Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

One must keep repeating that the bicentenary being celebrated this year is of the abolition of the slave trade by Britain. From the amount of breast-beating, you would think that it was 200 years since the trade got going. There is huge concentration on the Atlantic slave trade, which is not surprising since this was the one chiefly pursued by our white British ancestors. I am an interested party in the great reparations debate since some of my maternal ancestors had fortunes dependent on slavery (my sense of guilt is mitigated by the total disappearance of those fortunes), while one of my paternal ancestors, William Smith, was a lieutenant of Wilberforce in the House of Commons. Will these two strands cancel each other out and leave me having to pay nothing? I hope that people take the opportunity to pay attention to the history of slavery in other forms as well. There were huge Muslim slave trades, often of black Africans. Some argue that these continue, in fact if not in name, to this day. Slavery was only formally abolished in Saudi Arabia in 1962, and many Muslims have never repudiated it, because it is Koranic. In Sura 33:50, the recitation tells Mohammed it is lawful for him to keep 'the slave-girls whom God has given you as booty'. He picked up one of his concubines, Rihana, by defeating a Jewish tribe and killing all its adult males, including her husband: she was seen as a fair reward. And although the Prophet gets special privileges from God as far as women are concerned, all male Muslims are permitted (Sura 23:1-6) to fulfil their carnal desires with any slave-girls whom they possess. Since the Prophet's life is supposed to be perfect, and to be imitated, Muslims can therefore see slavery almost as a religious duty, certainly as a right. What is happening in Darfur and Chad today, where the old Saharan slave routes used to run, is evidence of that.

It is very distressing that so many people attack NHS staff, as exposed on Panorama this week. No one really analyses why these attacks take place. They are partly explained by ordinary human nastiness and the apparent growth of people with no moral sense and plenty of drink or drugs inside them.

But there is something else too, I suspect.

Even very nasty people are less likely to attack an institution which, they feel, serves them, than one which doesn't. Whenever you go to NHS Accident and Emergency, you feel the inhumanity of a system which is not designed for you. The purpose of the people who take your name etc always seems to be to fend you off and make you wait. They cannot usually be personally blamed for this:

they are only doing what the system demands.

It contrasts very sharply with what happens when you go to Tesco or Sainsbury's to shop.

There the staff, not necessarily of personally higher calibre than those in the NHS, are trained to answer your requests and so, on the whole, they do. I bet they are attacked less often than hospital workers. We are bludgeoned into believing that it is somehow semi-tolerable to wait four hours to have a broken arm treated, where we wouldn't countenance this if we were trying to buy a tin of baked beans. Now that the number of people dying from MRSA in hospitals is well into four figures each year, it is does not seem exaggerated to say that the NHS is perpetrating assaults on patients more deadly, though unintended, than the assaults perpetrated on its staff. …

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