Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 2001 / 14 Kislev, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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Modern-day abolitionists need help -- HEROISM always has a future.

There are always those willing to set aside excuses and denials and face up to the facts of the matter, regardless of whom those facts condemn.

That is why I find myself still thinking about young men from Mauritania - Muslims all - who spoke last week at Columbia University of their dedication to ending slavery in that West African country.

Because of the ways in which the lines are so often drawn in our country, we find members of (so-called) minority groups silenced for fear of being seen as providing aid and comfort to those who would repress the whole group physically, economically and psychologically.

At the same time, there is also the desire to see one's group in romantic terms - as being incapable of doing the kinds of terrible things that those in power have done to one's ancestors and to one's contemporaries.

If they would just let us run things, goes the thinking, paradise would rise up rather quickly.

The young men who spoke at Columbia know better. They were members of SOS Slaves Mauritania.

As Muslims and Africans, they had no romantic ideas about the cultures from which they came. They were not afraid of history, even though they must be aware of how the very worst aspects of Third World cultures have been underlined as justifications for the darkest savagery by conquerors and colonizers - who always brag of their own sophistication.

Listening to those men speak of the tradition of slavery in Muslim countries and in black Africa itself, one could see that they understand that people are defined not by their worst behavior, but by what they do when they have come to know that something terrible is happening among them.

They are modern versions of the abolitionists in America who realized that dark-skinned people were also human beings and that enslaving them was an abomination that contradicted both the New Testament, which knocked down tribalism, and the Declaration of Independence, which declared that all men were created equal and guaranteed rights based on that equality.

They have rejected their own culture's traditions, just as enlightened whites always had to reject the traditions and the customs of racism during slavery.

Here exists part of the nature of the best of Western ideas of liberty and justice.

Abusive regimes ignore them.

Nuts, liars, hustlers and frauds attach themselves to embattled so-called minorities and reject them in the interest of "unity." This should not be excused.

Nor should any just cause lose steam because such people exist.

Part of growing up is learning that.

We have much to learn from these African abolitionists right now.

They can remind us of our better selves and of those times when we did not submit to racism or turn away from the fact that there are almost always villains on all sides.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2001, NY Daily News