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Date: Tue, 6 Feb 1996 17:14:17 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
Subject: SPARTS: Farrakhan and the Sudan slave trade

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From: NY Spartacist <address withheld>

Farrakhan and the Sudan slave trade

NY Spartacist Workers Vanguard, 2 February 1996

Louis Farrakhan is currently traveling through Africa, where he has met with, among others, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Farrakhan launched his friendship tour in order to pursue his political and social aims and projects and for evident self-enhancement, newly magnified by his leadership of the Million Man March in October. Particularly in light of the Nation of Islam (NOI) leader’s heightened prominence, it behooves all those who struggle for black emancipation to look even more sharply and closely at the aims and practices of Farrakhan’s movement as shown in concrete circumstances.

Through newspaper articles, conferences and demonstrations, new abolitionists have exposed the continuing existence of black chattel slavery in Mauritania, on North Africa’s Atlantic coast, and in Sudan, Africa’s largest country. When this issue hit the black press, it naturally caused an uproar among American blacks, who were emancipated from slavery barely 130 years ago with the victory of the Union Army over the slaveholding South. What particularly made this a red-hot issue for black people was the revelation that Farrakhan and the NOI are acting as apologists for black African slavery, stemming from their close ties to the vicious military dictatorship of Sudan, which professes Islamic fundamentalism.

Farrakhan’s support to the Sudanese slave masters is yet another example of his utterly reactionary program and purpose. Last fall, Workers Vanguard forthrightly called his Washington, D.C. march for atonement a poisonous reactionary mobilization which was directly counterposed to any struggle for black emancipation (WV No. 631, 20 October 1995). We noted that despite the racist rulers’ hypocritical denunciations of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and anti-white demagogy, capitalist politicians ranging from Democratic president Clinton to Republican Senate leader Bob Dole embraced the march’s aim of making black males take responsibility for the conditions of their own oppression. Almost all black politicians hailed the event as they courted Farrakhan’s increased following, while virtually all the black press signed on as publicity agents for the march. And much of the reformist left threw its support to the march while claiming to separate the message from its messenger.

Many blacks who marched in Washington did so out of a desire for some, anyaction that claimed to fight for the rights of blacks in this increasingly vicious racist society. Farrakhan’s posture as a black leader who stands up to the racist rulers will likely be strengthened now that he is being vilified by right-wing yahoos in Congress for securing a promise of financial assistance from Libyan strongman Qaddafi, who was himself targeted for assassination by U.S. imperialist air strikes on Tripoli in 1986. For its part, the Justice Department immediately threatened to force the NOI leader to register as an agent of a foreign government. Yet the U.S. government didn’t bat an eye over Farrakhan’s embrace, during his tour, of Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha, whose recent execution of well-known poet Ken Saro-Wiwa and seven other dissidents has provoked international outrage.

However, Farrakhan’s trip got major media attention when he met with South African president Nelson Mandela. The NOI head hypocritically played up to Mandela by appealing for Muslims and Christians and Jews to work together for the common good. Nonetheless, Mandela felt the need to distance himself from the racialist NOI demagogue, admonishing him about the ANC principle of nonracialism.

Louis Farrakhan is no fighter for black rights. He is a sinister huckster who seeks only to be an exploiter of his people. Farrakhan’s backward worldview degrades black people themselves, not least black women, who lead a strictly segregated existence in the NOI and were excluded en masse from the Washington march. And his cozying up to brutal military chiefs who engage in and protect the growing market for black African slaves in Sudan gives further proof of what we have said all along, that Farrakhan is bad news for black people.

The Scourge of African Slavery Today

The Brooklyn-based black newspapers City Sun and Daily Challenge have run literally dozens of articles in the past year exposing the horror of contemporary slavery in northern Africa, notably a three-part series last February by the City Sun’s Samuel Cotton. Others who have been active in the anti-slavery campaign include Nate Clay of Chicago’s New Metro News and WLS radio, Washington, D.C. radio host Joe Madison, and Republican Tony Brown, whose PBS TV show aired documentary evidence. Protest meetings and debates have been held at Harlem’s Schomburg Library and at black churches and schools uptown and in Brooklyn. Abolitionist conferences at Columbia University and the New York Law School have featured eyewitness reports on slavery in Mauritania and Sudan.

