Try to Claim Land As Explorers Used to; See Where You End Up
|November 17, 2013||Posted by Staff under Land Disputes|
This 2013 excerpt of The Atlantic, Oct 23, is by Adam Clulow.
Lamont M. Butler-El didn’t attempt to seize a $6 million 12-bedroom, 17-bathroom estate by slipping through a hole in the fence. Instead, he presented himself before the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to demand that the records be altered to reflect the fact that he was assuming ownership as a representative of the Moorish Nation of Northwest Amexem, North America, a community he asserts that predated both the modern United States and European colonization of the Americas. When questioned by his new neighbors, his response was a detailed history lesson — that was repeated to police officers arriving on the scene.
To make a claim is to appeal to some standard of justice, some sort of right, but it is also to assert a willingness to back up this appeal with some sort of action.
Identical qualities stand at the heart of the European sovereignty playbook as it was deployed in diverse spots across the world during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Again and again, tiny contingents of Europeans, always outnumbered and often in terrible shape after long voyages in cramped vessels or disastrous treks across harsh interiors, proceeded to lay claim to huge tracts of land or even vaster expanses of maritime space. Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish adventurer, waded into the warm waters of the Pacific up his knees and proceeded to claim the ocean itself “now and for all time so long as the world shall last, until the final universal judgment of all mortals.”
European claims always commenced by invoking a standard of justice, although it was invariably a standard that could not be accessed or indeed understood by precisely the people to whom it was being applied.
An imposed sweeping set of rules without allowing any possibility for local comprehension prompted one historical observer to note that he did not know “whether to laugh or cry” when he heard of the practice. A modern juror in Butler-El’s case who, commenting on the actions of the defendant, noted that it “seemed like they were making up their own laws” and then applying them without regard for existing norms or systems.