We Must Work to Free Today’s Slaves
Last week, I stood on stage at Milken Community High School
with an escaped Sudanese slave, Francis Bok. We had come out to Los Angeles
from Boston to thank the school’s students for their help in
our abolitionist campaign and their continued commitment to make a difference.
Francis described for the school his life as a slave after
he was abducted in a slave raid — a pogrom — by Sudanese government militia in
1987. “For 10 years, nobody loved me.”
His master was one of the slave raiders, Francis explained,
an Arab man named Giema Abdullah, who told Francis: “You are an animal.”
Francis was able to endure Giema’s daily physical and mental
abuse because he knew deep down that he was not an animal. He was strengthened
because he prayed to God. He prayed to be rejoined with his parents and that
perhaps, people might come to rescue him.
After 10 years, once he turned 17, Francis ran away,
eventually making his way up to Cairo, where the local United Nations office
resettled him as a refugee in North Dakota. Since arriving in America, Francis
has become the leading international spokesperson on modern-day slavery,
meeting with the president and publishing a gripping autobiography, “Escape
from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to
Freedom in America” (St. Martin’s Press, 2003).
As the students sat captivated by Francis, I recalled that
our own ancestors were once enslaved just a bit north up the Nile River.
Indeed, in this time of Passover, we read, “In every generation, we are
commanded to view ourselves as if each one of us was personally brought forth
out of Egypt.” We eat maror to evoke the bitterness of slavery our ancestors
experienced, and we are called upon to rise up against slavery and tyranny in
our own time.
Three years ago, right before Passover, I flew to Sudan on a
mission to help free slaves. On March 30, in northern Bahr el Ghazal in the
heart of the slave-raiding area, I met Abuk Gar. She was sitting under a tree,
along with hundreds of Dinka women and children who were rescued from bondage
by friendly Arabs who want no part of Khartoum’s policy.
When Abuk was 14, she awoke to gunshots, saw her parents cut
down outside her home and was enslaved along with the boys and girls of her
village. Abuk was tied by the wrists, roped in a line and forced-marched north.
Once outside the scene of plunder and murder, the rapes
began. Four girls who resisted were dragged before all to see and, as a
warning, had their throats cut. Abuk did not resist.
Abuk’s story is one of millions of people who are enslaved
today around the world. From Khartoum to Calcutta from Brazil to Bangladesh,
men, women and children live and work as slaves or in slave-like conditions.
There may be more slaves in the world than ever before.
There are the rug-weaving slaves of India — little boys and
girls shackled to their looms from dawn to dusk, from toddlerhood to
adolescence, weaving the rugs that we walk on. There are the debt-bonded slaves
of Pakistan, who were born into bondage through an inherited debt and who will
surely pass that status on to their children.
There are the Bangladeshi camel jockey kids in the Persian
Gulf states, the Trokosi religious slaves of Ghana, the trafficked boys and
girls and women all over the world. Even in the United States, thousands are
trafficked to these shores each year, according to CIA reports.
In Sudan, the trade in black slaves — once extinguished by
the British — has been rekindled by a “holy war.” Southern Sudanese like
Francis and Abuk have been enslaved as part of a jihad waged by an Arab Muslim
Taliban-like regime in the north. The ruling regime’s goal has been to impose
Koranic law throughout all of Sudan and destroy those who resist. As a result,
2 million people have been killed and 4 million made refugees.
After Francis spoke, I had to explain to the Milken students
why Francis’ people had been abandoned by the West, which normally prides
itself on standing up for human rights. I explained “the human rights complex.”
The human rights [HR] community cares about oppressed people … but only under
certain circumstances, and in a certain hierarchy.
The HR community consists mostly of “decent white people”
who are especially animated to act when people “like us” do evil. The best
example is the anti-apartheid movement. The name of this tendency, now a
slogan, is “Not in My Name.”
But when decent white people see non-Westerners do evil,
they become paralyzed. They think they don’t have moral standing. “Who are we,
who stole the land from the Indians and had slaves ourselves to criticize
I have explained to Francis many times: “What the HR
establishment — and the media — attend to is not determined by who the
oppressed people are or by how bad the oppression is … but by who it believes
is the oppressor.”
Francis’ people have the bad luck of having non-Western
oppressors. If the slavers were Westerners, we’d have had marches in the
That’s why we had to start our own abolitionist movement.
Most of the world’s slaves are not owned by Western masters. This means a new
sort of human rights movement is needed, one which is guided by universal
justice, not just expiation.
