Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Darfur relief as "ethical shower"


Demonstrators chant slogans and hold placards in Sudan's capital Khartoum, September 20, 2006. Thousands of Sudanese marched on the U.S. embassy in Khartoum to protest against Western pressure on Sudan to accept 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers in war-torn Darfur. REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH

I don't get Darfur. No -- I don't mean that I don't believe that hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of human beings have been uprooted and may die because of conflict there. No -- I don't mean that I don't understand that the Sudanese government is a villainous party to the situation. And no, certainly, I don't mean that I believe the world should simply leave these people to their fate.

But the Darfur campaign in the United States doesn't feel right. For one thing, one of its biggest boosters is Mr. Invade and Torture himself, Pres. GWB. And over in the U.K., the sanctimonious poodle Tony Blair is right out there in front. And when I look at the organizational members of the Save Darfur coalition, the list, in addition the usual suspects, is full of outfits whose commitment to humanitarian action on behalf of the suffering regularly disappears when the suffering are afflicted by the United States or Israel.

Today Alertnet pointed me to an article by Jonathan Steele that appeared in the U.K. Guardian entitled " Sorry George Clooney, but the last thing Darfur needs is western troops."

Steele goes right to the question of whether the Darfur horror is "genocide" under international law:

Groups in the west have long campaigned to have the government in Khartoum replaced. In the US the Christian right and some of Israel's friends portray it as an Islamic fundamentalist regime. Human rights activists raise the issue of slavery to suggest that Arab raiders, supported by the government, are routinely abducting Africans from the south to use as human chattel. The Clinton administration listed Sudan as a terrorist-supporting state because Osama bin Laden once lived there.

Against this background it was always going to be hard to expect fair reporting when civil war broke out in Darfur three years ago. The complex grievances that set farmers against nomads was covered with a simplistic template of Arab versus African, even though the region was crisscrossed with tribal and local rivalries that put some villages on the government's side and others against it....

In most wars, governments spin and the media (at least sometimes) seek the truth. Darfur reversed the trend: the media spun while governments were more sophisticated. In spite of efforts to describe the killing in Darfur as genocide, neither the UN nor the EU went along with this description. It was not because of moral myopia, but because they understood the difference between a brutal civil war and a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. Darfur is not Rwanda. Only the US accepted the genocide description, though this seemed a concession to domestic lobbies rather than a matter of conviction. Washington never followed through with the forcible intervention in Darfur that international law requires once a finding of genocide is made.

Steele believes the best action in a bad situation is for the United Nations to prop up the existing African Union force in the region in order to save as many lives as possible and try to get the parties back to the negotiating table.

I don't know if this a "right" description, but it feels more authentic than the campaign for intervention that some in this country and elsewhere are mounting.

The Darfur campaign reminds me of a little local political squabble I was involved in a few years ago. The city had just come off a heated mayoral election in which downtown money, developers and city unions broke every rule of ethical campaigning in the book to keep business as usual in the saddle and crush a progressive challenge. Lots of nominally progressive politicians and people had found themselves institutionally bound to play on the conservative side of the fence during that fight. They found the experience extremely unsettling. When the election was over, they needed a new campaign to recover their own belief in their "progressive" credentials. Fortunately, the city confronted an initiative aimed at criminalizing homelessness. For the wobbling "progressives," this was a no-brainer. All the forces feeling dirty from the mayoral race rushed off to defeat the homelessness measure.

It was a fun campaign -- essentially we could get anything we needed from some very prominent people. We defeated this mean-spirited measure easily. And those movers and shakers got their "ethical shower."

I'm pretty sure the Darfur campaign is working the same way for some of its loudest adherents. Guess if their ethical shower saves some Darfurians, that's something to be glad of.

3 comments:

Jay McGinley said...

DARFUR, URGENT: WHAT WOULD RACHEL CORRIE START THIS WEEK?

