August 31–Malayan or Malaysian Independence Day


September 24, 2016

James Chin: Looking Back on August 31–Malayan or Malaysian Independence Day

31 August marks Malaysia’s independence. But not everyone is celebrating the federation, writes James Chin.  Najib Razak can no longer take Sabah and Sarawak for granted with provincial nationalism on the rise in East Malaysia

Today Malaysia celebrates Hari Merdeka or Independence Day. But, the 31 August anniversary again raises the old debate about the actual date of independence and what the Federation means to the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak. It’s a discussion that has happened this time every year for much of the past decade.

Most banners in Malaysia have ‘59’, marking when Malaya became independent in 1957. The ‘53’ comes from 1963 — the year when the Federation was formed.

For many years, the federal government in KL/Putrajaya did not take the difference in years seriously. The situation changed in 2010 with the creation of another public holiday — Malaysia Day — to be celebrated annually on 16 September and commemorating the formation of the Federation.

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The sudden acknowledgment by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was no doubt in part to the increasing assertiveness of leaders in Sabah and Sarawak. Before 2008 Sabah and Sarawak were seen as a reliable ‘fixed deposit’ for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). The number of BN MPs elected from the Bornean states gave the BN a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The situation is markedly different now. The current Najib administration is holding on to power with a wafer-thin majority of 18 seats (as at July 2016). There are 47 BN MPs from Sabah (22) and Sarawak (25).  Najib would be out of a job without the BN MPs from East Malaysia.

To show his appreciation and to reflect the rise of East Malaysia, he appointed more than 15 Federal Ministers and Deputy Ministers from the two states. In fact, the second largest party in the federal BN is Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) from Sarawak, not the uni-racial Malaysian Chinese Association as is widely believed.

Najib’s perilous political position is made worse by the fact that UMNO does not have single MP from Sarawak. In fact, under a deal made during former Prime Minister Mahathir’s tenure, UMNO is not allowed into Sarawak.

Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the local Muslim party, is the de facto UMNO of Sarawak. It has ruled Sarawak since 1970 with a coalition that is beholden to it. PBB could easily rule Sarawak on its own, but the state’s diverse population requires it to keep a coalition government, the Sarawak BN, for political stability.

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Unlike Sarawak, UMNO is in firm control of Sabah and UMNO Sabah’s boss, Musa Aman, is the state’s Chief Minister. His brother is Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman.

The noisy debate in East Malaysia over ‘53-vs-59’ reflects the wider issue of Sabah and Sarawak’s status in the Malaysian Federation. Many Sabahans and Sarawakians are of the opinion that Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak (and Singapore before its expulsion from Malaysia in 1963) were the original founders of the Federation. Hence the argument that Sabah and Sarawak should not be merely treated as one of the 13 states in the Federation but as one of the three founding states.

This distinction is important for Sabah and Sarawak nationalists as they like to argue that both states should enjoy more rights compared to others. These rights, as the argument goes, are part of the original promises made by Tunku Abdul Rahman and other Malayan leaders when they approached Sabah and Sarawak back in 1961 to establish the Malaysian Federation. They further argue that many of these rights, collectively called the ’20 Points’, have been watered down over the last half century.

With UMNO relying on East Malaysia to stay in power, Adenan Satem, the chief minister of Sarawak, has been especially vocal in demanding more autonomy for the state. Just in the past week, he met Najib to pressure Petronas, the national oil corporation, to implement a Sarawak-First policy in hiring its workers in Sarawak. Najib also promised to appoint a representative of the Sabah and Sarawak governments to the Petronas board.

Adenan’s move was widely applauded in Sarawak, so much so that Netizens are asking why Musa Aman, Sabah’s Chief Minister, has been keeping quiet when it comes to state rights. It is not lost on Sabahans that Musa belongs to UMNO Sabah and Najib is his party chief.

The firm push for more autonomy for the two East Malaysian states comes at a time when various movements are actively seeking a referendum on the future position of Sabah and Sarawak in the Malaysian Federation. Many of these groups, active on the social media, and especially Facebook, harbour dreams that one day Sabah and Sarawak will be independent states.

