This week's reading in Leo Africanus brought up a wide variety of social issues. Hassan's experiences in the caravan, and as a diplomat present international relations of the Middle Ages in a way I have never seen before. His relationship with his uncle, and the rest of his family, especially his sister in the leper colony really help me understand the Muslim family values of the time. But the most interesting part of the reading to me was Hassan's slave/lover Hiba. His description of how he came to own her was so frank. He describes her the way people describe an object they see in a store window, instead of the way modern Westerners describe the people they love. In history class my teachers always say, you have to compare these men to the people of their times. Slavery may have been completely normal in the fifteen hundreds, but reading such a straightforward account of slavery helped me understand the mindset of slave owners. Slaves are people, yet not people at the same time. For Hassan, wives are less partners and more possessions.
I was very interested in our discussion of modern day slavery. Its easy to forget that slavery still exists in many forms, and in many places. We discussed some of the forms of human trafficking, including forced labor, child labor and sex trafficking. What surprised me was the number of slaves in the world today. A US State Department Report from 2002 estimated that at least 700,000 up to 4 million men, women and children were held in slave-like conditions. This number at first astounded me. How, in this modern world of instant communication, can we not be aware of how many people are still enslaved? Slavery is just one example of the things that help me realize the difference between countries. Most Americans see slavery as a horrific crime against humanity, yet, it still exists, even here in the US where slavery has been illegal since the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865.
I also wondered why we are not aware of modern slavery, child labor and sex trafficking. Is it that we would rather avoid the ugliest parts of the world today? Or is there something more to it?