Editor’s Note: Tikkun believes in the free exchange of ideas ala John Stuart Mill’s brilliant defense of free speech and the marketplace of ideas. For that reason we sometimes publish articles that are certain to offend a significant section of our readership. We welcome serious responses to this article and all other articles, sent to Letters@tikkun.org. It was published by a source, the Israeli settler magazine Arutz Sheva that regularly demeans all of us liberals and progressives, particularly those of us who support Palestinian rights. We as a magazine do not have the resources to hire fact-checkers, so we have no way to check the facts that they assert in this article. But it does raise a question that we do take seriously: why do so many liberals and progressives focus on the sins of Israel as though it were the worst human rights violators in the world, while ignoring so many other more extreme violators. Of course, as a Jewish magazine we have an answer: precisely because these violations take place in the State of Israel that claims to be “the state of the entire Jewish people.” But as also an interfaith and secular humanist-welcoming magazine, that answer doesn’t really protect us from grappling more fully with this charge. On the other hand, in response to the settlers and right-wingers who now effectively run the Israeli government we have one answer: “That other people are doing horrific things, even more horrific than Israel, does not provide cover or exoneration for what Israel is doing, any more than one would have said that it was wrong to focus on US segregation or South African apartheid while there were even worse societies around the world. There’s plenty of time and attention for more than one source of the world’s cruelties and oppressions, so until Israel ends its oppression of Palestinians by either giving those who live under Israeli occupation or blockade the vote in Israel or letting them form their own independent state it will be legitimate for people to critique its policies and practices.”‘
Some Arab Regimes Have Black Slaves (from Arutz Sheva–the Israeli extreme right-wing publication)
Israel Apartheid Week has come and gone this year on many American campuses. It was, of course, a hoax: However much one says that Arabs in Israel suffer, and whoever is to blame for that alleged suffering, there is no apartheid in Israel.
Meanwhile, however, in Sudan and Mauritania, racist Arab societies enslave blacks. Today. Most of the slaves are African Muslims. Yet there is no Arab Apartheid Week on American campuses. Why not?
One might think American student activists would be upset about Mauritania, the West African country with the largest population of black slaves in the world – estimates range from 100,000 to more than a half-million. In Mauritania, slaves are used for labor, sex and breeding. The wholly owned property of their masters, they are passed down through generations, given as wedding gifts or exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money.
Surely, life is not so good in a Palestinian Arab refugee camp– no matter who is to blame, but it’s undeniably a whole lot worse for Mauritanian slaves. According to a Human Rights Watch/Africa report, routine punishments for slaves in Mauritania – for the slightest fault – include beatings, denial of food and prolonged exposure to the sun, with hands and feet tied together. More serious infringement of the master’s rule (in American slave-owning parlance, “getting uppity”) can lead to prolonged tortures known as “the camel treatment,” in which the slave’s body is slowly torn apart; the“insect treatment,” in which tiny desert insects are inserted and sealed into the ear canal until the slave is driven mad; and“burning coals,” a torture not fit to describe in a family newspaper.
The cases that the rights groups focus upon are not determined by the nature, extent or degree of suffering by the victims, but rather by the identity of those thought to be the oppressors.
Perhaps the reason for silence on campuses about these things is that the story of black slaves and their Arab masters remains unknown there. It would, of course, be a sensitive topic: slavery has existed in Mauritania since the 12th century, when Arab tribes from the Arabian Peninsula invaded and conquered North Africa. Raiders then stormed African villages to the south, pillaging, enslaving and converting the indigenous peoples to Islam.
While the Koran forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, just as in the West, in North Africa racism trumped religious doctrine. The descendants of those Arab invaders are today’s slave owners. The descendants of those captured as slaves in jihad raids are in human bondage today. These are, then, black Muslim slaves – who, for racist reasons, aren’t allowed to touch the Koran with their black hands, who can’t marry without their owners’ permission, and whose children belong to the master.
Not all blacks in Mauritania are slaves. But all are oppressed by Arab colonialism. Arab Berbers (or “White Africans”) constitute less than a third of Mauritania’s population of 3.5 million people, but they control the government and military, as well as the education and the court systems.
I interviewed Saidou Wane, a Mauritanian immigrant who lives in Cincinnati and speaks regularly on behalf of the Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (MJEM). Saidou reports that the Mauritanian regime is constantly working to cleanse the country of any non-Arab influence. The state recognizes only Arabic as an official language, refuses to acknowledge the local African languages (Wolof, Fulani, Soninke), and allows only French and Arabic in school curricula. In other cases, this would easily be termed “cultural cleansing.”
Indeed, it might be even worse than apartheid: The government has expropriated land owned by black Africans through expulsion and dispossession. An ethnic cleansing campaign that began in 1989 led to the expulsion of an estimated 100,000 blacks from Mauritania. The government and army were purged of black officers. Amnesty International reported that thousands of blacks were killed, and many tortured, while hundreds of African villages in the south were demolished.
Mauritania holds the distinction of being the last nation on earth to legally abolish slavery, which it did, with no mechanisms of enforcement, in 1981. Slavery was not criminalized until 2007, but to date there has been only one single conviction.
Why hasn’t any of this been addressed by Western governments? For one, the Mauritanian regime, once a supporter of Saddam Hussein, has ingratiated itself with the United States and Europe through promises to help fight al-Qaeda. And then in December 2012, in a move that defined it as the morally bankrupt institution it is, the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council elected Mauritania as its vice president and rapporteur.
What about the silence of Western progressives? I call it the “human-rights complex:” The cases that the rights groups focus upon are not determined by the nature, extent or degree of suffering by the victims, but rather by the identity of those thought to be the oppressors. Think about it: Most human-rights advocates in the West are decent, middle-class whites who are defensive about past Western sins – slavery, colonialism, racism. Their activism is a matter of personal identity. They act to be exonerated, to be seen as innocents, guiltless, not like the “bad white” exploiters. They march under the banner of “Not in My Name.”
Anti-Israel propagandists have inverted reality in the minds of many of these people: Jews have been transformed from last century’s stateless, Asiatic, non-Europeans, to whites with power who behave badly toward innocent, impoverished, indigenous, darker-skinned people. This is precisely the taint that many “rights activists” wish to avoid:“people who look like us, behaving badly.”
Israel Apartheid Week – and the absence of Arab Apartheid Week – have nothing to do with external realities, or actual suffering but are the psychodramatic results of miseducated, manipulated, guilt-ridden, American middle-class youth. The biggest victims here, of course, are those oppressed by non-Westerners (women, gays, Christians, blacks, and other minorities in the Muslim realm) who cannot break through the fog of political correctness to reach the good but blinded souls of American students on campus.
In 2012, CNN reporters interviewed Moulkheir Yarba, who escaped her master after he raped her, fathered her child and then left the baby to die in the Sahara Desert – to teach her to “work faster.”
If Moulkheir could understand how America, a nation of abolitionists, has so enchained itself with political correctness, and become so blinded to her plight, she would weep. As should we.