World

Redemption

Today, I have a piece about Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament. The Yazidis are an ancient and small community, menaced by majorities for centuries. Lately, ISIS terrorists have rounded on them, killing and enslaving them. ISIS, fortunately, is in retreat — and yet thousands of Yazidi girls and women are still captives of them.

About 15 years ago, Darfur was a hot cause in the world: the genocide in western Sudan. Before that, however, there was a genocide in southern Sudan. Its targets were Christians and animists. Elie Wiesel called it a “slow-motion genocide.” It was carried out over a period of 20 years.

This genocide was not a hot cause. Few in the West cared about it, and those who did tended to be American evangelicals, who “redeemed” slaves, i.e., bought them from their captors, for the purpose of manumitting them. This was a controversial practice. Did it encourage the taking of yet more slaves?

I grew up with an expression: “Can’t win for losin’.”

I thought of southern Sudan today because the Kurdish government is buying back from ISIS as many Yazidi slaves as they can. Is this right or wrong? For those who are freed, and their families, it is definitely right.

As long as there have been people, there has been slavery, and its attendant horrors. When will slavery end? When people end, I suppose. But there is good news: There is a hell of a lot less slavery in the world now than there has been in times past.

Yet is North Korea a slave state, in its (totalitarian) way? Of course.

Earlier this year, I met and interviewed George Walker, an American composer, born in 1922. His grandmother was an ex-slave — and he knew her very well. In fact, he dedicated his best-known piece to her (Lyric for Strings). Like many Holocaust survivors, she never talked about her experience, ever. Except for one time, when her grandson couldn’t help himself. “What was it like?” he asked. She spoke one sentence, only: “They did everything except eat us.”

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