Passover’s unlearned lesson

An ethnic cleansing campaign, begun in 1989, led to the expulsion of 100,000 blacks from Mauritania

Mauritania (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Passover has come and gone this year and at the tables of many Jews, there was talk of tikkun olam, or “fixing the world.” At the tables of some progressives the story of the Exodus is inverted, with the Jews as the oppressors and today’s Palestinians as the enslaved. At how many of these same Passover tables was there any thought given to people actually living as slaves today, at this moment – true chattel slaves? Real people – bought, sold, tortured, murdered, their children slaves in turn. The invisible people, the ones whose suffering does not count.
For while certain Jewish activists devote themselves so zealously to the cause of Palestinian suffering that they have eyes for nothing else in the Arab world, in Sudan and Mauritania, racist Arab societies enslave blacks. For all our pride in our big hearts and our strong sense of moral responsibility, most American Jews, and the human rights groups and campus activist groups in which Jews are so well represented, show callous indifference.
One might think Jews who focus so much on the problems of Palestinians would be deeply 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. Slaves are used for labor, sex and breeding. Their children belong to the master. They are given as wedding gifts or exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money. They aren’t allowed to touch the Koran with their black hands.
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 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.
Co-author Charles Jacobs interviewed Saidou Wane, a Mauritanian immigrant who lives in Cincinnati and speaks on behalf of the Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (MJEM). Saidou reports that the Mauritanian regime is cleansing the country of non-Arab influence.
The state recognizes only Arabic as an official language, allows only French and Arabic in school curricula and refuses to acknowledge the African languages (Wolof, Fulani, Soninke).
The government has seized land owned by black Africans.
Arab Berbers constitute less than a third of Mauritania’s population of 3.5 million people, but they control the government and military. An ethnic cleansing campaign, begun in 1989, led to the expulsion of 100,000 blacks from Mauritania. The government and army were purged of black officers. Thousands of blacks were killed, and many tortured, while hundreds of African villages in the south were demolished.
Mauritania was 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. To date there has been only a single conviction.
Don’t look to the UN for moral leadership. In December 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council elected Mauritania as its vice president and rapporteur.
WHAT CAUSES the silence of Western progressives? Charles Jacobs calls it the “human-rights complex.” Most human-rights advocates in the West are decent, middle-class whites who are care passionately about past Western sins – slavery, colonialism, racism.
Their activism is a matter of personal identity. They act to be exonerated.
They are proving themselves innocent, not like the “bad white” exploiters. They choose causes entirely by whom they can blame, and they don’t want to be caught blaming Arabs or other non-Westerners.
Anti-Israel propagandists such as J Street and the Israel Apartheid activists have inverted reality in the minds of all too many well-meaning Jews. Jews have been transformed into the bad guys: whites with power who behave badly toward innocent, impoverished, indigenous, darker-skinned people.
The information about Mauritanian slavery is out there. It has been for years. But high minded Jewish human rights activists don’t want to know. It’s not a subject that furthers your career, or cements your in-crowd progressive credentials, as criticizing Israel does. In the glare of the spotlight on Israel’s civil rights failings, there’s no attention left over for true atrocities.
Israel Apartheid Week – and the absence of Arab Apartheid Week – are the result of mis-educated, manipulated, guilt-ridden, American middle-class youth. The biggest victims are the millions of people oppressed by non- Westerners. They cannot break through the fog of political correctness to reach the good but blinded souls of American students on campus and other Jewish activists. Women, gays, Christians, blacks and other minorities in the Muslim realm are left to fend for themselves. They are tortured, raped, sold and killed with impunity.
Today’s black slaves are abandoned by today’s Jews.
That is not what Passover is meant to teach us.
Karin McQuillan served in the Peace Corps in neighboring Senegal, and met Mauritanian slaves serving Arab masters. Charles Jacobs is the recipient of the Boston Freedom Award for founding the American Anti-slavery Society and, risking his life by traveling deep into the Sudan, personally freed slaves.