The premiere Islamist terrorist organization that all others try to emulate has always prided itself on welcoming equally as brothers all those who adopt its narrow and violent version of Islam. But the current conflict in Mali, where al-Qaeda attempted to take over an African country in a military offensive, has helped reveal the falsity of its equality claim, exposing on closer inspection the Arab racism against black African jihadists in Al-Qaeda’s North African franchise, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The current battle against Islamists in Mali that saw their gunmen advance several hundred miles south, dangerously close to the country’s capital, before French intervention forced them back involved fighters from three different jihadist groups. One, Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), is made up of Mali’s native Tuaregs who inhabit the country’s northern part. Another is the more famous AQIM, while the last is the relatively unknown Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), which broke away from the AQIM in 2011.
Largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, the reason MOJWA splintered off from AQIM was due to the marginalisation of its black African members and the contempt in which AQIM’s Arabs hold blacks in general. For example, AQIM is definitely not an equal opportunity employer. No black African is known to hold a leadership position in the terrorist organization.
Robert Fowler, a former Canadian diplomat, witnessed up close this Arab racism against black jihadists in AQIM when he was an AQIM hostage for 130 days in the Sahara Desert in 2010. Fowler was on special assignment for the United Nations when kidnapped with another Canadian diplomat in Niger. He recorded his experiences in his book A Season In Hell: My 130 Days In The Sahara With Al Qaeda. Fowler noted that “there was a big gulf in the AQIM between those who were black and those who were not,” observing that Arabs, primarily Algerians, were the AQIM leaders, while blacks and young Arabs composed the rank and file.
“They preached equality, but did not practise it,” records Fowler. “Sub-Saharan Africans were clearly second class in the eyes of AQIM.”
AQIM’s anti-black racism even appeared when one of his Arab kidnappers tried to get Fowler to convert to Islam, emphasising as a positive point his religion’s egalitarianism regarding other races. Using blacks as an example, the jihadist explained to Fowler: “No matter how black they are, how ugly, how flat their noses, or how much their sweat smells, God considers them equal.” The irony of his choice of words somehow escaped their speaker.
Fowler encountered a possibly more telling example of Arab racism against blacks when an Arab jihadist saw Fowler and his fellow Canadian captive washing their clothes. The Arab asked whether their wives did this at home. Upon receiving a positive response as well as an explanation that they sometimes did it together, the Arab appeared both amazed and disgusted. This prompted the two hostages to ask their captor whether he performed this chore in his household. Genuinely horrified, the jihadist responded: “Of course not! We have slaves for that!”
While the jihadist did not tell Fowler whether his slaves were black, there is a good chance that they are. Arab and Berber enslavement of black Africans is well entrenched in Africa’s Sahel region, the continent’s worst area for this inhuman activity. It is estimated there are between 300,000 to 500,000 black African slaves in Mauritania, about 200,000 in Mali and a further unknown number in Niger that could encompass between one and eight percent of the country’s population. True numbers are nearly impossible to obtain since many slaves belong to nomads or live in areas where government institutions are weak or non-existent.
One Arab jihadist, however, did admit to Fowler during his captivity the existence of anti-black racism in AQIM, calling it “a problem.” And it became so big a problem the black Africans split off from AQIM and formed their own al-Qaeda-loyal jihadist outfit the year after Fowler’s unexpected and unpleasant stay.
The roots of Arab anti-black racism in AQIM, and elsewhere in the Arab world, are to be found in the centuries-old abomination of Islamic slavery of black Africans that continues to this day. It has created a mindset of racial superiority among some Arabs that views blacks as scarcely human and enslaving them as the natural order of things. Although they insist their religion commands equality, for them that is laughable, even for the religious purists of al-Qaeda, when it comes to blacks. African-American Samuel Cotton encountered this horrifying mindset when he explored the Arab/Berber slavery of black Africans in Mauritania in the 1990s.
“The problem is that Mauritania’s Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are inferior and are born to be slaves,” wrote Cotton in his book Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery. “They believe that a black man, woman or child’s place in life is to serve an Arab master…”
But one shouldn’t feel sorry for MOJWA’s black jihadists and rush to launch anti-discrimination complaints on their behalf. Just because it has a black leadership doesn’t mean MOJWA is any less ruthless or bloodthirsty than AQIM. It has the same hatred of ‘infidels’, interest in spreading jihad and uses the same bloodthirsty methods. It has kidnapped aid workers, diplomats (executing one), set off a car bomb and recently tried to overthrow the Malian government by force. It was MOJWA leader Omar Ould Hamaha, for example, who warned France that she had “opened the doors of hell” by intervening in Mali.
But the lesson to be learned in the formation of MOJWA is that anti-black racism cancels out religion, even in al-Qaeda. This crack in al Qaeda’s armour is, hopefully, a weakness that can be exploited as the worldwide jihad continues apace.
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