What struck me as much as what he said, was the way he said it, as if to imply that these poor Bengali workers were the slaves of this country. I quickly reminded him that they were free men, and asked him why he would equate them with slaves. However, despite my initial objection to his statement which was out of a gut reaction against what I feared was a racist comment, upon further reflection, I found some wisdom in it, that I had previously overlooked.
It is often complained that Mauritanians are some of the most racist people in the world, as indeed I would be strained to argue against; if you doubt this, try marrying the poorest Bedouin girl you can find, and see if even money can change the mind of her forbidding father. However, with the exception of a few truly ignorant and backwards people, most Mauritanians are not as racist as the seem to be. For example, in Mauritania you might see a man treating his servant like a slave. The master will be white (really closer to a dark red) and the slave will be black. It will set up the assumption in the mind of an American that they have a racist form of slavery which is akin to what was present in America over one hundred years ago.
However, after a while I started to notice, that there were actually black people, Arabs as well as senseless, and Nigerians, to name a few, who were treated with respect, or more specifically, just as normal peers by Mauritanians. Also, if one observes, one will find that the bedouins have a similar disdain and contempt for white (again red) Mauritanians who have settled in cities, learned French, and have traded their Bedouin traditions for a globalized consumeristic modernity.
It seems that the phenomenon that looks like racism is rather more akin to a sort of class sorting of society: those of higher virtue and merit in their unspoken Bedouin chivalric code are treated with more respect than those with lesser virtue; and although it usually follows that an honorable man has honorable sons, and that an ignoble man's children often take after their father, it is not a hard and fast rule. The system is complex and a person's placement in it requires long interaction and acquaintance, and is also subject to change.
It is so complex that even Mauritanian's will often be so simplistic as to not be able to follow it, conflating color or tribe with class and respectability. However before a black man or non-Arab gets too offended by such people, it is salient to note that people of such limited understanding and simplistic intellects are themselves usually the backbenchers of society, so their opinions are so insignificant that they are hardly worth mentioning, as are indeed the racist opinions of narrow-minded and petty people in all society. Lets face it, the common man wherever he be on this earth, is not the brightest or most enlightened one of the bunch. Rather than taking offence and getting upset by arguing with such people, it is better just to make du'ah for them and encourage them whenever you see the signs of human goodness in them; which indeed are as ubiquitous among normal people as is low intelligence.
So what is the importance of this in modern society? Why did I bring it up?
Well, I just wanted to make an interesting observation; despite that everyone now has their freedom from servitude, in fact, this particular Mauritanian's observation may not have been far from the mark. Its extrinsic seemingly racist character is easily drilled through to tap into its intrinsic observation that people really are of different qualities. The analogy to slavery only came easily to this individual because he happened to come from a society in which slavery (both de facto and in the remote desert, de jurie) still exists, whereas our bludgeoningly egalitarian societies often dupe people into overlooking the fact that certain characteristics ennoble some people over others.
This ties well into my previous thoughts regarding what I refer to as 'keeping it real,' or the ability of a person to act within the confines of a dignity that exhibits an internally satisfactory state, as opposed to one which displays an internal shallowness and insecurity.
I can logically extend that to apply it to many people in today's society, who, by materialistic standards may be 'ahead of the game,' but are in character no more than neo-slaves.
Shaykh Hamza once quoted some verses in Arabic; in translation they roughly are:
If you should hear of metal speak
And long long roads do become short
and the slave's fame shall people seek
then wait not long for the Mighty's court
I admit that it is a liberal translation and the verse is probably off, however, the import of in this verse is not those in bonded servitude, rather those whose respectability and low morals make them resemble the dregs of society. And isn't that who we have as our paradigms? As Americans, our president is a school flunky (he inherited it from an adulterer, who inherited it from a former chief of the CIA, who inherited it from an actor (although the inherent disgrace in being a flunky and a fornicator is apparent, at least to some, one may not be aware that in times gone past, being a spy was a dishonored position due to its excessive use of lying, treachery and invading the privacy of others, and being an actor was also an abased trade, because involved a trade which was altogether trivial... trite entertainment), and our celebrities are child-molesters, perverts, and drug addicts. The leaders of our business communities are usurers, perjurers, extortionists, liars, cheaters, and people who defraud one another, and the unadulterated and religious pursuit of money has been exalted.
That is just a picture of what today's 'slaves' are like in the USA.
Think of how sad the case is of those poor schlocks in the Muslim world who have abandoned the path of the Messenger of Allah, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and the path of his companions, and the saints, scholars, martyrs and righteous people of this Ummah.
A noble person, when he acquires wealth it is from a lawful and honorable source.
When he acquires wealth, he spends it in good ways and is restrained, neither wasting money nor showing it off excessively. A noble person is always sufficed by what Allah has given him.
A slave acquires money any way he can, due to his indigence for it.
When he spends it, it is in lavishness beyond his means, spent buying things he does not need, to impress people he does not like, and in the end it is never enough for him.
May Allah make us all from the ranks who he ennobles, and keep us on His straight path.
May Allah have mercy on the Ummah of our Liegelord Muhammad.
May the peace peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his folk, his companions, and all of those who follow in his path.