[Marxism] Reading Melville in Post-9/11 America | The Nation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 9 11:45:35 MST 2014

Herman Melville didn’t know that the West African slaves who inspired 
him to write his other, half-forgotten masterpiece, Benito Cereno, were 
Muslim. And when I first learned that they were, I didn’t think it more 
than a curiosity. I was, after all, planning to use the true incident 
behind the Melville story to open onto a larger history of freedom and 
slavery during the Age of Revolution, to which Islam seemed incidental.

But the more research I did, the more the importance of Islam revealed 
itself—and not just to the historical events Melville fictionalized. No 
one knows how many Muslims were among the 12.5 million Africans brought 
in chains across the Atlantic. Some scholars estimate as many as 10 
percent. For centuries, they served as something like the New World’s 
secret sharers, its covert operators, a key but largely unacknowledged 
element in the making of what the historian Edmund Morgan, decades ago, 
called the defining “paradox” of American history: the paradox of 
freedom and slavery.


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