And so, as we celebrate Pesach this year, we must once again
see ourselves as slaves in Egypt — zecher litziat mitzrayim — a remembrance of
our own experience and our command to free others. This year, let each of us
pledge to do something to help free today’s slaves. Join the American
Anti-Slavery Passover Project; be a part of its abolitionist army; learn how to
help bring an end to an ancient scourge thought long ago defeated.
And when you do, then you will be able to say, in the
tradition of Jewish law that is echoed in the words of the great black
abolitionist, Harriet Tubman: “I have heard their cries, and I have seen their
tears, and I would do anything in my power to set them free.” Let us make this
Passover not only zman cheiruteinu, the season of our freedom, but also zman
cheiruteihem, a time of the freedom for all who are enslaved today.
A ‘Barbaric’ Act
Was Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl killed because he was Jewish?.
Several veteran foreign correspondents say all American journalists, regardless of religion, face the same danger in overseas trouble spots — although they agree that religion is an issue, both for their editors and their subjects.
An American who also had Israeli citizenship through his parents, Pearl was abducted in Karachi, Pakistan, on Jan. 23 by Pakistani militants. They accused him first of working for the CIA and then of being a Mossad agent.
Videotapes of Pearl’s execution, obtained by government officials Feb. 21, reportedly show him declaring his Jewish heritage in his last words.
According to a CNN report, Pearl appears on the videotape and says, "My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American. My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am a Jew." He then spoke of many family visits to Israel and said that a street in a town in Israel was named after his great-grandfather, who was one of the founders of the town.
The video then shows Pearl being brutally murdered.
On Feb. 21, one of Pearl’s alleged captors said through his lawyer that Pearl was abducted and killed for being "anti-Islam and a Jew."
Leaders from around the world expressed their revulsion and condolences.
"His murder is an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything Danny’s kidnappers claimed to believe in," said Paul Steiger, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. "They claimed to be Pakistani nationalists, but their actions must surely bring shame to all true Pakistani patriots."
Pearl was the paper’s South Asian bureau chief, based in Bombay, India.
Pearl’s mother and father, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, came to the United States from Israel in the 1950s. They both have dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.
In addition to his parents, Pearl is survived by a wife, who is pregnant with their first child.
Pearl’s death raises questions about the safety of all journalists in violent parts of the world, but the fact that he may have been targeted because of his religion is of particular note.
Tim Weiner, a New York Times reporter based in Mexico City, has made many trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan as a journalist. He said he believes Pearl’s Jewishness was secondary for his captors.
"I think this is primarily an act of hatred against the United States and the West, rather than Muslim against Jew," said Weiner, who knew Pearl personally.
Weiner said that when the subject of religion came up during his interviews in the region, the reaction generally was positive. He cited an incident in 1994, when he was interviewing a provincial governor and Islamic militant, Abdullah Jan, who asked if Weiner was Muslim.
"He was the typical old-fashioned warlord type, with a 2-foot-long turban and a beard down to his short ribs," Weiner recalled.
When he responded that he was not Muslim, Jan asked whether Weiner was Christian. Again, Weiner said no.
"You must be Jewish," Jan then said.
"He raised up his right hand with his palm toward me, as if he was taking an oath in court," Weiner said. "And he said, ‘All men are brothers, all children of Ibrahim. As long as you are a brother of the book, you’re OK with me.’ "
Weiner says he does not believe that Pearl was targeted because he was Jewish.
"I think that this little group of demonstrative and crazy people found it useful for their own twisted propaganda purposes to make an issue or try and make headlines out of his religion," he said.
Glen Frankel, editor of The Washington Post Magazine, said assigning a Jewish journalist to an area like Pakistan is a Catch-22. Before sending someone to the region, editors would discuss the factor of religion — yet they also would be wary of preventing a reporter from working in a certain region just because of his faith.
"I would think about it, but I would also feel a responsibility to cover events," said Frankel, who has been stationed in the Middle East, southern Africa and Europe. "I would go to Pakistan, but I would also be as careful as possible" — as, he added, Pearl probably was.
American Jewish groups reacted harshly to Pearl’s murder, calling it an example of extreme Muslim fundamentalism.
"He was a reporter, merely doing his job, who fell victim to the insanity of Islamic fundamentalism that targeted him merely because he was an American and a Jew," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "It was the same hate and fanaticism that brought down the World Trade Center."
