Thursday, August 18, 2005
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The things we think and do not say
Somewhere in the field of American foreign policy there is room for a paper with the title of that document with which Tom Cruise's character Jerry MacGuire began a major career transition. The subject of the paper would be human rights catastrophes in what used to be known as the Third World, particularly the genocide in Darfur.
What do we think but do not say? Well, for starters, we think that Arabs do not care very much about human rights. To be more precise, and more accurate, Arabs feel deep and genuine outrage when an Arab male is treated with something less than respect by a non-Arab and especially by a Jew; Arabs mistreated by other Arabs are of less concern. Non-Arabs being shot, blown-up, gang-raped or starved by Arabs are no problem at all, whether they are Muslim or not and perhaps especially if they are black Africans.
Many cultural attitudes, including this one, have deep historic roots; these are not my primary concern here. What matters instead is that keeping silent about large things carries a heavy price.
The New Republic ran a useful primer on the Darfur situation on its web site a short while ago, by Smith College Professor Eric Reeves; his assessment of where things stand now in Sudan -- this also contains material on the north-south civil war that has gone on there since the early 1980s -- is well worth reading as well.
Reeves is an expert on this subject; I am not. Yet even Reeves fails to note what to the casual observer appears fairly central to this grim story -- namely, that the protracted war against a civilian population of Darfur is considered an outrage, a horror, and an affront to humanity by the United States, by European peoples and governments, and by several African states, but by no Arab government and hardly any Arab media. Arabs are not represented among relief workers or peacekeepers in Darfur, all of whom come from countries much farther away than Egypt or Saudi Arabia; Arab contributions to humanitarian relief funds, according to a UN report, have been negligible. Terrorism has, rather late in the day, become a major issue of Arab Muslim theologians and intellectuals; not so genocide carried out by Arab Muslims against a mostly Muslim population over more than two years.
Let us note the most obvious consequence of this before saying anything else -- it makes action to stop genocide exponentially more difficult for the United States and other countries who would like to when the Arab government in Khartoum feels no pressure from other Arab governments or Arab media. This is true intellectually and morally; it is also true physically, since humanitarian relief and peacekeeping in Darfur cannot stage through nearby Egypt or Libya and must instead be maintained across the whole breadth of the Sahara Desert, like a dumbbell held at arm's length.
Now, it is very likely that the great majority of people in the Arab countries do not support genocide in Darfur. Many of them may not even know where it is. It is not something that the media available in Arab countries has covered extensively. And silence by Arab governments and media has not been challenged by Western governments and media.
I don't mean to pick on The New York Times here; there are worse offenders. But it does seem oddly symbolic that of the two Times columnists who write most frequently about the Arab world one -- Nick Kristof -- has published many pieces about genocide in Darfur without ever writing one about Arab indifference to it or what that might mean, while the other --Tom Friedman -- writes "whither the Arabs" commentary regularly without mentioning Darfur at all.
With respect to governments, it is tempting to suggest that this would be a good subject on which to unleash one of John Bolton's famous tirades on the United Nations. There is no reason, though, that other governments must be silent unless the United States speaks. Distasteful and occasionally repellent though the task can be, the United States often has to do business with the more barbarous governments of the world -- it was central to brokering the fragile settlement of Sudan's north-south civil war, for example. It should not be too much to expect Canada, say, or Germany to do something useful for a change and challenge Arab indifference to genocide in the UN or some other international forum.
Are we talking fundamentally about an Arab issue here? Looked at globally, we are not. Other human rights disasters are taking place as I write this -- the destruction of Zimbabwe, the decades-long nightmare of North Korea -- and the conduct of South Africa and China, respectively, toward these situations is inexplicable without mention of the indifference of these governments to human rights and human suffering. A humane, stable world order is unlikely to establish itself if only North American, European and a few other governments are willing to build it. And that is the case right now.
Arab indifference to Arab genocide does not, of course, excuse inadequate efforts by Western countries to aid its victims. Nor does South Africa's weak and cowardly support of Zimbabwe's kleptocrats or Beijing's embrace of its comrade in Pyongyang mean the West has no responsibilities in these situations. But surely one of those responsibilities is to lay aside our reflexive political correctness and say something about the things we know to be true.posted by Joseph Britt on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM
A note to readers: A technical glitch led to this post from last Wednesday disappearing from the site. I was able to recover the text but not any comments posted previously. So if after reading this you have a vauge sense of deja vu, that's why.posted by: Zathras on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
"Many cultural attitudes, including this one, have deep historic roots; these are not my primary concern here."
You would be doing a service by expanding on this if you have the background available.posted by: Michael Carroll on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
Funny, the original one is still there - complete with all the comments.posted by: Hal on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
Ahem, I hate to be tedious, but let me note that al Jazeera began coverage of Dar Fur quite a while back, and it has been featured on al Arabiya as well - including just this past week on a talk show (which focused on, in part, asking why the Arab governments were doing nothing).
Real points, but, overdrawn, rather overdrawn.posted by: collounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
I am amazed how much of a racist you are. And further how uninformed you are as well. But I guess the two go hand in hand.
1) You obviously don't watch aljazeera which has probably covered Darfur more then all the american news programs put together.
3) And your racism against Arabs is utterly sickening. You have obviously never spent time in the arab world or you would know how stupid you sound when you say that arabs don't care about their brutal/corrupt leaders or societies.
4) And the sad irony is that the USA has caused a massive genocide in Iraq since 1991, but that is considered "freedom" by assholes like you. I guess if you are ultra-religious, maybe death is a type of freedom. But Americans, and the US government, talk tough with little substance. To put some context to something that has yet to change after 60 years, let me just quote MLK:
I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent...posted by: ahmed on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
All right, here we go...
