Whac-a-mole sexual slavery

Whac-a-mole sexual slavery

There is an old fairground game called Whac-a-Mole. You whack a (fake) mole on the head and drive it down into its hole – and instantly one or more other moles pop up out of other holes. It’s an excellent metaphor for humanity’s inability to abolish sexual slavery.

This week, we had the long-overdue full apology by the Japanese government for the enslavement of up to 200,000 young “comfort women” from countries conquered by Japan to provide sexual “comfort” to Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The apology was a bit late (the 46 surviving Korean “comfort women” are all over 80 now), but the mole was well and truly whacked. Except that in another part of the garden, another mole immediately poked his head out of the ground. 

This time it was Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). On Tuesday, Reuters published captured ISIL documents including Fatwa No. 64, dated Jan. 29, 2015, of this year, which purported to explain the Islamic rules on who may rape a non-Muslim female slave. Or, more precisely, who may not do so.

An owner may rape his female slaves, of course, but he may not rape both a mother and her daughter. He must make his choice and stick to it. Similarly, a slave-owning father and son may not both rape the same enslaved woman.

This is typical ISIL provocation, designed to appeal to frustrated young men. Quite predictably, Islamic scholars like Professor Abdel Fattah Alawari, dean of Islamic Theology at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, rushed to point out that ISIL, in claiming that this was part of Shariah law, was deliberately misreading verses and sayings that were originally designed to end slavery.

“Islam preaches freedom to slaves, not slavery,” Alawari said. “Slavery was the status quo when Islam came around. Judaism, Christianity, Greek, Roman, and Persian civilizations all practiced it and took the females of their enemies as sex slaves. So Islam found this abhorrent practice and worked to gradually remove it.” 

Islamic law forbids the enslavement of Muslims, but all that did was to encourage a roaring trade in the enslavement of non-Muslims that lasted for over a thousand years. 

Slavery had pretty well died out in the Christian West by the year 1000, only to be replaced by the feudal system in which most common people were reduced to serfdom. And as soon as a demand for actual slave labor re-appeared, with the European colonization of the Americas in the 16th century, the Europeans began to buy slaves from Africa – as the Islamic empires of the Middle East and India had been doing all along.

The longest-lasting source of slaves for the Muslim world was the African trade, both across the Sahara and up from the East African coast, which lasted from the ninth to the 19th century. Various estimates by historians suggest that between 10 million and 18 million Africans were sold in this thousand-year trade. Neither the European empires nor the great Muslim states ended slavery until the 19th century, so there is plenty of blame to go around. But there is one striking difference between the two trades. The European slavers took two or three African males for every female, because what they wanted was a workforce for commercial agriculture.

The Muslim slavers, by contrast, generally took more women than men, because there was a bigger demand for women as sex slaves (concubines, etc.) than for men as warrior slaves, and practically no demand for agricultural workers. The Muslim world does have a particular history in the question of sexual slavery, and therefore a particular duty to condemn and fight against the odious doctrinal claims of the ISIL fanatics.