The Obama Administration’s Slavery Disgrace

Why the White House ignores Islamic slavery in Mauritania.

slavery“This is a testament to when we are not vigilant in defense of human rights what can happen. Obviously, for an African-American president, to be able to visit this site gives me even greater motivation in terms of human rights around the world.”

---- President Obama, after his 2013 visit in Senegal to a former slave fort used in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

As uplifting as these words may sound, President Obama’s “motivation” and vigilance “in defense of human rights around the world,” at least in regard to the enslavement of black Africans, apparently ends with the now defunct Trans-Atlantic slave trade. For once again, the Obama administration has shamefully failed to raise a loud voice against the persecution and imprisonment of anti-slavery activists in the world’s worst slave state, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

The United Nations (UN) human rights office earlier this month called for a review of the conviction of a remarkable and fearless Mauritanian anti-slavery activist, Biram Ould Dah Abeid, who, like Obama’s Kenyan relatives, is black African.  Biram and two others were sentenced to two years in prison last January, according to Amnesty International (AI), for having staged a demonstration last November “to raise the awareness about land rights for people of slave descent (land slavery).”

“In Mauritania, slave descendants who work on land without any rights are forced to give a portion of crops to their masters,” AI stated in a press release. “…The conviction of these activists for taking part in peaceful protests on charges which are vague and open to abuse violates their human rights to free expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.”

The reported charges against the three men included “inciting rebellion, threatening public order, belonging to an illegal organization, and participation in an unauthorized public gathering.” A UN human rights spokesman stated the decision to prosecute the men on at least one of the charges “appears to be arbitrary and unjustified.”

Mauritania is located in West Africa and is Senegal’s neighbor. In 2013, the Global Slavery Index granted Mauritania the dubious distinction of ranking it number one in the world for the prevalence of slavery there, indicating the extent of the tragedy. There is currently an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 chattel slaves in the country, believed to be the highest number in the world. All are black African, while their masters are Arabs and Berbers.

The Arabs and Berbers constitute about 20 percent of Mauritania’s population of about 3.5 million and almost all of the political, business and military elite class that controls the country. So it is obviously a difficult task to eradicate slavery in a country where, anti-slavery activists say, the lawmakers themselves own slaves.

But Islamic slavery in Mauritania differs in one significant aspect from its better-known, but equally horrific, version in Sudan, the Islamic State and in Boko Harem territories. Those Islamic entities capture their slaves by means of the old-fashion, violent slave raid. Slavery in Mauritania, on the other hand, is a cruel, life-destroying institution that goes back several hundred years, into which slaves are born and inherited as chattel. Some of the currently enslaved black Africans in Mauritania belong to families that have been slaves for centuries.

Another significant difference is that both masters and slaves in Mauritania are Muslim. The other Islamic “slave states” generally enslave non-Muslims. However, they all use Sharia law to justify the evil they practise. Bernard Lewis, the eminent scholar of Islam, stated “…the institution of slavery is not only recognised but is elaborately regulated by Sharia law.” Muslim slave owners also justify Islamic slavery by the fact that the prophet Muhammad himself owned slaves.

Slavery was abolished in Mauritania in 1981 and only criminalized in 2007. But Mauritanian slavery stayed the same despite government denials. The fact that only one person has ever been convicted and jailed for owning a slave testifies to that. African-American writer Samuel Cotton, who travelled to Mauritania in the 1990s to investigate the slavery situation, called these decrees “woefully ineffective mandates.”

“The problem is that Mauritania’s Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are born to be slaves,” wrote Cotton after the trip 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, and does not matter whether that black is a Christian, or a fellow Muslim.”

Dah Abeid comes from a Mauritanian slave family (his last name, ‘Abeid’, means slave in Arabic). He himself is the son of a slave; his father was freed by his grandmother’s master, but his grandmother and uncles remained slaves.

“I am from the servile community of Mauritania that makes up 50 percent of the population,” Dah Obeid once said. “Twenty percent of the 50 percent have been born as property of other men. We were inherited by other people.”

Dah Abeid founded the anti-slavery group Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) in 2008. With other anti-slavery activists, he has organised several, attention-grabbing public actions to embarrass the government about slavery’s existence in Mauritania. In 2011, for example, Dah Abeid and several others staged a protest demonstration to obtain a ten-year-old slave girl’s freedom from her mistress. Government officials reacted accordingly for a pro-slavery regime. It didn’t arrest the mistress for violating the 2007 law; rather, it punished the protesters, including Dah Abeid, with arrest and jail terms. Dah Abeid and other activists have been jailed multiple times in their anti-slavery struggle, often suffering beatings and torture when in prison.

More serious for Dah Abeid’s personal safety was the sensational (for Mauritania) anti-slavery protest he and other IRA activists staged on a Friday outside a mosque. There, Dah Abeid symbolically destroyed a copy of the Sharia law code, first removing the pages referring to the Koran and those containing the name of the Prophet Mohammad and Allah (The anti-slavery activist does not believe Sharia is divine law, as fundamentalist Muslims do, saying it is simply outdated codes drawn up during Islam’s Middle Ages).