News items about Libya and Darfur include releases about a Libyan decision not to increase tariffs on jet fuel purchased by a UN agency by some 250%. This is billed as assistance to the relief effort. They include, further, news releases about a conference Libya agreed to host last spring to which it invited the Sudanese government and its Arab allies plus Chad and Nigeria. Unsurprisingly Darfuri organizations declined to attend an event stacked against them.
As to whether Arabs care about, as you say, "brutal/corrupt governments," I am open to persuasion. Let them prove it. Actually, I don't think America has a vital interest in the details of how countries thousands of miles from us are governed, though naturally moves away from dictatorships and rule by bloody-minded clerics is always welcome. Mass murder, though, is over the line. It should never have been allowed to start by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments -- no one's asking them to solve all the world's problems, but they are always quoted as resenting interference from the infidel West in Arab affairs. Fine; don't wait for Western interference in Darfur.
I haven't brought up Saddam Hussein's regime at any point when I've written about Darfur, but the fact of the matter is that every Arab regime had much closer relations with it, and with him, than the United States did going back to the 1970s. They knew, and were silent about, the kind of regime he ran and the crimes he was responsible for; they would have gone along with his invasion of Kuwait if America hadn't stepped in, and after 1991 most of them supported Anglo-American efforts to contain Iraq while publicly bewailing how unfair it was that a regime that had attacked four of its neighbors in the last twelve years had sanctions applied to it. Whose fault was the suffering of Saddam's people? It was his, first of all, and the fault of the Iraqis who served him. But Arab governments can take no pride in conducting such a two-faced policy for so many years.
Here, a digression: from someone now living in the Atlanta area with all respect to Dr. King, he was completely wrong about Vietnam. Only the magnitude of his achievements on behalf of civil rights has prevented his foolish statements about foreign policy from being a stain on his memory. The cause of the Vietnam War was the Communist government of North Vietnam's determination to subjugate all of Indochina, an objective they finally achieved. They established a ruthless Communist dictatorship over their own country; they sponsored and worked hand-in-hand with Cambodian allies who committed genocide on a scale that makes Darfur look like an unruly rock concert. Martin Luther King did not have a background in foreign affairs, and he was poorly advised in this area by some of the people around him. He did not live to see the Communist victory in Vietnam. If he had, I do not think it is likely he would have maintained his view that the war there was primarily the fault of those who sought to resist Communist aggression.
Lastly, about the racism thing: I am unconcerned with the label. Americans have been called many worse things over the years, very often by people unwilling -- at a minimum -- to accept any responsibility of their own for making this world a less unforgiving place. The relief effort in Darfur right now is being led by Americans -- I mean here no offense to the many European aid workers or the African countries who are straining their limited resources to help the victims of a situation they did not cause -- and the diplomacy to stop the violence in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan is being led by the American government. Arabs and Arab governments have done next to nothing about Arab genocide for over two years. Change that, and you can call me any name you want.posted by: Zathras on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
First, thanks for your direct response.
In respect to one very specific point, you say "If al Jazeera or other Arab language media are starting to notice the situation and discuss it on air, on the other hand, that is a good first step." but this it just totally wrong. The Arab media (and especially aljazeera) have been consistently showing the suffering in sudan on a far far greater level then the American media (which basically boils down to the occasional article by Nicholas Kristof). Often (in the past especially, and probably still, though i have not been watching as much lately) aljazeera will lead its news with a Darfur story. this is especially surprising considering that its view of pan-Arabism seems to put more emphasis of the active foreign born conflicts like Palestine and Iraq. But, you are just plain mistaken to think that they don't cover it. though I don't have the tape archives to prove it to you, and i don't know of a specific study, one way you can get something of an idea is to do a search of aljazeera's english website (english.aljazeera.net) for "Darfur" and find the hundreds of articles about it, even current ones. and, i will admit that the english website and the tv station are not exactly the same. but if anything, the website covers much less overall news, so it is probably under representative of the tv coverage. and, i am sure rumsfield has expressed to you how important aljazeera is in the arab world, so i feel you should just take my word for it that you are wrong about arab coverage of the darfur crisis. if anything you should be asking why Nicholas D Kristof is basically the only american coverage of the same genocide, or even why anyone gives a damn about some stupid girl in aruba... my point about Libya is that they have done a lot to help in Darfur, and so has Egypt. maybe they don't fund the AU's military assistance like the usa does, but nor are they 20% of the world's GDP. but they do work on a political level, which will probably do more to solve to problem in the long-run then sending troops. but, using the colonial mind, they are uncivilized people who only understand force... oh, and let me remind you that the google news search is not historically comprehensive (I don’t think it searches archives). my point in including it was that even on a daily basis there is work in the Arab world (and especially Libya) on darfur. Admittedly today is not the most comprehensive news day, but it shows that they are doing things. and, if you do the same search for the "USA Darfur" you don't get any word of what the good ol' usa is doing, even if a lot of NGOs in the usa are trying to help.
as for the sanctions and the destruction the USA has rained down on Iraq, even now the current American government admits that Iraq was basically fully disarmed in the early 90's and that the sanctions should have been lifted then. so, we can talk about the brutality of Saddam, and he was obviously brutal, but he was not the one responsible for the deaths of those hundreds of thousands of innocent people. (and, you can tell me about the palaces he built, blah blah... but those were not what killed people in the sanctions or the wars. and, i don't hear any Americans in the "green zone" complaining about them now that they live in them.) And, for another example, Saddam was not responsible for the current war, which he tried to avoid it with great effort. just because the American media reported that everything he tried to do was a trick or a lie, does not mean that was the case. if anything, the sad part is that such a man like Saddam was actually vindicated by the facts, while bush was proven to be the butcher in this case. and, mind you, Iraq was suffering from the sanctions but it was more or less at peace before this current war. so it is pretty true on its face that the massive violence of the war (whether that is the violence of war itself or the gang violence that is tied to it) is the fault of the Americans. From my understanding, the Lancet study is an understatement, so we are talking well over 100,000 people killed so far in this war. I have read credible estimates that Saddam killed in the order of 280,000 people in his time as president of iraq (that does not include the Iran or other wars, and maybe you have a better estimate). But he was in power since 1978. it seems to me that the USA killed more with the sanctions alone, according to UNICEF (and confirmed by Ms. Albright, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.") oh, and to be clear, i brought up Iraq because you wanted to talk about genocide.
