Monday, March 9, 2009

What kills the people of Darfur? (With footnote on mistaken comparisons between tragedies.)

If I look at a map, and go West and South from the (un)Holy Land, I see Sudan and I hear Darfur.

What kills the people of Darfur? (I link below to a must-read article from Kristof in the NYT.)

According to Mouammar Qadhafi, it's Israel. O well--even though former President W Bush and even the EU bestowed Kadafi the "good student" award and he is now an "ally" (sorry, trying not to choke on that), I don't pay much attention to this guy. [Side note: unlike Saddam Hussein, he directly involved himself in terrorist attacks against civilians.]

No, Israel is not killing Darfurians. Actually Israel is trying to deal with the problem of Sudanese refugees -- I don't know enough to judge whether it is doing better or worst than a lot of our Western countries.

It seems that what is killing Darfurians is:

1- extreme poverty and limited resources, which created a conflict around means for maintaining livelihood. With that seem to come barbaric standards for the respect of human life and the treatment of women.

2- a genocidal Sudanese governmental policy, with murder, rape and mayhem institutionalized at the highest level. It's very hard to qualify it as "racist" because the eye does not catch the race element in this conflict. The ethnic separation comes from identification to Arab culture and the respective weight of traditional beliefs and Islam in tribal culture. It's still horrible. And let's remember the Sudanese government only has violent, fatricidal problems with (1) the South of the country--which can't wait for independence after 2010, (2) the East of the country, and (3) Darfur, aka the West of the country. This is a government which only has legitimacy with a regional minority. It would be easier to have the North of the country and Khartoum demand annexation by Egypt and let the other regions become independent, than work with this abject and backward government.
3- The last thing which kills Darfuris is complacency from the West, from those with power; a complacency of nations manifested through their collective UN organ. (I don't blame the UN: the UN is doing some absolutely necessary work there. I've seen the UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR and WFP folks in two of the three Darfur capitals and I couldn't do what they do. NGOs also do a remarkable work. And no, the UN and the NGOs don't cost the same; but they also don't do the same thing.) But the problem remains one of insecurity and war and chaos.

Now, there are many reasons why the West doesn't want to push for what could lead to war with a Muslim regime. The Sudanese do have oil, but honestly not that much, and... last time we followed the hawks, well... Fallujah comes to mind. And at least they have coffee shops in Fallujah. There's nothing in Darfur. Lots of sand.
The last eight years have made such a mockery of international law and international responsibility, that the US -- in this case the indispensable leader, that's a fact -- is reasonably afraid of ending up with the bill. And there are a lot of bills to pay these days.

So, we do nothing... And people die. I think 40,000 died in the camps in 2007 alone. Say nothing of rape and forced displacement.

Read Nicholas Kristof's article: "Watching Darfuris Die."

But let me segway to mistaken comparisons with a familiar topic of this blog -- the Palestinian situation.

From the Israeli side, you often hear about the severity of the situation in Darfur and there are a number of citizen and NGO initiatives to try and do something. That's great and laudable.
You also hear of the death differential between Darfur, where many agree a genocide is occuring, although it's a strange genocide to be sure, and Palestine. If I remember correctly 600 Palestinians were killed in 2007. With the Gaza war, that number will have jumped to maybe around 2,500 for 2008. The Israeli government and advocates are prompt to compare that number with the stagering figures in Darfur. Usually, the implication of the comparison is that: (a) Israel is not committing genocide [I'll agree with that and I'm never comfortable when that term is used loosely]; and (b) the only reason the world cares about Palestinians (and not about Darfuris) is because we're all a bunch of antisemites (see a previous entry on this).

I disagree with that last assessment. I think the West's and the US's roles in these two conflicts is shameful, but the shame is of a different nature, just as the two conflicts are of a different nature.

* In Sudan, an Arab (or so it claims to be) backward fundamentalist underveloped autocrat is killing his own people by the thousands to pursue some weird ethno-religious ideology.
* In Israel/Palestine, a modern somewhat-democratic Western-like democracy (or so it is claimed) is pursuing a slow but effective strategy of ethnic cleansing without the name (migration would be preferred to war and death, but both can do the job), dispossession, and domination over another ethnic group, which made the mistake of being there first. Israel also wants to be a good guy; it's only when it comes down to the land on which Palestinians live that a 'higher mandate' demands ignoring principles.

Faced with this, the US and the West have a different burden of responsibility:

* For Sudan, we (Western nations) have identified the bad guys and we are either impotent or complacent, moving at the speed of a snail, and providing some efforts at protection of the population. The question is how forcefully we will oppose Bashir, the criminal president of Sudan?

* For Israel/Palestine, the US (more than its Euro-partners) funds Israeli efforts, equips its military, and votes resolutions of support for its wars. Band-aids thrown to Palestinians while undermining and destroying the structure of society simply don't redeem a conscience. America is not complacent (leave that to the Europeans); the question is when do we stop aiding and abeiting lawlessness? The question is - whether we like that idea or not - how complicit are we of occupation policies?

I hope and pray Obama and our leaders get us out of both complacency and complicity. It's time to at least make an effort to be moral again.


1 comment:

David said...

Wow. Your link reminded me that I hadn't visited your blog in a little while. This is a powerful analysis...thanks.