Darfur Vigil DAY 118 (now in NYC); 56 Days Hunger Strike since July 4, 2006 www.standwithdarfurwhitehouseii.blogspot.com

Young Rachel Corrie saw a bulldozer intentionally bearing down on the house of a family, a family she probably never knew. She got in front of that bulldozer, between the bulldozer and the house, between the threat, and the innocents. "This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore." DARFUR GENOCIDE. WE-CITIZENS SITTING IN COMFORT AND SAFETY IN THE FACE OF GENOCIDE, "THIS HAS TO STOP." (http://www.criticalconcern.com/rachelcorrie.html.)

We need to get between what is killing Darfur (Bashir's performance and the nonperformance by we-the-people, we world citizens) - and our children, sisters and brothers in Darfur. Now. And as of now we are not (http://standwithdarfurwhitehouseii.blogspot.com/2006/09/sept-17th-activism-awesome-but-not.html) How do we do that? How do we make it happen? What would a sufficient "wake up" look like? IF SOMEONE HAS THIS ALREADY STARTED, LET ME KNOW. I'll join you, or even back out if that is best.

I am deciding what I will do next, what I expect to be my final attempt to spark the Rescue of Darfur by waking up sufficient numbers of we humans in time, converting us from spectators, critics and activists-of-convenience into antiviolent warriors (think Civil Rights struggle) of profound courage, wisdom, tenacity and effectiveness; utilizing to the max the few weeks, days and seconds that our Darfur family has left.

What would Rachel Corrie start THIS WEEK? This question strikes me as the way to approach the task of deciding. The way to focus the mind to come up with the appropriate, proportional response of greatest chance - THE BEST AIMED "HAIL MARY" PASS.

Rachel Corrie stood in front of a bulldozer about to destroy a house of people she did not know (http://www.criticalconcern.com/rachelcorrie.html). Would a different role model help you more? How about Steve Beko (South Africa, movie, Denzel), a young Gandhi, a young Nelson Mandella, an antivioloent Rambo, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, John Q (from the Denzel Washington movie)...? You get the idea. Think of your own role model APPROPRIATE to this situation.

LET’S JOIN TOGETHER IN THIS QUANDARY, before it is too late, please: Send me, or post, your ideas (http://standwithdarfurwhitehouseii.blogspot.com/). Now. I expect to embark on whatever best plan by early next week at the latest, with anyone that wants to join together.

A CONSTRAINT: Suggestions must centrally embrace this notion of the problem from Samantha Power's inspired, Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Problem from Hell" (and I paraphrase AND take license): THE BATTLE TO STOP GENOCIDE HAS ALWAYS BEEN LOST ON THE FIELD OF PUBLIC OPINION. THE PEOPLE [WE THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD]... HAVE NEVER STOOD UP SUFFICIENTLY TO STOP IT.

HUNCH: The plan should involve leveraging STAND's Oct 5th Fast to make it into the END OF THE GONOICIDE, the START of a WORLDWIDE FAST UNTIL DARFUR GENOCIDE IS ENDING. One-day only by all participants is too-little-too-late. A one day fast is NOT what the world's response to the Holocaust, the extermination of 6,000,000 Jews lacked. Not by many orders of magnitude. Death rates are climbing toward 25,000 per week in Darfur, NOW. We must be REALISTIC. Code Pink's "Troops Home Fast" could be a model (www.troopshomefast.org). Make STAND's October 5th the START? THAT COULD DO IT.

But, WE NEED EVEN BETTER, MUCH BETTER SUGGESTIONS and specific ideas for approach and execution than I am hinting at.

RESPOND. PLEASE. Now; because THERE IS NO MORE T-I-M-E. (For those of you that just want to watch, and have a good laugh at my frantic gyrations, enjoy.)

What would Rachel Corrie start THIS WEEK?

Jay McGinley (jymcginley@cs.com) 484-356-6243

sfmike said...

Dear Jan: Thanks for the info and the "progressive cleansing" analogy. Fascinating and horrible stuff.

Nell said...

You've put into words with the SF anecdote what I've felt but couldn't find the way to express about the official 'Save Darfur' coalition.

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