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The Unfulfilled Promise to Sabahans and Sarawakians

In Sarawak, some of these groups are covertly supported by the Sarawak BN. The Sarawak BN sees these groups as useful in helping to split the opposition vote and, more importantly, help Sarawak BN contain the threat represented by the opposition DAP and PKR. These two parties have some support among the local population and labeling them as ‘Malayan’ parties out to ‘colonise’ Sarawak is attractive rhetoric if you claim to be a Sarawak nationalist.

All four parties that make up the Sarawak BN — PBB, Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) — are local. They all claim to be Sarawak nationalists, despite the fact that on the very day they were established all of them joined the federal BN. But as they say, facts are irrelevant in politics; it’s perception that counts.

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Until the next general election, we can expect Adenan (pic above) to take the lead in negotiating with Najib to ‘take back’ some of the bureaucratic powers lost to Putrajaya during Mahathir’s tenure. Sabah will take a back seat for the simple reason that any deals for Sarawak will have to apply to Sabah as well. Both Adenan and Najib are hoping that Adenan’s ‘victories’ in securing more powers will lead to a massive win for Sabah and Sarawak BN in the coming general election.

At the grassroots level, the nationalists will be given a lot of leeway in promoting ‘Sabah for Sabahans’ and ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’ as long as they are useful in painting the federal opposition as ‘outsiders’. In any other states in the peninsula, they would be arrested immediately for sedition.

The debate over state rights in Sabah and Sarawak could have long-term consequences for the Malaysian Federation. It is instructive to note that in the 1980s, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) used the state rights appeal to win several state elections in Sabah. This tactic directly led to the establishment of UMNO in Sabah, and the state’s politics were forever changed.

While the likelihood of UMNO entering Sarawak is remote now, this situation can change with the results of a single election. UMNO is playing ‘nice’ now because it needs Sarawak to stay in power. When UMNO is strong, it will behave in an entirely different manner. Any powers given back to Sarawak can easily be taken away as long as the centre (Putrajaya) in the Malaysian federation is all powerful under the federal constitution.

For lasting state rights, the leaders of Sabah and Sarawak must come together and insert autonomy into the Malaysian Constitution. Otherwise what we have is merely a bureaucratic maneuver that is only good until the next state or federal elections. 

Professor James Chin is Director, Asia Institute, University of Tasmania. Readers who are interested in exploring this issue further can read the author’s recent book (co-edited with Andrew Harding), 50 Years of Malaysia: Federation Revisited (2014).

 http://www.newmandala.org/53-59-malaysias-independence/

From Karpal Singh to Haron Din


September 24, 2016

A Generous Tribute to the Late PAS Spiritual Leader Dr. Haron Din

COMMENT: I thank Tay Tian Yan for this tribute to Dato’ Dr. Haron Din. It appeared in Sin Chew Jit Poh. In my ranking, the Spiritual Leader joins the ranks of respected and admired PAS leaders like Burhanuddin Helmy, Zulkifli Muhammad, Ustaz Fadzil Noor and Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

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In contrast, we now have a political Jonah like Hadi Awang leading the party to extinction with the formation of Amanah, a splinter party of moderate Islamists.

I find Tay’s statement  helpful and constructive and I quote:

Venting your frustration on the deceased in an attempt to gain some additional political support is never the noblest thing to do. It will only trigger deeper confrontation among the people and cause further splits in our vulnerable society.

It is time our leaders in UMNO and PAS and other ultras stop playing the Islam and Malay nationalism (in extremis) card. Moderation and mutual understanding should be the way forward. That takes enlightened and self-confident leadership that Malaysia desperately needs.–Din Merican

From Karpal Singh to Haron Din

by Tay Tian Yan

haron-din-karpal

The death of PAS spiritual leader Haron Din has sparked some controversy for days now. The tweet by DAP’s Jeff Ooi and some of the negative comments that followed, have seen even the Police stepping in to probe for religious insensitivity while triggering very polarised reactions from the general public.

I’m not here to discuss whether Ooi’s tweet has been ironical, belittling or disrespectful, and he has himself explained he had no evil intention when posting the tweet.The language a person uses is actually something abstract and very subjective.

“Adios Haron Din, let there be peace” could be both a positive and negative message, depending on which side you are on and which way you look at it.

