Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

‘Of human bondage’

In the aftermath of the recent horrific events at Kerdasa, Nairobi, Somalia and Libya, we doubt there is a seed of goodness left in our universe. Clouded by the haze of dust and smoke, emerging from the fire and cruelty of man towards his fellow man one wonders if it will ever end. The answer is a haunting echo that is barely audible: “it will only end with man’s end.”

The heap of ruin leaves the human heart in shreds. When did we stop being part of the human race? With breathless speed and empty hearts we are toiling forcefully to end our humanity. What was once surreal has turned real and our world has become a giant slave-house, holding us hostage within unyielding iron bars. With no freedom allowed can we resort to the freedom of thought? At least our minds are still free. That is a great delusion. Those brainwashed by the oppression of a certain ideology have lost even the freedom of thought. Without the freedom of thought or the freedom of speech, the freedom of action or motion is fruitless.

We are in total bondage to whoever holds those freedoms.

Whoever said we are born free was wrong. We are born coiled and tied to our mothers’ wombs, freed only when the umbilical cord is severed. Are we then free? As simpering, whimpering infants we are dependent on our mother’s milk for survival. Later on we are dependent on family, society, faith, ideas, habits, even love. Love and hate are the strongest passions that possess us. Like it or not, we are born slaves.

When Somerset Maugham wrote his masterpiece in 1915, about a physician enslaved by his feelings for one worthless woman, he borrowed his title Of Human Bondage from Italian philosopher Spinoza’s Study of Ethics. Maugham denied that the work was autobiographical, but it touched a nerve in all humans and was adapted for the screen over three times. The virtues and vices it exposed reveals a frailty in us as we constantly seek and find our chosen bondage to a man, a woman, an idea, a cause. We gladly become their slaves, and still we continue to cry for freedom.

We sing our mournful song of freedom as most slaves do, and keep drudging along hour after hour, day after day, as slaves do. We cower and quail at what a dark tomorrow may bring.

Such morbid thoughts are brought to mind by a new film production Twelve Years a Slave, to be released to the public next week. It has already been presented at three international film festivals, Telluride, Toronto and New York, with glowing reviews.

The film is based on an incredibly true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom in the pre-civil war of the US. Solomon Northup (Chewitel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York is abducted and sold into slavery, to a cruel and malevolent slave-owner. For 12 years he struggles to stay alive and to reclaim his dignity, until a chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life. This historical drama is the autobiography of Northup written in 1853, and rediscovered in 1968. Directed by Steve McQueen, it is widely tipped for award season success and the Oscar buzz is incessant.

Slavery is forbidden anywhere, yet it exists everywhere.

There are 27 million people in slavery today, who work without pay and are unable to walk away. They are all around us. You find them in brothels, factories, farms, restaurants, construction sites and private homes. Tricked by traffickers who lure vulnerable people with false promises, some are marched to work at gunpoint.

The British journal The Guardian has recently exposed the conditions of migrant labourers in Qatar working on the construction of the Qatar World Cup Stadium of 2020. Construction will leave 4,000 dead under the worst imaginable human conditions. This summer Nepalese workers died at a rate of one a day. Some work for no pay, given no drinking water in a desert heat of 50c. Passports are confiscated, no ID cards are issued them, and they are stopped from leaving or running away.

One of the richest nations in the world exploiting the poorest among us to get ready for its spectacular show in 2020 and the International Labour Organisation is helpless.

Slavery is alive and well among a human race that is no longer human. Man must be committed to a continuous struggle for freedom, for humanity for all mankind, or we are threatened to lose whatever virtues of humanity we have strived to acquire throughout our civilised history. We have discovered how easy it is to fall back to our primal basic, base instincts developed during our early hunting days of survival, those prehistoric crude faculties, that linger on in the animal kingdom.

Can there be any progress without struggle? Can we grow any crops without ploughing the soil? We cannot be the masters of our soul, or the captains of our ship, unless there is a concerted effort to resist those temptations that pull us back to the yokes and chains of our own darkness.

Any act of aggression against our fellow man supports our enslavement to our vices.

We are all sentenced to possess good and evil in us. In order to rise to the supremacy of humanity, let us strive to live in freedom rather than exist in bondage.


“The terrorist and the policeman both came from the same basket.”

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

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