Further, my point about your racism seem to have been admitted by you (or at least accepted that it was my view). But even if that was not the case, let me make my point more clear. As a starting point, I will admit that the Middle East is a brutal region. But you use the words "muslim" and "Arab" with a lack of specificity that makes it sound as though you do indeed think that "muslims" and "Arabs" are uncivilized masses. I wonder what you think the defining qualities of an "Arab" or a "muslim" are. maybe it is that they hate the USA or are in support of "terrorism". Further, even your focus on "terrorism" has a similar ring to something like my saying that black people are crack addicts and criminals. From the way you talk, it seems very much as though you look upon these billions of people as such. And this smacks of the typical American white exceptionalism (though, mostly plain american exceptionalism), where the victims of crimes are blamed for their crimes. Or where you only look at how the crime affected you and not why anyone would be mad enough to do a crime. Where fighting back is labeled as "terrorism". Where black people are uppity because they no longer want to be treated like shit. i suggest you get a better grip on the Arab world before you go spouting about how pathetic arabs are for not condemning themselves more. You seem to come to the table with the view that everything the USA does is good and just, and if you do that, you automatically are giving the views and actions of everyone else a lower status. even if I accept that you do not actually hate Arabs and Muslims as inferior, it seems pretty clear that you do have a tacit racism in thinking the USA is better defacto.
as for you comment "whether Arabs care about, as you say, "brutal/corrupt governments," I am open to persuasion. Let them prove it." i should only have to ask you why in god's name you think the Brotherhood is such a force in Egypt and the greater Middle East? or why Hizbullah has become such an opposition force in Lebanon. why so many opposition forces have grown up in Palestine, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran (not Arab, but the same principle applies), Yemen, Oman, the gulf states, morocco and the like. By definition, opposition forces exist because the people in them are unhappy with the current states of being. and, usually, the main point is that they are unhappy with the brutality/corruption of the current governments. The Brothers are probably the best example. even though they are completely opposite of the ideologies of the leftist forces in Egypt, they have joined with them to try to force out Mubarak. you may be scared of the Brothers because they actually represent most of the Egyptian masses in their anger and distrust of Mubarak, the USA and Israel, but they are an obvious expression of the disgust that Egyptian society has for the brutality of their society. For a more concrete example, the 1979 revolution in Iran was an amazing expression of a country’s almost total disgust with their government. Every government in the region lives in daily fear of the exact same thing happening to them. And that is one of the main reasons they are so brutal. It is not because they love the taste of blood.
As for MLK, I have no desire to fight you on this point. But just make clear that he was accurate factually. The USA killed about 25% of the entire population of Vietnam. They Killed over 4 million Koreans. Even if you think the causes were just and the points Dr. king made were in essence wrong, he was factually correct. And the same is basically still true today in the way that the USA is involved in war. It is a sad state of affairs when Iraq has become more brutal then Chechnya, Columbia or even Congo. It is a fact that, as Dr. King did say, the USA is “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” This is even more of a tragedy in that the USA has the means to be the greatest purveyor of peace, as was the case with the tsunami relief. As the biggest and more powerful country, the USA just plain has the most responsibility for world affairs. It has direct responsibility for its actions in cases where it is directly involved like the giant military base we call the Middle East, and it indirect responsibility in places like Darfur or Congo where it has the greatest means to create peace. In cases like Darfur or Congo, I can accept if the USA does not fulfill that responsibility, that is a matter of generosity really. But I can not accept when it is not held responsible in places where it has its hands directly in the dough.
The moral of my story is that you just plain don’t seem to know what you are talking about in terms of the actual facts, and further that you come to the table with an obvious bias that distorts your view. At the least, learn what you are talking about before you start talking. Because you are not making sense at best, and you are being racist about it at the same time. At least I think so.
I suppose Zathras is the same as the author of the arty?
Well, no matter, let me respond in ful as if he were.
The Arab Sats, and in particular al-Jazeerah have not "just" begun to notice the nastiness in Dar Fur, al-Jazeerah started coverage (critical coverage in fact) well before the west picked up this little bit of civil war cum ethnic cleansing (genocide? eh, words mean things, genocide this is not, horrible nasty bloody ethnic cleansing yes, genocide, no).
To blither on like a fool and not know this merely indicates that the writer doesn't know what the boody fuck he is actually speaking to.
Now, there is a real point there, but I have to say, I think our Ahmed has a point - there is a lot of pretension in the claims, but rather poorly informed and a bit of a reek of sort easy superiority complex. Racism, well that's a strong word. Certainly some rather silly pimpery and self congratulation based on thin information.
Pity as there is an argument in there, like the prior post that has good merit and real grounding, although it's being spoiled by idoicy.posted by: Lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
By the way, the overall argument would sound less pompously ill-informed, and less moderately prejudiced if it were reframed in the rather more accurate characterisation that early Arab criticism faded away to mutism when outsiders began to pay attention.
There is some rich point of reflexion there, and far better than the overdrawing of the argument you've done so far.posted by: Lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
Ah, I see I should have read Akh Ahmed's response (wink wink) as well.
Bien, in regards to what Ahmed writes supra re al-Jazeerah coverage of Dar Fur - time depth and the like - I personally agree with, and since I am a regular consumer of the Arab Sats (as an expat in the region, priv. sec. you know and fluent Arabic speaker) I was more than slightly surprised actually.
All in all I should say that while the state medias have been defeaning in their silence al-Jazeerah and to a less extent al-Arabiyah have had decent and more or less sustained coverage (fading out for a bit but seems to be coming back - I'm not a bloody media monitor so of course I can't give numbers).
