Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Closed Door in Darfur (Norman Geras)

The item below mostly speaks for itself.

Let me add one one small peripheral point. Some people argue that it is misleading to describe the ethnic conflict in Darfur as one between "Arabs" and "black Africans," since the janjaweed who are carrying out this atrocity--with support from Sudanese government forces--are really just semi-Arabized dark-skinned nomads who do not differ very much, in "objective" racial terms, from the people they are murdering. In a certain sense, this is correct. When Americans see these "Arabs" and "Africans" on TV, they look pretty much alike. In concrete social and political terms, it is also irrelevant (as irrelevant as pointing out that to divide the US population into "races" is scientifically fallacious). What is relevant is how the Sudanese involved in this atrocity--both victims and perpetrators--define the situation. In that context, the reality is that two ethnic groups have been increasingly distinguished as "Arabs" vs. "blacks" for decades, that the Khartoum regime has increasingly propagated an explicitly Arabist ideology, and that many of the people carrying out this assault on the agriculturalist population in Darfur describe and justify it in terms of an unambiguously racist Arab-supremacist ideology. (For some of the social and historical background see, just for one example, the article by Alex de Waal in the August 12, 2005 issue of the Times Literary Supplement--not yet available on-line--and this piece by Julie Flint & Alex de Waal in the Lebanon Daily Star, "Ideology in Arms: The Emergence of Darfur's Janjaweed")

But even if all this were not true, which it is, what is going on in Darfur would still be an overwhelming atrocity, and the failure of the "world community" to do anything serious to stop it would still be appalling.

It is also, incidentally, the largest ongoing mass murder, mass rape, and ethnic cleansing of Muslims taking place in the world right now (which makes the prevailing silence about it from the Arab & Muslim worlds all the more deafening).

--Jeff Weintraub


Norman Geras (Normblog)
August 29, 2005

The closed door in Darfur

Here's a report from 60 Minutes on Darfur:

(CBS) The United Nations has called it the greatest crisis in the world. The United States calls it genocide.

It's happening in the African nation of Sudan, and 60 Minutes went to see for ourselves. What we saw and what you will see again tonight is evidence of a government-backed campaign to wipe out a race.

There are at least 180,000 dead and more than 2 million on the run.
"The Janjaweed are like a grotesque mixture of the mafia and the Ku Klux Klan," says [John] Prendergast [of International Crisis Group]. "These guys have a racist ideology that sees the Arab population as the supreme population that would like to see the subjugation of non-Arab peoples. They're criminal racketeers that have been supported very directly by the government to wage the war against the people of Darfur."

Survivors say the attacks usually start at dawn, with bombs falling from planes of the Sudanese Air Force.

"And then here come the Janjaweed on camel or on horseback," Prendergast says. "They come rolling into the town, shooting and torching the village, often bringing women to the side and raping women indiscriminately. And in order to ensure that the destruction is complete, the government either sends ground forces to oversee the operation, or the attack helicopters, which often are the most deadly things."
What is the evidence that this is ethnic cleansing, or genocide?

"When the Janjaweed come in, and there is interaction between the Janjaweed and the local people, the Janjaweed are shouting ethnic slogans. They are saying, 'You blacks, you Zurga,' sort of like an equivalent of 'nigger.' 'Get out. You're slaves. You're hyena. Never come back,'" says [Samantha] Power. "When rape is committed, often the same epithets are issued. 'You're gonna give birth to a light-skinned child now.' They see their task, those who are racially motivated, as one of purification."

The rest contains much direct eyewitness testimony. From Saul Bellow:
I know now that humankind marks certain people for death. Against them there shuts a door.
(Thanks: Dave F.)