Jan 26, 2009
Several days ago I read an interesting article in the paper on the tiny Black community in Basra, Iraq. The piece was basically a foreign take on the impacts of the Obama election, for Black Iraqis hoped this would signal better conditions for them in the land of their ancestors.
Black people are hardly new to Iraq.
Their present population stems from slave importations from over a thousand years ago, when the city of Basra, in Iraq's southern sliver, was the seat of Mesopotamia. Africans were kidnapped into bondage, and forced to work (I kid you not) in the region's salt mines.
In the early third of the seventh century (ca. 820 C. E.), Blacks staged a powerful rebellion, which forced the government to flee. This revolution, called "The Revolt of the Zenj" by Arab historians, lasted for over 20 years. This revolution was betrayed, and the rebels were slain and some put back into bondage.
The name "Revolt of the Zenj" is so named because Blacks from the southeast coast of Africa, called "Zenjabar" by the Arabs (later Zanzibar, and today a part of Tanzania) were captured by the millions and sold into slavery throughout the Arab world.
The hundreds of thousands of Black Iraqis today are among their descendants. As such, they live lives of discrimination, poor education, under-and-unemployment and poverty.
One Basra father explained his decision to remove his daughter from school because she was teased with the term abd (Arabic for slave) by her classmates.
The father said, "it is my wish that she will read and write, but I cannot let her have these...problems."
The Black Iraqi population numbers in the thousands, not the millions. But even after a millennia and a half in Iraq, they still sing ancient songs of a distant African memory.
1/25/09] (c) '09 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Source: Madhani, AAmer, "Obama's Rise Inspires Arab Iraqis in Politics", USA Today, Jan. 19, 2009, 9A.; Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (N.Y. ; Faber and Faber, 1991) ]