As you read this, wrote Cotton, there are Black people being bought and sold in two North African countries (City Sun, 1 February 1995). Cotton continued:

Although slavery was declared abolished three times since Mauritania’s independence in 1960, it persists. Slaves are given as wedding gifts, traded for camels, guns or trucks, and inherited. . . . In the Islamic Republic of the Sudan, as a result of an Islamic vs. Christian civil war, Black women and children (mostly Christian) are being captured in raids on their villages and sold as chattel slaves.

Such reports have been widely documented in recent years by a number of human rights groups, such as Anti-Slavery International in London and the Puebla Institute, affiliated to the Catholic church.

In 1994, a United Nations special report on Sudan by Hungarian lawyer Gaspar Biro detailed systematic torture and disappearances of opponents of the regime and reported that women and children are kept in special camps where people from the north or from abroad come to purchase them for money or goods such as camels. In its report, The Tears of Orphans (1995), Amnesty International confirmed reports of abduction and enslavement of women and children in Sudan, adding that the southern Sudanese anti-government forces have also murdered and abducted villagers, not only suspected government sympathizers but others who fell afoul of tribal and factional conflicts.

Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff has also written a number of articles recently on the slave trade in Sudan. In one of them, Hentoff cites an account by Professor Ushari Ahmad Mamoud, who was imprisoned by the previous Sudanese regime in 1986 for his reports on the slave trade: What usually happens is that Arab armed militias go into the Southern villages or the Nuba mountains.... They burn the villages. The men are killed if they don’t escape, and the women and children are rounded up. The survivors are tied up and taken to the Arab north.... The women and children are put to work in the fields--all without pay--and are also available as slave concubines (Village Voice, 12 December 1995).

Farrakhan’s Sudan Connection

Enraptured by Farrakhan’s new political clout, much of the American black political establishment has utterly ignored the revelations of slavery in Africa. Jesse Jackson has yet to make a statement, although both the NAACP and the head of the Congressional Black Caucus have issued condemnations, but they are seeking to refurbish the democratic credentials of U.S. imperialism.

African anti-slavery activists wrote to Farrakhan asking for a speaker on the subject at the Million Man March; he turned a deaf ear to them. This was no aberration: Farrakhan had already dismissed the issue of slavery in Sudan as a concoction of the Western press. This was hardly a statement of concern for the hypocrisy and lies regularly doled out by the mainstream imperialist media. His protestations came in the form of a letter read by NOI international spokesman Abdul Akbar Muhammad to a Popular Arab & Islamic Conference in Khartoum last March. The conference was run by Islamic fundamentalist Sheik Hassan al-Turabi, the power behind the Sudanese regime. The year before, Farrakhan himself had been feted as a guest of Sudanese leaders General Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Sheik Hassan al-Turabi, who of course themselves deny that slavery exists in their country.

In a venomous anti-Semitic diatribe in the NOI’s Final Call (12 April 1995), Muhammad denounced the anti-slavery campaign as a Big Lie, later charging that it seeks to divert attention from the role Jews played in the slave trade (Final Call, 26 April 1995). In an outraged response to this despicable disinformation campaign, which was picked up by some of the black press, black journalist William Pleasant wrote in his new weekly paper, the Liberator (4 January), that much of the Black media either turned its back on the African slaves or adopted the numbskull, Jew-baiting arguments in support of the slaving regimes of Sudan and Mauritania served up by the Nation of Islam’s Akbar Muhammad.

As part of its attempt to channel black anger against capitalist oppression into anti-Semitism, including in such tracts as The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, the NOI has long purveyed the absurd claim that 75 percent of slaves in the American South before the Civil War were owned by Jews. As we pointed out in Farrakhan Is Bad News for Black People (WV No. 600, 13 May 1994): In reality, the not very numerous Jews in the South in 1860 owned a tiny fraction of the four million slaves, and only a tiny proportion of the Atlantic slave trade involved Jewish merchants. Arab merchants and black African tribal chiefs were heavily involved in the Atlantic slave trade, too. But of course Farrakhan disappears this incontrovertible historical fact.

