The year 2004 is the United Nations' "International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery." Launching this abolitionist jamboree, Koichio Matsuura, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, called slavery a "crime against humanity," and declared that the world has a "duty to remember."
Matsuura is, of course, correct, but the U.N. suffers from a case of selective memory. For example, UNESCO's showcase anti-slavery program, "Breaking the Silence," is virtually mum on the Arab-Muslim slave trade. The United Nations Children's Fund and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, when occasionally forced to address contemporary slavery in Sudan, routinely refer to it euphemistically as "abduction." This chronic avoidance is not entirely surprising, considering the weight of the Arab and Muslim states in the U.N. system.
Escape from Slavery, a simple but compelling modern slave narrative, provides a most welcome antidote to the U.N.'s selectivity. It recounts the story of a seven-year-old black Christian boy who goes to market in Nyamlell, in southern Sudan in 1986. Arab Muslim slave raiders sweep through the area, killing, raping, pillaging, and abducting. Francis is snatched and whisked away to northern Sudan. His master, Giemma Abdullah, beats, bullies, exploits, and forcibly converts Francis, or Abdul Rahman as Giemma calls him. Why? "I was a kafir—an infidel," Francis explains. When Francis plucked up the courage to ask why he had to sleep with the animals, Giemma bluntly answered, "because you are an animal."
Giemma Abdullah personifies the deep-seated racism and religious bigotry that fuel contemporary slavery in Sudan. To understand the relationship between Giemma and Francis is to understand the essence of Sudan's 21-year-old, genocidal civil war. Only by "breaking the silence" is there any hope of a just and lasting peace in Sudan. Bok is currently generating such hope as a powerful abolitionist speaker for the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group.