Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mauritania Expels Israeli Diplomats: Rank Hypocrisy At Its Worst

(warning: disturbing material discussed)

Mauritania expelled Israeli diplomats to protest the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Reuters News reports as follows.

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania's military junta expelled Israeli diplomats and shut the embassy on Friday after freezing ties with the Jewish state over its invasion of Gaza.

Mauritania was one of only three Arab countries that had full diplomatic relations with Israel and the closure of the embassy in Nouakchott leaves just Egypt and Jordan.

Mauritania's communications minister said the move was a result of a decision taken at a meeting of Arab leaders in Doha in mid-January following Israel's invasion of Gaza.

"We informed them of the decision to suspend relations at the time of the summit in Doha, and it is now being executed," El Kory Ould Abdel Mola told Reuters. "The embassy is closed."

Another Mauritanian official said Israeli diplomats had been given 48 hours to leave the northwest African country. Staff were seen leaving the building.

A full knowledge or Mauritania's human rights record elevates their latest measure against the State of Israel to the level of dark comedy. Mauritania is an apartheid state whose abysmal human record . Consider the following excerpt from a report from the BBC.

Human beings in chains are not bought and sold in the full glare of Nouakchott's market. It's even worse than that, according to Boubakar Messaoud, founder of the local association SOS Slaves.

"A captured slave knows freedom, so to keep him you have to chain him," says Mr Messaoud.

"But a Mauritanian slave, whose parents and grandparents before him were slaves, doesn't need chains. He has been brought up as a domesticated animal."


Skyra was born to a slave mother so there was never any question she would be anything else. She remembers the years she spent treated like an animal.

"They raped me often," she says shaking with anger.

Officials say slavery does not exist "At night, when everyone was asleep, they came for me and I couldn't stop them. If I had been free I would never have let this happen to me".

A living reminder of her slavery nestles in Skyra's lap, another sleeps at her feet, on the floor of her corrugated iron shack.

"My master is the father of my first child, my master's son is the father of my second child and my baby girl's father was my master's nephew".

In this way says Boubakar Messaoud, "We have achieved what the American plantation owners dreamed of - the breeding of perfectly submissive slaves".

Count the slaves

Skyra was not perfectly submissive. Her small insurrections earned her beatings until she found the strength - and the opportunity - to run away. She was determined that her children would not be born into slavery as she had been.

Mohamed escaped his master when soldiers passed by his isolated village in the desert. "When my master demanded the soldiers hand me over, I told them I would rather they shot me dead and buried me right there than return with my master."

In answer to the Mauritanian government's assertion that slavery no longer exists in Mauritania, Mohamed recites the names of the family members he left behind in slavery. "If I tell you their names, can you count them?" he asked shyly. "I was never taught". There are eight members of his immediate family still living as slaves, and Mohamed tells me there are many more in Mauritania.

It is difficult to know how many though. International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International are prevented from entering the country to conduct research.

"Not only has the government denied the existence of slavery and failed to respond to cases brought to its attention," says Amnesty, "it has hampered the activities of organisations which are working on the issue, including by refusing to grant such organisations official recognition."

Mauritania has impressive laws on the books outlawing slavery. Not one person has been prosecuted under these laws. Slavery is deeply ingrained in the values and attitudes of Mauritanian society. Islamic law is interpreted with sufficient elasticity to not only permit but to reinforce the practice.

On the site Islam on Line, Egyptian journalist Omar Ghanem paints a vivid portrait of Mauritanian slavery, and of a society in which what is on the law books bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground. His 2007 story describes slavery as flourishing despite the 2005 law which prescribes imprisonment for slave owners. In the following paragraphs, Ghanem describes a system which is structured along ethnic lines and is as deeply rooted as caste oppression ever was in India.

Mauritania is one of the few countries — according to Anti-Slavery International — where slavery, though officially banned in 1981, is still visible as a social practice. This phenomenon has drawn a lot of national and international attention with culminating calls for the government to engage effectively in efforts to curtail slavery.

Looking beyond the facade, it becomes obvious that slavery is a chronic problem for the Mauritanians that will not be plucked easily. It is deeply rooted within the structure of the society, as it is closely tied to the ethnic composition of the country.

Mauritania is broadly decomposed into two core communities: the Moors, who constitute the majority, and the black, ethnic tribes like the Soninke and the Poular.

It is within the Moors community that the problem lies. The Moors are made up of two groups: the white Moors — light-skinned, mainly Arab and Berber in origin — and the black Moors or the Haratine — the slave descendants. The white Moors are the politically dominant class whereas the Haratine, who are African in origin, grew side-by-side with them, yet as their slaves.

The emergence of a whole class that is born out of slavery (i.e. the Haratine) is what builds the complexity of the phenomenon. It does not only show in the blunt form of slavery, where a slave is the "property" of his or her master, but also in slavery-like practices. Further, the dividing line between the two is blurry, which only adds to the obscurity of the problem.

"Historically, it is unclear [how slavery evolved in Mauritania]," Sayyed Ahmed Ould Bab, a Mauritanian journalist, told But what is certain is that some weak African tribes were dominated centuries ago to form today's slave class, the Haratine. "They are victims, if not to slavery by itself, then to its aftereffect," explained Ould Bab.

Mauritanians who are emancipated on paper do not walk free with severance pay. Individuals who are born into slavery often face a choice between starvation and returning to total dependence upon their former masters. Omar Ghanem explains the persistence of involuntary servitude as follows.

Not all Haratine are enslaved in the strict definition of the word, in the sense of being "owned" by a master; theoretically, many of them are free. However, being raised in a class that is looked down upon as slaves, Haratines were bound to remain within their social chains. In an interview with, Ahmed Vall Ould Dine, media spokesman for the Mauritanian Human Rights Watch, affirms that "slavery is practiced due to financial attachment and as a kind of inherited social norm rather than enslavement by whip and coercion."

"Slaves tend to develop very close relations with their masters; the freed ones, who are poor and have inherited nothing from their parents, chose to remain under the auspices of their ex-masters as they provide them with basic necessities of life," explained Ould Dine.

It is the psychological chains that keep many slaves in captivity. Although some are not "owned" by others, they still consider themselves slaves as they are convinced that they have inherited this social status from their parents.

Thus, it is difficult to distinguish between the status of a slave and a freed slave; both exist side by side and suffer similar discrimination and difficulties. Among these difficulties, according to Ould Dine, are economic hardships and lack of education that combine to make them a dependent class. This causes an "inferiority complex" that psychologically hinders them from pursuing better status and ascending through the social hierarchy.

Despite the clear racial delineation of the Mauritanian system of involuntary servitude, it seems to be seldom discussed in forums where racism is on the agenda. Even the fig leaf of respectability provided by Islamic law for the enslavement of non Muslims does not apply in Mauritania. The darker skinned slave class and the slave owning class are both Muslim. Unlike the Hebrew slave who went free with a sort of severance pay with which to establish an emancipated life, Mauritanians who though officially freed are set up to fail by being put penniless outside their master's gate.

The Mauritanian government will earn thunderous and cheap applause from the Islamic world and from "progressives" for its expulsion of the Israeli embassy from Mauritania. It is highly unlikely that they will do anything for the Haratine slave class. Involuntary servitude is alive and well in Mauritania. Who will call the apartheid regime in Nouakchott to task? How much longer must Mauritania's slaves suffer? The world seems to have other priorities.

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