Opinion: Slavery

POSTED: 08/23/11 12:22 PM

Since we are remembering the slave trade and its abolition today, it is a good occasion as any to wonder about the usefulness of these events. Do not misunderstand us: slavery was a horrendous practice, and everybody who was ever involved in it ought to be ashamed. Unfortunately, all the culprits are dead, and they have been for a very long time.
So what then exactly is the point of having a remembrance day for the slave trade and its abolition? It is a bit like the Dutch remembering the 80-year war with the Spanish, but for some reason the Dutch have lost interest in this struggle. Instead, they keep hanging on to memories of the Second World War – the first one is already too long ago to bother with. In a way, one could say, the Dutch have moved on. They know their history – at least, the history teachers do – but apart from that they do not get excited a lot anymore about what happened sixty to seventy years ago.
The reason we have heard for years in the Netherlands as to why it was so important to remember the atrocities of the Second World War and Hitler’s concentration camps is this one: this should never happen again.
But Hitler had hardly gone from the Netherlands or the Dutch army went to Indonesia to fight an ugly war of its own – and a lot of it was not pretty.
The world did not seem to have learned a lot from Hitler’s time either: Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda …., should we go on?
The thing is: history repeats itself, and people make the same stupid mistakes over and over again.
What about slavery? Well, all we can say is that in a constitutional democracy, people are supposed to be free. But how free are you if you have to slave every day for minimum wages? Or sometimes for less? And let’s not talk about the sweat shops in Asia where children are working long hours to produce apparel for consumers in rich developed countries.
Seen from that perspective, slavery was never abolished. It just took on a different shape, and it moved to a different corner of the globe. So what we should really do instead of remembering the abolishment of slavery is put up a fight against modern day slavery. But for some inexplicable reason, the enthusiasm for that fight is simply not there.

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