The chief obsession of the “Arabian Nights”
Excerpt from an essay on my Debate with Chris Hitchens
Aside from my general concern for the plight of women under Islamic fundamentalist rule – a legitimate concern for the father of two bright, feisty and independent minded daughters – there is also the question of the deeply ingrained anti-black racism that runs throughout Arab culture. In spite of the romantic fantasies of black American Muslims who identify with Islamic civilization, the fact is that while a few black men rose to prominence in Arab Islamic civilization – and Africans built empires based on an Islamic foundation – the general image of black men in Arab culture is as slaves and sex fiends whose prowess in the boudoir beguiles their women into committing adultery and thus makes them a threat to domestic tranquility. It is a point of view that mirrors the racial attitudes of the American south at its lowest point when black men were routinely enslaved, castrated and murdered with impunity.
This vision of black men is a fundamental theme in the epic tales A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in fact it sets the events in motion that supplies the raison d’être for Scheherazade’s fascinating tales.The evidence can be found in the first tale of this Arabic epic, especially the famous 1850 translation by the great British explorer, adventurer and Arabist Sir Richard Burton. Titled The Story of King Shahryar and his Brother, the tale recounts how two mythical Persian kings, Shahryar and his younger brother Shah Zaman, were driven to madness due to their discovery that both of their queens were doing the wild thing with black men in clandestine liaisons. The depiction of these black men is that of bestial slaves, yet these women, the wives of kings, found them irresistible.
Consider the following passage, which recounts King Shah Zaman’s discovery of his wife’s infidelity when he made an unannounced return to his palace after setting out on a journey across the desert to visit his brother Shahryar. “But when the night was half-spent he bethought him that he had forgotten in his palace somewhat which he should have brought with him, so he returned privily and entered his apartments, where he found the Queen, his wife, asleep on his own carpet bed embracing with both arms a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime. When he saw this the world waxed black before his sight and he said: ‘If such case happen while I am yet within sight of the city, what will be the doings of this damned whore during my long absence at my brother’s court?’ So he drew his scimitar and cutting the two in four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp without letting anyone know of what had happened.”
In this passage at the beginning of the text we can see the fear and contempt for women; the racist hostility and sexual terror born of a hysterical fear of the erotic prowess of black men; and the conviction that black men should be their slaves. All of the things I detest about Islamic Arab culture. Even Bilal, the black man with the beautiful voice who sang the chants calling the faithful to prayer was the Prophet Muhammad’s slave. The sexual humiliation of Arab royalty by black slaves who bone their queens is repeated a short while later when Zaman arrives at Samyrar’s kingdom and sequesters himself in a suite in the palace to grieve, unable to tell anyone of his great shame.
Then one day Shah Zaman looks out of his window and beholds: “a postern of the palace, which was carefully kept private, swung open, and out of it is came twenty slave girls surrounding his brother’s wife, who was wondrous fair, a model of beauty and comeliness and symmetry and perfect loveliness, and who paced with the grace of a gazelle which panteth for the cooling stream. Thereupon Shah Zaman drew back from the window, but he kept the bevy in sight, espying them from a place whence he could not be espied.
They walked under the very lattice and advanced a little way into the garden till they came to a jetting fountain a-middlemost a great basin of water. Then they stripped off their clothes, and behold, ten of them were women, concubines of the King, and the other ten were white slaves. Then they all paired off, each with each. But the Queen, who was left alone, presently cried out in a loud voice, ‘Here to me, O my lord Saeed!’
And then sprang with a drop leap from one of the trees a big slobbering blackamoor with rolling eyes which showed the whites, a truly hideous sight. He walked boldly up to her and threw his arms round her neck while she embraced him as warmly. Then he bussed her and winding his legs round hers, as a button loop clasps a button, he threw her and enjoyed her.” Shocked to the quick Shah Zaman laments, “My brother is a greater King among the Kings than I am, yet this infamy goeth on in his very palace, and his wife is in love with that filthiest of filthy slaves. But this only showeth that they all do it and that there is no woman but who cuckoldeth her husband.”
