There are more slaves today than at any time in human history, reported Benjamin Skinner, a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
An estimated 27 million people in the world are forced to work, held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence, in forced marriages, in sex-trafficking and prostitution. Though mostly illegal, slavery, by its different names, exists today in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Southeast Asia, Romania, Sudan, Haiti, Brazil, Latin America and even in the United States.
Those most loudly demanding reparations for past slavery are strangely silent regarding present-day slavery.
Time magazine reported Jan. 18, 2010: “Despite more than a dozen international conventions banning slavery in the past 150 years, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history.”
Slavery has a long and shameful history.
Ancient cultures made slaves of those captured in battle, as seen in Babylon, Persia, Greece, China, India, and Africa. Israelites were made to be slaves by powerful Pharaohs of Egypt for four hundred years.
Julius Caesar conquered in Gaul and brought so many captured “slavic” peoples into to Rome that the term “slav” gained the connotation of permanent servant – “slave.” Over half of Rome’s population were slaves.
Another form of slavery was generational indebtedness, spread by Roman Emperor Diocletian. In the third and fourth century, the Roman economy became so bad that people who were unable to pay their mortgages would simply abandon their properties, renounce their Roman citizenship, and go off to live with the barbarians. To stop this, Diocletian made it a law that people could never run away from their debts – thus tying them and their children to the land in perpetuity, creating the feudal system.
This is essentially the case in India, with rural peasant farming families inheriting ancient indebtedness. The Royal Commission on Agriculture described that the farmer “is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt.”
A more recent example of inescapable debt is that of young people in America locked into trillions of dollars of student loan debt that they can never escape:
- Time magazine (2/9/12) “Why You Can’t Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy”
- “No Way Out: Student Loans, Financial Distress, and the Need for Policy Reform (National Consumer Law Center, June 2006)
- “Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal” (Rolling Stone, 8/15/13): “Congress almost completely stripped students of their right to disgorge their debts through bankruptcy (amazing, when one considers that even gamblers can declare bankruptcy!)”
- “Obama Administration Improperly Denies Student Loan Debt Relief” (Huffinton Post, 5/08/2015)
- “President Obama’s horrible, terrible legacy on student loans” (The Hill, 5/13/16): “(His) lawyers fight furiously behind the scenes to keep bankruptcy protections gone from student loans.”
The timeline of slavery added a new chapter in 711 A.D., when Muslim Moors conquered Spain, then invaded Portugal and France, followed by the coasts of Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean. Over a million Europeans were carried off into Islamic slavery.
In 1189, Muslims raided Libson, Portugal, and enslaved 3,000 women and children. In 1191, Muslims attacked Silves, Portugal, and enslaved 3,000.
When Saladin captured Jerusalem, according to Imad al-Din, approximately 7,000 men and 8,000 women were unable to pay a ransom, so they were enslaved. Medieval Catholic religious orders of Trinitarians or Mathurins would collect donations to ransom people from Muslim slavery.
Muslim raiders enslaved an estimated 180 million Africans over its 1,400 year expansion. Muslim slave markets existed in:
- North Africa: Tangier (Morocco), Marrakesh (Morocco). Algiers (Algeria). Tripoli (Libya), Cairo (Egypt), Aswan (Egypt); Khartoum, (Sudan)
- West Africa: Aoudaghost (Mauritania), Timbuktu (Mali), Gao (Mali), Bilma (Niger), Kano (Nigeria)
- Swahili Coast: Bagamoyo (Tanzania), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Kilwa (Tanzania), Sofala (Beira, Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya)
- Horn of Africa: Assab (Eritrea), Massawa (Eritrea), Nefasit (Eritrea), Tadjoura (Djibouti), Zeila (Somalia), Mogadishu (Somalia), Kismayo (Somalia)
- Arabian Peninsula: Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Zabīd (Yemen), Muscat (Oman), Aden (Yemen), Socotra (Indian Ocean)
- Indian Ocean: Debal (Sindh, Pakistan), Karachi (Sindh, Pakistan), Janjira (India), Surat (India), Mandvi, Kutch (India)
There has never been a significant abolitionist movement in Islam as it could be interpreted as an indirect condemnation of Mohammed and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, as they owned slaves.
Tragically, Muslim slave markets continue, with news reports giving shocking details of ISIS enslaving captured women, many of whom are Christian or Yazidi. The Clarion Project (3/3/16) reported: “ISIS Sells Yazidi Sex Slaves Far and Wide.”
Liberal academia defended this practice, as reported on Feb. 7, 2017, where Georgetown University Professor Jonathan Brown, holder of the Al-Waleed bin Talal Chair in Islamic Civilization, delivered a lecture defending slavery and non-consensual sex (rape) as acceptable in Islamic sharia law.
Organizations bringing relief to these victims include: Voice of the Martyrs, Shared Hope International, New Friends New Life, International Justice Mission, Wellspring Living, Slavery Footprint, Christian Solidarity International, Agape International Missions, YWAM Thailand Tamar Center, and Persecution Project Foundation which provides compassion, hope, and assistance in rebuilding communities though the love of Christ.
In pre-Columbian America, warring tribes would enslave captives, sometimes using them in ritual sacrifice and cannibalism. The Inca Empire had a system of mandatory public service known as mita, similar to the Aztec’s tlacotin.
When Spain conquered the New World in the early 1500s, conquistadors deposed Indian government leaders and ruled in their stead. In the Inca Empire, where native populations had been trained to obey government orders, they willingly obeyed their new Spanish leaders, even though it often meant dying in forced labor such as in the Potosi silver mines.
