In the French daily Le Figaro, Marie-Claude Barbier Mosimann, lecturer at the École nationale supérieure (ENS) Paris-Saclay and expert on South Africa, discusses the current perception of the Arab-Muslim slave trade, which plays almost no role in the public consciousness. A comprehensive work by the historian Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau entitled “Les traites négrières” had already shown in 2004 that there was not only one slave trade, but three different forms: the Atlantic slave trade, the Arab-Muslim slave trade and the intra-African slave trade, which supplied the slaves to the other two.
When the then President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, decided in 2005 that May 10 – the anniversary of the passing of the “Loi Taubira” law, which recognised slavery as a crime against humanity – would henceforth be celebrated as a “day of commemoration of the black slave trade, slavery and its abolition”, only the whites had been blamed. A year later, the former French Minister of Justice and eponym of the “Loi Taubira”, Christiane Taubira, clarified her silence regarding the Oriental slave trade. She said it was better not to mention the Arab-Muslim trade in black slaves so that the “young Arabs” would not carry “the whole burden of the legacy of the misdeeds of the Arabs”.
But, notes Barber Mosimann, the Western slave trade lasted three centuries, while the Arab-Muslim slave trade lasted 13 centuries: “Since the beginnings of Islam in the seventh century, it has spread throughout the Maghreb, from where the caravans started, crossing the Sahara to take black slaves with them from the sub-Saharan coast. Timbuktu was a hub of this trade”.
With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in North Africa, the slave trade and slavery would have continued to flourish, “and cities such as Algiers, Tunis or Tripoli offered large slave markets supplied by raids on land, but also at sea, as they emanated from barbarian pirates to rob Christian slaves on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. The Arab-Muslim slave trade affected virtually the entire African territory north of the Zambezi”.
How can one therefore still accept, the author asks at the end of her article, that “only the white man is called a slaveholder and colonialist?”