By Alec W, Franklin and Marshall College

Chains, shackles, and public beatings.  These are the things we think of when we hear the word slavery.  Although many people view slavery as a thing of the past, it still exists today, just in a slightly different form.

Mauritanian blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Mkhaitir, was imprisoned in January 2014 for defaming the name of Prophet Muhammad.  Currently, the court is trying to decide if they should execute the prisoner, which would make him the first person executed in Mauritania in about 30 years.  It all started when he wrote an article about how the government uses events from Prophet Muhammad’s life to justify slavery.  If he is executed, this would only encourage slavery to continue in Mauritania.

Islam states that Muslims cannot enslave other Muslims, but the slaves are told under a misguided interpretation of Islam that by obeying their master, they will go to heaven.  The masters force their opinions upon the slaves and as a result, many of the people do not even think that they are enslaved.  As Erich Fromm wrote in Escape from Freedom, “The right to express our thoughts means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own.”  This combination of deeply rooted discrimination towards Haratines and the belief that slavery is a pathway to heaven keeps slavery alive in Mauritania, even though many other countries have stopped this inhumane system.  Slavery is illegal, but the government is doing nothing to enforce these laws.  Once born into slavery, they are stuck.

The Universal Declaration of Human rights was created by the United Nations, which currently has 193 members.  It states the basic human rights that everyone should possess, but I guess they forgot to mention “except Mauritania” because nobody seems to care about the human rights violations that take place there every day.  Although it is not a treaty and there are no legal obligations, it represents the fundamental values which these countries share.  If these values are so important to them, why is it that nobody is willing to fight for the rights of those suffering in Mauritania?

It is obligatory that the United States gets involved and protects the values that we cherish deeply.  We need to expose the Mauritanian government and make sure that they no longer cover up slavery in the name of Islam.  If Mauritania fails to enforce their laws against slavery after the United States confronts them, military intervention may be required to make sure that all people have basic rights.

The United States loves to be the big bully and dictate what other countries should do, and yet when we have the chance to stand up for human rights, we choose to sit back and watch from a distance.  Maybe we are too busy deporting immigrants and fighting ISIS that we cannot find the time to uphold the values we supposedly hold: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The United States has ignored slavery in the past, resulting in racial issues that are still alive today.  Because slavery is no longer occurring on our mainland, we turn a blind eye, even though we have personally experienced as a country how devastating it can be.

The enslaved people are living in brutal conditions and they need help immediately.  It is easy to ignore this problem as you are reading this article on a computer in the comfort of your home, but these people do not have this luxury.  They are sleeping in tents made of shaggy rags and twigs that look like rotting carcasses.  The American people are too focused on complaining about how we should no longer use the word “freshman” or how Starbucks got rid of their holiday cups that we fail to see real problems that exist.  Maybe our privilege is blinding us from recognizing that there are people who are treated like animals, suffering every day.  They need our help, but we choose to sit back and sip our coffee, reading about it in the newspaper, but doing nothing to take action.

It is time to open our eyes and consider the fact that maybe outside of our privileged bubble, there are people who have no control over their own bodies and are beaten, raped, and objectified on a daily basis.  We need to recognize that we all share one thing in common: humanity.  If our government fails to take action, it is our obligation to push until they have no other choice but to uphold the values that we believe in.

Are you going to sit back and let this happen?  Or are you going take action?



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