Chaotic conditions in post-Gaddafi Libya have led to a breakdown in security that threatens hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan black African migrant workers. Reports from Tripoli indicate that the rebels who took control of the city last week have been rounding up people described as “mercenaries,” but who appear to be innocent residents caught up in a racial dragnet, with the soldiers and their neighborhood council adjuncts arresting and detaining almost all males with a black face.
There is no firm number of blacks being held in Tripoli, but one rebel commander said that about 5,000 prisoners were being detained in several locations around the city. Human rights groups believe the number is much higher and have raised the alarm about the conditions in which prisoners are being held, as well as concern over the safety of all blacks in Libya. The African Union has withheld recognition of the National Transitional Council, taking them to task for what they view as a racist detention policy. And the NTC has rejected a UN offer of peacekeeping troops to “monitor” the situation.
The NTC has called on its soldiers not to abuse the prisoners, saying those charged with crimes will be given a fair trial. But there are many young men with guns roaming the streets, some of them robbing and beating innocents, with many reports of summary executions. Amnesty International has documented one gruesome atrocity outside of a hospital where 30 bodies, all of them black, were found to have been massacred.
And the rebels’ racism is not confined to black Africans. PJ Media’s John Rosenthal documented dozens of examples of anti-Semetic graffiti in Benghazi after that city fell into rebel hands, as well as many examples of black Africans being singled out for brutal treatment.
“Libyan people don’t like people with dark skins,” one militiaman said in reference to the arrests of blacks. That is certainly one reason for the indiscriminate nature of the round ups. But the rumors — apparently overblown, or downright false — that Gaddafi had hired black African mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere to act as executioners of Libyan civilians, gunning them down in cold blood during protests, has particularly poisoned the minds of many Libyans and has contributed to the racial tensions in the post-Gaddafi era. Representatives from both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say they have investigated the claims by rebels of African mercenaries committing atrocities and have been unable to verify any of the rumors about them. This may be a case of rebel propaganda blowing back and putting thousands of innocents in danger.
There is also an historical context to be considered when talking about racism in Libya. As Stephen Brown pointed out in FPM last April, since the 7th century, 14 million blacks have been sold into slavery in Arab countries. This has resulted in a kind of racism not seen in America for decades, where blacks are considered sub-human and not fit for any task except those that an Arab considers beneath him. One African columnist writes, “In Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Mauritania and the rest of the Arab world, Africans are treated like scum.” In marketplaces, Arabs throw stones at blacks, while preventing them from achieving any positions of authority in Arab countries. “There are hardly any Africans in high government positions in Arab governed countries…It is simply a way of life that’s all. Blacks do not really exist or at best are not human.”
With history — both recent and ancient — working against the black African workers that Gaddafi exploited and discriminated against, the mass arrests have angered the African Union to the point that they are refusing to recognize the NTC until they are assured that their citizens are protected by the new government. “NTC seems to confuse black people with mercenaries,” AU chairman Jean Ping said.”All blacks are mercenaries. If you do that, it means [that the] one-third of the population of Libya, which is black, is also mercenaries. They are killing people, normal workers, mistreating them,” he said.
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