Since the Police have stepped in to probe, I guess we can only wait for the outcome. Going further, the incident is not just a matter that involves Jeff Ooi and a handful of web users. It reflects the vast disparity how different sectors of Malaysian society look at seemingly innocent and non-suggestive things, as well as one’s outlook on life.

Non-Muslims concerned about Malaysian politics might have some sparse impression of Haron Din. He is PAS’ spiritual leader, a very powerful man indeed, second probably only to the late Nik Aziz and incumbent party President Hadi Awang. Where religious influences are concerned, he is in no way inferior to the other two.

We can safely say that Haron Din was one of the most dominant figures in shaping the party’s religious and ideological roadmap. And he was extremely devout in his religious belief with his conservative and fundamentalist stand. For such a personality, Haron Din was never as ambiguous and wavering as some other politicians we know today.

Where this is concerned, Nik Aziz was actually a whole lot more versatile than him.

Image result for Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Anwar Ibrahim

Due to his unbending commitment to religion, Haron Din won the utmost respect of many Muslims in the country. That said, he simply lacked the necessary versatility that gave the non-Muslim community a general impression of him being hardline conservative or even extreme.

The collapse of Pakatan Rakyat has been largely blamed – in particular by DAP supporters – on the conservatives within PAS, resulting in the widening rift between the two parties while crushing the prospect of a change in the Federal administration.

Perhaps this is also how many non-Muslims perceive Haron Din and subsequently the very polarised reactions to his death.

The same thing also happened soon after the death of DAP’s Karpal Singh who famously said, “Islamic state over my dead body,” a quote which won him thumbs-up from supporters of a secular Malaysia, and at the same time infuriating the Muslims who saw him as being anti-Islam.

Similarly, there were tweets and FB posts that celebrated his death. But please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that since Karpal could be vilified, Haron Din should not be spared from the same disparaging treatment too.

Just the opposite. I firmly believe that any form of attack or belittling should not have happened to both Karpal Singh and Haron Din.

A humble expression of respect for the deceased constitutes a universal understanding in our civilized world. While differing political and religious views are inevitable, any form of disrespect for the deceased should never be manifested at such an untimely moment.

Venting your frustration on the deceased in an attempt to gain some additional political support is never the noblest thing to do. It will only trigger deeper confrontation among the people and cause further splits in our vulnerable society.

Even if I don’t buy Haron Din’s political ideas, for the simple reason of humanity and esteem, I will still pay my respects.

Tay Tian Yan writes for Sin Chew Daily.

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Malaysia’s culture of tolerance is under threat


September 23, 2016

Religious freedom in Malaysia

Taking the rap

Malaysia’s culture of tolerance is under threat

Najib in Power:Parliament, Civil Service, Police, Judiciary, and UMNO have failed the Malaysian People


September 20, 2016

Najib in Power:Parliament, Civil Service, Police, Judiciary, and UMNO  have failed the Malaysian People

by  P Gunasegaram

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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After all his failings and lies over his brainchild, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), and at least US$3.5 billion (RM14 billion) embezzled from it, and as much as US$7 billion (US$28 billion) unaccounted for, why is it that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak remains in power?

How could a nation keep a Prime Minister who is directly and indirectly responsible for the biggest fraud in Malaysian history and perhaps the biggest fraud ever in the world in power? The Minister of Finance Inc (Najib is Finance Minister, too) owns all of 1MDB, he was chairperson of the advisory board and the memorandum and articles of association of 1MDB required him to sign off on all major deals.

In other countries that practice true parliamentary democracy, that would have been enough to nail him and kick him out hard if he had not already resigned by then, but not here. Why?

Just because he was Head of UMNO and Barisan Nasional or BN when the coalition won the last elections in 2013, it does not convey on him an automatic right to remain prime minister until the next elections.

A Prime Minister can be removed if he does wrong under the law but for that to work you need independence of both investigating and prosecuting authorities. Najib circumvented that by removing the previous Attorney-General (Gani Patail) under highly suspicious circumstances. At the same time, the country’s corruption-fighting body saw wrenching changes while central bank officials were questioned by the Police for possible leaks of information over that US$681 million “donation” that went into the accounts of Najib at AmBank.

When dissent within his party began to surface, he took action against senior party officials culminating in the expulsion of his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin who, together with former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has now formed a new party.

