Sunday, November 26, 2006

Condemning slavery - the historic kind, that is

The Guardian/Observer has published an article today entitled "Blair: Britain's 'sorrow' for shame of slave trade":

Tony Blair is to make a historic statement condemning Britain's role in the transatlantic slave trade as a 'crime against humanity' and expressing 'deepsorrow' that it ever happened.

The Prime Minister plans to go further than any previous leader in seeking to distance himself from the actions of the British Empire, nearly 200 years after the 1807 legislation that led to slavery's abolition. However, he will stop short of making an explicit apology despite years of pressure from some black campaigners and community leaders.

Well, I read that and thought "What about TODAY'S slavery? When is that going to be condemned? But, of course, we'll just pretend it's not happening because it supports capitalism."
Fortunately, that issue was addressed toward the end of the article:

The Observer revealed the campaign for an apology two years ago when Rendezvous of Victory, a group which seeks to combat the legacy of slavery, said it would call on the Queen to issue an apology. Its joint co-ordinator, Kofi Mawuli Klu, said he was disappointed by Blair's suggestion that slavery is a thing of the past: 'He's missed the point. They do not understand contemporary enslavement. There is nothing in this statement about the enduring legacy of slavery in terms of racism and global injustice.'

Then there is the problem that Blair's statement isn't technically to be an apology:

Klu criticised the absence of the word 'sorry', claiming: 'It's adding insult to the lingering injuries of the enslavement of African people by the European ruling classes. The message is that if you commit crimes against African people you cannot be held responsible; even when you acknowledge that you have done wrong, you do not feel it necessary to apologise.'

What is the resistance to making a true apology, anyway? Is it a legal issue? Would an apology be the sort of admission of culpability that would then imply liability? Would it legally give the descendents of slaves the right to reparations? These are true questions. I don't know the answers and I would like to.

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