Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Iraqi's Racist "Resistance"

Jason Burke interviews a fighter in the Iraqi resistance--his term not mine-- in the British Observer. Buried in the story is this very interesting paragraph.

Black soldiers are a particular target. 'To have Negroes occupying us is a particular humiliation,' Abu Mujahed said, echoing the profound racism prevalent in much of the Middle East. 'Sometimes we aborted a mission because there were no Negroes.' [available to kill]
Crisis, the NAACP's magazine, in its March/April issue ran an article by Theola Labbé entitled "Iraq in Black." This is what the blurb says "Many populating the streets of Basra and other areas of the occupied territory are dark-skinned, betraying the country's history of slavery."

It's not available online on the Crisis website. But it can be found here
and possibly on the Washington Post website where it was originally published. A few highlights below.

The number of dark-skinned people like Youssef in Iraq today is unknown. Their origins, however, are better understood, if little-discussed: They are the legacy of slavery throughout the Middle East.

Historians say the slave trade began in the 9th century and lasted a millennium.Arab traders brought Africans across the Indian Ocean from present-day Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia and elsewhere in East Africa to Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East.

Even though Islam teaches that all people are equal before God, Abdullah said that medieval Arab slave owners made distinctions based on skin color. White slaves, known as mamluks, which means "owned," were more expensive than black slaves, or abds.

the term "abd" may be used by light-skinned Iraqis in a matter-of-fact way to describe someone's dark complexion. Dark-skinned Iraqis say the word may or may not be considered an insult, depending on how it is used and the intent of the speaker.

"We use the word abd in the black community," said Salah Jaleel, 50, one of Youssef's cousins. "Sometimes I call my friend 'abd.' Of course he knows that I don't insult him, because I'm black also, so it's a joke. We accept it between us, but it is a real insult if it is said by a white man."

"These came from Africa and they are very important to us, the abds," he said. Just as he used the Arabic word for slave to refer to himself, Jimaa sometimes referred to light-skinned Iraqis using the term for a free person. (my emphasis)

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