A side note, I don't read the websites often, but I would caution the website coverage feels generally different than broadcast (which is of course how it is generally consumed) - I say that as a general matter not in regards to the subject (pro or con) but as a general analytical point.
Zathras presumptions supra, let me say again, there is a core of a good argument and I don't disagree overall with the thinking, but you've badly overdrawn your argument based it appears on ... well not knowing some basic facts. I'd cop and admit to, mate, as there are more important underlying themes (indeed Arab tendancy to excuse own sins when faced with outside criticism - rather typical actually when I come to think of it of nationalism in general). Be a sport, stop lecturing and have a chat as its clear neither Ahmed nor I are some whinging ill-informed gits.
Now, have to fuck off and get drunk.posted by: Lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
To digress, obviously MLK was basically right about Vietnam. Seeing the war as simply a struggle against communism is an error Americans have been making since the 50's. The nationalistic impulse among our enemies in Vietnam was at least as strong as any other motive. The failure of iraqis to shower us with rice and flowers is fair proof of this kind of phenomenon.
Particulary given that the qoute offered deals more with violence in the U.S. than in Vietnam, your point about MLK does not seem reasonable.posted by: Michael Carroll on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
M. C.: I have no trouble admitting the North Vietnamese loved their country so much they thought it had the right to subjugate three of its neighbors. As to the strength of their belief in Communism, I would think the endurance of the Communist regime after the war ended would be evidence enough of that. As a rule I think it wise, when people proclaim their beliefs year after year for decades on end, to take them at their word.
To ahmed and lounsbury, whom I thank for their detailed responses: we will have to agree to disagree about the post-Gulf War sanctions on Iraq. From my point of view they could have been avoided had the first Bush administration not decided to declare victory and leave Saddam Hussein in power after Iraqi troops were driven from Kuwait, and America bears a heavy burden of responsibility for that mistake. Otherwise, though, the responsibility -- all of it, every last bit of it -- for the suffering endured by Iraqis during the 1990s, and before than, and after that, rests with Saddam Hussein and the people who worked for him and fought for him. Lounsbury's point about the Arab tendency to excuse their own sins by blaming others for them is relevant here. Saddam Hussein did not on Iraq from the sky; he was a product of Iraqi culture right through, and if his country is to know something better in the future something about that culture is going to have to change.
Eventually, assuming he does not die of natural causes first, Saddam and his closest associates will be tried for what they did, and they will be hanged for it. Not, I hope, before they are given an opportunity to express shame and apologize for everything they did and for everything they were.
I cannot speak to all your other points, but let me say two things. First of all, you will never read anything from me defending the volume of media attention to stories like the one about missing girl in Aruba.
Second, people concerned with action and people concerned more with motives are always likely to be talking past one another. My concern in the post here, in the column I wrote for the Washington Post on this subject last month, and in my posts on Greg Djerejian's Belgravia Dispatch site last spring, is the genocide in Darfur (authorities more competent in these matters than I are decided that genocide is the appropriate term). It's little comfort to the Sudanese government's victims when Qadhafi decides to make a propaganda gesture or when press stories featuring quotes from the Sudanese foreign minister appear on al Jazeera. And frankly, while Arabs who have expressed concern about this appalling human catastrophe are to be commended -- well, as we used to say here, fine words butter no parsnips.
I'm not especially interested, in this context, in Arab motives, or Arab dignity. Respect comes from deeds worthy of respect. As I've written elsewhere Saudi Arabia -- any one of the oil states actually -- could pay for more aid than Darfur could use out of petty cash. States in West Africa, many of them with very limited resources, are straining to send peacekeeping troops to a region on the other side of the continent, and countries in North American and Europe that have no interests in the western Sudan are providing the bulk of the humanitarian assistance. If there are any Egyptian peacekeeping troops in Darfur, or Egyptian aircraft enforcing a no-fly zone there; if there are anywhere near the number of relief workers in Darfuri refugee camps from Kuwait, Syria or Saudi Arabia as those countries are sending to Iraq to blow up civilians in bus stations; or if any of the oil states has announced, with oil prices at 60$+ a barrel, that they will match the aid contributions pledged by the United States, Britain or other Western countries it has escaped my attention. Perhaps only al Jazeera's Arabic service has covered it.
A final observation: the people of Darfur are now, and have been for the last two years, suffering a lot more than the indignity of being lectured. Perhaps it is unfair of me to point this out, but the responses to on this thread have dwelt on the alleged racism, bigotry and what have you of the lecture, and have not said one word about the racism inherent in the mass killing of black Africans by Arabs. If you are looking for a reason why I treat a charge of racism with so little regard, that one will do.posted by: Zathras on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
Well, here I thought I might get less annoyed.
Authorities more competent? Well I don't give a fuck about political authorities and their posturing. Dar Fur is certainly ethnic civil war, it's ethnic cleansing also - rather looks like the Balkans in many ways. That was not called genocide. I reiterate, I like words to have meanings other than "I need a bloody scare word to have like a bloody flag."
That aside, don't be an idiot. "Arab" and "black (African)" are not exclusive categories, however much certain religious and political groups want to pimp the point. Certainly in this case the "Arab" militias doing the killing are every bit as bloody black as the "Black Africans" (they're bloody black camel nomads who've over the years been Arabised). It's a piece of fine idiocy to lap up the deliberate illiteracy being pimped by various partisan parties on this point. You then can take your moronic posturing in response to Ahmed's note to you on racism and stuff it up your arse. It's no more bloody informed than your posturing regarding the Arab media and coverage, one thing I can't bloody stand is ignorant and aggressively so posturing.
Now, as to the issue of general "central" Arab world racism versus their darker skinned confreres, that certainly exists and while not as bad as old Euro world racism is something to be addressed. Certainly not by you, as far as I can tell.
