Tuesday, March 27, 2007

World Slavery

The abolition of slavery in Britain is 200years old. Commemorating it is a good way of bringing it to the attention of a wider public who are not fully aware of this era of British history. We don't learn about such things at school, or at least I didn't when I was there, but then we didn't learn about a whole swathe of other parts of history either.

Gillian Reynolds captures some of the frustration surrounding the topic of slavery in her article in the Telegraph today; frustration on both sides, from blacks and whites. Descendents who want reparation for wrongs committed to their ancestors are at loggerheads with those who believe that it's pointless apologising in modern times for actions carried out generations ago. That whole period was infinitely regretful, but an apology from the State would be meaningless. Nations all over the world have committed atrocities since the beginning of time. Why single out one particular atrocity, centuries later?

Gleaned from Wikipedia, some interesting information on slavery:
"There were slaves in mainland France, but the institution was never fully authorized there. However, slavery was vitally important in France's Caribbean possessions, especially Saint-Domingue... In Paris, on February 4, 1794, Abbé Grégoire and the Convention ratified this action by officially abolishing slavery in all French territories. Napoleon sent troops to the Caribbean in 1802 to try to re-establish slavery. They succeeded in Guadeloupe, but the ex-slaves of Saint-Domingue defeated the French army and declared independence."
"The Arab world has traded in slaves like many other cultures of the region. It was one of the oldest slave trades, predating the European transatlantic slave trade by hundreds of years[8]. The Arab or Middle Eastern slave trade is thought to have originated with trans-Saharan slavery...
...As many African slaves may have crossed the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean as crossed the Atlantic, perhaps more. Some sources estimate that between 11 and 17 million slaves crossed the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara Desert from 650 to 1900, compared to 11.6 million across the Atlantic from 1500 to the late 1860s. The Arab or Middle Eastern slave trade continued into the early 1900s...
...The Arab trade in slaves continued into the 20th century. Written travelogues and other historical works are replete with references to slaves owned by wealthy traders, nobility and heads of state in the Arabian Peninsula well into the 1920s. Slave owning and slave-like working conditions have been documented up to and including the present, in countries of the Middle East. Though the subject is considered taboo in the affected regions, a leading Saudi government cleric and author of the country's religious curriculum has called for the outright re-legalization of slavery."
"Slavery persists in Africa more than in all other continents. Slavery in Mauritania was legally abolished by laws passed in 1905, 1961, and 1981, but several human rights organizations are reporting that the practice continues there. The trading of children has been reported in modern Nigeria and Benin. In parts of Ghana, a family may be punished for an offense by having to turn over a virgin female to serve as a sex slave within the offended family... In the Sudan, slavery continues as part of an ongoing civil war; see also the Slavery in Sudan article. Evidence emerged in the late 1990s of systematic slavery in cacao plantations in West Africa."

Instead of breast-beating it would be far better to campaign to outlaw modern-day slavery. Maybe the descendents of slaves could take up the fight to ensure that enslavement is eradicated from the planet so that what happened to their ancestors never happens to anyone else.


  1. It would surely be more useful to stop modern slavery than 'apologising' for things that happened centuries ago. Aprt from slavery still existing in 'emerging countries' we have daily examples of it happening on our doorstep - girls who are taken on as maids, their passports stolen, unpaid and confined to the house, sometimes for years...

    In the same 'apologising' vein, there is the court case currently ajourned, of families of victims of the Holocaust suing the SNCF for allowing their trains to be used to send Jews to Drancy. Did the SNCF have the choice?

  2. PS Mouse has also published a blog in the same vein

  3. Slavery is outlawed throughout the world. All governments have to do is apply their own laws. Why don't they do this, I wonder?

    I read about this SNCF case and wondered what the families thought they were doing. It feels like a money-making ploy, else why sue?

  4. They sue for the example, Sarah, and so that no one can ever say again, "it's not me, I'm just being obedient to my boss" - as the nazis did and the SNCF saying it was Vichy, not they. All human beings can say no and no and no. And if they were not such cowards they ones there to say no are more numerous than the others!!

    Most of those suing could not care a less about the money. The law case brings back to the front page the awful excuse of saying I did it becos I was told to, did my duty, did not have the choice"....

    Slavery problems on a big scale end up by producing whole generations of people who hate their own countrymen, because for years they were given work no one would do, left out of even the most elementary comfort, education or social rights, and thus gave birth to future generations who wish to get their own back. We planted the poison seed......

    Today's slavery, as Louise so rightly said is still going on - maids who work 24 hours a day in posh Neuilly houses and embassies, but worse still, children working for a miserable two pennies 12 hours a day in oriental countries for well known makes of clothes and shoes......it costs less, and the children work as slaves until they drop.

    Heartbreaking. We are sufficiently numerous to put a stop to all that - but of course we won't be winning the popularity prise of the year!! So let's get at it!!

  5. 200 years ago Britain abolished the slave trade. For long years thereafter slaving continued in UK colonies and the US. The major 19 th century British production of cotton goods was dependent on the large US plantations which used slave labour.

    Britain did not support the yankees during the American civil war, they were officially neutral but at times close to supporting the confederacy. So at the time of the US civil war (1861-1865) the UK did not support the abolishment of slavery. It was abolished in the Euro American sphere thanks to President Lincoln with strictly NO British support.

    The damaged party are the descendants of the slaves, if they feel an apology would help them to overcome the stigma of the slaving, who are we we to contradict. Indeed I can fully understand their feelings and I am sure in their postion I would be comforted if the responsible nations recognized their crimes.
    As a descendant of the people who did the slaving I feel a need for our nations to formally recognize the wrong we did. The day when we recognize, no ifs no buts, that our part in slaving was intolerable, will be a good day. The same goes for many other bad deeds, let's get started, it shouldn't take too long nor cost too much.

  6. Britain has formally recognised the wrong it did, Richard, in Blair's famous 'Regret' speech. What's that if not a formal recognition?

    Why sue now, though? Who else is going to be found to have followed orders, and sued? Or rather, people who have nothing to do with the original crime. Not even their families.


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