Combat Human Trafficking

Article excerpt

Many non-Muslims who are otherwise favorably disposed to Muslims voice concerns about our selective approach to human rights. As evidence, they point to the demands that Muslims make for their own human rights but not for those outside the faith. Why, they ask, do Muslims demand justice in Palestine, Chechnya, or Bosnia but not in Myanmar, to cite but the latest example? And, they ask more pointedly, why Muslims turn a blind eye to their own human rights trespasses, as against non-Muslims in their midst, for instance, or against other Muslims of opposing sects or ethnicities. Darfur is perhaps the most poignant example of their lament, for this is where our failings as exemplars of human rights come together quite starkly and where no clear condemnation seems to be forthcoming, even from those in the religious hierarchy. Then again, I could be wrong. Perhaps our leaders are not indifferent to the plight of all people, but are simply distracted by the minutiae of the human condition, the politics that so often foment human tragedy, or the partisanship that makes difficult the ethical apportionment of blame. Or perhaps they are just awaiting a human rights issue that is truly universal, truly humanitarian. If so, then human trafficking might be just what they were looking for.

My own introduction to this, the latest in humanity's self-inflicted wounds, came by way of an invitation to participate in the UN's International Conference to Combat Human Trafficking. In attendance were leaders of all the world's major religions... except Islam. No Muslim leader from the Islamic heartlands bothered to attend, despite an earnest effort on the part of UN officials to include as many delegates from the Muslim world as possible-or so they claimed. And yet, this conference was meant to highlight what is perhaps the greatest challenge human beings have faced since the abolition of institutionalized slavery. And it affects Muslims as much as it does all others, in places such as Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan.

The aim of the conference was to use the influence wielded by religions to nip human trafficking in the bud, or if not that, then at least to rehabilitate those who fall through the cracks. Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan reminded participants that institutionalized slavery, officially abolished in some parts of Europe some two centuries ago, was now reemerging in the form of an informal trade in human trafficking. The latter is fast becoming a crime against humanity, to the extent that it may well surpass even the atrocities of slavery in its darkest moments! This is because slavery, even in its most barbaric forms, was less dehumanizing and less undignified, according to experts, than human trafficking often is. They cite sexual exploitation as one example. …