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Many countries, in addition to the United States, have trouble dealing with the past because the past is still with them. Memory of historical injustice is not a trivial matter to be swept under the rug in the name of progress. A nation is an intergenerational community, andtheexistenceofhistoricalobligationsispredicatedonourmoralrelationstooursuccessors .Memory,ormorepreciselyremembering,isanimportantpartoftheidentityofindividualsandcommunities .Themoralidentityofanationmaybedefinedastheremembranceof thoseeventsthatcompriseitsobligationsandentitlements. Sohowwilltheelectionof2008beremembered?WillitmarkthecontinuationofAmericansuperpowerrhetoricthatboastsanexceptionalismdividingusfromtherestoftheworld whiledenyingthehistorythatundercutsit?Willwesimplypatourselvesonthebackforentertaining the nomination of a woman and an African American for the highest office in the land?Orwillwecometogetheraroundthenewlyactivatedyoungpeople,womenandBlacks andbuildanewdiscourseofreparation,reconciliationandcommonhumanity? ■ CharlesP.HenryisprofessorandchairoftheDepartmentofAfricanAmericanStudiesattheUniversityofCaliforniaatBerkeley . HismostrecentbookisLongOverdue:ThePoliticsofRacialReparations . J U LY / A U G U S T 2 0 0 8 W W W. T I K K U N . O R G T I K K U N 25 FaithinAction: EndingSlavery, Together byAustinChoi-Fitzpatrick S lavery still exists. If you’ve been paying attention over the last few years, you’ll have noticed this theme cropping up again and again. It started like a low rumble coming from human rights advocates, humanitarian workers, and missionariestheworldover.Aresurgenceofavery,veryoldsortofexploitationwas takingplaceamongthoseleastabletodefendthemselves.Peopleatthemarginsof the economy, whether the global economy or their own village economy, were forced to do workwithlittleornopayandunabletoleavebecauseofviolenceandfear.That’swhatslavery is:forcedwork,nopay,andviolence. Ifyou’vebeenpayingattentionyou’venoticedthatthisissuetakesanastoundingnumber offorms:humantrafficking,forcedprostitution,bondedlabor,forcedmarriage,forcedconscription into armies… the list goes on, checked only by the limits of human imagination. Thesehorriblethingsarehappeningtochildren,men,women—anyonecaughtinthefissures andgapsofaneconomywithnobodylookingafterthem.Andthentherearethenumbers:27 millionheldinslaveryworldwide,tensofthousandsrighthereintheUnitedStates. I’vebeenworkingonthisissueforyearsnowandwillbethefirsttoadmitthatthissteady stream of statistics and stories is bleak. But I’ve got to tell you about what else I’ve been seeing —something beyond slavery. Flashes of hope. Glimpses of freedom. I work for an organization called Free the Slaves. The more we learn the more we’re convinced that AP PHOTO/JEAN-MARC BOUJU The faces of boys are shown as they wait to be released in Madhol, southwest of Khartoum, Sudan. An Arab trader sold 132 former slaves, women and children , for $13,200 in Sudanese money to a representative of the Swissbased charity, Christian Solidarity International. politics_2.qxd:Politics 6/11/08 12:35 PM Page 25 complexproblemsrequireambitioussolutions.Andthesesolutionsmustgetusallthinking aboutslaveryintermsoffreedom. Werecentlyreleasedabook(EndingSlavery:HowWeFreeToday’sSlaves),writtenbysociologistandFreetheSlavespresident ,KevinBales,thatsketchesthisambitioussolution.We believe it’s going to take a mass movement of people standing up against slavery. People like you and me. It’s also going to take governments enforcing their laws against slavery. And it willtakecorporationsthathavethecouragetotakeahardlookattheirsupplychains,removingslaverywherevertheyfindit .InternationalgroupsliketheUNandnon-governmental organizations have a role too, building infrastructure for large-scale anti-slaverywork.Wethinkthattogetherwecanendslaveryintwenty-fiveyears. Thebook’smostimportantcontributionisthatitopensawindowintoaworldin whicheachofushasaroletoplay. Solately,I’vebeenaskingmyself:What’stheroleoffaithcommunitiesinallof this?Mysearchforanswershasbroadenedmyhorizonsandgladdenedmyspirit . In thinking about slavery and abolition, Christianity comes immediately to mind.Therelationshipisn’tacleanone.ManyatheologicalbattlewaswagedbeforethenotionoffreedomfortheenslavedtookrootinChristianconsciousness . In fact, broader ideas of freedom were slow to catch on, as lauded abolitionist WilliamWilberforcepainfullydisplayedwhenhesaidthat“taughtbyChristianity , [freed slaves] will sustain with patience the sufferings of their actual lot… [and] will soon be regarded as a grateful peasantry” (Adam Hochschild, Bury theChains). And yet, there they were, Christians leading the last anti-slavery movement (and a few rebellions) some 200 years ago. In retrospect it may seem natural thatthechurchwouldgetinvolvedinthiseffort.Butit’simportanttoremember what else the church was doing at the time. The church was also busy using the Scripture to defendslavery. The sociologist Christian Smith has pointed out that the “worldviews, moral systems, theodicies, and organizations of religion can serve not only to legitimate and preserve ,butalsotochallengeandoverturnsocial,political,andeconomicsystems.” So who was doing the challenging and overturning? Who had the gumption to stand up against slavery when it was at its zenith? We must remember that the slave trade was one of themostsignificantindustriesintheglobaleconomy.Itwasbackedbyreligiousleadersand economic elites. And who stood up to say, “let’s do away with a principle engine of the world economybecauseit’stherightthingtodo”? Itwaspeopleoffaith.Ahandfulwiththecouragetodrawontheverybestoftheirprophetictraditionandarticulateavisionoffreedom . Sounds great! So who all’s got this vision of freedom? Just Christians? The Buddhist tradition forbids the trading of weapons and people. Within Islam the Prophet Mohammed was fierce in his denunciation of slavery. His statement that "There are three categories of peopleagainstwhomIshallmyselfbeaplaintiffontheDayofJudgment.Ofthesethree,one is he who enslaves a free man, then sells him and eats this money" echoes into the present. WithinHinduismavibrantfreedommovementischallengingthecastesystemandtheslavery it supports. The Jewish faith has brought us one of the most significant narratives of emancipation:theExodusofJewsoutofenslavement. In fact, abolitionist movements have been happening within religious movements for thousands of years. Wang Mang, the Buddhist Chinese Emperor, may have been the first powerfulabolitionist.Heoutlawedtheslavetradein9ce,some2000yearsago...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-0041
Print ISSN
0887-9982
Pages
pp. 25-27
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-06
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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