Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2001 /17 Elul, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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The magic word -- PERHAPS Secretary of State Colin Powell's decision to pull the American delegation out of the so-called U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, will be just a footnote in history. But we can at least hope that it may be a turning point toward a future time when "racism" will no longer be a magic word used to gain money or political concessions.

Within the United States, Jesse Jackson and others have repeatedly scared millions of dollars out of big corporations, just by threatening to use the magic word "racism." Even the police have sometimes turned a blind eye to violations of the law, lest they be tarred with that magic word that will bring the whole liberal media crashing down on them. But letting criminal activity go on unimpeded and unpunished has hurt minority communities most of all.

Against this background, it was to be expected that some African and Arab nations would hope that invoking this magic word might scare some money out of the United States as "reparations" for slavery and get some kind of United Nations condemnation of Israel as a bonus. But this time the magic didn't work.

Singling out Israel to blame for the Middle East's problems was probably the straw that broke the camel's back, leading both the U.S. and Israel to withdraw their delegations from the conference in Durban. Arab caricatures of Jews with big noses and bloody fangs were hardly a way of being against racism.

The real world-class chutzpah, however, was the demand of African and Arab nations for reparations of slavery. Just who do you suppose enslaved the millions of Africans who ended up in the Western Hemisphere? It was the Africans. And who enslaved the even greater number of millions of African slaves who ended up in the Islamic world? It was the Arabs.

During the era of African slavery, Europeans died like flies in tropical Africa, where diseases flourished for which they had no biological immunity and for which medical science had yet to devise a cure. Capturing people to sell into slavery was the work of Africans in West Africa and of Arabs and Africans in East Africa.

Europeans came in their ships, bought slaves from the Africans, and then left the scene quickly before they fell sick from African diseases. Even so, many white crewmen on the ships bringing slaves from Africa to the Western Hemisphere died on the way. The notion that it was white people who introduced slavery to Africa, or who captured most of the slaves themselves, may fit the mindset of those who thought that "Roots" was history, but this myth will not stand up to facts, logic or economics.

Since it was the Africans and the Arabs who actually caught and sold slaves, do the African and Arab nations plan to send reparations over here to the descendants of enslaved Africans living in the Western Hemisphere? Of course not. They want the United States to lay some of those American dollars on them! We have fallen for so many other sucker plays in the past, why not try this one on us?

When slavery is mentioned, too many people automatically think of whites enslaving blacks. That is not even one-tenth of the story of slavery, which existed on every inhabited continent. The very word "slave" derives from the word for some white people who were enslaved on a mass scale -- the Slavs -- for more centuries than blacks were enslaved in the Western Hemisphere.

Moreover, slavery existed in the Western Hemisphere before the first black or white person ever set foot on these shores. The indigenous peoples of this hemisphere enslaved one another, just as Asians enslaved Asians, Europeans enslaved Europeans, and Africans enslaved Africans. Attempts to limit the discussion of slavery to slavery in the United States or in Western civilization make sense only as a strategy to get money or political concessions.

Western civilization was the first civilization to regard slavery as morally wrong and it is the civilization with the most sense of guilt about it. To this very moment slavery continues in parts of Africa and the Islamic world. Very little noise is made about it by those who denounce the slavery of the past in the West, because there is no money to be made denouncing it and no political advantages to be gained.

If the American delegation walking out of the U.N. Conference Against Racism represented a belated waking up to the scams being played, that could be a very healthy sign for the future -- not only on the international scene, but within the United States as well.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate