A black inmate in a Michigan prison, reading about the drive by American schoolchildren to buy back slaves in Sudan, has sent information about this liberation movement to some 14,000 inmates in Michigan prisons through a prisoners organization.
Among the resulting supporters of action to free the slaves are inmates who belong to the Nation of Islam _ directly contradicting their leader, Louis Farrakhan, who denies the existence of slavery in Sudan, the government of which has honored Farrakhan as a religious leader.
While Jesse Jackson has yet to mount or assist in a public campaign against chattel slavery in Sudan, Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was recently the first to sign the American Anti-Slavery Group's National Emancipation Petition _ a document in the spirit and letter of the 19th-century abolitionist movement.
Addressed to the president, the secretary of state and the head of the United Nations, the petition demands that the Sudan immediately release 103 slaves who are listed with their names and ages, thereby putting a human face on the massive enslavement of blacks in the south of the country by government-backed armed militias.
Payne has also introduced a concurrent resolution in the House calling for the release of all the slaves. A companion resolution has been submitted by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Payne's measure is now before the House Committee on International Relations, chaired by Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., who is a primary sponsor of Payne's attempt to raise national and international concern about the large-scale survival of slavery as we enter the 21st century.
Meanwhile, in a remarkably obtuse reaction to these attempts to buy the freedom of slaves, the United Nations Children's Fund has declared that "the purchase of a human being is absolutely intolerable." It does not offer, UNICEF adds, "a lasting solution" to the problem and may encourage "additional taking of slaves."
Furthermore, UNICEF, in an unwitting tribute to George Orwell's "newspeak," charges that this redemption effort implicitly accepts that human beings may be bought and sold.
To rescue victims is to accept their victimization?
Since 1995, Christian Solidarity International in Zurich has paid for the emancipation of more than 5,000 women and children through its Slave Redemption Program. CSI's head, John Eibner, responding to UNICEF, says: "What would be intolerable would be to leave the children in slavery. That they should remain where they are beaten, raped, mutilated _ that is intolerable."
The American Anti-Slavery Group in Somerville, Mass., has been an important force in raising funds for Christian Solidarity International. Its founder and president, Dr. Charles Jacobs _ who first began to raise American awareness of these classic crimes against humanity _ notes that UNICEF, of all organizations, should be involved in rescuing child slaves.
In an article in the Boston Globe, Jacobs cited the tradition among American abolitionists of paying cash for freedom. For example, "after Frederick Douglass escaped, abolitionists legally purchased his freedom to shield him from the Fugitive Slave Act. And the Catholic Church has also bought people out of slavery. Indeed, Sudan's only Catholic saint, Mother Bakhita, was a slave freed by purchase."
But, Jacobs emphasizes, "raising money to free slaves is not the solution. There must be political action."
Payne and Brownback are trying to move Congress to take action. And the schoolchildren's movement _ starting with fifth-graders in Barbara Vogel's class at the Highline Community School in Aurora, Colo., keeps adding freedom fighters. More and more students across the country, from elementary schools to law schools, have been raising money.
The Colorado kids _ who have raised more than $50,000 _ would like to come to Washington to speak to Jesse Jackson if funds can be obtained for the trip. They have written to the president's spiritual adviser to ask him to join them, but they have yet to receive a response. Does he agree with Farrakhan that this is all anti-Islam propaganda?
But where also are the congressional leaders of both parties? Where are those religious leaders who became situational ethicists with regard to the president during impeachment? Surely, slavery should clearly cry out for their attention. And his. Between fund-raisers.
Syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff is an authority on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.
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