For me, Black History Month is not only about celebrating the contributions of my fellow Black Canadians, it is about remembering the impact that the enslavement of Black peoples has had on Africa and the world. It’s about building on the strengths of the Black community in Ottawa by working across the socio-economic, religious, ethno-cultural, and linguistic differences of the diversity of individuals who make up our community. It’s about examining how anti-Black racism still exists within Canadian society and recommitting myself to challenging it by trying to understand why it persists and how it affects my life and the lives of my fellow Black Canadians.
This year, I was honoured to be invited to speak about youth engagement through arts and media at the launch of Black History Month at the City of Ottawa and I was humbled to be presented with a Community Builder Award by Black History Ottawa. For me, Black History Month has definitely started out with a bang.
I have been asked by Muslim Link to write a piece commemorating Black History Month. I feel obligated to take this opportunity to admit something: I often find it frustrating to be around Muslims during Black History Month. Why? Because, although there is often a celebration of Black converts to Islam, like Malcolm X, and condemnation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade perpetrated by the West, there is little, if any, examination of the history of slavery in Muslim societies or of the persistence of anti-Black racism within these societies as well as within Muslim communities in Canada. The reality is I have faced more blatant anti-Black racism from my fellow Muslims than I ever did growing up in a predominantly White community.
Anti-Black racism, which includes beliefs that Blacks are inherently less intelligent, more violent, lazier, dirtier, uglier and more sexually promiscuous than other races, is just as prevalent within Muslim societies as it is in the West, if not more so, because there have not been similar movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, aimed at combatting these prejudices, within Muslim societies.
Unfortunately, although Muslims will often cite the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to demonstrate that racism is condemned in Islam, there isn’t really an examination of whether Muslims over the course of their history actually stuck to these beliefs.
It is important for Muslims to look deeper at their particular societies of origin in order to see how the enslavement of Black peoples in these societies has led to the development of anti-Black racism. For example, the fact that in several Arab dialects the word ‘abd, meaning slave, is used to refer to any Black person demonstrates that in these societies the equation of Black people with slaves still persists.
To read the my complete article visit Muslim Link
Arab Views of Black Africans and Slavery by John Hunwick (academic essay available online)
Religions and the abolition of slavery – a comparative approach by William G. Clarence-Smith (academic essay available online)
Islam and Slavery by William G. Clarence-Smith (academic essay available online)
Islamic Abolitionism in the Western Indian Ocean from c. 1800 by William G. Clarence‐Smith (academic essay available online)
“Slaves of One Master:” Globalization and the African Diaspora in Arabia in the Age of Empire by Matthew S. Hopper (academic essay available online)
Straight, No Chaser: Slavery, Abolition, and the Modern Muslim Mind by Bernard K. Freamon (academic essay available online)
Oxford African American Studies Center: Middle East Page
Race and Slavery in the Middle East Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire (American University Press in Cairo) Review by Gamal Nkrumah available online
Slavery and South Asian History (Indiana University Press)
Fatimata M’Baye is a human rights lawyer, co-founder of the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights (l’Association mauritanienne des droits de l’Homme, AMDH) and vice-president of the NGO International Federation for Human Rights (Fedération internationale des droits de l’homme, FIDH).
M’Baye was born in 1957. She was initially not allowed to get an education because of her grandmother, however, her mother, who felt that her daughter was intellectually gifted, fought for her daughter to be allowed formal education. M’Baye was finally allowed to go to school when she was 11 years old, she graduated from high school at age 25. In 1985, after completing her law studies at the University of Nouakchott in Mauritania, Fatimata M’Baye became the first female lawyer in the country. M’Baye was first arrested for her activism in 1986, when she, along with her 14 year old sister, were arrested for distributing flyers protesting the arrests of Black Mauritanian Intellectuals who had written about the Mauritanian State’s racism against Blacks. She would be arrested again in 1998, along with fellow Mauritanian Human Rights activists, after a report on slavery in Mauritania was aired on French Television. After protests locally and outrage internationally from organizations like Amnesty International, M’Baye and the activists were pardoned by the Mauritanian President at the time, Ould Taya.
In 1991, she co-founded the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights (l’Association mauritanienne des droits de l’Homme, AMDH). In 1999, M’Baye became the first African to win the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. This award, created in 1995, is given out in the City of Nuremberg, Germany.
Over her career, she has defended fellow human rights activists, women wrongfully convicted under Mauritania’s “Sharia” laws, and has been an advocate for the rights of children and the abolition of slavery in Mauritania. Although her activism has focused on conditions in Mauritania, she has also challenged police brutality against Mauritanian migrants in France.
She is a mother of three, divorced, and currently living in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
Fatimata M’Baye’s defense of Rape Victims in Mauritania
M’Baye’s work came to international attention when she was spotlighted in the 2008 documentary, Mauritania: A Question of Rape. This documentary was part of BBC’s Series Women on the Frontline. The Series, introduced by Annie Lennox and shot by all-women crews in Mauritania, Nepal, Morocco, Austria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Columbia, documents the personal stories of women’s rights activists.
