Mauritania has the highest incidence of slavery in the world, despite the fact that it abolished slavery in 1981. It was the last country on earth to do so. In 2007, it finally passed a law making it possible to prosecute slaveholders. Nevertheless, Biram Dah Abeid, the founder of the country’s anti-slavery movement, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (known as IRA) was imprisoned. According to an article in The New Yorker, “During his time in prison, the authorities spread a rumor that he was an Israeli agent” (“Freedom Fighter,” by Alexis Okeowo, September 8, 2014).
There has been a bit of publicity about slavery in Mauritania. On October 23, 2014, CNN reported that a 15-year-old liberated slave, a young woman named Mbeirika Mint M’barack, was freed after being charged with having had extra-marital sex.
A bit of publicity is better than no publicity. It could conceivably lead to a change in policy. Still, it is surprising that an issue as dramatic as slavery has not made the headlines. Mauritania is not at war, and its government would in all likelihood respond to headlines about slavery and simply end the practice once and for all.
The war that is going on in Syria, on the other hand, has made the headlines. One aspect of the war, however, is getting little notice—the number of deaths and/ or refugees. The number of refugees who have fled to neighboring countries is estimated at 3.9 million. This of course does not include the people who have left their homes for other areas within Syria, perhaps 7.6 million. As for the death toll, it was estimated to be 220,000.
Think of the reaction to the deaths in Syria as compared with the horror that the world expressed about deaths in the Gaza war, estimated at 844 civilians and 890 militants.
Every death is tragic, needless to say, but the condemnation of Israel has been loud and continuing. Neither Syria’s President al-Assad not ISIS has been blamed for the shocking numbers of deaths and displacements occurring in Syria.
On the other hand, the bombings of mosques in Yemen have merited a headline in the New York Times.
At least 130 people died in the suicide bombings of Shiite mosques carried out by ISIS. We might assume that a religious group like ISIS would consider blowing up a mosque a sacrilege. The New York Times thinks so, which is why these outrageous crimes merited a headline.
Perhaps we should look upon these attacks as a warning. What might happen if East Jerusalem were part of a Palestinian state? Perhaps rival denominations of Islam would blow up al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock—preferably when there were lots of people there.
But all this aside, what is the outrage that has drawn the most negative publicity recently? It has been Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, a violation of protocol, since he was invited by House Speaker Boehner and not by President Obama. After the speech, Netanyahu returned to Israel and made some unfortunate and upsetting statements in campaign speeches, about not being willing to agree to a Palestinian state, and about Israeli Arabs being taken by bus to polling sites.
Netanyahu has since reversed himself a bit on these questions now that he has been elected, another negative publicity event. The statements were indeed somewhat unfortunate, but were they the equivalent of slavery, a bloody civil war, or bombing mosques? The world seems to believe that what Netanyahu did was so much worse than the tragedies of Mauritania, Syria or Yemen.