It is a story the left hates to see and loves to ignore. While leftists and other “humanitarians” in the United States and Europe are in a perpetual state of moral outrage concerning Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians, the savagery of modern-day Arab enslavement of black Africans elicits almost no reaction.
The most recent case highlighting this leftist hypocrisy concerns four anti-slavery activists in Mauritania, who were sentenced last week to six months in jail for protesting the enslavement of a ten-year-old girl earlier in August in Nouakchott, the country’s capital. According to a report by Amnesty International, the convicted men belong to the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA), an anti-slavery NGO. Others who took part in the protest said they were beaten by police and imprisoned but let go after a few days.
“The draconian response to the work of these activists suggests that the Mauritanian authorities are still trying to cover up the fact that slavery takes place in the country,” said an Amnesty International official.
According to the Amnesty International account, the IRA discovered the child slave in Nouakchott, and reported the matter to police. Owning a slave was made a crime in Mauritania in 2007. It calls for a penalty of up to ten years in prison and fines ranging from US $2,000 to $4,000. A prison term of up to two years is also mandated for anyone who “facilitates” slavery.
“But the law does not allow representatives of civil society groups to attend the trial,” stated the United Nations (UN) news agency, IRIN.
In Mauritania, the anti-slavery group SOS Esclaves estimates there are about 500,000 black African slaves among the country’s population of 3.1 million. Their masters are Arab and Berber Mauritanians, who share only the same Islamic religion with their chattel. Unlike in Sudan, where the Arabs get their African slaves from old-fashioned, brutal slave raids, the Mauritanian slaves are the product of a system that has kept them in a state of bondage for generations, going back, in some cases, several hundred years.
Before the 2007 law criminalizing slave ownership, slavery had been banned several times in Mauritania. The first decree occurred under the French colonial government in 1901. In the third decree, issued in 1961, it was stated in the Mauritanian constitution, drawn up after the country’s independence from France in 1960, that everyone was equal “without distinction of race, religion or social condition.”
“Of course such an article was ridiculous to the Beydenes [Arab-Berbers],” wrote African-American writer Samuel Cotton in his book Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery, the result of his trip to Mauritania in the1990s to investigate reports of slavery there. “It was subsequently never enforced, and slavery continued to exist.”
These “woefully ineffective mandates,” as Cotton called the slavery bans, changed very little, if anything. The abolition decrees, observers say, were simply made for foreign consumption, while everything stayed the same inside the country. Therefore, it is no surprise that there have been no convictions in Mauritania under the 2007 law, although the practice of slavery is so widespread it encompasses several hundred thousand black Africans.
A good example is the ten-year-old slave girl’s mistress. She was arrested and charged but only has to report to the police once a week. The child, for whom the demonstrators braved the government’s “draconian response,” is reported as still missing. A problem in abolishing slavery in Mauritania, says one former slave, now an anti-slavery activist with SOS Esclaves, is that “the authorities themselves keep slaves.”
A larger problem is that the abomination of slavery in Mauritania and other Arab countries will be difficult to eradicate. Slavery is an ingrained, centuries-old institution in Islamic countries. It is also legal under Sharia law and, according to historian Bernard Lewis, “elaborately regulated.” As a part of “God’s law,” it will be difficult to abolish, as one Egyptian Islamic theologian, Dr. Abu Zayd, discovered. When Zayd contended that “keeping slave girls and taxing non-Muslims” was contrary to Islam, he was declared an apostate, and an Egyptian court forcibly divorced him from his wife, since a Muslim woman cannot be married to a non-Muslim.
The institution of Islamic slavery has also created an Arab racism against black Africans. From the seventh century to the twentieth, it is estimated 14 million Africans were violently enslaved and transported under harsh conditions around the Islamic world. Black Africans became synonymous in Arab eyes with inferiority and with even something less than human. And since the Islamic world experienced no abolition movement, let alone a civil war like America’s that attempted to establish the black slave’s humanity, he continued to remain sub-human in the Arab worldview.
“The problem is that Mauritania’s Arabs sincerely believe that blacks are inferior and are born to be slaves,” wrote Cotton about this mindset. “They believe that a black man, woman or child’s place in life is to serve an Arab master, and it does not matter to them whether that black is a Christian, or a fellow Muslim.”
As one can imagine, this dehumanizing outlook has led to absolutely appalling and inhuman treatment of the black slaves. One former Mauritanian slave, who now works for SOS Esclaves, said he would “rather be shot than return to my owners.
“When I saw my mother and sister beaten by our owners, I just couldn’t take it,” he told IRIN. “I wanted out. But they beat me too…We were given nothing to eat except when our owners had leftovers. We would go into the desert to hunt small animals like lizards to cook and eat…slaves who tried to escape were often killed. We know of cases like that.”
Another problem is that the forces in the world that should be most concerned with African slavery’s abolishment look the other way. The African Union’s black African countries are a good example. They are well aware of Arab enslavement of their fellow Africans but say nothing. As one anti-slavery activist explained to Cotton “the Arabs give us money!”
“If an African nation or nations present a resolution on Palestine to the United Nations or at a conference, the Arabs promise a lot of aid in return,” said the activist, who was imprisoned and tortured for three years for his anti-slavery activities. “Mauritania is actually protected by those countries that meet with Africans in the Islamic conferences!”
Presumably, an African nation would receive nothing from the Arab world for opposing Arab slavery in Mauritania.
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is just as useless. It contains despots and tyrants whose human rights records are just as bad as Mauritania’s as well as Islamic countries who bribe the African Union states. A UNHRC representative, after visiting Mauritania in 2009 and talking with NGOs and former slaves, concluded the country “needs a comprehensive and holistic national strategy, specifically addressing slavery … in order to effectively put an end to this phenomenon.” One can imagine Mauritania’s slave-owning authorities still laughing about that recommendation, as they “holistically” arrest anti-slavery activists two years later.
American and European leftists have always ignored modern-day Arab slavery as well. One reason is that they want to maintain the image they have carefully constructed that Israel and America are the only oppressors in the Middle East and Arabs the victims. Admitting and publicising that Arabs are enslaving black Africans would only undermine their propaganda campaign. The left also wants to keep the focus on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It has always been a useful weapon to use against the United States.
The African-American community has also not launched a strong response to the continued enslavement of black Africans. Cotton encountered this in the 1990s upon his return to the United States. He believed that when he made the facts known about Mauritania, a large anti-slavery movement would develop. But he was to be disappointed. African-Americans, he wrote, lacked “a really firm or clear understanding of the contemporary African political, social, and cultural landscape” and thus could not connect the Mauritanian experience with their own.
“As I traveled around the country delivering lectures and screening the reels and reels of film…I met few African Americans who showed any real interest or concern for the topic,” Cotton stated.
President Obama was also a big disappointment. America’s first African-American president did not even mention the modern-day Islamic slave trade of black Africans when he visited Ghana in 2009. He focused on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and visited a former slave fort. He was obviously playing to his African-American constituency.
In the 1990s, Cotton called the “ignorance and apathy of America’s black leaders” shameful concerning the barbaric trade in black African flesh taking place in Arab countries like Sudan and Mauritania.
“Most do not see it as important enough to put on their agendas,” he wrote.
Tragically, more than a decade later, Obama proved that some, including non-blacks, still don’t.