By Guest Contributor Simba Russeau
Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi’s use of African mercenaries to quell the uprising against his autocratic regime has revived a deep-rooted racism between Arabs and black Africans.
Though most will deny its existence, in Libya discrimination is common not only against migrant black Africans, but also against darker-skinned Libyans, especially from the south of the country.
“Against this background, one needs to be a little wary of the accusations of ‘African mercenaries’ or even ‘black African mercenaries’ that have been bandied around. Certainly, Gaddafi has used, in the past, mercenaries from other parts of Africa, and our information is that some of these are likely involved in the current situation on Gaddafi’s side,” Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa told IPS.
“Mercenaries, of course, are extremely useful because the regular army forces include conscripts — who can easily leave their posts and join the uprising. Mercenaries work for money and have no compunction about whom they kill.”
About one and a half million sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees, out of a population of nearly two to two and a half million migrants, work as cheap labour in Libya’s oil industry, agriculture, construction and other service sectors.
However, this is not the first time Libya’s most vulnerable immigrant population has fallen victim to racist attacks. In 2000, dozens of migrant workers from Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria were targeted during street killings in the wake of government officials blaming them for rising crime, disease and drug trafficking.
In response, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern over Libya’s practices of racial discrimination against dark-skinned migrants and refugees. In 2004 it accused the country of violating Article 6 of the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and for failing to implement proper mechanisms safeguarding individuals from any racial acts that circumvent human rights.
“However, it is also possible that many of those identified as ‘African mercenaries’ could be darker-skinned Libyans. It is easier for people to project their problems onto outsiders than on their own people,” adds Jeenah.
A case in point is Karim, an African-Lebanese. After a day of visiting relatives, he was traveling with his African mother on the bus back down to Beirut when the vehicle was stopped at a military checkpoint. Soldiers entered the bus and asked for everyone to show their identity papers. While he was searching the bag for his wallet to find his military standby card and identity papers, one of the officers in charge ordered his arrest.
During several hours in custody, Karim was subjected to continuous physical and verbal abuse; not a single soldier even bothered to check his identification.
“It wasn’t until my mother shouted that they call a relative who is known in the military that the soldiers stopped mistreating me and checked my papers,” says Karim in an interview with IPS. “Even then they tried to save face by claiming that my military card was new though in fact it has been standard for over ten years.”
Experts argue that though a taboo subject, racism is not confined to Libya; it is found throughout the Arab world, and stems from historical linkages of the Arab slave trade to the way blacks were used during European colonisation in the region.
In his study titled, ‘Perceptions of Race in the Arab world’, Mark Perry says: “The past and present trade in African slaves to the Arab world has left a long and bitter memory in African society to this day. Black Africa was the earliest source for slaves and the last great reservoir to dry up; already in the 640s slaves were part of the ‘non-aggression pact’ between Arab conquerors and Nubian rulers, while as late as 1910 slave caravans were still arriving in Benghazi from Wadai (in Chad).”
Scholar Elizabeth Thompson adds that French colonisation of Syria and Lebanon was charged with racial overtones due to the use of West African soldiers. “The Senegalese would become a regular target of nationalist propaganda in sexualised and racialised imagery that fused men’s gender anxieties with outrage at French domination.”
As the world marks the 2011 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which has been dubbed the ‘International Year for People of African descent’, uprisings sweeping the Arab region should include a social transformation to shift perceptions of dark-skinned Arabs and non-Arabs to put an end to racial discrimination and xenophobia, experts say.
Otherwise, they warn, a violent backlash by anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya who link black skin with the regime could lead to a massive genocide once the long-time leader is ousted.
Image courtesy of شبكة برق | B.R.Q
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- lynn1066 on The Walking Dead Roundtable: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- bridgetarlene on The Walking Dead Roundtable: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- etoiledamore on The Walking Dead Roundtable: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- literatebrit on The Racialicious Links Roundup 12.5.13: Black Twitter, Black Academics, Iran, Chicago and Elan Gale
- Matt Pizzuti on The Walking Dead Roundtable: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- Open Thread: Scandal S03 E09: ‘YOLO’
- The Walking Dead Roundtable: 4.8 “Too Far Gone”
- Voices: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
- The Racialicious Links Roundup 12.5.13: Black Twitter, Black Academics, Iran, Chicago and Elan Gale
- On Disability and Cartographies of Difference
- A Muslimah’s Guide to Rocking the World
- Quoted: Dr. David Leonard Pens Open Letter to Marissa Alexander
- The Acclaimed Web Series Black Folks Don’t Returns for a Third Season
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black celebrities comedy diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity interracial relationships Kerry Washington latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion Scandal sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes True Blood tv Uncategorized white youtube