Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan addressed an estimated 600 students at UC Berkeley last Saturday and told black students not to befriend any Jew without first reading “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” a book that promotes the thesis that Jews were behind the black slave trade. Heck of a way to start up a friendship!
Scholars both black and white have exposed the NOI book as a pack of lies, a modern day calumny which, much like their medieval analogues — “the Jews poisoned the wells,” “the Jews make matzo with the blood of Christian children” — is meant to incite hatred toward Jewish people. Dangerous hatred. The Daily Californian reports that Jewish students were hurt and shocked. No doubt.
But perhaps what is more shocking is Minister Farrakhan’s own semisecret relationship with the modern day enslavement of black Africans by people (and in countries) that the NOI leader has an interest to protect. In 1994, an African Muslim from Mauritania — Mohammed Athie — and I broke the story of a modern-day slave trade in Mauritania and Sudan in The New York Times. We reported that perhaps 300,000 African Muslims were still serving Arab/Berber masters; “Black Africans in Mauritania were converted to Islam more than 100 years ago,” we wrote, “but while the Koran forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, in this country race outranks religious doctrine. These people are chattel: used for labor, sex and breeding. They may be exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money. Their children are the property of the master.”
In Sudan, Africa’s largest country, we reported that slavery was “making a comeback, the result of a 12-year-old war waged by the Muslim north against the black Christian and animist south. Arab militias, armed by the Government, raid villages, mostly those of the Dinka tribe, shoot the men and enslave the women and children. These are kept as personal property or marched north and sold.” We based our reports on government documents, human rights publications and a stunning interview with a UN official.
The op-ed shocked many. We were encouraged to launch the American Anti-Slavery Group, which would document a modern-day slave trade around the globe but would focus on Sudan and Mauritania as the worst cases of slavery. They are also the most controversial and therefore the least likely to be covered by others.
PBS’s Tony Brown Show, the most popular black news program at the time, invited Mohammed and me to speak about slavery. Immediately after our appearance, we were verbally attacked by Farrakhan’s spokesman, who denied that blacks served Arab masters in Sudan or — worse from the NOI’s point of view — that black Muslims served Arab Muslim masters in Mauritania. Farrakhan’s “calling,” funded in part by Arab dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was to break the black-Jewish civil rights alliance while teaching American blacks that Islam was their path to freedom. Not in Sudan and Mauritania, it wasn’t!
The NOI was serious about shutting us up. Samuel Cotton, a black reporter for the City Sun, New York’s second-largest black paper, conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in a five-part series. “Arab Masters, Black Slaves” screamed across the front page in New York’s news kiosks. The NOI warned Sam. They followed and menaced him when he spoke in Chicago, not far from their headquarters. Sam’s book “Silent Terror” — which chronicled his experience reporting on the Mauritanian slave trade — has since become an underground classic.
At a press conference in Washington, D.C. in 1996, Farrakhan was asked about reports of slavery in Sudan. According to the New York Times, he challenged them: “If slavery exists, go … to Sudan, and come back and tell the American people what you found.” The Baltimore Sun sent two reporters to Sudan. They found and liberated slaves and published a special four-page insert in the paper’s weekend edition. Farrakhan refused their request for an interview and pretty much went radio silent on slavery issues until fairly recently.
Farrakhan has always said that slavery in Sudan and Mauritania was a Zionist lie. Last week, South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, demanded the liberation of 30,000 slaves still held by Arabs in the North. Minister Farrakhan, South Sudan is not a Jewish nation. You met with South Sudanese leaders in the spring of 1994. They begged you for support, and to help free the slaves. They wrote that you told them, “When it comes to a choice between religion or the dignity of the black man I will choose my skin.” You betrayed them. Why?
Why has Farrakhan decided in recent days that he can safely replay his “Jews were the slavers” card? I believe that the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic climate on California’s campuses emboldened him to regurgitate the attack. UC President Mark Yudof condemned Farrakhan’s message but defended his rights to free speech. I wonder what Mr. Yudof would do if a Ku Klux Klan speaker asked for the same rights and a platform on his free-speech campus.
Meanwhile, I encourage the student body to visit our website at www.iabolish.org to learn about the plight of modern day slaves, especially those in Sudan and Mauritania, where political correctness and fear have blocked human rights activists — who should be the slaves’ most vociferous champions — from taking moral action to set them free.
Charles Jacobs is the president of the American Anti-Slavery Group in Boston.