Howver, rather than your tenditious attempt to guilt your critics in regards to the critique - let's make a rundown, shall we:
Both sides are bloody black, it's an ethno-liinguistic not a 'racial' issue; settled Fur speaking agrarians against nomadic camel raising Arabic speakers with a nasty bit of Sudan central government cynical exploitation of the situ thrown in to make things even less edifying.
Bad enough on that without confusing the bloody facts with facile ignorance and ill informed assumptions.
But again, let's keep in mind ethno-linguistic based warfare is bloody nasty all by itself, as Bosnia.
So, one more mark on your ignorance and poorly framed claims column.
(ii) General on Arab racism: here is something to be marked - and a real argument. There's certainly no small degree of Arab world disdain for Sudan generally tied to a vaguely racial sense that none of the Sudanese are really Arab-civilised, part of the Ummah, etc.
A sort of polite sort of racism. It's certainly played a part (I should say in my opinion in more or less precisely the same way it does in the West where black Africans -Arab or Fur speaking, whatever- dying is just not that interesting outside some restricted circles.
(ii) Commentary: Here simply you were and are wrong. There has been commentary, and frankly more sustained and extensive than in the West. Your point regarding the American columnists taking Arabs to task for not discussing the issue was facile, wrong and frankly silly. If you don't actually know what is being said, pretending you do is plain foolish. Niether yourself nor the columnists make any points or convince anyone by doing such (except in the negative). So don't.
Now, one could argue that Arab commentary could be stronger, more sustained and indeed more aimed at getting the governments to do something - valid points to make although in the context where Western commentary has been a weak, one might best not take the arrogant tone of superiority that you have - being an arrogant bastard myself I understand the temptation, but it works best when you're on stronger ground.
(iii) Action: Now here is an excellent point to critique the Arabs. On one hand talking about but never actually doing anything in pan-Arab fora is de rigeur, indeed actual action would be something of a stunning surprise. I certainly might fall over in a faint. On the other hand, it is a useful point to make that if they do not do anything, then of course outsiders will intervene. The Arab general posture of having it both ways (whinging on about foreign intervention but depending on it to get things done) is unhealthy all around.
Again, to wrap up, a worthy issue to raise, it's simply a pity your commentary is informed largely superficially and rather too much by simple stereotype.
One can be rather more convincing by being rather more informed.
Ah yes, respect does come from deeds, you might recall that when posturing on issues you seem to be very superficially informed about.
I would also add that normally when dealing with other actors, taking a sneering tone of superiority when one's own hands are not clean usually is counter productive. But then I am not a writer in North America making pronouncements from on high, I only work in the region and get things done in the private sector. I am sure those far removed are best informed about approaches.
posted by: lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
" the responses to on this thread have dwelt on the alleged racism, bigotry and what have you of the lecture, and have not said one word about the racism inherent in the mass killing of black Africans by Arabs."
"Arab" in the context of Sudan doesn't mean what you probably think it does. Browse through photos of the janjaweed and their victims and you might see why.
For some reason, many muslim ethnicities (south of the sahara too) will call themselves Arabs or Arab-descended, even when they have less Arab genes than the average Spaniard.(Purity of descent, Nearer My God To Thee and all that. Like the belief held by some Igbos [black, sub-Saharan, Bantu, Christian] that they are descended from the lost tribe of Israel. It beggars belief.)
Saudis are a priggish lot, I doubt any of them particularly identify with the janjaweed or other northern sudanese, any more than a redneck would identify with a wetback. It's no excuse of course. But you got to stop viewing everything through a 911-prism. Makes no sense most of the time if you do that. Shit in this part of the world goes back a long way. Before 2001, even.
BTW, I like the job you've been doing here. You ought to get your own blog, if you haven't already.posted by: Elliott Oti on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
I see that Lounsbury posted a tad before I did. What he said.posted by: Elliott Oti on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
a quick point is that Sudan and Egypt are very strange bedfellows on the average day. Since i know you don't know, one main reason for this is that there is constant talk in Cairo policy circles about how Egypt would attack Sudan if they ever started to use Nile water for farming and stuff. Because Egypt gets a huge chunk of its energy from the Aswan High Dam. so, Egypt being involved in trying to solve the Darfur crisis is both self-serving and dangerous for them. Also, you may or may not know that Qaddafi is generally considered a hero in Africa (for one, he is a close friend of Nelson Mandela). And one obvious thing about Qaddafi is that he is not one for idle bullshit. My point being that these two nations specifically are seriously working to help solve the crisis in Darfur, thy have serious reasons to be and they are leading nations in Africa. you may want to call it propaganda, but you are wrong. And i am sure there are daily talks in both capitols on solving the problems in Darfur. You clearly don't seem to understand that there is a need for a deeper peace in darfur then simply sending troops in to stop the fighting. And you obviously don't even know why there is a conflict in Darfur or who is even involved in it. But, the people of Darfur are probably living in the most fragile place in the world today. Any spark can (has and will) cause lots of hunger and suffering. so, while you assume that everything Qaddafi does is propaganda, i am of the view that he will likely do more to actually fix the problems in the long run then the USAF would.
Also, again to defend Qaddafi, his having a peace conference is a lot more then a propaganda move. and any peace conference is more then the simple dinner meeting, like the Dayton accords from the Yugoslav wars, a ton of other effort goes into trying to do that kind of thing... anyway, since much of what is going on is not public, it is hard for me to talk about it much further.
as for the saudis, i agree, they are not helping as much as they should. and it is sad. but they are not alone. hundreds of other countries are not helping. and that is sad as well.
and i also agree that there is a type of racism in the Arab world against black Africans that is very sad. just one example, because mr. britt obviously doesn not know this, but in many Arab countries, the literal translation for the Arabic word for black person is "slave". but i will be completely clear that most arab countries are more racially integrated today then the USA is, and that it is not even near as violent a racism as in the west (as lounsbury said).
