The hypocrisy of those purporting to believe in social justice and ranting about white privilege and colonialism is well-documented. The anti-Semitic obsession of those who see Israel as the world’s only violator of human rights and declare their fealty to the Palestinians is especially galling given their lack of interest in the abuses committed by Palestinian leaders against their own people, the persecution of Palestinians in Lebanon, and the torture and murder of Palestinians by the Syrian regime. Even more remarkable is the silence of human rights advocates regarding slavery in the Arab world.
The subject received brief notoriety in the 1980s with the publication of John Laffin’s book The Arabs as Master Slavers (1982) and Murray Gordon’s Slavery in the Arab World (1989). Both traced the history of slavery in the region. Laffin noted that “the slave trade was first begun in Africa by the Arabs; they were the procurers and suppliers” and that “from the earliest period of the history of Islam in Africa, slaves were frequently mentioned as tribute or taxes paid to political superiors.”
Laffin quotes The Economist from 1956: “Saudi Arabia seems to be the most guilty as far as ‘classical’ slavery is concerned.” The Saudis were the last to abolish slavery in Arabia—in 1962. Nevertheless, Laffin noted that “by the 1960s slavery in Arabia was flourishing as never before.”
Fast forward to the present.
A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) was just released that found an estimated 50 million people living in modern slavery conditions in 2021, including 3.3 million children. Of these, 28 million are trapped in forced labor and 22 million in forced marriage.
More than 10 percent of them were in the Arab states, which had the highest rates of forced labor (5.3 per thousand people) and forced marriage (4.9 per thousand people).
According to the Global Slavery Index (GSI), more than 500,000 people are slaves in Arab countries.
Shravan Raghavan, the editor of Statecraft, a publication focused on South Asia, explained, “Workers are brought in under what is known as the kafala system, wherein they essentially become the property of employers.” These immigrants usually have no idea what they are getting into.
“Under the terms of the kafala system,” he notes, “workers cannot quit their job or leave the country without their sponsor’s permission, and those same sponsors withhold their passports and salaries and even demand payment to authorize their release.”
Many are abused:
Workers can be paid as little as 80 cents an hour and be forced to eat leftovers and be on call throughout the day with no time off. They are also subjected to intense physical, verbal and sexual abuse, harassment and intimidation. Law enforcement agencies offer little respite, and generally send battle-weary workers right back to their abusers when they dare to raise an alarm.
The ILO reported, for example, “In Saudi Arabia, where migrant domestic workers do not enjoy the same rights as other workers in the country, they can be subjected to economic and physical abuse and exploitation, the confiscation of passports by employers, and the de facto persistence of a sponsorship system.”
One of the worst countries has long been Qatar, which has a population of 2.9 million and more than two million migrant workers making up 95% of the private sector workforce.
According to the ILO, “Since 2010, when Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, there have been widespread reports of severe labor rights violations against migrant workers, including forced labor.” These included accusations of mistreatment of the workers employed to build the stadiums.
To secure the opportunity to host the World Cup, the country was forced to implement reforms. The ILO has been working with the government of Qatar but concluded: “There is a universal recognition that the work is not complete.”
The report also noted concerns about human trafficking in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Syria and Yemen were also among the countries accused of the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
According to the GSI, Syria, Iraq and Yemen had the highest prevalence of modern slavery and the highest absolute number of victims, accounting for 76 percent of the victims in the region. The indexers acknowledged problems in gathering data and “the likelihood of a significant underestimation of the extent of modern slavery in this region.”
The GSI also noted that the Gulf countries provided “limited protections for migrant populations most vulnerable to modern slavery” and “have taken very few steps to protect the rights and safety of the millions of migrant workers who make up their construction and domestic work sectors.”
One might expect the people who want to tear down the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial because of those presidents’ ownership of slaves might have an iota of concern for today’s slaves. The social justice warriors so consumed with the behavior of Israel do not look beyond its borders and the disputed territories to see the widespread abuses in the region. Not even slavery can distract them from their myopic focus on the Jews.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”