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There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in History

Posted on Aug 25, 2009

By Terrence McNally, AlterNet

(Page 3)

BS: On the basis of three months spent in southern and northern Sudan, two months in southern Sudan in particular. ... There was one particular evangelical group based in Switzerland, organized and run by an American who raised cash around the States. They’d go to a Sunday School or a second-grade class in Colorado, talk about slavery, and say, "Bring us your lunch money. If you can get us $50, we will buy a slave’s freedom."

It was a very effective sales pitch. They managed to raise over $3 million dollars by my calculations over the course of the 1990s.

In theory, they were giving money to "retrievers" who would go into northern Sudan, and through whatever means necessary, secure the slaves’ freedom and bring them back down into the south.

In the context of the Sudanese civil war, slavery is used as a weapon of war by the north. Northern militias raid southern villages, and in many cases, kill the men and take the women and children as slaves and as a weapon of genocide. That much is not questioned. There is no question that these slave raids were going on.


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I found that redemption on the ground was enormously problematic. There was scant oversight. They were literally giving duffel bags full of cash to factions within the rebels that were at that point resisting an ongoing peace process.

What they risked doing, whether through recklessness or through intent, was to become essentially angels of destruction at a time when a negotiated peace was just beginning to take hold. Thankfully, at this point they’ve scaled back the redemptions.

TM: So they were collecting money in the States to free slaves, and then funding a rebel movement in a war, and ...

BS: Potentially prolonging the war.

Thankfully, in the end, the death of rebel leader John Gurang meant that a different faction came to be more powerful. From my perspective, however, what was going on there was largely fraudulent.

I went back and asked the rebel officials, "What do you do with this money?" and they said, "We use it for the benefit of the people." Which begs the question, "But I thought this was being used to buy back slaves. I don’t get it."

And they said, "Well you know, there’s clothes, uniforms ..." They didn’t actually say arms, but they said all sorts of things that they needed hard currency for, and this was their way of getting the cash.

I don’t blame the rebels. If I were in a similar situation, I’d probably do the same thing. The most important point is this: By the merest estimates there are still some 12,000 slaves held in brutal bondage in the north of Sudan, and the government has not arrested or prosecuted one slave raider, one slave trader, one slave master. And as long as that continues to be the situation, the government of Sudan is in gross violation of international law.

TM: How does the distinction between sexual slavery and other sorts of labor show up, and how does it matter?

BS: When we’re defining slavery, fundamentally at its core it’s the same in each and every circumstance. We’re talking about people forced to work held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. If we’re talking about forced commercial sexual slavery, forced prostitution, there’s an added element of humiliation or shame, because we’re talking about rape.

In many parts of the world and in many traditional societies, if a woman is raped it’s her fault. If a woman is liberated and tries to go back to the village she comes from, she will never again lead a normal life.

I think it’s safe to say even in the United States, which we assume is a much more welcoming, tolerant society, women who’ve been in prostitution, regardless if it’s forced or not, have a difficult time leading a normal life afterward.

There is a school of thought that sexual slavery is somehow worse than other forms of slavery. I actually don’t buy that. I think that all slavery is monstrous, and no one slave’s emancipation should wait for that of another. At the same time, if some people are moved to fight sexual slavery and sexual trafficking at the exclusion of other forms of slavery, God bless them, as long as they’re fighting slavery at the end of the day.

TM: Briefly, what is the situation in America?

BS: On average, in the past half-hour, one more person will have been trafficked to the United States into slavery. About 14,000-17,000 are trafficked into the U.S. each year and forced to work within U.S. borders under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.

TM: What can people do?

BS: On a personal basis, they can support CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) in Los Angeles. CAST has the oldest shelter in the country for trafficked women and has terrific programs that help victims of all forms of trafficking. It’s a solid, mature organization.

They can also get involved with Free the Slaves. And they can talk about the issue more. Barack Obama is still setting his foreign policy agenda. He needs to hear from all of us that the true abolition of slavery needs to be a part of his legacy.

A quarter of Skinner’s publishing royalties go to Free the Slaves.

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By Sepharad, August 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment

FYI—I don’t know how my “Inglourious Basterds” post (Aug. 26) segued into this thread. Sorry.

