Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Darfur - The politics of indifference (Terry Glavin)

The pervasive indifference to the ongoing atrocity in Darfur is, to borrow Wole Soyinka's phrase, "a blot on the conscience of the world." The inaction and complicity of governments play a big role in facilitating this catastrophe, but an even more fundamental factor is the world-wide failure of public opinion, with just a few exceptions, to become significantly aroused or indignant about the slaughter, rape, starvation, and ethnic cleansing of civilians in Darfur. This failure is especially consequential in western Europe, where it has given governments both an excuse and an incentive to avoid serious action.

This indifference and unwillingness to act, or even face up to this atrocity at all seriously, is often accompanied by a perverse and ugly resentment against anyone who does take it seriously. For example, the admirable role of Jewish groups in the US in the movement to protest this massacre of black Muslims in Darfur has provoked bizarre conspiracy theories trying to prove that concern about Darfur is somehow a Zionist, imperialist, and/or anti-Islamic plot (some random illustrations are here and here, with an echo by the Khartoum government here). In a recent interview UN Deputy Secretary-General Marc Malloch Brown, who I believe would actually like to see some constructive action, pointed out that the governments of the US and Britain were pretty much the only major governments pressing for serious diplomatic pressure against the genocidal Khartoum regime. I would say that this is very much to the credit of these two governments, and I suspect that this has something to do with the fact that the US and Britain are just about the only countries where there has been much public mobilization about Darfur (combined, in Britain, with extensive and valuable coverage of the atrocity by the BBC and other serious news media). But Marc Malloch Brown did not mean it as praise. In their outrage, he said, the US and British governments are "out there alone, and its counter-productive, almost." Why "counter-productive"? "Sudan doesn't see a united international community. It doesn't see its oil customers [China and Russia] or its neighbours in that front row." Well, no, I'm sure it doesn't. But whose fault is that, pray tell?

These peculiar mixtures of indifference, apologetics, conspiracy-mongering, pseudo-"realist" complacency, misdirection of blame, and outright complicity take different forms in different regions and countries, but unfortunately some combination predominates almost everywhere. In the discussion below, the Vancouver-based writer and blogger Terry Glavin tries to make sense of the specific configurations of this moral failure in Canada, particularly within the Canadian left. Canada is a different country from the US, but many of the phenomena Glavin describes sound depressingly familiar. Some highlights:
In the case of Darfur, it is quite clear that the world is not drawing lessons from the past. And among the nations of the the world, Canada is perhaps particularly culpable, because Canada is uniquely positioned among the United Nations’ member states to put in motion a multilateral initiative that would end the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.
But Canada is not seizing this opportunity. Why?
It’s a long story, which I try to tell in my column today. A lot of it’s got to do with the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last January. The previous Liberal government had to be shamed into paying attention, and when the Conservatives were elected it was back to square one. But a key factor is also the strange silence of the Canadian left - among political activists, the “antiwar” movement, and social-justice advocates. In some cases, it’s not just silence, but outright and explicit opposition to any military intervention at all. [....]

Clement Apaak, the 36-year-old founder of Canadian Students for Darfur, started mobilizing campus support for a robust Canadian response as soon as it became obvious that the corrupt Islamist regime in Khartoum was arming Janjaweed militias to slaughter Darfur’s civilians.
Apaak describes a disturbing indifference to the Darfur slaughter that involves “some level of racial undertones” in all developed countries, but it’s the indifference within Canada’s “activist” left that Apaak says he finds especially galling. It’s a key reason why the effort to mobilize public support for meaningful action on Darfur has failed to gain any real traction in Canada.
“I consider myself centre-left, and I have been very active and vocal on a lot of issues, but I have to admit I have been very disappointed about the blatant silence of the left on this issue,” Apaak told me. [....]

The silence on Canada’s left is of a type that Mohamed Haroun, president of the Darfur Association of Canada, has also noticed among the religious leadership of Canada’s Muslims. Most of the dead Darfuris are Muslims who also happen to be black.
“If you can find out why the left has been so silent about this," Apaak said, "I would like to know.”
Wouldn't we all. But read Glavin's whole discussion (below).

