November 30, 2013
Many years ago, I submitted a paper for a conference on Slavery (World History Association), which was rejected. The problem was that I offered a history of slavery going back to its ancient roots, but the association was only interested in the evils of Black Slavery in the West. This was my first exposure to “selective Slavery.” Then later, serving as the director of the United Nations Association in San Francisco, I questioned the organization’s authorities about enlarging the UN’s definition of slavery to include marriage in much of the Lesser Developed world. They didn’t like this much.
Once more, outrage over selective slavery has been put before the World Court in The Hague; fourteen Caribbean countries are demanding an apology and reparations from the former colonial powers of Britain, France, and the Netherlands. But nobody is asking for reparations from those current African countries whose cultures not only were engaged in slave trading, but long before their customers were the European colonialists, they traded hapless Black captives to the Muslim world. I would say that Sudan would be a great place to get reparations; they have the money. Furthermore, they are still engaged in slave trading.
A little historic review of this hideous practice is needed. The institution of slavery arose in the Iron Age (1200-550 BC), because of two industries: mining and irrigation systems. With the birth of agriculture and the rise of urban life, the need for captive labor became a regular societal requirement.
In antiquity (Greece and Rome), slavery was ubiquitous, and the supply large. Warfare brought captives and the criminal justice systems enslaved prisoners for punishment. Roman society was totally dependent on slave labor, but as Christianity took hold, slavery declined. Europe, after the fall of Rome, did not encounter slavery again until the eruption of the Muslims across the Mediterranean (600-1,000 AD). Islamic society had an endless appetite for slaves, slaves for mining (an industry that does not get many volunteers) and even more, for their harems. They needed (and castrated) men to guard these “gardens of delight” and peopled them with prized European female captives.
Arab piracy on the Mediterranean transformed that once commercial “Roman lake” into a scary place. Slave raids depopulated the northern Mediterranean, and greedy southern Italian nobility even sold their own peasants when in need of money. The infamous Vikings (before they became Christian), partnered with the Arabs to secure slaves by raiding. Today, Scandinavian graveyards from that period are full of Arab coinage.
Slavery was abolished in the West: Britain in 1830, France in 1789 (but then shamefully reinstated by Napoleon in their Caribbean holdings), and finally by the US in 1864. Only Western Civilization deliberately freed their slaves, but nobody talks about that. Nobody talks about the slave industry among the Aztecs or Incas, well before the Spanish arrived, either. This would be politically incorrect.
Today, slavery is alive and well, not in the West (except for criminal sex trafficking), but everywhere else. In numbers alone, India leads with 14 million slaves; China with 3 million; Pakistan with 2.2 million; Nigeria with .07 million; Ethiopia with .06 million. Russia with .05 million (sex slavery); Thailand, .05 million; Congo .05 (estimate); and Burma with .04. (Economist, October 19, 2013.)
If we look at percentages of the population under slavery, Mauritania is the worst, with an estimated 4% enslaved, mostly born into slavery. (I wonder if that number includes wives.) The Walk Free Foundation’s numbers are higher than estimates of forced labor issued by the UN’s International Labor Organization and the US State Department. This may be because they may be including, as I do, women in the status of wife in the Muslim world and village India.
The State Department, moreover, condemned a number of countries for turning a blind eye to modern-day sex slavery. They included Russia, China, and Uzbekistan. According to Kevin Bales (a report on NPR), slavery today is found in work that is dirty, dangerous, and demeaning, such as mining, agriculture, and fishing. How about in enforced prostitution? How about reparations for that?
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.n