After one more experience involving a sexual tryst between a white Arab woman and a giant black “Jinni” with magical powers, the brothers conclude that there is nothing a man can do to prevent being dishonored by the sexual promiscuity of women. So they decided to return to their kingdom and behead every woman after deflowering her. Only in this way can they be sure their manly honor would not be disgraced. That’s how Scheherazade came to tell these tales for a thousand nights; by leaving the king on a cliff hanger – ala modern soap operas – he would be so anxious to hear the next episode he would order that she be kept alive for another night.
This text is obviously the product of a culture that is racist, sexist/paternalistic, and terrified of black masculinity. Thus it is not a culture I care to champion. For one thing, the hysterical fear of black male sexual prowess led to the practice of genital mutilation of black men. In the American south castration was employed as a punishment for black men charged with certain offenses and its objective was pacification through terror. But in the Islamic world it was a routine practice that created a class of black eunuchs.
There is also the reference to King Shah Zaman ruling over a “barbarian kingdom,” which is how they referred to non-Islamic peoples – especially peoples with polytheistic religions as was to be found all over Africa. That they were not alone in this attitude in the world of the middle-ages does not mitigate their racist attitudes toward black people in my eyes.
The ancient Chinese who built the Great Wall saw themselves as the “Middle Kingdom,” the civilized center of the earth and all else the Barbarian fringes – including the England of George III, whom a 18th century Chinese Emperor addressed in an official communiqué as “O Barbarian King” when refusing George III’s entreaties to engage in trade with China. But the Chinese’s ethnocentrism led them to wall themselves off from the rest of the world, not invade and colonize the lands of others like the Europeans and the Arabs. Thus as a black man looking back on the history of my people with a Duboisian second sight, I wish a plague upon both their houses!
I recognize quite clearly that the Europeans and Arabs share a history of racist exploitation and violence against black people that continues in various forms until today. In his comprehensive and timely book on the history of African slavery in the Islamic world, The Other Black Diaspora, Professor Paul Segal concludes “Both Christianity and Islam asserted the unique value of individual human beings, as created by God for his special purposes. Yet, for their own special purposes, Christian and Muslim societies long sanctioned the capture, sale, ownership and use of men, women and children from black Africa. We can never know the extent of the human cost. Millions lost their lives…..”
The role of the Islamic Arabs in the African holocaust was first documented by the venerable Howard University historian Chancellor Williams in his book The Destruction of Black Civilization. On several occasion I heard Dr. Williams argue that “black people should view the star and crescent the way Jews view the Swastika!” There is also an extensivescholarly literature on the role that Jews played in the African slave trade and plantation slavery in the Americas. A devastating portrait of the role Jews played in the enslavement of Africans in Dutch Guyana can be read in the first hand accounts of the Dutch slave hunter John Steadman: Narrative Of My Five Year Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam.
This blood stained legacy continues to influence relations between black Africans and these predatory Caucasian peoples at this very hour. Just look at the tragedy in the Sudan, where mixed blood Afro-Arabs who look like Colin Powell, a Caribbean mulatto – is engaging in attacks against black Africans that even so reasonable a man as Powell has called “genocide.” However I notice that Mr. Hitchens’ voice has been tepid, if not dramatically silent, in calling for armed intervention in this crisis, although hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost in short order.
Furthermore, I have found that even those Arab leaders who were considered “revolutionary” or “progressive,” like Colonel Kwadafi of Lybia, often hold condescending paternalistic attitudes toward African peoples. One need look no further than his theoretical essay “The Blacks” which is a part of the Colonel’s political philosophy and global vision laid out in The Green Book, which is Libya’s version of Mao’s Red Book. In the early years of the African Independence movement, when a spirit of “Third World” solidarity was in the air, visionary leaders like Egypt’s Abdel Nasser and Ghana’s Kwame Nkruma sought to address the problem of Arab/African alienation and conflict by having Nkrumah take an Egyptian wife. One presumes that it was not suggested that the Arab president take a black wife because Colonel Nasser was already married. It was a well intended gesture but the extent to which this official Arab/African marriage accomplished its diplomatic mission remains a mystery.
