Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2001 / 5 Kislev, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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Consumer Reports

Facing the hard truth
about Africa & slavery -- THE simpleminded vision of Africa in Alex Haley's "Roots" has made it hard for many Afro-Americans to see the shortcomings of Islam and black Africa clearly.

The picture became less fuzzy for those who were at Columbia University on Wednesday night when the American Anti-Slavery Group co-hosted an organization of Muslims from the African nation of Mauritania, who are here as part of an international movement to end slavery.

The speakers included Nasser Yessa, foreign secretary of SOS Slaves Mauritania, who works out of Paris; SOS's North American representative, Moctar Cheine, and Ahmeimidi Khaliva, who was born into slavery but escaped at age 25 and now, in his 40s, has harrowing tales to tell.

Nasser Yessa was born into a slave-owning family, but he rejected the chattel tradition after coming under the influence of French democratic ideas and the writings of Jews who survived World War II's death camps.

He said slavery has existed in his country for more than 800 years and was practiced all around black Africa long before the Europeans came along and joined in. That is a fact that is bound to disturb those who don't want to hear ill about the motherland.

Yessa formed his organization in 1995 along with Boubacar Messaoud, another who was born a slave in Mauritania. Messaoud is still in his country working against slavery, where it is supposedly illegal. It has, in fact, been outlawed three times since 1905 but continues to thrive. Muslim slaves, the audience was told, are taught that if they disobey their masters, they won't go to paradise when they die.

Yessa said that his organization declined to sign the propositions agreed on at the recent international conference on racism in South Africa because "they refused to address slavery in Africa under Islamic regimes, slavery under black regimes, racism among Arabs and tribal hatreds that have led to slaughter among black Africans."

Yessa and Cheine said they have often been condemned as tools of the Zionists or the whites because of their criticisms of fellow Muslims and black Africans. This should be familiar to those Afro-Americans who have long been frowned upon for pulling the covers off race hustlers, rabble-rousers, leaders of hate cults, buffoon academics and so on.

Yessa, who is a devoted Muslim, said that justice must come before religion, that all who do not respect the rights of others should be exposed before the eyes of the world and that there should be an international standard of human rights and dignity that focuses world policy.

He is well aware of the fact that such ideas came from Western society but thinks of them, rightly, as part of his human heritage, not conceptions that he was automatically alienated from because he was born into another culture.

Yessa and Cheine wondered why their cause has yet to be embraced by Afro-American leadership. I told them the leadership has yet to grow up on such questions but that we are now on the verge of a new era in which their movement will become more and more important.

For information on SOS and the movement at large, go to --- you will learn much.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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