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Tackling the racism and slavery inherent in Mauritania will rely on overthrowing ‘the ideological and religious foundations of slavery and racism with the state’, writes Sy Hamdou.

The conference held on Saturday 25 June 2011 and organised by Biram Dah Abeid gave rise to a particular interest and enthusiasm on the part of some of the main political actors and their associates within the Mauritanian diaspora in France. In discussing slavery and state racism, our host Biram, president of the IRA (Initiative de Résurgence du mouvement Abolitionniste de France-Mauritanie), emphasised the ‘the ideological and religious foundations of slavery and racism with the state in Mauritania’.

The power of conviction, the depth of engagement and the demands of conscience, of discipline and of organisation swept over the conference room.

It must be said that while Biram’s is not a new development within the organised struggle against slavery in Mauritania, his approach is undeniably revolutionary. His words are significant: ‘resistance’, ‘shining a light’ and ‘thinking for action’. Through the resonance and weight of his voice, in the symbolism of these words Biram expresses a clear tone of deep resolve.

He noted the totalitarian nature of the system and its expressions of racism and slavery. There was no stonewalling.

Biram defined his action as necessary for the deconstruction of the system and the urgency of resistance. He made clear the contemporary existence of slavery and state racism through the governance of Ould Abdoul Aziz. His words were rich in colour and his arguments powerful in their symbolism, while his consistent calls on the room and the government of Aziz – drawing upon examples of slavery today – formed the basis of a frank and candid speech. Our host underlined that in the Mauritanian system in place, there is a logic of the denial of humanity, one supported by many kinds of conservative and totalitarian force hostile to human dignity.

Biram returned to the central facts around slavery in Mauritania, notably the practice of guardianship – women and children are left to the cruelty of men and women, heartless masters with neither faith or reason. Slavery in Mauritania reveals a heartless humanity, indescribable and unqualifiable. Where is the compassion of this community calling itself Muslim? What human values form their identity? What goes on in the heads of those men and women who exercise such cruelty, barbarism and cynicism? The inhumanity of these practices challenges our very confidence in what’s human when humanity is capable of undertaking such acts. An ideological, military and police machinery is consistently mobilised to this effect. There has never been any form of respite for the men, women and children assigned to the deadly status of slaves.

Mauritanian society is deeply slavery-oriented and as such has produced deeply unjust inequalities. Certain techniques involving humiliation, torture and even being put to death are employed in the aim of keeping slaves dependent on their masters through fear, shame and submission. Biram explained this in strong terms; the master recognises no right to a dignified life or free black existence as human beings.

As a result, children and women remain without protection or security, being at the mercy of arbitrary, cruel and unbearable Moorish masters who defy contemporary humanity through the use of barbarous and wicked treatment and the denial of the most basic of rights.

From this perspective, Biram enumerated particular facts around slavery, facts which are beyond comprehension. This being said, it should be pointed out that the system in its very foundations is rattled by the significant advances achieved in the battle against slavery, with the current phase marked by an awareness of the need to confront the very pillars of its edifice. Thus what is at stake is the complete undermining of the entire workings of a tribal and feudal order that sustains slavery and a racist state.

It is clear that the Mauritanian ‘state’ would have trouble being defined as such by any scientific or socio-political measure, owing to its roots in an irrational system organised and facilitated for thousands of years as a means of crushing and destroying any semblance of humanity.

In effect, Biram’s idea is to bring to light the roots of an odious, criminal and inhumane system defined by its lies, manipulation and permanent concealing of the truth. The call for resistance translates into rallying around each and every force harnessed to bring together the energy behind supporting the struggle of ‘moral, intellectual, political and material efforts’.

Substantively, the struggle that Biram defines is a call for the re-conquest of a lost dignity and a core humanity and liberty. Biram calls for the dignity of all, that of the victims and their oppressors alike. This racist slave system has reduced the sense of dignity of the Moor community, which practises slavery systematically and proclaims it as natural. This system is rooted in an enduring ideological base, one which constitutes an untouchable and immutable dogma and which gives rise to a logic of extermination and annihilation of the moral and ethical character of black people. The concrete and powerful logic of this system has made it clear that we have to react through appealing to people’s consciences and through strong values in order to reverse the situation through radical, rational, fair and democratic means. It’s through the conscience of determined and just men and women that the racist slave system will prove unable to resist the power of right over might, of freedom over subjugation.

In making this struggle a question of humanity and ethics, Biram puts forward a strategy that calls for genuine action rather than mere political statements. In the face of the arrogance of the racist slave-masters, nothing but resistance can lead the re-conquest of liberty and dignity. The true size of the challenge must be weighed up and not distracted by the mere window-dressing that Ould Abdoul Aziz continues to offer.

Continuing with mere ruse and manipulation, the Mauritanian president throws about sensationalist declarations, which are never backed up with concrete initiatives. It is time to put an end to the naivety that has informed the actions of the majority of the political figures in our country, whose engagement is based on simple compromise and subordination. An ethics of resistance and a conscience of responsibility could define the radical humanism articulated by Biram and form the basis of the strong message of his passionate and impassioned call. The task is clear, bringing together enthusiasm, conscience and an attentive audience.

Biram’s work is characterised by a force of conviction, devotion to a great cause, an uncompromising approach rooted in human dignity and a generosity of spirit, and his campaign demands justice and the moral obligation of working towards the complete eradication of one of the most odious systems in the history of humanity.

Mauritania as a racist and slave state must be overcome for the purpose of building a fair, free and egalitarian Mauritanian society. This Mauritania will be one in which citizens have the rights of citizenship, rather than one in which black people are reduced to indignity under Moorish oppression. The oppressors must also free themselves from the system of domination in order to be prepared to listen to those dominated and who have suffered. This is the price at which Ould Abdoul Aziz could usher the post-Taya period that has been so late to arrive.

Such is the challenge laid down for the Mauritanian authorities by our host in delivering a message marked by its clarity, strong conviction and awareness of the need to liberate oppressed black people in Mauritania, lest they remain enslaved and outside of the system.


* Sy Hamdou is a Mauritanian philosopher.
* This article was published by Pambazuka in French as 'Mauritanie : Esclavage et racisme d'Etat'. It was originally published by Cridem under the title ‘Ce que m’a inspiré l’intervention de Biram Ould Dah’.
* Translated from French by Alex Free.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.