A misguided attempt at African- Arab Unity?
Many Afro-American’s strongly identified with Arab militants in the Algerian Revolution due to the influence of the movie The Battle of Algiers and Franz Fanon’s searing treatise The Wretched of the Earth, written in the heat of a revolutionary war against French colonialism that lasted seven years and cost one and a half million Algerian lives. But during the “World Festival of African Art” held in liberated Algeria, the world class saxophonist and Professor of music Archie Shepp recalls that black American males physically ejected Arab men from their parties and forbade them to return until they agreed to bring their Arab girlfriends to the party. Well, that’s the last they saw of Yusef and Ramadan! They disappeared almost as fast as the memory of the critical role black Fanon played in Algeria’s revolution.
Anti-black racism is deeply embedded in Arab culture, and it remains to be seen if it will ever disappear. The confessions I heard of repentant Arab slave masters and escaped black slaves at a meeting I attended along with Stanley Crouch at Columbia University a few years ago was not encouraging in this regard. Sponsored by the international anti-slavery organization I Abolish!, it was an incredible eye opening experience. Americans think of African slavery as a thing of the distant past, but not so in the Arab world, which has continuously engaged in enslaving Africans for 800 years and counting. For Europeans, African Slavery was practiced for four centuries then it was history; but by some estimates there are still several million black slaves in the Islamic Arab world today.
The reformed Arab slave masters we heard from on this occasion were still in their twenties, and they confessed that they had concluded enslaving black people was wrong only after studying in France and learning about the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which abolished slavery in France back in the 18th Century. Thus it was not from the teachings of Islam that they were persuaded that slavery was wrong, but the ideas of the French enlightenment! They also told a shocked audience that their parents thought they had lost their minds when they came back from France and told them that enslaving Africans was wrong.Another young Arab man told how he had lived all over the Arab world while growing up because his father was a diplomat. He also told us how he had seen African slaves in every country they lived in except Iraq, because Saddam Hussein had outlawed the practice before they moved there!
Black Women In Maruitania Today
According to to a January 6, 2011 statement from Human Rights Watch: “The Islamic Republic of Mauritania has more slaves per capita than any other nation on Earth… According to UN reports – confirmed by our Mauritanian abolitionist allies – slaves in Mauritania are the wholly owned property of masters, passed on through their estates, like furniture or cattle. Slave girls are given as wedding gifts.”
** These are the facts I intended to present if Christopher Hitchins attempted to cloud the issue by accusing me of being an ally of the Arab Jihadists during our debate on the Iraq War at the Great Hall in Cooper Union. ( The debate can be seen on You Tube”) He had effectively accused the British Parliamentarian George Galloway of this in a July 11, 2005 op-ed essay published in the rabidly right-wing New York Post titled “London: Stoics and Scalawags.” It was a hysterical screed covering half the page, and Hitchins shamelessly dubbed the MP “Saddam Hussein’s chief propagandists in Britain.”
The commentary above is an excerpt from my 110 page essay titled” The Emperor’s New Clothes: Notes on My Debate with Christopher Hitchens, a Silver Tongued Sophist!” I was saving the essay to publish as part of a book, but since the great intellectual warrior has been diagnosed with terminal cancer I shall soon post the entire essay, which is a complex, multifaceted, intellectually rigorous critical treatise. However because of it’s length I may have to post it on a separate web site. Whatever pturns out to be the case, I’ll post a notice on facebook.
Double Click to hear Dr. Clarke lectures on Arab Racism
To hear a learned lecture on the Arab slave trade in Africans double click on link
This lecture is based on a wide range of authoritative sources including Arab scholars
The Evidence of Islamic Afro-Arabs Enslaving black Africans today!!!!
Harlem, New York
February 15, 2011