--Jeff Weintraub
====================
Terry Glavin
September 28, 2006
Darfur and the Politics of the Left's Indifference


Above the thousand thousands buried here.
I am every old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me will ever forget this.


That's from the poem Babi Yar, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. It was 65 years ago today that the Jews of Kiev began to assemble under orders at the intersection of Melnikovsky and Dokhturov streets. From there they were taken in large groups to a ravine called Babi Yar, where they were instructed to take off their clothes and lie down on the pile of corpses already filling the ravine, in order to be shot. It took two days to kill 34,000 Jews in this way.

What has been happening in Darfur over the past two years is more or less the same thing, several times over. In today’s commemoration of the slaughter at Babi Yar, Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, observed: We must draw lessons from the past and apply them to the future. Babi Yar and the Holocaust were not crimes committed by outlaws or madmen – they were planned by politicians, they were prepared by bureaucrats, and they were carried out by soldiers.

In the case of Darfur, it is quite clear that the world is not drawing lessons from the past. And among the nations of the the world, Canada is perhaps particularly culpable, because Canada is uniquely positioned among the United Nations’ member states to put in motion a multilateral initiative that would end the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

But Canada is not seizing this opportunity. Why?

It’s a long story, which I try to tell in my column today. A lot of it’s got to do with the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last January. The previous Liberal government had to be shamed into paying attention, and when the Conservatives were elected it was back to square one. But a key factor is also the strange silence of the Canadian left - among political activists, the “antiwar” movement, and social-justice advocates. In some cases, it’s not just silence, but outright and explicit opposition to any military intervention at all.

And dainty ladies in Brussels frills,
Squealing, poke their parasols into my face.

Clement Apaak, the 36-year-old founder of Canadian Students for Darfur, started mobilizing campus support for a robust Canadian response as soon as it became obvious that the corrupt Islamist regime in Khartoum was arming Janjaweed militias to slaughter Darfur’s civilians.

Apaak describes a disturbing indifference to the Darfur slaughter that involves “some level of racial undertones” in all developed countries, but it’s the indifference within Canada’s “activist” left that Apaak says he finds especially galling. It’s a key reason why the effort to mobilize public support for meaningful action on Darfur has failed to gain any real traction in Canada.

“I consider myself centre-left, and I have been very active and vocal on a lot of issues, but I have to admit I have been very disappointed about the blatant silence of the left on this issue,” Apaak told me.

He blames a knee-jerk antipathy to the current United States administration, which is widely regarded as being hostile to the regime in Khartoum. Then there’s the irrational suspicions about the involvement of Jewish organizations in raising public awareness about the Darfur genocide - an irrationality that has been cunningly exploited by Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a proponent of the delusional theory that world Jewry intends to “redraw the region…in order to protect the Israelis, to guarantee the Israeli security”.

The silence on Canada’s left is of a type that Mohamed Haroun, president of the Darfur Association of Canada, has also noticed among the religious leadership of Canada’s Muslims. Most of the dead Darfuris are Muslims who also happen to be black.

“If you can find out why the left has been so silent about this," Apaak said, "I would like to know.”

Some insights into the the left’s silence on Darfur, and silence about the slaughter of Muslims generally, can be found here. Follow Gadi's links.

There is also this documentary, which Shalom Lappin brought to my attention yesterday. It features Shalom's views, along with the views of other Euston Group members such as Norman Geras and Alan Johnson. There is also the dedicated Eric Reeves to pay attention to.

Today, Bill O'Neill gets straight to the point of our responsibiity to protect Darfur here.

Incidentally, the photograph that accompanies this post is of Mihad Hamid, a one-year-old girl whose mother was killed while attempting to escape an attack from helicopter gunships and Janjaweed marauders on a Darfuri village. That’s a bullet in Mihad’s back. She is believed to have died within hours of the photograph being taken.

The story of that photograph, and of the brave photographer who took it, is here.

The "Internationale," let it thunder
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.

Remember Babi Yar. On to Darfur.
---------------
posted by Transmontanus at 11:24 AM

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