Monday, April 16, 2018

Guest Post: Freedom Fighter Against Modern Slavery

from Freedom Fighter
A slaving society and an abolitionist’s crusade

by Alexis Okeowo

Photograph by Emiliano Granado

Alexis Okeowo
"Biram Dah Abeid is from the country’s traditional slave caste, the Haratin.
Two springs ago, Biram Dah Abeid arrived home in Nouakchott, the desert capital of Mauritania. At the airport, he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters, along with his wife and children.

Abeid, the founder of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, is the most prominent antislavery activist in Mauritania, which is said to have the highest incidence of slavery in the world. It was Friday, the holiest day of the week, and Abeid, returning from a trip to Berlin and Dakar, was enraged. Recently, he had helped force the government to put a slave owner in prison, and he had learned that the man was released after less than two months.

In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery, while making no provision for punishing slave owners. In 2007, under international pressure, it passed a law that allowed slaveholders to be prosecuted. Yet slavery persists there... even as the government and religious leaders deny it.

Although definitive numbers are difficult to find, the Global Slavery Index estimates that at least 140,000 people are enslaved in Mauritania, out of a population of 3.8 million. Bruce Hall, a professor of African history at Duke University, said that people endure slavelike conditions in other countries in the region, but that the problem in Mauritania is unusually severe:
“Some proximate form of slavery has continued to be a foundation of the social structure and the division of labor within households, so there are many more people who are willing to support it as an institution.”

While Abeid was travelling, a well-known imam had given a televised interview. A journalist asked whether slavery existed in Mauritania, and the imam said no. Then why, the journalist asked, had the imam recently given the journalist’s boss a slave girl as a gift? The imam simply smiled.

Mauritania is an avowedly Muslim country...Imams who defend slavery often refer to a set of interpretive texts that date back as far as the eighth century. One prominent example is a mukhtasar, or handbook of Islamic law, written by the fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar Khalil ibn Ishaq. According to its precepts, a slave cannot marry without her master’s permission, nor does she have any right to her children...

At Abeid’s public prayer...An imam spoke against slavery and inequity. Another man called for a Haiti-style slave revolt.

As they spoke, a plainclothes policeman jumped up and shouted, “Allahu Akbar! What you are saying is wrong!”

One of Abeid’s bodyguards dropped the [Islamic] books into a cardboard box and doused them in lighter fluid. The crowd was on its feet, peering at the spectacle. No one had expected this. Defacing the holy books of Islam is a crime of apostasy, punishable by death. Abeid set the books on fire."

Abeid: “These books justify selling people, they justify raping people,” he said. “We will purify the religion, the faith, and the hearts of Mauritanians.” He held up a red hardcover with intricate embossing. “What the Prophet says was hidden by these books, which are not real words from God,” he said. “These old books give a bad image of Islam. We have no choice but to take this step.”
By eight o’clock on the evening of the book burning, local news Web sites had begun calling Abeid a heretic. “When I went to bed, I was satisfied,” he told me. “But I had a feeling something would happen tomorrow. When I woke up, it was a war—in the media, in the mosques.” Newspapers were calling for his death.

President Aziz appeared onscreen and promised to administer the death penalty."

By Alexis Okeowo

READ the rest of this powerful ethical article by Alexis Okeowo at:

Work for Human Rights, Equality, and Justice,

Daniel Wilcox

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