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“In Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Mauritania and the rest of the Arab world, Africans are treated like scum,” Osahon continues. “…Blacks in those countries cannot aspire to positions of respect or authority. There are hardly any Africans in high government positions in Arab governed countries…It is simply a way of life that’s all. Blacks do not really exist or at best are not human.”
But Arab racism today takes its strongest and cruelest form towards Africans in the form of the slave trade. In Mauritania, for example, slavery has been abolished about six times, but everything stays the same. An estimated 500,000 Africans still remain the property of Arab masters. Sudan also saw several hundred thousand black Africans enslaved in southern Sudan by northern Arabs during the jihad that lasted from 1989 until President Bush negotiated a peace agreement in 2005.
One of these “abeed,” Francis Bok, was captured as a seven-year-old boy in a slave raid. Bok served a brutal Arab master for ten years before escaping and eventually making his way to freedom in the United States.
“They (the Arabs) attacked villages of the south with the kind of ferocity and cruelty that only religion can inspire, enslaving and killing people like me and my family as if we were not human,” Bok wrote in his memoir, Escape From Slavery.
Yemen and Mali also have slave trades. In northern Mali, the Berber-descended Touareg tribe has black slaves it has inherited “from one generation to the next.” In Yemen’s interior, tribes there also possess African slaves. Again, some are descendants of “abeed” bought generations ago, while others are recent arrivals. In Mali, the government has signed international agreements on slavery but with little obvious effect.
And this abomination of Islamic slavery, upon which Arab racism rests, will be difficult to eradicate. It is an ingrained, centuries-old institution that is also legal under sharia law and, according to historian Bernard Lewis, “elaborately regulated.” The case of Cairo University professor Dr. Abu Zayd, an Islamic theologian, indicates the dangers and complications of challenging sharia law’s slavery provisions. When Zayd contended that “keeping slave girls and taxing non-Muslims” was contrary to Islam, he was declared an apostate and a sharia court forcibly divorced him from his wife. He later fled to Europe to escape Islamic extremists who now wanted to kill him because of his apostate status.
The current “mercenary hysteria” does not represent the first outburst of Arab racism resulting in the deaths of Africans in Libya. In 2000, blamed by officials for the high crime rate, dozens of Africans “were targeted during street killings.” In response to the killings, the Libyan government was censured by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination over “Libya’s practices of racial discrimination against dark-skinned migrants and refugees.”
Although he is using black Africans to stay in power, Gaddafi has himself treated Africans appallingly in the past. At one time, he had 200 Nigerians on death row in his prisons. When he was chairman of the African Union, Gadaffi was also accused of the extra-judicial executions of 40 other Nigerians. The victims apparently were not tried in a proper court and were subjected to torture. In Benghazi, the rebels’ home base, guards in a Libyan prison were accused in 2009 of opening fire on Somali prisoners, killing 20.
The latest horrific persecution of black Africans in Libya will most likely cause a loss of sympathy for the rebels in sub-Saharan Africa despite the African Union’s silence. There is already a dislike among Africans for Arabs due to Islamic slavery’s cruel past and present-day Arab racism. An irony is the black mercenaries the rebels are persecuting may not even be foreigners but rather dark-skinned Libyans from southern Libya. But that probably wouldn’t make any difference, since the kind of savagery the rebels are visiting on black Africans is not based on politics but rather on an irrational and bestial racist hatred for a category people that have been dehumanized.
Even worse for the rebels, present and past Libyan racism may cause some Africans still in Libya to heed Gaddafi’s hiring call for mercenaries, if they haven’t already, and pick up a gun both for both personal gain and revenge. Beaten, robbed and humiliated, their hatred for the Arab Libyan would make them just the kind of people Gaddafi wants to deal with the rebels. They will need no urging to return cruelty for cruelty.
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