That served as an example for any others who might want to challenge Najib’s leadership of UMNO and resulted in UMNO top guns and other heads of political parties within the BN coalition keeping mum and voicing their support for Najib.

UMNO party elections have been postponed to after the next general elections, preventing would-be contestants from ousting him. It looks like no one within Umno is capable of organising a revolt or rebellion and to force an extraordinary general assembly which could remove him as party chief and hence prime minister.

That Najib remains PM, and UMNO President, is first and foremost a reflection of the poor leadership at the top of UMNO. Except for Muhyiddin, Shafie Apdal and Mukhriz Mahathir, no significant UMNO leader has opposed Najib over 1MDB and other matters. If enough UMNO top leaders join in the clamour against Najib, Najib will have to go – you don’t even have to wait for a grassroots revolt.

Let’s take it from the top. Najib’s current deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, continues to make noises of support for Najib. This one-time solid Anwar Ibrahim supporter, jailed under the Internal Security Act (ISA) with Anwar in 1998 under Mahathir’s rule, must know that if UMNO goes into the polls with Najib at the top, its chances of winning would be much eroded. But he does not want to make the mistake his former boss did of moving too hastily.

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The UMNO Idiotic Minister of Defence

And then, with the exit of Shafie Apdal, comes Hishammuddin Hussein, Najib’s cousin and son of the Third Prime minister, Hussein Onn. Najib was son of the second. If Hishammuddin had his father’s guts, principles and integrity he would have no choice but to voice his opposition to Najib. But no, he does not but condones Najib.

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Ambitious But Unprincipled 

And then there is UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin – suave, dapper and Oxford educated.  A man in so much of a hurry to get to the top that one can’t expect him to be steadfast and upholding and give up what may, yes, get him to the top.

No ‘scrotal gumption’

For all three of them, does good politics dictate that they must support Najib no matter what, even if he allows Malaysia to be turned into a kleptocracy? Do they all not have the “scrotal gumption” – to borrow two words from former Court of Appeal judge Mahadev Shankar – to at least this once put nation and people above their own personal ambitions, and do what’s right even if it is risky?

Who knows, their political ambitions may be furthered if they do that because a majority of Malays themselves are likely to support their actions. Polls indicate Najib’s support among Malays is at an all-time low of 25 percent.

Remember Mahathir’s meteoric rise after he lost his parliamentary seat way back in 1969, criticised then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, got expelled from UMNO and then became Education Minister in 1974 after he was given a seat to contest by Tunku’s successor, Abdul Razak Hussein, Najib’s father?

Clearly they don’t make young UMNO leaders like they did before. And clearly too UMNO politics were rather devious even then. And MCA and MIC, what say you? Does Liow Tiong Lai for a moment think that the ordinary Chinese think his support for Najib is justified? What about the Indians, Dr S Subramaniam, do you think they support Najib right now?

Over in Sabah and Sarawak, do Kadazans and Dusuns and others actually support Najib? And shouldn’t leaders of parties like PBS and PBB be more circumspect of their support for Najib as leader of the coalition? How about it, Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Adenan Satem? Is it not time to make your views felt?

Umno after all had only 88 seats out of 133 seats at the end of the last elections in 2013 in the 222-seat Parliament. UMNO cannot rule without its partners no matter what some of their leaders say.

The combined opposition had one more than UMNO with 89 seats. If all of UMNO’s partners moved over to opposition, the government is toppled. In fact, if only 23 out of 44 defect, down comes Najib’s government. Surely they are collectively in a position to make some threats but why don’t they? Lack of scrotal gumption again?

He could be removed by Parliament – by a vote of no-confidence which will precipitate general elections if enough people vote with their conscience and not along party lines.

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Najib stays in power because not enough elected representatives from the ruling coalition will say a word against him, let alone vote against him. UMNO has failed the people, MCA has failed the people, MIC has, and likewise Gerakan. The East Malaysian parties have also failed the people.

Ultimately, Malaysia’s elected representatives in Parliament collectively failed the people – they let a terribly tainted Prime Minister continue in office. Now all that is left is for the people to pressure the representatives to do their job and if they do not, kick them out unceremoniously when the time comes.  That will teach them to do the right thing the next time around.

