Is Slavery Bad? That All Depends

From Rod Dreher comes the story of a left-wing Georgetown University professor who defends slavery. This may sound shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Liberal academics around the world teach that only American (and perhaps some Caribbean and South American) slavery was really bad. Other slavery–in particular, African and Islamic slavery–was really a pretty good deal for the slaves. These liberal sophists argue that under Anglo-American law, there was no recognition of slavery, so slaves had to be property. Thus, “chattel slavery,” which supposedly was much worse than slavery as practiced elsewhere (on every continent except Antarctica, as Thomas Sowell has often pointed out).

Dreher dismisses that nonsense with the observation that “slavery, whether practiced by Christians, Muslims, or pagans, is about people owning other people, period.”

Now, back to the Georgetown professor, Jonathan Brown. He holds the Al-Waleed bin Talal Chair in Islamic Civilization, which is a tip-off. Brown argues that:

1) Slavery in the Arab and Turkish world was a sweet deal; “slaves in the Muslim World lived a pretty good life.”

ws022) In Muslim societies, slavery wasn’t racialized. Only, of course, the slaves were all black or white, and in Arabic, people with black skin are automatically referred to as abeed (slaves). Arab slave traders bought African slaves well into the 20th century.

3) “Slaves were protected by shariah,” Brown says. But Sharia didn’t prevent female sex slaves from being enslaved in harems, or male slaves from being castrated to make them eunuchs. A cynic might say that sharia didn’t offer a great deal of protection! But Professor Brown thinks that being a sex slave in a Muslim country is no different from having an arranged marriage. Maybe better:

Brown asks what is the real difference between a sex slave in Islam (who might have been well-treated by her master) and a medieval Christian woman who had to marry a man she may not have loved, and who had a miserable life with him?

“The difference between these people is not that big,” Brown claims.


I suspect that if you asked the women involved, you would get quite a different reaction.

But Professor Brown doesn’t have to worry about actually winning arguments. He is a tenured professor, and his chair at Georgetown–which was, at one time, a Christian university!–is endowed by Al-Waleed bin Talal, a Saudi billionaire. So the pro-slavery caucus is safe at Georgetown for the foreseeable future. Mohammed himself was a slave owner–unlike, say, Jesus–so Islam is never going to turn against slavery, as Christianity did, with decisive effect, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Liberals tend to be copacetic with slavery. By some calculations, there are as many slaves in the world today as there have been at any time in human history. You might think this would be a concern for liberals, but you would be wrong: they don’t seem to mind slavery a bit, when it can’t be used to score a political point.

Some years ago–long enough ago that it probably isn’t preserved on the internet–an anti-slavery group approached the Jesse Jackson organization, looking for support for its campaign against slavery in Africa and the Arab countries. They received a cold reply from Jackson’s staff: No, thank you. Slavery isn’t one of his priorities.

No, of course not. It’s Chinatown, Jake. Liberalism is a fraud from top to bottom.