I am sick of this discussion though. Mr. Britt has no idea what he is talking about, and comes to the table with a basic view that Arabs are inferior and that the USA can do no wrong (except that it does not use enough war)... Even as far as the USA having no responsibility for sanctioning to death hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis...posted by: ahmed on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
If I may, a further note for Mr Britt.
While I have written in comments some fairly strong criticisms, I do want to note that I did like your writing and the fact you tried to engage the topic.
However, it is also painfully clear you come to the table on the Middle East with a lot of baggage and no few misconceptions. That is, I am afraid, rather too typical, and the tone of sneering superiority based on rather a lot of thinly spread knowledge is most unhelpful. Which is a pity as rather clearly if you took a step back from party political framed comments and dug in you would no doubt make better, stronger, and more convincing criticisms (as e.g. your comments on the Sov influence, a genuinely neglected point, that you sadly spoiled by over-drawing and via making factual errors as in re Sadaam and Shah). Again, the balanced and informed approach, the friendly and non-contemptously hostile critique has more influence in this part of the world -as everywhere really- should you genuinely have an interest in that. Of course if the purpose is simply to play to domestic American politics and poorly informed prejudices re the Arab world do feel free to make poorly framed, poorly informed and sweeping statements.
By the way Ahmed, you should drop by Aqoul.com, a group blog a collegue of mine set up for just these reasons; some comment from your kind of perspective (and Mr Britt's as well when he is not vastly overdrawing his argument) would be interresting.
posted by: lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
A side thought, Ahmed on a common word for black notes it is synonymous with a word for slave. That would be Abid, oddly in the Maghreb a common unconscious slur is Khdem, "servent" or "worker" in modern usage. Not perhaps quite as bad as the Mashreqi usage of Abid, but it does clearly suggest the automatic lower status.
And yet intermarriage is not uncommon (but has dropped in 'modern' times).
I have had the sense from my fairly extensive years aroud the region that racist sentiment - in a Euro - North American sense - is strongest in the palest part of the region; the Sham. Might be wrong, but the generally pretty "white" Lebs and Syrians I have known have expressed the most startlingly direct racist statements about their darker "brothers" - I can not recall hearing old school Euro-American racist statements from Gulfies or Maghrebine or Egyptians. Some prejudice to be sure.
But that's very impressionistic, and I am merely a businessman, not a scholar.posted by: lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
I thank all posters for their time and comments. Their reaction, by and large and on a very small scale, was exactly what I had hoped to provoke.
I said in the main post:
"Are we talking fundamentally about an Arab issue here? Looked at globally, we are not. Other human rights disasters are taking place as I write this -- the destruction of Zimbabwe, the decades-long nightmare of North Korea -- and the conduct of South Africa and China, respectively, toward these situations is inexplicable without mention of the indifference of these governments to human rights and human suffering. A humane, stable world order is unlikely to establish itself if only North American, European and a few other governments are willing to build it. And that is the case right now."
The same kind of discussion, in somewhat different terms, might be conducted about recent events in Zimbabwe: one side would be anxious that outsiders not judge the actions of Mr. Mugabe and his associates and be aware of the (private and ineffectual) disapproval by other African governments of his actions, while the other would see this as mere convenient indifference to the once-prosperous people he has reduced to the edge of starvation over the last three years. A much more complicated discussion is beginning to be conducted about North Korea. And we are many years into one on a disaster produced by man but not directly by any government's policy, the AIDS epidemic.
Much as it may appear that such discussions are so many ships passing in the night, they are exactly what needs to happen. With the best will, the Western countries cannot prevent every manmade human catastrophe in the world, or the destabilizing influence of such catastrophes on the regions around them. They will happen again and again, unless nations besides those in Europe and North America are as determined not to let them.
Right now that's not the case. To begin to change it -- and distasteful though this will be to many -- we will need to have all the people who think that Western insensitivity is a bigger issue than mass murder; that Qadhafi's propaganda is actually a grand humanitarian gesture; or that idle chatter rather than action is what we ought to be noticing with respect to the other Arab states and Sudan, to come out of their holes and proclaim their views from the rooftops. They need to be answered in the same way. No one ever got anywhere with the enablers of people like Mugabe -- still less with the government in Khartoum -- by taking a tone of sweet reasonableness, let alone, one is tempted to add, by the aloof detachment of the longtime expat gone native.
I want these people in the white light; I want those things their apologists and enablers find awkward, embarrassing or even painful about these situations to be as awkward, embarrassing and painful as possible. If some level of cultural transformation is involved at some point down the way, at least to the extent of people feeling a responsibility hitherto unknown for what goes on in their country's neighborhood, well and good. At the end of the day the very least we will understand is who the victims are in a place like Darfur, who is responsible for the crimes against them, and who was more concerned with maintaining solidarity with the criminals than succoring the victims.posted by: Zathras on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
Well, what a fucking fundamentally dishonest response.
By the points, then, my dear liar.
(i) "my interlocutors here have only to say that it is "very sad" and unpleasant, but not genocide"
Well, that's a bloody mischaracterisation if there ever was one, but I suppose a useful dodge for you rather than owning up to your gross mischaracterisations, eh what?
In re not a genocide, that's me and let's get things fucking right. What I said is its bloody ethnic cleansing, a horrible enough thing without indulging in the idiocy of watering down words and abusing them for their scare value.
This is pure and simple dishonesty of a rather digusting kind.
Rather what you have been told is that Dar Fur, the actual fighting is not about "racism" at all - both sides are black you ignorant mendacious git - it is about ethnic conflict - in some ways like Bosnia as I said. Race is not the issue.
The issue of overall Arab racism was raised as a contextual manner, trying to educate you out of your gross ignorance, but it rather seems you prefer ignorant holier than thou mendacity to actually getting a grip on things.
