For the last several days, I have been silent. I wanted to post several things since I have been home, but felt each time I wrote something, it was being written for just the sake of having something down in the blog.
I received an email today, from a good friend in the UK. He occasionally sends me quotes, news stories, etc. I like to refer to him as my “continuing education” professor. He teaches at Oxford, and is great at opening up my views on particular topics, including MLM.
So today, this entry is courtesy of my friend. It has nothing to do with construction, Quixtar, and is in no way bordering on comedic. But it is well worth blogging about.
After the story, I am posting a link to one his favorite organizations.
Mauritania has outlawed slavery three times. But this former French colony of only two million people probably contains the world’s largest concentration of chattel slaves. In 1993, the U.S. State Department estimated that up to 90,000 blacks live as the property of North African Arabs (known as Beydanes, or white Moors). Other sources add 300,000 part-time and ex-slaves, known as haratins, many of whom continue to serve their owners out of fear or need. Local anti-slavery group El Hor (“The Free”) estimates that as many as one million haratins.
The slaves are chattel. They are used for house or farm labor, for sex, and for breeding. They may be exchanged for camels, trucks, guns, or money. Their children are the property of the master. They are born, live, and die as slaves. Africans in Mauritania were converted to Islam over 100 years ago, but though the Koran forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, in this case race outranks religious doctrine. Indeed, the black Muslim slaves of Mauritania are generally forbidden to share the basic rights of Muslims in even the poorest of countries: They may not marry, attend school, or go to mosque.
In 1990, the widely respected Human Rights Watch/Africa reported that “routine” punishments for the slightest fault include beatings, denial of food, and prolonged exposure to the sun with hands and feet tied together. “Serious” infringement of the master’s rule are met with a variety of tortures, including “the insect treatment.” Tiny ants are stuffed into the ears, which are sealed with stones and bound with a scarf. Hands and feet are tied and the errant slave is left for several days, after which, the rights group reports, he will do what he is told.
Unlike other victims, the black slaves of Mauritania and Sudan have had no powerful allies. In 1993, the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) began a campaign to bring the plight of these slaves to national attention. We’ve had some success: The NAACP passed a resolution pledging to “come to the front lines of this battle.” The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Donald Payne (D-New Jersey), pledged congressional action. Cong. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) initiated legislation requiring America to cut aid to Mauritania in response to the slavery there. These are all good signs. But to the people whose bodies, sweat, and blood are owned by others, whose every day is hellish, signs are not quite enough.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Why is it that modern-day slaves get so little attention in the West, which prides itself on responding to other sorts of human-rights violations? Mike Dottridge, the ASI’s research manager, suggests much is explained by the Cold War origins of human-rights campaigning. “The focus was on political and human rights, which were being abrogated and abused by governments, not individuals or industries,” he explains. Victims embraced by the West –dissidents and intellectuals, “prisoners of conscience,” and torture victims — are defended by pressuring governments, which indeed can be moved. (And many are from the same social class as their human-rights defenders, who naturally identify with them.)
The case of slavery is quite different. Most of the problem is abject poverty and systematic methods employed by local power holders to exploit the weak. Governments are not the source of these phenomena — though they can be bought off or even become co-conspirators. In the face of such scenarios, people in the West feel impotent: What can they do if local power groups conspire to live parasitically off the powerless? How can they intervene in the private sphere when abuses come from private citizens, not governments?
In addition, when it comes to problems based on overwhelming poverty, people in the West feel deep guilt — their comparative wealth becomes a stinging moral burden — and turn their backs. The human race has few Mother Teresas.
Finally, Dottridge complains, “There’s always the ‘show me the picture’ problem.” Photographs of modern-day slavery will not reveal whips, auctions, and chains. They depict complex power relationships — debt bondage, forced labor, the sorts of servitude that come from social power, not direct physical force. Cruel hierarchies are not seen in a snapshot.
And so abolitionists around the world are using new methods to fight the ancient scourge of slavery. Countries in the developed world and their citizen consumers are being urged to say no to products made with forced labor; to do no business with or touring of countries that engage in slavery-like practices; and to press their governments, as Zimmer and Frank are doing, to act against slaving nations.
The efforts of abolitionists should be supported. In this, the 21st century, surely the world cannot abide the hideous practice of human bondage. Or can it?