For all of Farrakhan’s hypocritical denunciations of the Atlantic slave trade, the vile bigotry of his racialist demonology reveals shared social values with the contemporary slave traders in the Sudan, particularly their anti-woman fundamentalism. NOI doctrine holds, in Elijah Muhammad’s words, that the woman is man’s field to produce his nation. This is no doubt music to the ears of the Islamic establishment in Sudan, which imprisons women in the veil and where the hideous practice of female genital mutilation is pervasive. The would-be exploiter of the black ghetto masses in the U.S. clearly feels at home with the heads of African dictatorships.

Despite his affinity with the Arabic-speaking Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum, in the U.S. Farrakhan purveys anti-Arab and anti-Asian no less than anti-Jewish bigotry. In his infamous bloodsuckers speech on the eve of the Million Man March, Farrakhan ranted: We considered them [the Jews] bloodsuckers because they took from our community and built their community but didn’t offer anything back to our community. And when the Jews left, the Palestinian Arabs came, Koreans came, Vietnamese and other ethnic and racial groups came. And so this is a type and we call them bloodsuckers. This is pogromist, a recipe for all-sided race war, which could only benefit the likes of the KKK and other fascists and in which black people would be the biggest losers.

U.S./UN Imperialists: Hands Off Africa!

A number of opponents of slavery in Africa have appealed to the U.S. government or the United Nations to act to end the trade in human chattel. For example, the Coalition Against Slavery in Africa demonstrated outside the UN in September demanding, in the words of CASIA president Dede Ombombassa, that Sudan and Mauritania be diplomatically, financially and culturally isolated (Daily Challenge, 25 September 1995). Such calls are an invitation to continued imperialist exploitation and oppression. In Zaire in the 1960s, UN intervention was a cover for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the fight against Belgian colonial rule in the Congo. More recently, the 1993 neocolonial occupation of famine-stricken Somalia, also carried out under the UN flag and in the name of humanitarianism, was marked by brutal massacres like the slaughter of some 200 civilians in Mogadishu who were gunned down by U.S. troops firing from Cobra helicopters.

Today Washington labels the Khartoum regime as terrorist. But today’s terrorist is often yesterday’s CIA asset. During the Cold War, Turabi and his reactionary Muslim Brotherhood group were considered an asset by the State Department because of his vehement anti-Communism and his alliance with mullahs fighting against the USSR in Afghanistan. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. no longer needed this relationship with the Sudan regime. As CovertAction (Summer 1994) noted, Throughout the Cold War, the official U.S. position was that the [southern] SPLA rebel army was simply a communist organization set up by the Eastern bloc to destabilize a pro-Western Sudan. But now American attentions have shifted south, and the U.S. is looking for any excuse to provide more substantial assistance to the rebels.

Historically, it was the imperialist scramble for Africa in the latter part of the 19th century which created the structure of Sudan today. This is the period of the British drive to create a Cape to Cairo East African empire linked by rail and telegraph, which the French sought to spike by creating a colonial belt across Central Africa from the Congo to the Red Sea. The Italians and the German Kaiser grabbed bites wherever they could, and the treacherous King Leopold II of Belgium carved out a monstrous regime of terror in the Belgian Congo, under which some eight million Africans died over a 50-year period--the holocaust of the 19th century. The rival imperialists tore the tribal structures and agrarian societies of the continent apart, while ensuring the survival and reinforcement of ancient tribal practices suited to the Europeans’ divide and rule program. This is what the Dinka people of southern Sudan call the time when the world was spoilt. As David Levering Lewis writes in his book, The Race to Fashoda (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987), by the late 19th century:

Territorial dispossession, institutional chaos, collective panic, and disease and famine had ignited a wave of flesh- eating that spread from inveterate cannibals like Bakusa to Batetela, the Mangbetu, and much of Zande. Before the end of the decade [the 1870s], the felon interplay of raids, migrations, and animal and crop wastage would open the Interior to tsetse fly. Trypanosomiasis, sleeping sickness, would soon devastate whole peoples from the mouth of the Congo to Lake Victoria. Much of Africa was becoming as anarchic, pestilential, and brutal as the arriving missionaries, physicians, soldiers, and commissioners never tired of reminding the outside world that it had always been.

