Columnists
Saudi Arabia today, apartheid and the trans-Atlantic slave trade: if we take a just action, will others profit?
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Faculty in Humanities, Austin College
Oct 16, 2018
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When President Trump was first asked about the alleged murder of US resident and journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in early October in the Saudi consulate, Istanbul, his first and firm response was that should this be true, the USA could not risk the billions we profit from Saudi Arabia because other nations would eagerly replace us. This response to rogue behavior has a common ring in history, and has always put profit before human rights.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade began in the mid-1500s. As it expanded, the major European nations and the USA profited while the pleas of the Abolitionists fell on deaf ears. The response to moral outcries was that “if we outlaw the slave trade, other nations will take over and profit at our expense.”

The British Parliament finally outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1808 with the cooperation of other nations. When the navies of the USA, Britain and later France caught slavers, the captain and crew went to court: the slaves were returned to Africa: Britain chose Freetown (Sierra Leone); the USA, Liberia; and France, Libreville, Gabon. With international cooperation, the slave trade declined and then ceased, but slavery, itself, continued.

History repeats itself, or at least rhymes, when the world began to understand the inhumanity inherent in legalized racial separation in South Africa: apartheid. When US and European multi-national corporations were challenged for their exploitation of cheap black labor in South Africa, their response was: “If we divest, others will invest and gain profits that would have been ours.”

After many years of many nations cooperating in divesting from and boycotting major companies, the USA played the role of Britain’s parliament in 1808. The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (99th US Congress) was important pressure applied to South Africa, which held its first election open to all races in 1994. The United Nations and other international agencies were also involved.

In our present crisis with Saudi Arabia, will any other nations cooperate? Will the United Nations? the Arab League? NATO?