Ironically, friends and colleagues describe Pearl as someone curious about Islam and eager to tell the stories of extremists.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he did not believe that Jewish journalists are more at risk than other American journalists.
"I don’t see any patterns that Jewish journalists are being targeted," Foxman said. Pearl "was targeted first and foremost because he was an American."
But, Foxman added, the level of hate is increasing in that region, and anti-Semitic dimensions are being seen in conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia.
President Bush, who was traveling in China when he learned of Pearl’s death, said: "Those who would threaten Americans, those who would engage in criminal, barbaric acts, need to know that these crimes only hurt their cause and only deepen the resolve of the United States of America to rid the world of these agents of terror.
"May God bless Daniel Pearl," he added.
Writer Accused of Mossad Ties
Israeli officials are angrily dismissing claims that the Wall Street Journal reporter abducted in Pakistan works for the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service.
The presumed Pakistani kidnappers of Daniel Pearl said Wednesday they would kill him within 24 hours because they believe he is affiliated with the Mossad.
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, called the claims “ridiculous,” “rubbish” and “totally unfounded.”
“There are some people who will say that Israel and the Jews are behind every calamity,” he said.
E-mails sent from men claiming to be holding Pearl since last week previously accused the journalist of working for the CIA.
“We have interrogated Mr. D. Pearl and have come to the conclusion that contrary to what we thought earlier, he is not working for the CIA,” the kidnappers wrote in an e-mail sent Wednesday to Western and Pakistani news organizations. “In fact, he is working for Mossad, therefore we will execute him within 24 hours unless America fulfills our demands.”
Included in the message was a warning for other American journalists to leave Pakistan within three days or become a target.
They are threatening to kill Pearl unless their demands, including the freeing of all Pakistani detainees held by the United States in connection with the war against terrorism, are met.
The e-mails have been sent along with pictures of Pearl, and the threats are being taken seriously. The group calls itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.
State Department officials said they have been working with Pakistani authorities to try to obtain Pearl’s release.
On Wednesday, Pakistan officials said they had arrested Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani, the leader of a small Muslim fundamentalist group whom Pearl was apparently attempting to interview.
The White House on Wednesday said it had no new information on Pearl.
American Jewish officials are reluctant to comment on Pearl, worried that any statements might further endanger him.
“It’s easy to scapegoat and rally people behind that charge,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Once you accuse him of being a CIA agent, the American government knows he is or he isn’t,” said Hoenlein, who knows Pearl.
“Once you accuse him of being a Mossad agent, it’s their word against Israel’s denial.”
Jewish officials originally believed that Pearl’s capture was unrelated to the fact that he is Jewish, until his captors tried to link him to Mossad.
“It’s part of the same sick conspiratorial lunacy that blames Mossad and Israel for the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“We hope and pray that rational minds will prevail and see the wrong of their assumptions, and that he will walk out of there in safety.”
Gilani reportedly had ties to Richard Reid, the man accused of attempting to ignite an explosive device in his shoe aboard an American airplane last month.
Pearl, 38, is the paper’s South Asian correspondent and lives in Karachi with his wife, Mariane, a French freelance journalist who is six months pregnant.
In a prepared statement released this week, the Wall Street Journal said Pearl was a U.S. citizen born in the United States, has been a working journalist all of his adult life and is not an agent of any government or agency.
“His writing has always been respectful of Islam and the people of Pakistan,” the paper’s statement said.
The Wall Street Journal’s managing editor has sent an e-mail to the same address the kidnappers are using, pleading for his safe return.
Pearl, who was born in Princeton, N.J., has been working for the Wall Street Journal since November 1990, where he started covering transportation and telecommunications in the Atlanta and Washington bureaus.
He moved to the Wall Street Journal’s London bureau in 1996 to write about the Middle East. Three years later he moved to Paris, where he continued to write about the Middle East, and then moved to the paper’s Bombay bureau in December 2000.
Two days before he was abducted, Pearl co-wrote a piece with another Wall Street Journal reporter about Pakistan removing Islamic groups from the disputed region of Kashmir, the area claimed by both India and Pakistan.
In a Jan. 28 article, the Wall Street Journal said Pearl is “experienced working in dangerous places and is known among his colleagues for his cautious approach to reporting and concern for safety.”
Pearl drew up safety guidelines for the paper’s overseas staff and encouraged other reporters to check in repeatedly with editors.
JTA correspondent Sharon Samber in Washington and JTA staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.