Moderates must speak up for Malaysia


September 15, 2016

Moderates must speak up for Malaysia

We the moderates must speak up now before it’s too late. We must not let the future generation say that the majority who are moderates and liberal have allowed the few who are extremists and narrow minded to destroy the country.–Tan Sri Mohd. Sheriff Kassim

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The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.–  Edmund Burke.

We deserve the leader we get. We get Najib Razak–the incompetent, dishonest, lying and corrupt Prime Minister in our country’s history. Thank You, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad for teaching and mentoring him –Din Merican

COMMENT

By Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Kassim

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Historians have noted that it took only a few evil men to use the ideology of hate and the promise of eternal glory to justify the atrocities that killed millions of people in Europe and in Asia during the last world war. The majority of the population were good people and totally innocent of the crimes but by their silence, they allowed the atrocities to happen on such an unprecedented scale.

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Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Kassim

Years after the war, and even today, people are still asking how such state – sponsored terror could have happened in the twenty-first century. The young of today feel ashamed and disgusted that the previous generation did not do anything to stop the madness before their countries were plunged into war, with disastrous consequences. The lesson learned from what happened not so long ago is that it takes only a few to do terrible damage to the country if the majority who are good people are complacent and do not care about defending the values that make us a united Malaysian nation.

Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and in this region are seeing the same ambivalence among the moderate majority in the population, allowing the few who claim they know about religion to use it as an ideology in their violent crusade to change society and eventually the country, from secularism and democracy to Islamism and theocracy. In many of these countries, the poor, the angry unemployed youths and the social misfits are easily attracted to the call for jihad, especially those who have been indoctrinated from young in their religious education to hate everything that originates from the West, like human rights, constitutional freedoms, music, pop culture, art exhibitions, statues and sculptures, St Valentine’s Day, Christmas celebration, yoga etc. These values and artistic pleasures are denounced by extremists as liberal ideas and alien cultures which have no place in the Islamic state. The chaos and internal instability which follow the rise of religious extremism to change the value system towards religiosity create so much gloom and despair that many of the best people in Muslim countries simply give up and migrate to western countries.

In Malaysia, we have a relatively socially advanced society as a result of the country’s economic modernisation and its exposure to external influences. Further, its racial and cultural diversity, the higher level of urbanisation and the bigger size of the middle class compared to other Muslim countries make Malaysians feel at ease with modern lifestyles and social interactions among the races. Its education system is basically secular in content and there is no hate ideology in it. The young can find jobs and absolute poverty is practically non-existent. The government’s caring policies have shielded the poorer population from the difficulties of daily life. All these factors help to insulate the country from extremism.

Nevertheless, the growing tide of religious excesses and intolerance for diversity is a cause for worry especially with the close alliance between race, religion and politics, which is creating suspicion that the national leaders are knowingly allowing the conservative ulama to dictate their strict interpretation of Islam and their social values on us Muslims. The silent majority among Malaysians are watching with concern at the Arabisation of Malay – Muslim society because if this trend accelerates, it will create divisions among the Malays, with the extremists calling themselves true followers of Islam and labelling others as infidels. When Muslims are divided along sectarian lines, the potential for conflict is very great.

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Three Peas in a Disaster Pod–Malaynisation and Arabisation

As we are seeing in the Middle East today, when Muslims fight each other in their sectarian wars, they will find somebody to be the scapegoats for their failures. Usually, it’s the Jews and the Christians who get blamed. We are seeing that in Malaysia too. When a Muslim is seen in the compound of a church, the whole Christian community is accused of conspiring to subvert Islam. States compete with each other to issue fatwas to ban everything that is associated with western values, not realising that Christianity or imperialism has nothing to do with these values. Those who criticise the religious bullying are threatened with the Sedition Act. If the critics are Chinese or Indians, they are called ungrateful pendatang as an insult.

We must not allow sectarianism and intolerance to grow their tentacles in our country and therefore we must speak up for moderation in Islam and mutual respect in our race relations, as loudly as we can. We the moderates must speak up now before it’s too late. Let it not be said by the future generation that the majority who are moderates and liberal have allowed the few who are extremists and narrow-minded to destroy the country.

Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff bin Mohd Kassim is the former Secretary-General of the Treasury, Ministry of Finance and Chief Executive, Khazanah Nasional and a member of the civil society group G25.

