Deafening silence greets Mauritanian anti-slavery activist’s three-year prison sentence.
It is a curious study in contrasts.
American cities are currently experiencing continuous outbreaks of violence and arson in the wake of disputed police shootings by white officers of African-Americans. The violent protests purport to be inspired by the desire to save black lives, but, in the end, as history has well taught us, these destructive uprisings will take the lives of more blacks than those they allegedly seek to save.
Meanwhile, in the West African country of Mauritania, a fearless but unknown anti-slavery activist, Biram Dah Ould Obeid, is going to prison for the next three years. A black African, he has saved more black lives than all the rioters and race hucksters in America put together. But Dah Obeid has never destroyed any property, started any fires or assaulted anyone for his cause. So what is his “crime”? He peacefully protested against the obscenity of Islamic slavery and Arab racism that scar his nation.
Dah Obeid, whose father was a slave, had his appeal to dismiss his three-year prison sentence turned down earlier this month by a Mauritanian court. He was arrested with two aides last November for holding an anti-slavery demonstration. Convicted on spurious charges in January, he received a three-year prison sentence. The two aides also received jail terms and had their appeals turned down as well.
“The intensification of the crackdown on anti-slavery activists has no legal justification in a country which ironically just this month adopted a new law indicating slavery is a crime against humanity,” said Alouine Tine, an Amnesty International official, about the unsuccessful appeals.
Mauritania’s black African population has great need for such dauntless and courageous human rights fighters like Dah Obeid. In 2013, the Global Slavery Index ranked Mauritania the number one slave state in the world, the West African nation having been the last country to outlaw slavery in 1981. Slave ownership was criminalized only in 2007 and declared a crime against humanity just this month.
But Mauritanian and foreign human rights NGOs have called these decrees simply “window-dressing,” adopted for foreign consumption. Since 2007, for example, only one slave owner has been successfully prosecuted.
Mauritania’s slaves are all black Africans and their owners are Arabs or Berbers, called “whites,” who constitute about 20 percent of the population. Both slaves and masters are Muslim.
The “whites,” like Mauritania’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, make up almost all of Mauritania’s political, business and military elite class that controls the country. And therein lays the problem. It is very difficult to get the elite class that makes the laws to take any meaningful action against slavery when many of them are reported to own slaves themselves. But this inaction is also based on a pronounced, anti-black racism that African-American writer Samuel Cotton noticed when he travelled to Mauritania in the 1990s to explore the slavery issue.
“The problem is that Mauritania’s Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are born to be slaves,” wrote Samuel Cotton in his book Silent Terror: A Contemporary 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.”
Another problem is that slave owners also believe they are doing nothing illegal. The Prophet Muhammad owned slaves and Islam’s legal code, Sharia law, justifies the practice. The eminent scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis, wrote that “…the institution of slavery is not only recognized but is elaborately regulated by Sharia law.”
“This is state racism that has become institutionalized, that has caused pogroms, purges, murdering of the black population…,” Dah Obeid said in a speech at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Summit in Geneva last year. (The Mauritanian abolitionist was a recipient of the UN’s Human Rights Prize in New York in 2013.)
Through his own research, Dah Obeid believes his country contains the highest number of chattel slaves in the world. He estimates 20 percent of Mauritania’s 3.3 million inhabitants are enslaved. Observers admit, however, that an exact number is difficult to determine. A largely desert country, Mauritania has many slave-owning Arab/Berber nomads whose human chattel often cannot be counted. But most estimates run between 300,000 to 500,000 black slaves.
A constant thorn in their side regarding the slavery issue, Mauritanian authorities have arrested, tortured and imprisoned Dah Obeid several times before. And although it was largely ignored by the Western media, he even ran for president on an anti-slavery and anti-racism platform in Mauritania’s 2014 national election, although his political party was banned and he was under a Sharia court sentence of death.
Dah Obeid finished second in that contest, receiving almost 9 percent of the vote. President Abdel Aziz, a former army general, won with 81.94 percent. Nevertheless, it was ground-shaking for Mauritanians to see the son of a former slave, heading an outlawed party, and facing a death sentence, running for president against the representative of Mauritania’s slave owners.
“We are the only ones to have a different ideological position,” Dah Obeid told the Le Courier de Sahel during the campaign. “We are fighting against slavery, against racism, against government waste and corruption.”
Dah Obeid’s own family was heavily scarred by slavery. His family name, Obeid, means ‘slave’ in Arabic. His father, born a slave, was freed by his grandmother’s master, which accounts for Dah Obeid’s free status. 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 said in his Geneva speech. “Twenty percent of the 50 percent have been born as the property of other men. We were inherited by other people.”
To rid his country of the slavery scourge, Dah Obeid founded in 2008 the anti-slavery organization, Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), which the Mauritanian government almost immediately banned. And unlike the protesters in American cities, IRA has a proven record of saving black lives, being credited with having freed 2,000 black slaves.
Also in contrast to events in American cities, Dah Obeid’s protests have been non-violent. He has staged several high-profile actions to embarrass authorities into freeing slaves and to abolish human bondage. In 2011, for example, Dah Obeid demonstrated with others to obtain a ten-year-old girl’s freedom from her mistress. The Mauritanian government, however, reacted accordingly for a pro-slavery regime. It didn’t arrest the mistress and free the girl but rather punished the protesters with jail terms.
In 2012, Dah Abeid’s IRA arranged a sensational (for Mauritania) anti-slavery protest outside a mosque. There, he destroyed a copy of the Sharia law code used to justify Islamic slavery. First, though, Dah Obeid made sure to remove the pages referring to the Koran and containing the Prophet Mohammad’s and Allah’s names. After this protest, the police raided his home and a Sharia court placed him under sentence of death. Ominously, it was also announced on television that “we will kill him, like we kill a cat.”
But despite all the beatings, jail terms and death threats, Dah Obeid has remained, like his hero and role model, Nelson Mandela, undaunted and defiant. In response to his legal persecution, he wrote from his jail cell: “I refuse to throw in the towel. I refuse to be silenced. I refuse to abandon…those who have been ruined by slavery.”
Upon his return from Mauritania two decades ago, Samuel Cotton noticed the “ignorance and apathy of America’s black leaders” regarding the barbarism of Arab racism and Islamic enslavement of black Africans. After trying to educate them on the issue, he called their lack of concern “shameful.”
Tragically, that sad tradition of “shameful” disinterest continues today. By ignoring Dah Obeid’s plight, African-American leaders and their leftist allies show that not only this particular black life does not matter but those of tens of thousands of Mauritania’s still enslaved black Africans as well. Perhaps before the next outbreak of violence in an American city, Black Lives Matter representatives can explain to these helpless, wretched souls why.