The film documents the plight of women who come forward with accusations of rape and are then convicted of zina, sexual immorality, because this is a crime under “Sharia” “Islamic” Laws. Part of the problem is that within Mauritania’s Penal Code, based on a cultural interpretation not an Islamic one, a distinction which unfortunately is not made in the film, pregnancy cannot result from rape, therefore if a woman coming forward with an accusation of rape is pregnant as a result of that rape, she is accused of zina because it is believed that she could not have become pregnant without her consent. This is a truly hopeless situation. As M’Baye states in the film:
We want more than we now have, we want a law that protects us. When a woman has been a victim of rape, when she has lost her honor, when she has lost her future, and when she has no hope left to continue to live, it is the state’s responsibility to protect her.
Fatimata M’Baye and Police Brutality in France
According to a 2009 Amnesty International report on police brutality in France:
On 11 March 2008 she was arrested and held in police custody for 24 hours after protesting at what she considered to be ill-treatment by police officers of a Mauritanian migrant being forcibly expelled on the flight she was travelling on. During the period she spent in custody she states that she was subjected to degrading treatment.
On 11 March 2008 Fatimata M’Baye boarded Air France flight 765 at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, bound for Nouakchott, Mauritania. She noticed several police officers on board but did not consider it unusual until she and the other passengers heard sounds of a man in distress from the back of the plane, who shouted “Help me! Untie me! They’re going to kill me!”. She says she saw a young man who had his arms strapped to his body with a belt, and was being forcibly restrained by border control police officers who were trying to silence him. Fatimata M’Baye and another passenger, a doctor, called on the police officers to untie him and protested that they were treating him in an inhuman and degrading manner.
The flight captain told the police officers to untie the young man as this was forbidden during flights. They refused to do so, so he ordered them to disembark. The passengers applauded this action. A few minutes later approximately 20 more police officers boarded the plane and one told Fatimata M’Baye and the doctor to disembark. Fatimata M’Baye said she would not leave the plane until she was told on what grounds she was being ordered to do so. She says the police officer told her “we have ways to make you do so”, and in response to what she perceived as a threat of physical violence, she disembarked.
Fatimata M’Baye was taken into police custody at the airport, where she was stripsearched. At around 6pm she was told that she had been arrested for “opposing a forcible expulsion” and would be held in custody for 48 hours. At 11.30pm she was taken to a detention cell in a different part of the airport. She was stripsearched again and, while naked, told to “spread her legs” so the officers could check that she was “not hiding anything”. She was deeply humiliated by this procedure which appeared entirely unnecessary as she had already been searched when she entered custody. She protested to the two police officers present and the search was finally halted.
Fatimata M’Baye remained in custody overnight and the public prosecutor was informed of her detention. However, she was released the following day at approximately 3pm and the public prosecutor did not pursue any charges against her. The doctor who had also protested about the treatment of the migrant being forcibly expelled, and had likewise been detained, was also released around the same time. He states he was never informed of the reason for his detention.
No further information is available on the fate of the young man being expelled. According to Fatimata M’Baye’s understanding, he was returned to Mauritania on the next flight.
A video interview, in French, with M’Baye about this case is available online.
Fatimata M’Baye and the Forced Fattening of Female Children in Mauritania
On Oprah Winfrey’s show about Beauty Around the World, the fact that in Mauritania a woman being fat is considered beautiful was discussed, and the fact that some women were being forced fed, particularly in rural communities was addressed. The practice of fattening young girls in preparation for marriage is called leblouh. According to M’Baye, as quoted in a 2009 Guardian article:
The fattening is done during the school holidays or in the rainy season when milk is plentiful. The girl is sent away from home without understanding why. She suffers but is told that being fat will bring her happiness. Matrons use sticks which they roll on the girl’s thighs, to break down tissue and hasten the process.”
“If she vomits she must drink it. By the age of 15 she will look 30.”
M’Baye asserts in the article that the fattening process is linked with early marriages, as young girls are plumped up, so that they look more mature and therefore can marry younger. She states:
I have never managed to bring a case in defence of a force-fed child. The politicians are scared of questioning their own traditions. Rural marriages usually take place under customary law or are overseen by a marabou (a Muslim preacher). No state official gets involved, so there is no arbiter to check on the age of the bride.
Portrait of Human Rights Activist Fatimata M’Baye 1999 Amnesty International article available in German online
Mauritania: Serious Attacks on Freedom of Expression and Association 1998 Amnesty International document available online
Mauritania: A Question of Rape video available online
2008 Video Interview with M’Baye in French available online
Girls being force-fed for marriage 2009 Guardian article available online
Human Rights Issues in Mauritania
Fighting Slavery in Mauritania BBC Radio Documentary available online
Mauritania’s Campaign of Terror: State-Sponsored Repression of Black Africans 1994 Human Rights Watch Report available online
You can compare Libya’s Gaddafi to Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak but for those of you who are “anti-imperialists” there is a particularly disturbing lesson here because Gaddafi was supposed to be “one of the good guys”.
Unlike the cases of Ben Ali and Mubarak, the case of Gaddafi really bothers me because it is clear that he has been, and continues to be, protected by some sort of Anti-Imperialist Old Boys Club who talk about justice but don’t seem to actually want to hold themselves or their parties or their “brother leaders” accountable for following it.
