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Richard Lischer

People as Property

Face to face with slavery

Not long ago an A.M.E. Christian activist and member of the American Anti-Slavery Group reported redeeming, or buying back, 6,000 persons held in slavery in Sudan. The Boston group is part of a network of organizations, Christian and otherwise, dedicated to ending slavery in Africa and throughout the world. Anti-slavery is once again a Christian cause because slavery's main perpetrators, at least in Sudan, are Arabs from the north who prey on and enslave Christians and traditional African religionists in the south. The resurgence of slavery appears to offer a clean line of demarcation between persecutors and the persecuted. But even in Sudan, where Christians are suffering mightily, the conflict has twisted historical roots and does not yield a simple answer.

The practice of buying back slaves, or, as the Sudanese government calls them, "prisoners of war," has been severely criticized by un agencies and various religious groups, who charge that buying human beings has only encouraged the further taking of slaves and fueled the growing arms trade as well. A spokesman for Christian Freedom International calls the practice of buying slaves "a debacle." Whatever the solution, no one, save for a few offending regimes, denies the continued existence of worldwide slavery or slavery-like practices, which include the sale of children, child prostitution, the female sex-trade, forced labor, and the arming of children. In Mauritania, Amnesty International reports that 90,000 blacks are held as property in relations from which they may not withdraw. Worldwide, 100 million children are exploited for their labor. More than an issue dividing two world religions, slavery is an abiding human scourge that has been perpetrated by and visited upon all the religious people of the world.

Thus the strength of David Brion Davis's new book, In the Image of God: Religion, Moral Values, and Our Heritage of Slavery, is not merely the accuracy of its data but its witness to the terrible continuity ...

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