Journalist Hafsa Kara-Mustapha argues that there may be a war agenda behind shocking images of black Africans being sold in Libyan slave markets.
Mainstream media, once tasked with galvanising public opinion into supporting military action in Libya, is today reporting “shock” at the slave markets that have allegedly popped up across the North African state.
The images, obtained exclusively by American station CNN, are indeed shocking: black men in their prime sold off into labour by human traffickers operating outside the rule of law in a country that has not been governed since its leader, Muammer Gaddafi, was ousted in a Nato-led onslaught in 2011.
At the time, reports of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa were used by the same media to depict “violent black men” arriving from the rest of the continent in a bid to help Gaddafi quell a supposedly popular uprising. This resulted in the anti-Gaddafi factions carrying out lynchings of entire villages of dark-skinned Libyans or sub Saharan immigrants in a bid to punish them for their loyalty to the Libyan leader.
Sadly the climate in which this anti-black racism flourished was nurtured and encouraged by those very people, namely France and other Western governments, expressing disgust at the images today.
It was these very reports that fostered a climate of suspicion towards black Libyans that resulted in massacres in many Libyan towns including Tawergha which was emptied of its inhabitants at the height of the conflict under the watchful eye of Nato bomber jets.
As the pro-Western opposition was portrayed as the heroic side in the battle for democracy in Libya, reports of massacres of black men and women were swept under the carpet or downplayed by a complicit media oblivious to the well-being of the people it now claims to defend.
Today, as Libya continues its downward spiral , the focus has suddenly been placed on those very Libyans served up as fodder to angry crowds fed on fabricated news of “black” brutality and depravation.
It’s worth mentioning that while Libya was and remains popular – for varying reasons – among sub Saharan black Africans, many Libyan nationals are also dark-skinned or black. The black people of Libya are as Libyan as anyone else and were fully integrated in Gaddafi’s administration.
Anarchy in Libya
Today this once prosperous country and fabulously oil-rich nation is ungovernable. Following the ill-fated Western-led and Arab-approved war against the Green Republic of Muammer Gaddafi, Libya is a failed state. Its infrastructure was entirely destroyed in the six month conflict that resulted in the Colonel’s brutal killing and left millions of Libyans living in abject poverty when they once enjoyed Africa’s highest living standards.
The oil fields, however, need management and in order to obtain approval for a permanent presence in a supposedly “sovereign” nation, Western governments need to justify once again “boots on the ground” to a public opinion increasingly suspicious of its leadership’s “humanitarian” interventions.
Images of slave markets in 2017 are powerful enough to trigger massive support for intervention in France, where the black population, like its Maghrebi counterpart, is notoriously apathetic, and “spontaneous” protests of black French men and women have erupted outside the Libyan embassy.
The aim of this newly-found interest in the fate of black Africans is twofold. On the one hand it gives freshly elected President Macron his “African opportunity,” i.e. the possibility to flex French military muscle on the “dark” continent. Don’t forget former President Nicolas Sarkozy intervened in Ivory Coast in 2011 removing Laurent Gbagbo, Francois Hollande intervened in Mali and the Central African Republic, and Francois Mitterand before them in Rwanda etc.
The other and more important point has more far reaching implications: Weaken minority politics in France as well as African unity on the continent.
The French connection: Black v Arab
In France ethnic minorities from both Arab and black backgrounds are increasingly at the receiving end of overt racism. France came very close to electing a far-right president last May and racist parties are a permanent and well-accepted fixture in French politics.
Seeing both black and Arab youths uniting against these policies poses a serious threat to France whose politicians continuously court far-right voters. Claims of anti-black racism among Arabs creates a much-needed conflict among these two notable groups who have in recent years seen eloquent figures emerge from their midst in order to challenge the ambient racism of the “Republique.” Already clashes in the streets of Paris augur some more sinister events to follow among the black and Arab immigrant populations of France.
There is of course nothing new in claims of anti-black racism among Arabs. In a bid to downplay the ravages of the transatlantic slave trade, many Western commentators point to the flourishing Arab slave trade in the same era. While slavery is a heinous activity it is worth noting that the Arab slave trade, as unacceptable as it was, was not an ethnic-based practice. In other words black skin wasn’t a factor in a slave’s status; rather his availability on the slave market.
Arabs were in fact the only people who specialised in European slavery, making cities like Algiers in North Africa major hubs of “white slaves.” This in turn has contributed greatly to anti-Arab racism in the West towards the only people who bought and sold them like cattle in the same way they’d been trading peoples from other ethnic groups.
Nevertheless, the image of the anti-black Arab slave trader remains deeply ingrained in the public consciousness; in particular among modern day pan-Africanists who put Arab slavery on a par with its transatlantic counterpart.
Is slavery a Muslim problem?
Another important factor used to further divide black and predominantly Muslim Arab peoples is the claim that transatlantic slavery did not impact Muslims. These claims completely ignore the fact that the vast majority of Western Africa, the first port of call for American slave ships, was Muslim and therefore the majority of those taken from their homelands to work in the cotton fields of America were in fact Muslim.
It is imperative for Africa, like the Muslim world, to remain divided. In the Middle East, the newly-emerged hatred between Sunni and Shia has secured instability for a generation for Western oil companies operating in the opaqueness of war-torn countries.
Across the African continent it is equally important to ensure the Arab north and the black south remain at loggerheads. While Africa is routinely portrayed as poor and in constant need of Western largesse, the reality is that African raw materials are essential to industrialised economies.
Competitive prices, however, can only be obtained when countries are too weak and divided to set the terms of negotiations. A continent constantly sucked into tribal and ethnic conflicts guarantees a regular supply of goods at the cheapest rates.
While it would be wrong to claim that racism is non-existent in Arab countries, it’s also worth recognising that it is in no way comparable to white-on-black racism which resulted in slavery, colonialism as well as more recently the Apartheid regime in South Africa.
In fact, while many deliberately want to encourage the Arab vs Black narrative, it’s important to remember that during the Apartheid era not a single Arab country had any relations with the South African regime of the time. Furthermore, it was the pan-Arabist leaders of the 60s and 70’s, such as Nasser or Boumediene, who supported both politically and financially Nelson Mandela’s ANC with notable political activists routinely travelling with diplomatic passports delivered by the governments of Algeria or Libya.
Gaddafi was in fact at the forefront of Arab Sub-Saharan unity investing large sums to improve the fate of both immigrants settling in Libya as well as funding major projects in Africa’s poorest countries.
Demonised in the West and among the Westernised elites of the Arab world, Gaddafi was for many Africans a hero. Slave markets – whether genuine or fabricated – in the very country he painstakingly built over forty years is another means to destroy much of what he attempted to build: a prosperous and truly independent united Africa.
If Arab and black Africans succumb to yet another round of insidious war propaganda, the last shreds of his legacy will disappear and plunge the rest of the continent in the chaos now engulfing Nato-destroyed Libya. Arab and black Africans need to challenge these attempts at all cost.