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By Blackspeare, August 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

Slavery, per se, has taken on a bad name.  Like compassionate conservatism, slavery can also be compassionate.  Slavery or rather indenture servitude should be given a second look.  It employs a group of people that would probably otherwise be extremely poor or homeless.  It allows those people that can adequately maintain such a staff a superior life.  Regulations can be instituted to prevent excesses and a win-win social program helps all can be instituted.

I’ve known people who have had indentured servants in Hong Kong and they rave about it.  It’s something they really miss in the USA.  Of course you can always hire maids, butlers, gardeners, etc, but it gets costly.  Indentured servants works for room and board and perhaps a small remuneration.

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By ChaoticGood, August 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

Slavery is not going to be stopped by any means that we are willing to employ.

As long as human life is cheap, then the capitalist will try to make a profit. So we better ask the core question and that is “why is human life so cheap”

Answer: “Because there are so many of us.”

The 9000 pound gorilla in the room that nobody talks about is overpopulation.  Many human problems stem from that fact and we are unwilling to do anything about the problem.  Since we are unwilling to do anything about it, slavery will continue to flourish and grow.

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By stcfarms, August 26, 2009 at 9:22 am Link to this comment

The 250,000,000 slaves in America believe that they are free because they
have been programed not to think on a conceptual level. Civilized countries no
longer hunt down escaped slaves, they just transfer your debt to your new
owner. Freedom exists only on the frontier and the only frontier we can afford
is the ocean.

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By G.Anderson, August 26, 2009 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

It’s dificult to have freedom when your government, when your political parties, when your business insitutions believe in slavery.

Sure, they don’t call it slavery, but none the less it is slavery.

Millions live, and work in this country only to service debt that they can never hope to pay off.

When corporations, pay starvation wages to workers in 3rd world countries, we believe that to be immoral. But no such cry, of immorality is raised when corporations, and governments put American’s in debt slavery.

Credit card debt, student Loan Debt, and Child support, have created a a life time of debt slavery for American’s who work only to service their debts.

Child support, is a particulary nasty form of debt, that can put you in prison if you don’t pay. It has nothing to do with supporting children or keeping families out of poverty.  Because the state reaps billions in grants from the federal government for each dollar it collects from child support debtors it gets $50.  Child support actually creates poverty for children because it makes it impossible for non custodial parents to support themselves, and therby provide anything to their children.

After the corporations, intangle the American people in the Octopus of indebtedness, they package it and sell it as derivatives, making billions in profits from it. This would never be possible if government didn’t collude to make it impossible for the American people to get out of debt with fair bankrupcy laws.

So you see, the corporations believe in slavery, they believe in your slavery through debt. But don’t believe in for a second that your much better off because your not put you in leg irons.

Because they can put you in prison for contempt, if a judge orders you to pay and you don’t. The do it all the time for child support.

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By Sepharad, August 26, 2009 at 12:22 am Link to this comment

My husband and I watched “Inglourious Basterds” in a crowd, we noted, that had virtually no 20-somethings but mostly 40-somethings, so the reviewer who feared young people might be misled into assuming the inferno ending was historically accurate should relax. Haven’t enjoyed Tarentino’s work since “Pulp Fiction,” but “Inglourious Basterds” was a glorious cartoon. I don’t usually yell and cheer in movies but found myself doing so in this one—particularly the finale—and realized everyone around me was on their feet too, reacting in the same way.

As for the pleasant sophisticated SS officer, he was a strong reminder that evil can be disguised very cleverly. Think of a cobra in a dinner jacket. Culture and cleverness have nothing to do with soul or lack thereof.

A few nights later we watched “Flame and Citron”—a lengthy, excruciatingly detailed, slow-paced, low-key film of a couple of real-life Danish resistance fighters in WWII.

Each of these very different movies illuminated different aspects of the same war, powerfully and each true in its own way.

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By Sepharad, August 26, 2009 at 12:01 am Link to this comment

Barbarity dies hard, and slavery even harder. It’s mind-boggling to contemplate the difference between our lives and those lives blighted by slavery. Luck, good or bad, re our place of birth seems to rule, which would not be the case if we lived in a civilized world.

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