Wednesday, August 06, 2008

More Delays In Ending Slavery In Mauritania?

The islamic republic of Mauritania is infamous for continuing to practice chattel slavery long after the rest of the world made itself see the light and abandon this evil practice.

Last year we blogged on the first free presidential election ever to take place in this beleaguered west African nation. There was hope in the air that anti-slavery candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi's victory would lead, at long last, to an end to the country's cultural acceptance of slavery. For centuries white Moors have kept black slaves, generations being born into lives of bonded servitude, so that today, in our lifetime, there remain an estimated 600,000 human beings enslaved in Mauritania... approximately 20% of the country's entire population.
This morning comes news of a military coup in Mauritania. President Abdallahi is being held captive and the state-run radio and television stations have been silenced. The big question is: why?

Mauritania has been facing a political crisis and on Monday 48 MPs walked out on the ruling party less than two weeks after a vote of no confidence in the government prompted a cabinet reshuffle.
Renegade lawmakers criticised Abdallahi's exercise of "personal power", adding that he had "disappointed the hopes of Mauritanians," a spokesman for the group said on Monday.
The coup was apparently triggered when Abdallahi moved to replace generals accused of stirring up the political crisis. ...
Recently, [the Mauritanian Parliament] tried to call a special session of parliament to create a commission to investigate the country's response to the rising cost of living, and also the financing of a foundation run by the president's wife.

The last time Mauritania made the headlines, it was due to the slaughter of French tourists at the hands of an al-Qaeda affiliated islamist group. This brutal attack caused the cancellation of the 2008 Dakar rally, a race through the Sahara that brings much desperately-needed tourist trade through impoverished Mauritania.

Less well-publicized was the government's "snail-paced response" to the terrorist attack. This contributed to President Abdallahi's decision to appoint a new Prime Minister, Yahya Ould Ahmed El Waghef. But a new crisis erupted around the new government when the largest opposition party in Parliament claimed that "more than 90 percent of petroleum revenues are being spent without leading to any positive effect on the livelihood of Mauritanian citizens."

What will happen now to Mauritania's latest attempt at ending their deep-rooted tradition of slavery? How can there be such immense social change when the foundations of the nation remain as unstable as the shifting sand dunes so common to that region? How deep can their society's commitment be to ending bondage, when the Teacher whose advice they follow himself owned slaves?

In the interests, perhaps, of simplifying a complicated story, Mauritania's lingering chains to slavery seem left behind in today's news coverage of that nation's military coup. While regrettable, it's understandable that in the rush to spread breaking news the media accounts leave out the sad truth that there still exist mothers giving birth to new-born babes who are owned, like farm animals, by other human beings... that in at least one part of the world, the breath of new life continues to be imprisoned by old bonds forged from old ideas, reminding us of the bitter truth that some things just never change: news, like history, reveals that human existence tends to consist of misery shackled to cruelty.

The story also reminds us how revolutionary it is to be an optimist; to observe the common suffering and yet still choose to live in hope that each person may someday recognize the bonds that we share in common, still believing we may yet learn to look beyond the physical shells toiling our earth and finally see the possible souls resting within. For no matter how different we may be on the outside, there will always be some one thing we shall hold in common, on the inside, something so hard to imagine that we can spend our life learning to see it.

At least, that's what our Teacher tried to teach us to believe...

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