It’s easy to point fingers as Western Imperialists but if you can’t be accountable to your own people you are just as bad, perhaps even worst, because you came to power claiming to bring justice and go around the world saying you and your governments are examples to follow!!!
Gaddafi was/is often touted by the left as the Fidel Castro of the Middle East. He saw himself as a natural successor to Nasser‘s vision of Pan-Arabism. He used Libya’s oil money to support groups fighting for self-determination (such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the African National Congress (ANC).
Nelson Mandela was instrumental in helping Gaddafi resolve the Lockerbie Affair and regain easy relations with countries like Britain and the United States. Mandela shrugged off criticisms within South Africa and internationally, particularly from the United States, when he reached out to Gaddafi. He had this to say to his critics: “Those who say I should not be here are without morals. This man helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come here were helping the enemy.” Clearly, Mandela’s support of Gaddafi is linked to Gaddafi’s support for the ANC during the Apartheid era.
Mandela was the first award winner of the Al Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights in 1989, an annual prize founded by Gaddafi himself (Other recipients include Lous Farrakhan, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and Turkey’s Erdogan). Mandela returned the gesture by bestowing one of South Africa’s highest honours, the Order of Good Hope, on Gaddafi in 1997.
Gaddafi turned away from Pan-Arabism (mainly because most Arab Nations couldn’t be bothered with his nonsense nor could they be manipulated by him because they had their own oil money) to Pan-Africanism (African countries are much poorer and lacked as much oil money and therefore were ripe for manipulation) He proposed the idea of the United States of Africa. The extent to which Gaddafi has been involved in financing conflicts in Africa is truly horrifying (Chad, Niger, Uganda, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo)
David Maynier of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition to South Africa’s ruling Part the African National Congress (ANC) has accused the South African government of having sold sniper rifles to Libya, although South Africa’s Minister of Defense and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu denies this.
Allegedly, African Mercenaries have been flown into Libya to attack protesters. Who are these African Mercenaries? The question might be asked “Aren’t Libyans Africans? That depends on who you ask. Often when the term African is used it means “Sub-Saharan” African ergo Black-Skinned. The fact that Gaddafi has many Sub-Saharan African Mercenaries at his disposal should come as no surprise. Such mercenaries have been trained in camps funded by the Libya Government across Sub-Saharan Africa. As Jose Gomez del Prado with the United Nations Human Rights Council states:
You can find, particularly in Africa, many people who’ve been in wars for many years. They don’t know anything else. They are cheap labour, ready to take the job for little money. They are trained killers.
But it’s important to not dehumanize these “mercenaries”. One of the central characters in Nigerian author Helon Habila’s novel Measuring Time is one of these mercenaries. He begins as just a young man looking to escape the dead-end poverty of life in his small village in Nigeria. He joins a Libyan-funded training camp and eventually ends up as a mercenary in Liberia. There, his conscience shaken to the core, he finds redemption. However, the poverty of these mercenaries doesn’t justify their violence against Libyans.
What really worries me is that preexisting prejudices against Blacks in Libya, given the long history of the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, will erupt in violence against innocent Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers in Libya who already face discrimination and harassment. In 2000, violence against Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers by Libyan Citizens left allegedly 135 people dead. In an interview with the LA Times in 2000, one Ghanaian migrant worker had this to say about Gaddafi and the Libyan people:
“President Kadafi has a good idea, but his people don’t like blacks, and they don’t think they are Africans because of their skin color,” said Kwame Amponsah, 22. He spent three months in Libya before fleeing in October, returning to Ghana’s poor southwestern agricultural Brong-Ahafo region. As many as 80% of the nation’s returnees hail from this area, according to authorities.
Currently, the number of Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers living in Libya is estimated at over 1 million (Libya has a population of over 6 million). They often work in sectors such as construction and agriculture.
I pray for the freedom of Libya’s people and the safety and security of the migrant workers living there.
WikiLeaks cables: A guide to Gaddafi’s ‘famously fractious’ family (2011 article in The Guardian available online)
Gaddafi Urges Pan-African State (2007 article from BBC News available online)
Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights Website
Human Rights Watch: Libya: Security Forces Kill 84 Over Three Days
Gaddafi and Mandela: Brother Leaders
Mandela Welcomes Brother Leader Gaddafi (article from BBC News available online)
Strategic Moral diplomacy: Mandela, Qaddafi and the Lockerbie Negotiations by Lyn Boyd Judson (2005 essay University of South California)
A Medal of Good Hope: Mandela, Gaddafi and the Lockerbie Negotiations by Lyn Boyd Judson (2004 essay from the University of Southern California)
Sub-Saharan African Migrant Workers in Libya
Migrant Workers from Ghana Flee Libya, Cite Racism (LA Times article 2000 available online)
Libya`s post-sanctions boom makes it African El Dorado (2009 article available online)
Has Gaddafi unleashed a mercenary force on Libya? by David Smith (2011 article from The Guardian available online)
Trans-Saharan Migration to North Africa and the EU: Historical Roots and Current Trends by Hein de Haas (2006 article available online)