The government reaction to the anti-Sharia demonstration was as overwhelming as it was barbaric. Dah Abeid’s home was violently raided and he and other anti-slavery fighters were, as per usual, imprisoned and tortured. But due to the resulting international outcry, Dah Abeid was released from jail. A Mauritanian Sharia court, however, got its revenge, declaring him an apostate, which automatically put him under a sentence of death.

“There were TV programs broadcast that talked about how I was going to be hanged…,” he said. “And they said on television we will kill him, like we kill a cat.”

But Dah Abeid said what bothered him most about this grisly affair was the silence of “ambassadors of democratic countries” who “did not speak up about freedom of speech and worship.”

This is all the more remarkable when one considers the honours Dah Abeid has accrued for his and IRA’s anti-slavery work, which has reportedly freed 2,000 slaves. Among the international awards he has received, Dah Abeid was recognised in 2013 by the UN as one of the world’s foremost abolitionists, receiving the prestigious UN Human Rights Prize from Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York. Past award recipients include, fittingly, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, whom, Dah Abeid says, is his hero.

Abeid’s struggle on behalf of his country’s black Africans, however, faces different, and perhaps more difficult, obstacles than Mandela’s. The Mauritanian human rights champion is confronted with a deeply established, centuries-old slave system, backed by Sharia law, and a slave-owning political class that supports both. But most importantly, unlike Mandela, Dah Abeid and his anti-slavery struggle are largely ignored by the Western media and governments, including the Obama administration. There has been no internationally orchestrated campaign on behalf of Mauritania’s slaves, or even to publicise Dah Obeid’s struggle, as was done for Mandela.

Nevertheless, Dah Abeid used his limited international stature to issue a national challenge to his country’s slavery status quo. Last June, he threw himself fearlessly into Mauritania’s federal election, running as a presidential candidate for the Radicals For Global Action Party (RAG), a banned political organization. It was probably a remarkable and unprecedented sight for Mauritanians to see the son of a slave, under sentence of death and heading a banned party, run in a presidential election against the representative of his country’s slave owners.

“We are the only ones to have a different ideological position,” Dah Abeid told a French-language newspaper at the time. “We are fighting against slavery, against racism, against government waste and against corruption. The true opposition, it’s us.”

Despite the alleged voter fraud, RAG still managed to place second with 8.72 percent of the vote. The incumbent, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a former army general, was re-elected dictator with 81.94 percent of the vote.

The Obama administration’s response to Dah Abeid’s most recent imprisonment was almost mute. The State Department only issued a tepid, four-sentence press release after the January convictions of the three activists that read in part:

“We are deeply concerned by the January 15 court decision to convict and sentence them to two years’ imprisonment and the impact this will have freedom of association and assembly in Mauritania…We are committed to continuing our support of efforts by the Mauritanian government and civil society to eliminate slavery in Mauritania…”

Not exactly hard-hitting, Churchillian words, or even ones remotely resembling those Obama uttered in Senegal.

The most likely reason why the state with the largest number of black African slaves in the world gets a pass from America’s first African-American president is national security. The Obama administration views Mauritania as a valuable partner in the Sahel region’s anti-jihad coalition. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated such was the case in a statement issued for Mauritania’s national day last November.

“Mauritania and the United States have a strong partnership founded on shared interests for regional peace and security…,” the statement read.

As a sign of this partnership, both countries have been involved in joint military exercises, and high-ranking officers from US Africa Command have visited Mauritania. The news agency Maghrebia also reported Washington gave Mauritania two reconnaissance planes last June.

“During the delivery ceremony, top Mauritanian and US officials praised the high level of military co-operation between their countries, especially in the field of counter-terrorism,” Maghrebia related.

But the question remains why leftists, liberals and their media allies ignore Islamic slavery in Mauritania, especially after they organised such an effective, worldwide campaign to abolish the terrible apartheid system in South Africa? One would think they would be just as morally outraged over the Mauritanian situation as over the South African, since it involves the actual enslavement of black Africans. Hundreds of thousands of them.

The left’s response to Islamic slavery, however, is the same as that of the Obama administration – they hypocritically ignore it. One reason is that leftists want to maintain the image they have carefully constructed that America and Israel are the world’s only oppressors, especially in the Middle East. Here, the left promotes the Arab as victim of Israeli violence. Admitting and publicising that Arabs are enslaving black Africans would only undermine their propaganda campaign.

As well, leftists like Obama want to keep the focus on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It has always been a useful weapon to attack the United States. Obama also uses the trans-Atlantic slave trade to play to his African-American constituency, which is why he would visit a former slave fort in Senegal without saying a word about modern-day, black African slavery in neighbouring Mauritania.

The Obama administration also appears to excel in adopting unprincipled positions. While refusing to demand Dah Abeid’s release, it recently asked Armenia to make “a humanitarian gesture” and free two foreign Muslim terrorists who had killed two Armenians, one a teenager. With these kind of non-values, one should not be surprised about its inaction regarding Dah Abeid. After all, he didn’t murder anyone and only wants to end Arab enslavement of black Africans.

In the 1990s, Cotton noticed the “ignorance and apathy of America’s black leaders” concerning the barbarism of black African slavery, calling their lack of concern “shameful.” Tragically for the victims, two decades later, President Obama is continuing that sad tradition.

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To get greater insight into why Obama ignores Islamic slavery, watch Nonie Darwish on The Glazov Gang discuss Obama and the Koran:

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