Spaniards set up a system called encomienda or repartimiento, which was similar to feudal France’s Corvée “unfree labour.” Priests like Bartolomé de las Casas and the Franciscan Friars, together with Papal Bulls, ended the enslavement of native Americans.
Unfortunately, those wanting to continue slavery sought to replace the freed natives with African slaves purchased from Muslim slave markets. The first African slaves were brought to North America on a Dutch ship to Virginia in 1619.
A lesser-known chapter of slaves brought to America occurred in the 1600s when King James I, followed by Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, sold over 500,000 Irish Catholics into slavery onto plantations in the West Indies, Antigua, Montserrat, Jamaica, Barbados, as well as Virginia and New England. Additionally, many poor Europeans sold themselves as “indentured servants” – a temporary slavery – for seven years, in exchange for transportation to America. From 1714-1756, thousands of oppressed Irish sold themselves as indentured slaves in return for passage, usually to Pennsylvania, hoping to take advantage of William Penn’s promise of toleration.
Historian Will Durant wrote in “The Story of Civilization”: “The Irish scene was one of the most shameful in history.”
The African slave Estevanico accompanied the Spanish Narváez expedition in 1527. After shipwreck and attacks, he was one of four survivors, led by explorer-turned-faith healer Cabeza de Vaca, who traveled the American Southwest for eight years.
Indian tribes would sell captives from other tribes into slavery. Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone, was captured by the Hidatsa people and sold to the Frenchman Toussaint Charbonneau, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their explorations. York, an African slave of William Clark, was part of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.
Some Native Americans owned African slaves. In 1842, there was an African slave revolt in Cherokee Territory.
After colonial conflicts with American Indians, some were sold into slavery in the West Indies.
Christian missionaries and movements, especially Quakers, Moravians, and Methodists, were a continual voice of conscience against slavery.
Jefferson pushed through legislation ending the importation of slaves into the United States, telling Congress, Dec. 2, 1806: “… to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.”
Haiti had several slave revolts against the French government. Fear that Haitian slave revolts would spread was a compelling factor convincing Napoleon to sell the French Louisiana Territory to the United States.
Tragically, some slavery continues, with Reuters publishing an article, Feb. 7, 2017: “Haiti hotel police exposes child sex trafficking.”
In 1820, a U.S. revenue cutter captured the slave ship Antelope off the coast of Florida with nearly 300 African slaves. Francis Scott Key fought to free the slaves, spending seven years in an expensive legal battle which went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1825.
Henry S. Foote recorded: “Key closed with … an electrifying picture of the horrors connected with the African slave trade.”
When Democrats wanted to expand slavery into this new Louisiana Territory, it resulted in “Bleeding Kansas.” Slavery was ended in the United States after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment.
Slavery began in Cuba earlier and lasted longer than most anywhere in the Americas. A notorious trade triangle developed with Havana, Cuba, at its center: slaves from Africa to sugar from the Caribbean to rum in England.
An international incident occurred in 1839 when a Portuguese ship from Sierra Leone transferred 53 slaves to the Cuban ship Amistad. On July 1, 1839, the African slaves broke free of their shackles and seized control of the ship, demanding to be sailed back to Africa. The captain misdirected the ship, sailing slowly east during the day, but quickly west at night, finally landing at Long Island, New York, where the slaves were arrested. The Amistad case went to the Supreme Court.
Former President John Quincy Adams, at age 74, defended the jailed Africans, writing; “By the blessing of God, I will argue the case before the Supreme Court.”
This was portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film “Amistad,” starring Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, and Matthew McConaughey.
John Quincy Adams wrote in his journal, October 1840: “I implore the mercy of God to control my temper, to enlighten my soul, and to give me utterance, that I may prove myself in every respect equal to the task.”
Francis Scott Key gave Adams legal advice. Adams shook hands with Africans Cinque and Grabeau, saying: “God willing, we will make you free.”
John Quincy Adams, known as “Old Man Eloquent,” argued in court: “The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided. I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men than this Declaration.”
Against all odds, John Quincy Adams won freedom for these Africans.
President James Buchanan wrote Dec. 19, 1859: “When a market for African slaves shall no longer be furnished in Cuba … Christianity and civilization may gradually penetrate the existing gloom.”
In 1868, a revolt began in Cuba by a farmer of Spanish descent crying out for racial equality, freedom of speech and freedom of association. Spain put down the Cuban revolt in the Ten Years War, killing thousands. A Spanish Royal decree finally ended slavery in Cuba in 1886.
In 1895, another rebellion began in Cuba and Spain sent 200,000 soldiers to put it down. Thousands were put into concentration camps where they suffered from starvation, disease and exposure. Yellow Press journalism excited the American public, who demanded President William McKinley intervene.
The U.S.S. Maine was sent to Havana, and on Feb. 15, 1898, it blew up in the harbor under suspicious conditions, beginning the Spanish-American War.
President McKinley approved the Resolution of Congress: “Whereas the abhorrent conditions which have existed for more than three years in the island of Cuba, so near our own borders, have shocked the moral sense of the people of the United States, have been a disgrace to Christian civilization, culminating, as they have, in the destruction of a United States battle ship, with 266 of its officers and crew, while on a friendly visit in the harbor of Havana, and cannot longer be endured. … Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives … that the people of the island of Cuba are and of right ought to be free.”
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