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Blair expresses "deep sorrow" over Britain’s role in slave trade

November 26, 2006

In an admirable gesture on the occasion of the bicentenary of Britain’s Slave Trade Act which abolished slavery, Prime Minister Tony Blair states:

“I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was — how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition — but also to express our deep sorrow that it ever could have happened.”

Sunday’s edition of the Observer, which ran the Prime Minister’s remarks, also reported that Blair will be backing a U.N. resolution by Caribbean countries to honor those individuals who perished at the hands of slave traders. The bicentenary, which will occur in March, may see Britain’s leaders publically take responsibility for this and other atrocities committed in the name of the state throughout history. For the full story, click here.

I commend the Prime Minister for his words despite the fact that they do not amount to a full apology. It reminds me of the humble actions of John Paul II when he publically issued apologies for grievious sins committed by individuals of the past in the name of the Church. While Blair, John Paul II or any of the current leaders of either Britain or the Church did not commit these sins and are not thereby directly responsible, we are reminded of the reality of structures of sin that, while possessing a social character and indentity, nevertheless mar the present reality of that social entity.

Thus, there is no weakness–only grace–when contemporary leaders express sorrow and dismay on behalf of their vacuous and, at times, sinful predecessors. Far from being a mere simulacrum for remorse or a pathetic display of histrionics, the actions of Blair and John Paul II remind us of the enduring culpability that, at times, emanates from man’s corporate destiny. Man is no monad who disinterestingly participates in group functions. Rather, man is an individual who stakes a claim socially, and on account of that claim, he is responsible to a degree for his tacit approval of, or vehement protest over, the injustices his society commits.

Protest need not be vocal or organized as too often our most liberal of fellow citizens imply. Protest often is most powerful and efficacious when it is spiritual–fasting, prayer, devotionals, sacrifices. Perhaps our spiritual protest may occur in solitude, such as fasting privately so that only our Father in Heaven can only see. Or perhaps our spiritual protest takes place in a group, such as praying in front of an abortion clinic. As wonderful of signs as bumper stickers and T-shirts may be, it is the doing that matters most.

We are called to resist and protest the injustices of this world in the capacity of which we are capable and in the manner to which are called. And, I would suggest, we are called particulary to address those injustices committed by the very society in which live and of which we partake.

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