No, you're lying scum, that's what you are. I did not see one person talk about fairness to the Janjaweed - despite your mendacious spin and distortion. Putting in real context the wider Arab context, certainly, but "the Arab world" is not killing Fur, semi-Arabised camel nomads are, backed by the every cynical Sudanese central government in Khartoum. No apologies made for them either, if you read for comprehension and not cheap and ill-informed political points.
You can keep your empty posturing about"cultural transformation" - this is bullshit talk for people sitting far away to rap about the bloody brown wogs and how they must be transformed. Pretend concern, little real knowledge and much self- congratulation and empty words to posture about. Be buggered then and sod off.posted by: Lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
I should add for the clarity of other readers less interested in ignorant party political point scoring and following empty talking points, the real points made supra by myself, I shall not try to speak for others may be summarised as follows:
(i) The conflict is basically ethnic cleansing, black on black really despite the label of "Arab" and "Black African" - the Arabs being nothing more than black, Arabised camel nomads; the "Black Africans" being Fur speakers. Calling this "Black African" versus "Arab" is a double or triple falsehood. First, of course, it makes the frankly racist presumption that the Arabised peoples 'don't belong there' - they're not real Africans as it were, an odd concept. Second, it makes the false presumption there are colour differences, which there are not. Racism is not the word here, any more than it was in Bosnia. That's important not to "excuse" as our illiterate and mendacious poster would have it, it is to understand the real conflict, for I am of that perhaps old-fashioned school that thinks understanding the real conflict gets to solving it and of the same school that has contempt for illiterate and mendacious use of scare words to obfuscate.
Now, the Janjaweed are a nasty lot, call them the camel nomad equivalent of the Serbs of Bosnia. An ethnic conflict driven at once by competition between nomads (the 'Arabs') and settled people (Fur), and the cynical (as I stated supra) manipulation of the Sudanese central government.
There are two groups then that bear resposibility for this, the Janjaweed and the Sudanese central government. Not "all Arabs" - those two. Race is not the issue here, but ethnic cleansing is. Again, like Bosnia and for that the regime and the militia deserve whatever they get.
Our interlocuter going on about the "Arabs" as if they were a hive mind rather is of the same piece as those who might go on about "the Catholics" say in regards to Northern Ireland (or even more precisely Irish Catholics) and the crimes of the IRA. (or vice versa in re the Unionist side) The IRA and its supporters bear responsibility for such crimes, not "the Catholics" although one might be able to observe too many Irish Catholics hesitated to denounce the IRA from either misplaced sympathy, or distaste for the Unionists and the United Kingdom etc.
Such is the argument regarding the Arabs, despite the mendacious and willful distortion. As Ahmed and myself noted, our poster began with the "knowledge" that the Arabs were not commenting or critising Dar Fur - I note he never once has copped to his error there (as he did not in regards to a silly and erroneous statement in re Sadaam in another post) - and ran from there.
What Ahmed and myself noted in the connexion of 'mild racism' was the marginal position of the Sudan even within the Arab world, a place considered not quite properly Arab (and vaguely embarrassing as well) - the lack of engagement then not looking different than that of the West with its own mild racism in this connexion. It's Africa after all.... None of this was excusing anything, however we were trying to inform a commentator who clearly has (and had) very little clue about the political dynamic and a rather simple minded idea of what the Arab world is.
However, our mendacious commentator above pretends this was like the apologists for Uncle Bob in Zim land. Nothing of the sort, no one said the Janjanweed were right, etc. etc. as apologists for Uncle Bob do, nor did I make excuses for their actions nor those of the Sudanese government. Rather, corrections were advanced as to the author's misunderstanding of the facts on the ground (as in the race angle), the drivers and the like. Having a well-grounded understanding of real conflict drivers is not excuse making (except among party political hacks I suppose), it's called analytical clarity.
The commentary on the Arab governments falls into the same area, rather like a commentary might on South Africa and the "why" of Thabo Mbeki's sad enabling of Uncle Bob. Understanding the drivers, the reasons is not excuse making (it can be done that way of course), it is analysis Indeed, I noted the weak response of the Arab governments was something to criticise, and would be best done from a well-informed position. One is more convincing, and regardless, not being one for empty posturing and chest thumping I rarely find pissing and moaning useful.
However, it appears our party political hack prefers to be emotive and engage in wog flogging to boost his sense of superiority. He should, however, start reading for comprehension.posted by: Lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
I would just agree with lounsbury. We were trying to be honest in our explanation of the fact that there is some level of genuine racism in the Middle East toward black Africans. Neither he nor I was blind enough to argue that the reason for the conflict in Darfur was a matter of racism. And, it seems to me that Lounsbury is more knowledgeable on the conflict in Darfur then myself, but my understanding is that the war there is not what is specifically causing the majority of the death and suffering. That death and suffering is caused largely by the fragility of the environment (generally). Even though it is widely reported (and especially in the Arab media), it seems that Mr. Britt has further bought into his obvious racism against Arabs to naturally assume that the evil Arabs are slaughtering the poor defenseless Fur people out of blood lust. but that is just clearly not the case. From my understanding, this is part of a generalized conflict in the country as a whole, and in the specific case of Darfur the Fur people were the ones that provoked the fight. or, well, complete governmental neglect coupled with the environmental degradation and desertification compelled the starving and suffering Fur people to start fighting. They have become casualties of a government in Khartoum that decided keeping its territorial integrity is a high priority. so, when the people of Darfur tried to break away from the central government because of their being chronically neglected and chronically suffering from the desert life (in their view, though now they would probably love to be neglected again), the government helped to fund and support militias to suppress their rebellion. This being in the context of what happened in the south of Sudan, where wealth was discovered and the people of the region wanted the wealth to stay in the south (throw in a few religious and ethnic issues as well) and used that as reason for wanting to break away from the central government. So the central governments of Sudan have been fighting for decades to keep Sudan as one country, while also wanting to centralize resources (no doubt for their own gain). And, again to pick at Mr. Britt's obvious lack of knowledge on the subject, I hate to break it to you but it seems that the Fur people are the religious extremists in this case. Not the central government. And that religion is, of course, Islam. And, i have not spent any time in Sudan, but I would venture that the racism that lounsbury and I have discussed above is much less true in Sudan because of the fact that the people of Sudan are black Africans. I have spent some time here and there in Upper Egypt and I am not aware of any significant expression of racism against black people there, because that is fucking Nubia and the majority of people are black or tourists. So my assumption would be that an even greater level of integration is true in Sudan where the legacy of Nasserism is less strong. But again, I am not confident of this as I have never been there. And, I assume that any people anywhere can be prodded into some forms of ethnic hatred if the conditions are bad enough.