Owning Up to History


September 1, 2016

Owning Up to History

by David J. Collins

The Jesuit cemetery in St. Inigoes, Md., used to be surrounded by tobacco fields. Over the course of roughly 150 years, those fields were worked by hundreds of slaves owned by the Jesuits. In June, I sat in that cemetery, as a priest and a history professor at Georgetown University, with 16 Jesuit seminarians. We discussed what had happened there in 1838, when several hundred men, women and children were rounded up by the churchmen and their hired agents and transported first by wagon, then by ship to plantations in Louisiana.

I tell this history to seminarians every year. Both as historian and as priest, I am convinced that the past matters in the present. That is one reason I did not hesitate to lead the working group on slavery, memory and reconciliation that has as its goals the recovery of a neglected history and the pursuit of present-day reconciliation at Georgetown. The group’s recommendations for how best to acknowledge and recognize the school’s historical relationship with slavery will be released on Thursday.

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The 1838 sale is the most harrowing story I tell the seminarians. But it is hardly the only such story. The visit to the plantations is a chance to teach them that the Jesuits in colonial North America and the early United States owned more than 1,000 slaves on Maryland plantations, as well as in the Midwest and Deep South. Few of the slaves were emancipated until the law required it.

This slave labor generated revenue for Catholic pastoral and educational foundations. Revenue from the sale of these men, women and children regularly supported a growing network of missions, parishes and schools. In 1838 such revenue saved Georgetown from serious debt and settled a dispute with the archbishop of Baltimore, who had wanted the plantations for himself. But even in the 1780s as church officials were planning to open Georgetown, revenues from the sale of “supernumerary” slaves were already targeted for the school’s operations.

In telling this history of slavery to the seminarians, I am also handing on what I learned myself as a first-year Jesuit nearly 30 years ago. The history of the Jesuits in colonial Maryland beginning in 1634 has so many proud chapters — of adventurousness in the face of the unknown, of resoluteness in answer to state-sponsored religious bigotry, of creativity and generosity in response to pastoral need. But there is a darker side to that history: Racism, hypocrisy and brutality are part of it, too. Two centuries of Jesuit slaveholding and slave-trading demonstrate that. I will not let the young Jesuits take pride in and inspiration from a select set of uplifting episodes without challenging them to grapple with our history’s offenses as well.

I learned that perspective on history — that the failures need to be claimed as much as the successes — not in the United States but in Germany, when I was a student there. I still remember how startled I was by the frankness of a fellow Jesuit explaining that as a German he had no right to take pride in Bach and Brahms without taking responsibility for Bergen-Belsen and Birkenau.

That was not how I had learned my American history, in particular the history of slavery. Of course we had learned in school that slavery was deplorable. But as we processed its implications among ourselves, our responsibility was subtly attenuated with the suggestion that the Civil War, Reconstruction and civil rights legislation had paid the historical debt, as if hitting a reset button on race relations. And besides, as I remember, the reasoning of my circle of grade-school friends — mostly the grandchildren of Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants — was that our families had arrived too late to have a share in any culpability.

American history is replete with such cruelty and degradation, so much so that the figures can feel too large to fathom — like the one million slaves forcibly relocated to the Deep South in the 19th century. And exactly herein lies the value of the Jesuit history: The story of the sale that saved Georgetown draws our attention to 272 specific people, and meticulous Jesuit record keeping unwittingly spares these victims the final indignity of forced anonymity. We know the people’s names; when they were born, married and buried; whom they were sold with and whom they were separated from. We can trace their family connections, sometimes even to the present.Image result for Georgetown University and slavery

Several of Charles Hill’s ancestors were among people the Jesuits sold to a Louisiana slave owner to ensure the survival of Georgetown. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

Those 272 biographies sting in a way a statistic of one million can’t. This is what makes the Jesuit case compelling, useful to study and promising for communities with a particular connection to it, like Georgetown University, the Jesuits and the descendants of the slaves. This story cries out its injustice against our American tendency to distance ourselves from the ugly realities in our history.

Slavery is our history, and we are its heirs. America would not be America except for its deplorable history of slavery. There will be no “liberty and justice for all” until we understand that, not just Georgetown University and the Roman Catholic Church, but we as a nation.