Sunday, March 25, 2007

200th Anniversery of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (in the Empire)

- Tory Heaven

It is two hundred years today since the slave trade in the British Empire was abolished by Act of Parliament. This milestone in the advancement of the dignity of humankind is being commemorated at national and local levels throughout the United Kingdom, and the Realms.

Today is a day to celebrate the advancement of decency, humanity and civilisation. It is not, as some would wish, a day for Britain (or indeed anyone) to apologise. Two hundred years ago, an apology to the victims of slavery might well have been appropriate. Then there were slavers and former slaves for whom this might have been appropriate. One should add of course, that among those who ought to have apologised at that time were the thousands of Black Africans and Arabs who participated in the trade to their great profit. This was never a trade of pure exploitation of black by white. However, both the victims and perpetrators of the then slave trade are long since dead. Those who speak of making an apology now must surely be planning to dig up the bodies of the old slavers and slaves to act out some macabre ritualised apology if they are seeking to hold the perpetrators to account for their sins.

The modern day descendants of slavers, or even the present day British or African Governments whose predecessors happily participated in the trade, cannot meaningfully or properly apologise for the sins of people long since dead. As the Gospel story tells us, the man born blind was not being punished for the sins of his ancestors. We are not, any of us, guilty by reason of what our forbears did. We are responsible only for our own actions, and it is to those actions that we should look.

Apologies by those still living for sins committed by them, such as those German and Japanese war criminals who remain unrepentant, can be beneficial both for victim and perpetrator. But all that can be done now in respect of the sins of a long since dead generation is to remember the evil of such times with regret. More importantly, however, we should remember the courage and decency of those of our ancestors who worked tirelessly to challenge slavery.

Let us both commemorate and celebrate today. But let us have nothing to do with pointless and hollow apologies.

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