Sunday 25 March 2007

Common sense from an unlikely source

That source being, in this case, a Church of England Bishop. While the Archbishop of Canterbury was busy joining in the mass display of ritual white self-flagellation yesterday, the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, was penning a piece for the Mail on Sunday decrying the ridiculous slavery charade. Mr Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, the son of an Islamic convert to Christianity, has previously made pretty sensible remarks on other issues, such as Islam and multiculturalism.

In his article, he writes:

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by Act of Parliament. The procession from Hull to mark this anniversary has been accompanied by a chorus of 'mea culpas' from the great and the good.

Politicians, religious leaders and social activists have all joined in to bewail the undoubted horrors of slavery and to apologise for British complicity in this social evil.

Those marching have been shackled hand and foot and have been wearing sweatshirts saying: "So sorry."

And yet this should be a time of celebration and of thanksgiving for Britain's role in bringing this great oppression and cruelty to an end. Why do the leaders and people of this country find it so difficult to acknowledge their achievements and to recognise the true source of their moral commitments?

If a civilisation is constantly criticised, run down and apologised for, the danger is that its virtues will cease to flourish.


Not only was Britain a pioneer in abolishing this evil trade in human beings, it also played a significant part in persuading other European powers to prevent their ships from continuing the trade.

The 1815 Congress of Vienna marks a watershed in these efforts. At the Congress, leading European countries agreed to end the trade, though it took a considerable time for this decision to be implemented.

At one time, Britain was even prepared to pay certain countries to stop trading in slaves. All of this arose from a moral and spiritual vision that all human beings had been created equal and had the right to be free.

Soon after the passing of the Act, the Royal Navy was active off the African coast in intercepting slave-ships and liberating the slaves on them.


The mea culpa brigade is so vociferous about Western involvement in the slave trade that it neglects the role Africans themselves played.

It ignores also the huge involvement of Arabs, particularly in East Africa. Even today, much of the population of the Arabian Peninsula is made up of the descendants of slaves. In some of these countries slavery was abolished only in the 20th Century.

When pioneers such as Livingstone and Stanley opened up the centre of Africa, they were vigorously opposed by the Arab slave-traders who feared that the coming of Christianity would spell an end to their trade - as, indeed, it did.

British missionaries persuaded the Sultan of Zanzibar to end the slave trade there in 1873 and the Anglican Cathedral was built on the site of the slave market.

The slave trade from the Gulf reached across the Arabian Sea as far as South Asia.


However, as the continuing work of Anti-Slavery International testifies, there are new forms of slavery about. The struggle continues to release people from bonded labour, prostitution and the trafficking of men, women and children.

Today, we need a moral and spiritual vision so that we can support the courageous individuals and organisations engaged in the battle against these evils. Britain has a proud history in this area, which can be a source of inspiration for us in our efforts in our own times.

Let us then celebrate today the passing of the historic Act that led to freedom for so many. It is a time to acknowledge what has been achieved and what still needs doing.

It is a time for action and not just sentiment, a time to renew our commitment to human dignity and equality.

What a contrast with Rowan Williams's fawning apology! Another point that emerges strongly from the article is that Mr Nazir-Ali believes that the work of white Christian missionaries in Africa was a positive thing, as opposed to Dr Williams, who has previously felt the urge to apologise for that as well.

It's a shame, and says a huge amount about the Church of England today, that its most sensible Bishop is a first generation immigrant. But that's just the way it is. Perhaps he should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury? He'd certainly be a big improvement on the present incumbent. Of course, so would Anton LaVey.


Anonymous said...

Hmmn, at least LaVey was honest, from what I've read.

Anonymous said...

OT, you're tagged.