In the fight against slavery in Africa, they seem to have disappeared.
By Charles Jacobs
The Boston Globe
July 7, 1996
Pat Robertson, Bill Bennet, Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, and the entire Christian Right are fighting hard against black slavery today in Africa. Jesse Jackson, the NAACP, Randall Robinson, and the Congressional Black Caucus are not. Neither are most womens groups, or progressive churches. Thats not our fault: weve been pleading with the human rights community for years to wake up and help.
Human rights activists for some victims of human bondage: In Asia, women are bought and sold and forced to serve in brothels frequented by U.S. businessmen. US law makes it a prosecutable offense for an American to pay to have sex with a foreign slave. In India, child "carpet slaves" weave the orientals that adorn suburban homes. Conscientious Americans dont buy carpets without a "RugMark" label, a guarantee of free labor. In Pakistan, child slaves make soccer balls. Congressman Joe Kennedy heads the "Foul Ball" campaign to combat it. Its only the black chattel slaves of North Africa who find no champions in the West.
In Mauritania, according to a State Department report of a few years ago, up to 90,000 blacks serve their Arab Berber masters. Mauritanian Africans converted to Islam centuries ago. Those black Muslims who are enslaved are bred: Their children belong to their masters.
In Sudan, a civil war rekindled the slave trade: radical Islamists in Khartoum use slave raids as a weapon in their self-declared jihad ("holy war") on black Christians and animists of the south, and on black Muslim moderates in the Nuba mountains. Arab militias storm African villages, shoot the men and capture the women and children. These are kept as war booty or sold north in what the UN says are "modern day slave markets."
Four years ago Mohamed Athie, a Mauritanian Muslim, David Chand, a Sudanese Christian, and I, a Jewish management consultant, pledged to place this issue on the American agenda by trying to re-ignite the anti-apartheid coalition. Freedom, we reasoned, was as precious in Khartoum as in Johannesberg. U.S. Representative Barney Frank warned that whites could little without black leadership. So we sent our first photos and documents to every member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), to Jesse Jackson, Randall Robinson and to the NAACP. We published in over 200 black papers. We appeared on national black TV news shows. We held the first Abolitionist Conference in this country in over 130 years at Columbia University.
Now there are eight, mostly black-led grass roots groups across the country who count thousands of ordinary African-Americans as supporters. But black leaders are AWOL... or worse. The NAACP resolved to "come to the front of this battle" but has not. The CBC encouraged us, but then went mute. Jesse Jacksons office told us he wouldnt touch the issue because it sounded "anti-Arab." Jacksons friend, the Reverend Singleton from California, now heads one of our groups. He says Jesse knows about slavery; hes just "too busy." More than a few black Congresspeople signed on. But no black leader has raised the issue with his constituency. Imagine.
And then there are some supporters of Louis Farrakhan who have political, religious, and perhaps financial links to the Khartoum slavers... They attack us as CIA or Zionist plotters and even deny that slavery exists.
Wheres the rest of the anti-apartheid movement? Frank and journalists Nat Hentoff and Clarence Page have come to our aid. Human Rights Watch/Africa documents the truth. The American Friends Service Committee is bringing the issue to the campuses. But theyre alone. And after NBC Dateline ran footage of slaves sales last December, nobody can say he doesnt know.
Only one womens group, the Independent Womens Forum, has helped. Slavery should be a womens issue. Its daily rape. Dinka slaves chosen as concubines are genitally mutilated. Slave masters in Mauritania breed their slaves and own the children.
We wrote and called church leaders who care about social justice - 6 or 8 in Boston alone. No one interested.
We went to Amnesty International. After an hour long debate at the national convention in 1994, Amnestys U.S. branch voted to add slavery to its mandate. But the International overrode this decision and wants "more study." That was three years ago. What right is more fundamental than not to be enslaved?
Now we find the Christian Right interested in our cause. When the Abolitionist Leadership Council meets in Washington D.C. next week, we will study a video clip of Pat Robertson showing scenes of a slave sale in Sudan on the "700 Club" and asking viewers to battle "for our Christian brethren in bondage." And we will wonder what to do. Will our cause be hated by liberals now that the Christian right has taken it up?
Some liberal friends tell us to reject its support. But human freedom is not a question of right or left, just right or wrong. America almost tore itself apart over the issue of one man owning another. It is inconceivable that any part of America would abandon todays black slaves for any reason. And we will not.