So, for god's sake Mr. Britt, you have not yet displayed even a shred of knowledge about the Middle East or the Arab world. And, you have been completely wrong on central points in this argument, and especially the one about Saddam and the Shah. It exposes that you are a completely ignorant person when it comes to the Middle East. The trouble is that you continue to talk and act like you are accurate and continue to avoid the fact that you are ignorant. It really is a problem. Similar to the type of stupidity as had Bush, Rummy and gang thinking they would need less then 20,000 troops in Iraq (they just had no clue what they were doing or getting into, and believed their own racist stupidity about the world). And you should own up to it. Just because you read the NY times does not mean you have any grasp of what is actually going on in the world. In fact, what I find most ironic and annoying is your repeatedly dismissing the views of Arab governments as being propaganda, while you seemingly completely accept American propaganda as reality. Even if it is true that Qaddafi is spitting out propaganda about Sudan and his own role, it is equally or more true that the USA is full of shit in what it says as does in relation to Sudan. Or your amazingly arrogant, stupid and blame the victim mentality that argues that the USA is a great civilizing force in the world while others suffer for their own bad choices (next you will tell me that the Palestinian’s caused their own suffering, since we now know Saddam sanctioned his own population to death)
And, I will also agree with lounsbury that this is not a case of genocide. And as with what he has been saying, that does not contradict the fact that the human suffering is great and that it is very sad. My point above about how sad the situation is was in reference to the lack of involvement of wealthy Arab countries like Saudi and Kuwait. But, that does not make my discussion any proof that I do not think action is necessary.
And, just again to second another point lounsbury made about the way many Arabs do not consider Sudan to be an Arab country, I will just admit for myself that as an Iraqi I am not used to considering them Arab either. I do now, and I have come to this by the definition provided by Arab nations by including them in the Arab League, but as for culturally or in terms of broad Arab nationalism, I would not consider them Arab (Iran to me is more Arab in my view, if not for the language). Like, in the future, when all the Arab countries unite to become a super nation, as in the vision of Nasser, I would not expect Sudan to be included. Just as, as an Iraqi, I do not consider the Kurds to be Iraqi or Arab. I do not know whether this means I am racist against either group, and I know I want all people to be free of suffering and living in prosperity. But I just have my lines as to who belongs in my ethnic group. And Kurds definitely do not, and as for the Sudanese, shall we say, “I am open to persuasion.” And this is just my being honest. Something Mr. Britt seems unable to do.
And, Mr. Britt, I will add that it generally seems pretty ironic of you, being a man of action as you are, to be talking as much nonsense as you do. The best i can tell is that you are a "words speak louder then actions" type of guy. unfortunately, in your case your words are meaningless as well.
ohh, to add another point about Egypt and how much it has done for Sudan, you would not believe how many refugees Cairo has taken in. When you walk the streets it is obvious. And I have not been there in a while, but it was obvious last time I was there and i am sure it is still obvious today. I would assume the same is true of Libya as well.
Considering how much the west hates foreign people on its soil (mexicans in the usa, everyone in europe...), you should be able to understand this as a huge helping hand.posted by: ahmed on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
Well, Ahmed I am not sure I agree with all that you wrote in re the Fur provoking the problem insofar as it strikes me that it was the cynical Sudanese government in Khartoum that pushed things that far, but I do agree the issue of desertification is the key driver in the nomad versus settled conflict that lies at the heart of the Dar Fur conflict (which itself is not new, the fighting between settled Fur farmers and the nomads - Arab and non-Arab by language - goes back to the 1980s.).
Now Britt would have this as an excuse. It is not. The Sudanese government is maliciously exploiting what otherwise would be a sad, nasty but all too typical nomad-farmer conflict that is found throughout the Sahel region [the savannah belt along the southern Sahara] (similar conflicts are cropping up in Mali, Burkina Faso, etc driven by desertification pushing the nomads south into the farmlands) and via its support to nomads, turning it into a real case of ethnic cleansing.
Now, my emphasis on this point of ethnic cleansing versus genocide is again not as Britt would simple mindedly have it, diminishing the problem - as in Bosnia I find ethnic cleansing to be a serious and awful thing, supported intervention in that case; however it is not genocide, I dislike watering down words just because of their utility in political campaigns. Again, it's accuracy and clear-headed thinking. Pity Britt was disappointed that I did not squawk on like Chicken Little but rather brought calm reason to the table, but in reality calm reason and not faux concern or squawking is what gets things done on the ground. Now if that is "going native" then so be it.
Now returning to Ahmed, I have to say I have always considered anyone who speaks Arabic as mother tongue or near mother tongue and calls himself an Arab, an Arab. What clearer standard can there be? However, it is as clear that some Arabs are only Arabs when the nightmare of "Arab Unity" needs some more bodies....
In any case, I hope to see Ahmed at Aqoul.posted by: lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
I thought, as someone reminded me I wrote this some time back, I might share a further commentary from my old site: Darfur - On Racism, On Ignorance, On Laziness and just plain stupidity
Written of course in my own unique idiom.posted by: lounsbury on 08.18.05 at 06:02 PM [permalink]
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