African Hypocrisy May be Less Dangerous than Western Repression
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With Amnesty International having just issued a report that calls the practice of torture in African countries “routine” and with probably hundreds of thousands of Africans living in the most grotesque slavery, African nations are cranking up a demand that Western states should apologize and pay up for all the wickedness they perpetrated on their continent in the past. But for once, it seems that Western states are not going to cave in to efforts to manipulate obsessive white guilt–though not necessarily for the right reasons.

Demands for “reparations” are coming not only from American blacks eager to get their hands on the modern-day analogue to 40 acres and a mule, but also from the 53 African states that call themselves the “African Group” taking part in a forthcoming United Nations gala in Durban, South Africa, the “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” The conference will be yet one more U.N. blabber-fest preaching global do-good while trying to separate Western nations from as much of their cash as possible.

What the African Group wants specifically is for the wealthier and more powerful (dare one say more civilized?) Western nations to fork up the cash in the form of reparations for the European and American slave trade of yore and also to recognize slavery as a “crime against humanity.” The latter proposal also enjoys the support of that paragon of humanitarianism, Fidel Castro. Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, essentially agrees. She pronounces that “To deal with the future, you have to close on the past.”

She does not, of course, explain why the past–the European slave trade ended about two centuries ago–is not already closed, nor indeed why Africa's quite gruesome present does not also need to be closed. In 1993, the U.S. State Department estimated that in North Africa alone, there were some 90,000 black slaves, and the Johannesburg Daily Mail and Guardian not long ago offered a chilling account of what present-day slavery in Africa is really like:

“The slave raiders prefer women and boys,” the South African paper explained. “In order to catch them, they kill the men and burn down their villages. When the women and children run into the bush, they are chased and captured. They are made to carry the 'spoils' of the raid, usually sacks of grain, to the north. They are then sold to wealthy Arab families.

“Arab families with large farms and plantations in the Arab areas immediately to the north of Southern Sudan may buy between 50 and 100 slaves. Families buy women to be used as 'concubines' who perform farm and household tasks in addition to providing sexual services. If the women are young enough, they are genitally mutilated as soon as they reach puberty, so as to make them acceptable to their Arab masters.”

Since the countries of the African Group are so disturbed by the historic evil of European slavery, it might behoove them to do something about the slavery that exists on their own continent today–and which their own governments often tolerate, practice and even participate in. In the case of Sudan, government troops are known to have taken part in the kidnapping and selling of slaves.

The Western states don't like the idea of calling slavery a “crime against humanity” (the last time they used that term, in Nuremberg, they actually had to hang the Nazi leaders convicted of such crimes, despite the inconvenient legalism that the “crimes” had never been formally outlawed), and they certainly don't much care for the idea of having to dredge up real financial reparations for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Of course, they lack the candor to say so, and therefore what they do say is that they'd rather use the Durban conference to promote what a British official calls “something forward-looking and practical, something that will reinvigorate existing international mechanisms and promote tolerance.”

What that means, probably, is that the Western nations would like to set up transnational institutions that will effectively outlaw and penalize “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “related intolerance,” much as it has already outlawed the crime of “genocide.” Doing so would involve adapting the internal laws of sovereign states to the U.N. code, so that such quaint usages as the First Amendment would be compromised and troublesome dissidents who grouse about immigration, hate crime laws and multiculturalism could be muzzled.

The African Group's hypocrisy about Western sins against Africa in the past and its brutish indifference to its own crimes against its own people today is repellent enough. But for once, what the Africans are demanding from the West might be less harmful than the “forward-looking and practical” repression that Western elites want to create for their own peoples.



June 11, 2001

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