorts, silk fabric, and silk and woollen materials for furniture and so on. Europe also provides most of the tools needed for everyday life and different trades: needles, scissors, razors, knives, blacksmith's tools, carpenters, engravers etc., and the materials that are needed: metals, different sorts of wood, chemicals for dying, medicine, paint. We can add to this list writing paper, sugar, different sorts of spices, such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves, several sorts of perfumes, all products of Europe, of its colonies and distant lands where its ships go to collect them.

The help of Europeans is very useful in several particular instances. For example, if drought strikes one country, the Europeans are quick to send ships loaded with wheat, barley and rice in order to help and save lives. It is a matter of humanity and in such things there can be no partiality in respect of religion or of individuals. Moreover, it is in accordance with Islamic law, which permits you to show charity towards the poor who are not Muslims and which requires you to give food to any man who is hungry. Without the help of the Europeans a town, or a country, where there was famine would perish.

In order to prove what we are saying, here is the story of something which happened in the first centuries of the Islamic era. The Imam As-Souiouty reports it in his history of Egypt entitled "Housnou-l-Mouhadirah"

In the year 460 (corresponds to 1068 AD) a great famine began in Egypt, such as had never been seen since the days of Joseph. Accompanied by an epidemic sickness, it lasted 7 years, and people began to eat dead bodies once the animals had all been consumed. A dog would be sold for 5 pieces of gold and a cat for 3. The king of Egypt had no more than 3 horses left, once a huge crowd had seized them. Once day his prime minister got down from his mule; the boy who was minding it was inattentive because he was suffering from hunger. Three people seized the animal and killed it to eat. They were arrested and hanged. The next body it was discovered that their bodies had been gnawed to the bone. A man was discovered who was killing children and selling their flesh after burying their limbs. He was arrested and executed. One egg cost a gold piece; an ardeb of wheat, 100 gold pieces, and still there was none in the market. The author of the history entitled "Miraat-Zamen" saw a woman who went outside Cairo with a mudd (a measure for grain) filled with precious stones. She was shouting, "who wants these stones for the same measure of grain?" No one paid her any attention. In the year 465, Souiouti continues, the shortages got even worse in Cairo, and it was quite often that one found in the morning all the people in a house dead from hunger. It is said that one woman only succeeded in eating a small loaf of bread by paying out 1000 gold cents. This is what happened: she sold something for 1000 gold pieces, and for this sum she bought a certain quantity of wheat, which she gave into the charge of a porter. On the way home, they were attacked, and the woman for her part was only able to save enough for a small loaf. Some black people waited in the streets with blacksmith's tongs in order to hunt down passers-by and eat their flesh. A woman passer by was hit with the tongs, her two buttocks were cut off and her assailants started to eat them without paying any more attention to the woman, who succeeded in escaping and called for help. The police arrived the house of the negroes was surrounded to prevent anyone from getting away. Then they went in and they found a large number of human skeletons.

This account has all sorts of other dramatic details about this horrible famine, but it would take too long to relate them all. Today this sort of thing happens nowhere, because the Europeans come in their boats from every part of the Universe. When the price of grain goes up in one place, the Europeans are quick to bring it from far-away lands, in order to provide it for those who have none. Everyone knows this. Consequently the Europeans render great service to the Muslims.

What needs do the Europeans have, for their part, from the lands of the Muslims? These consist of buying primary materials in order to supply their factories, and other products of which their countries have need such as animal skins, grain, oil, wool, silk, cotton, and [beasts of burden and for luxury use..] There are many things which are not used in the lands of Muslims, but which the Europeans can use to greatest advantage. Every religion and every person of good sense is agreed that God did not create anything which was useless. Everything, great or small, has some use for mankind, although often we do not know what that use might be. For example, today we see that people in Africa and the East are able to sell to the Europeans the bones of animals and rags, things for which there was formerly no use, but which the Europeans are able to use in a great many ways.

The steamships, the innumerable ships of every kind, railways, easy and safe roads, the canals of Europe are of the greatest service both to the inhabitants of Europe and to foreigners. It is this which allows people to communicate with each other, expands their links and their trade, and allows commerce to make the most rapid progress, all of which serves the interests of the whole world. Without these means of communication, the Europeans would be unable to sell the products of their countries, even when other people might have need of them. This is exactly what one sees in the Muslim countries in the rainy seasons, when the camels cannot go along the roads because of the mud. Then the inhabitants of one town cannot sell their grain, while another town suffers from shortages and no more than two or three days separate the two places.

The evacuation of Peking and Tetuan and of other towns conquered by the Europeans, proves that their purpose in coming to the Muslim lands, as in coming elsewhere, was only to serve their commerce and dispose of their goods and in return exporting from those countries the primary materials which abound there, to establish, in short, the same relations between their countries and the Muslims as exist between the different peoples of Europe. In Europe people settle in a foreign land in order to sell the products of their own countries or to buy local products to sell at home or to a third country. For, if a rich man sees a product which comes from a foreign land, he will want to acquire it, even when he has similar things in his own country. In this way, trade progresses, industry develops, workers gain a living, the merchant takes his profits, and each nation become greater by developing its prosperity and augmenting its riches.

If this did not happen the fortune of the rich man would be unproductive, and his heaps of gold would be like heaps of stones. If his capital remained out of circulation he would deprive himself and others of the exchange of commodities against cash and vice-versa.

Contributed by C. R. Pennell, University of Melbourne,