Tunisa has recently (2018) seen significant reform in civil rights law – namely the criminalisation of racism within the country. The “Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” Act was passed on the 9th of October following a series of violent racially motivated incidents and a climate of severely entrenched racial discrimination and divide (see the Al-Jazeera documentary Tunisia’s Dirty Secret).
The penalty is severe. Offenders face one to three months in prison for racist language and one to three years for ‘inciting racial hatred, disseminating ideas about racial superiority, or supporting a racist organisation or activity’. In both circumstances, offenders face respective fines.
Although this may be sheer tokenism leaving the desolate problems of a racist society still festering, (separate school buses for Black children, widespread use of pejorative terms etc), Tunisia should at least in policy be emulated by other countries especially in the Maghreb. When referencing the Maghreb, we are talking about a region with no civil rights laws and no conception of racial justice and advocacy for downtrodden racial minorities.
Racially motivated atrocities in the Maghreb range from the recent catastrophe of slave trading in Libya (which comes at the tail end of a longer history of Libya trading Europeans and Africans) to the detention of racial justice activists in Mauritania (one for apparent apostasy) for decrying (as per a guardian report ) the ‘slavery like conditions’ Black Mauritanians are forced to undergo. Morocco and Algeria have their own fair share of racism that permeates deeply into their respective societies. The newly crowned Miss Algeria, Khadija Ben Hamou recently came under fire for her darker skin and African features facing internet trolls and racial abuse- a microcosm for the rampant colourism and discrimination within the country. More insidious than this is the complete lack of national asylum legislation which allows for the expulsion of thousands of sub-saharan Africans to Niger as well as the hateful hashtag ‘No to Africans in Algeria’, a divisive campaign against Sub Saharan migrants which went viral on social media. While Morocco has been on the front line in terms of welcoming migrants (in 2014 and 2016 regularising the status of 50000 undocumented migrants) the fact remains that in Morocco, racial intolerance remains where activists have had to denounce through social media and media outlets the inhumane treatment that Black people receive in Moroccan society.
As a platform representing the voices of Black Muslims especially in downtrodden conditions, Black Muslim Forum urges Maghrebi governments to follow Tunisia’s example and criminalise racial discrimination in their societies. Whilst this does not entirely solve the problem as widespread education is very much needed, policy change goes a long way to decrease the incentive of racists to act on their ideology.
Read more on:
 Grewal, Sharan, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/10/15/in-another-first-tunisia-criminalizes-racism/ October 15 2018
Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu is a researcher and writer for Black Muslim Forum. Her research interests cover the African diaspora, Islam and race, inter-generational trauma, African political thought and Black minorities in North Africa.
The inhumane treatment of Black people in the Maghreb must be criminalisedTweet