- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

‘Amazing Grace’

Long before the United States was born with the original sin of slavery, Britain for more than 100 years had been collecting vast fortunes from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which British Ambassador David Manning this week called a “dreadful” and “iniquitous” institution.

Mr. Manning noted that Prime Minister Tony Blair has put Africa “at the top of Britain’s foreign policy agenda,” as the ambassador hosted a reception to promote the debut today of a movie marking the 200th anniversary of Britain’s abolition of its role in transporting slaves from Africa to its colonies in North America and the Caribbean.

“Amazing Grace” tells the story of William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament who campaigned for 20 years for an end to the British slave trade. The House of Commons outlawed the sale and transportation of slaves on Feb. 23, 1807.

Some British sea captains evaded the law by sailing under different flags, prompting Wilberforce to form the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, which pushed for the total emancipation of slaves in the British Empire. Parliament freed British slaves 10 years later.

“Wilberforce changed the conscience of our nation and changed the history of the world,” Mr. Manning said.

The ambassador recalled the “long and exhausting struggle” to end slavery and added that Wilberforce was the first member of Parliament to be openly cheered by the House of Commons, after members voted 283-16 to ban the trade in slaves.

The movie takes its name from the famous hymn, written sometime between 1760 and 1770 by John Newton, captain of a slave ship who experienced a religious epiphany on a storm-tossed voyage in 1748. Newton later became a minister whose anti-slavery sermons inspired Wilberforce.

Mr. Manning recounted that Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela all credited Wilberforce as an influence on their causes.

“Few can equal Wilberforce in his contribution to human liberty and human rights,” Mr. Manning said. “But in honoring him, we need to look to the present and to the future, where there is still much to do to realize his dream of freedom for all.”

Mr. Manning called on all nations to “attack and abolish modern forms of slavery,” especially human “trafficking for sexual exploitation.”

“Amazing Grace,” produced by Walden Media, was made “to inspire people,” said Gordon Tichel, vice president of the film company and who is in Washington to promote the movie.

He added that Wilberforce was fighting slavery “long before Lincoln became the ‘Great Emancipator.’ ”

“William Wilberforce still matters today,” he added.

Ambassador George Obiozor of Nigeria, a country that provided slaves to European traders, said he was inspired by Wilberforce’s story and added that his government is working for “freedom from poverty and freedom for the human spirit.”

Other guests at the reception included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and three members of the federal Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia — Janice Rogers Brown, A. Raymond Randolph and David B. Sentelle — and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

Pakistan’s power

Pakistan’s army has the power to stop Taliban terrorists from crossing the border into Afghanistan, said the Afghan ambassador in Washington.

“The real institution in charge is the military,” Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad said yesterday in an interview with the Associated Press. “The [Pakistan] army is a powerful and capable institution to reduce the influence of extremism and also to fight terrorism and extremism effectively.”

Afghanistan has long complained about terrorist raids from safe havens along the border with Pakistan.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]washing


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