Lazy Assumptions Breed Islamophobia
In a recent article, ("Averting Our Eyes From Slavery,"
Dec. 27) columnist Nat Hentoff wondered aloud why Jesse Jackson
and other liberal leaders have not been more forthcoming on the
issue of "Islamic enslavement of black Christians and animists
Perhaps this hesitancy results from a reluctance to indulge in
politically and religiously motivated sensationalism that plays
on and amplifies existing Islamophobic tendencies in Western society.
Mr. Hentoff demonstrated the nastier aspects of this trend with
his use of offensive terms such as "Islamic enslavement"
and his references to Muslim bashers like Pat Robertson. (Does Mr.
Hentoff refer to the centuries long history of Biblically-justified
American slavery as "Christian enslavement"?)
Mr. Robertson was recently quoted on the "700 Club" saying,
"To see Americans become followers of, quote, Islam, is nothing
short of insanity..." In his book, "The New World Order,"
he suggested American Muslims be barred from public office. In 1991,
he objected to an American Muslim offering a prayer before Congress.
Is this really the company Mr. Hentoff wishes to keep?
Mr. Hentoff also cites the work of anti-slavery activists Sam Cotton
and Charles Jacobs. Has he examined their claims, or does he just
accept the allegations without question?
Perhaps Mr. Hentoff never read the June 16, 1997, issue of The
New Republic, in which David Hecht, the BBC's correspondent in Senegal,
responded to attacks on his reporting about the situation in Mauritania
from both Jacobs and Cotton. Hecht, who authored a book on government
in Africa, wrote:
"It's good news that Charles Jacobs no longer believes there
are 'slave raids,' though that's what he told Congress on March
13, 1996...Yes, there is a slave (and master) mentality in Africa,
but nothing like the dehumanized institutions that Frederick Douglass
had to fight in America."
Lest one think Hecht is alone in his analysis of the situation
in Mauritania and Sudan, let me quote from the State Department's
Mauritania Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996:
"Slavery in the form of officially sanctioned forced or involuntary
servitude, is extremely rare, and a system of slavery in which government
and society join to force individuals to serve masters no longer
exists...Countless numbers of citizens, whether Moor or Afro-Mauritanian,
continue to call themselves 'slave' even though they are legally
free to live and work where they choose."