Today’s Independent (UK daily newspaper) publishes an open letter from some intellectuals on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the European Union (as it now calls itself). For once, Harold Pinter puts his name to something worthwhile:
“To the leaders of the 27 nations of the EU,
How dare we Europeans celebrate this weekend while on a continent some few miles south of us the most defenceless, dispossessed and weak are murdered in Sudan?
“Has the European Union – born of atrocity to unite against further atrocity – no word to utter, no principle to act , no action to take, in order to prevent these massacres in Darfur? Is the cowardliness over Srebrenica to be repeated? If so, what do we celebrate?
“The thin skin of our political join?
“The futile posturings of our political class?
“The impotent nullities of our bureaucracies?
“The Europe which allowed Auschwitz and failed in Bosnia must not tolerate the murder in Darfur: Europe is more than a network of the political classes, more than a first world economic club and a bureaucratic excrescence. It is an inherited culture which sustains our shared belief in the value and dignity of the human being. In the name of that common culture and those shared values, we call upon the 27 leaders to impose immediately the most stringent sanctions upon the leaders of the Sudanese regime.
“Forbid them from our shores, our health service and our luxury goods. Freeze their assets in our banks and move immediately to involve other concerned countries.
“We must not once again betray our European civilisation by watching and waiting while another civilisation in Africa is destroyed.
“Let this action be our our gift to ourselves and proof of ourselves. And when it is done let us celebrate together with pride”.
Signed by: Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, Gunter Grass, Jurgen Habermas, Vaclav Havel, Seamus Heaney, Bernard Henri-Levy, Harold Pinter, Franca Rame, Tom Stoppard.
The letter was timed to co-incide with the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of what is now the European Union: but it could as well have been timed to co-incide with the commemorations presently taking place in Britain to mark the “abolition” of the slave trade in 1807 (although, in fact, British-held slaves in the Caribbean and Mauritius were not emancipated until 1833).
The present-day international scandal of Darfur harks back to the barbarity and genocide of the 17th, 18th and 19th Century slave trade, because the present-day, Islamist government of Sudan is amongst the most blatent and shameless promoters of slavery in the world today. Some 8,000 people are presently believed to be living in slavery in Sudan.
Irshad Manji, in her 2004 book The Trouble With Islam, writes:
“Put simply, is Islam’s scripture also vague or conflicted about other human rights issues, such as slavery? If so, do twenty-first-century Muslims have the room to make twenty-first-century choices? I thought of Sudan and later read about the extent of its slave trade. In Khartoum, a ‘Taliban-like Muslim regime is waging a self-declared jihad’ on Christians, Animists and non-Arab Muslims. That’s according to Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group and director of the Sudan Campaign. Jacobs observes that ‘Khartoum’s onslought has rekindled the trade in black slaves, halted (mostly) a century ago by the British abolitionists…(A)fter the men are slaughtered, the women, girls, and boys are gang-raped – or they have their throats slit for resisisting. The terrorised survivors are marched northwards and disributed to Arab masters, the women to become concubines, the girls domestics, the boys goatherders'”.
So let’s commemorate the 200th anniversary of the (very limited) “abolition” of slavery, by pledging to get rid of it once and for all in today’s world: and we could start with Darfur.