The first British attempt to control Sudan in the 1880s ended in humiliation when the forces of the Islamic Mahdi creamed the insufferable General Gordon at Khartoum. When the British finally established colonial rule in 1898, they instituted a policy to keep the south segregated, welcoming Christian missionaries there while banning Islamic proselytizers. The Southern Policy kept the area economically primitive, as the British concentrated economic resources, investments, roads and schools in the north. The northern region, whose black population has intermixed for many centuries with Arab settlers, is now defined as primarily Arab and Islamic, with a mingling of Egyptians, Turks and Circassians. The south is populated mainly by black tribal groups. The educated elite in this region tends to be Christian, while many of the poorer farmers, marsh fishermen and cattle herders maintain animist beliefs.

British colonial rule was ended in 1956 after having exacerbated these regional and religious divisions in this country which encompasses peoples speaking more than 400 different languages. Since independence, Sudan has been ruled by a series of more or less eccentric and ruthless military regimes in Khartoum, interspersed with a very few, very short periods of parliamentary democracy. The social devastation of civil war combined with Islamic fundamentalism has intensified barbaric horrors, from punishment by flogging and amputation to female genital mutilation.

For Permanent Revolution!

Today, apologists for Western imperialism, which has brought us such barbarities as the Holocaust and the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pontificate about the lack of civilization in backward countries of Africa. While condemning such racist hypocrisy, we do not share the outlook of some liberals who, in the name of cultural relativism, condone the inhumane legacies of the past practiced by semicolonial peoples. In many cases, this goes hand in hand with support to Third World nationalism.

In order to mobilize sufficient support to establish themselves as the ruling class in their own countries after gaining independence, the new bourgeois rulers had to rely on backward-looking cultural traditions. Thus, Jomo Kenyatta, the darling of Pan-Africanists, endorsed female genital mutilation as a form of nationalist resistance to European colonial domination. Likewise, cheerleaders for the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran whitewashed the imposition of the head-to-toe chador--which reflected the social segregation of women and their imprisonment in the home--as a symbol of opposition to Western imperialism. And what of the Indian practice of suttee, in which the widow is burned alive after the death of her husband? Is this, too, simply a matter of cultural heritage? Such heinous practices are vestiges of pre-capitalist and even pre- feudal stages of human development and are representative of the all-sided sexual, social and economic oppression of women.

Marxists are not advocates of national culture. Even in writing about the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and the oppressed peoples of the tsarist empire, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin remarked that the general ’national culture’ is the culture of the landlords, the clergy and the bourgeoisie, adding that socialist internationalists take from each national culture only its democratic and socialist elements; we take them only and absolutely in opposition to the bourgeois culture and the bourgeois nationalism of each nation (Critical Remarks on the National Question, December 1913).

Industrial capitalism in the West drew women into the proletariat, and bourgeois-democratic revolutions legally and formally wiped out the more abhorrent aspects of women’s oppression. But the Western democracies did not bring these bourgeois-democratic reforms with them into the colonial countries. The penetration of decaying capitalism into the Third World has fostered the most reactionary aspects of degenerated tribalism. This underscores the validity of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, that in the semicolonial countries the gains of the bourgeois-democratic revolution can only be achieved through the proletarian seizure of power and the extension of socialist revolution to the imperialist centers. This requires the construction of Leninist vanguard parties as part of the fight to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International.

Today, the fight against chattel slavery is intimately linked to the struggle against all forms of oppression and for world socialist revolution. As we wrote in The Crime of Female Genital Mutilation (Women and Revolution No. 41, Summer/Autumn 1992) in regard to Sudan and other parts of Africa:

The banner of revolutionary socialism seems an empty reference in sub-Saharan Africa, where the Marxist conception of ’combined and uneven development’ would only encompass marginal pockets of industrialization. There are oil workers in Nigeria, dock and rail workers in Kenya, miners in Zambia. They are presently isolated and politically subordinate to demagogic nationalist regimes, but they represent a strategic industrial workforce. It is the challenge of an international revolutionary party to transform this sector into a human link to the workers movements of the Near East and the industrial proletariat of South Africa. Mobilized against their capitalist exploiters, these vanguard layers can launch a struggle to emancipate the cruelly oppressed men and women throughout Africa.

This revolutionary perspective is closely linked with the struggle against black oppression in the U.S. imperialist heartland. Black workers are a strategic component of the multiracial U.S. working class. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party which will champion the cause of all the oppressed as part of the struggle for socialist revolution. This requires telling the truth about people like Farrakhan, who give aid and comfort to the murderous racist ruling class at home and to its slaving neocolonial regimes abroad.