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Sudan, Darfur, and Hypocrisy

By: 
Justin Podur
Date Published: 
February 01, 2005
    Mass-murder, rape, starvation and ethnic cleansing continues in Darfur, Sudan but the selective indignation shown by the US and western nations exposes the hypocrisy of western interventionists.

The crisis in Sudan provides an extraordinary study in hypocrisy. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin gave a moving speech at the United Nations on September 22, 2000, “Tens of thousands have been murdered, raped and assaulted,” he said. “War crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed.” This would have been a courageous act, to say such things about US foreign policy in Iraq. The US invasion of Iraq, as straightforward international aggression (not a ‘pre-emptive’ or even ‘preventive’ strike) definitely counts as a “crime against humanity”, although again, to say such things in public, especially on US soil at the United Nations, would have major implications for a country’s foreign policy and a politician’s career. It would therefore have been quite impressive if Paul Martin had actually been talking about the US in Iraq. But he was not. Nor was he talking about Palestinian refugees when he said: “They are hungry, they are homeless, they are sick and many have been driven out of their own country.” This would have been particularly true for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, for example, where the UN special reporter for food said last year Israel is deliberately starving the population through its policy of closures, resulting in over a fifth of children being malnourished. Talk about Palestine or Iraq would not have earned Paul Martin kudos from US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who praised him as “a good friend and neighbor” and declared him “such a leader in the field.” What field? Not the killing fields of Haiti, where corpses of Lavalas activists and Aristide supporters have been piling up in morgues and graves, some three thousand, and ongoing, since “good friends and neighbors” and “leaders in the field” from Canada and the United States sent their troops to guarantee the February coup against Haiti’s democratically elected and massively supported President. No, Paul Martin was not talking about Iraq or Palestine or Haiti. He was talking about Sudan. Martin’s concern about mass murder, starvation, and ethnic cleansing in Sudan, like Powell’s, might seem inconsistent, given their eager championing of such deeds elsewhere. The same could be said of US politicians like Republican Senator Bill Frist and Iraq invaders like Tony Blair. These notables are either lying about their indignation about what is happening in Sudan, or they are racists, who just can’t summon indignation for dead third-worlders when the killers are from the first world or acting on behalf of it. Selective indignation In fact the consistency is of a different kind. For it is the selective indignation of the likes of Martin, Blair, and Powell, and their ilk to the atrocities unfolding under the auspices of what they term ‘rogue states’ or ‘failed states’ that leads to the atrocities unfolding under Western occupations. In Haiti, for example, the formula was clear: first, help a state to ‘fail’ by denying it aid, applying vicious sanctions and conditionalities, and arming paramilitary killers to invade and slaughter their way to the capital. Then call it a ‘failed state,’ oust its leaders, and occupy the place. Whatever atrocities occur in response to Western occupation can then be used as proof of the need for more occupation and intervention. In Iraq, a genuinely tyrannical and dictatorial state was made to ‘fail’ by a process of bombing, bleeding by sanctions, and murderous invasion and occupation. Now, as Blair and Bush’s armies slaughter Iraqis at will, interventionists argue that the West needs to ‘stay the course’ lest Iraq, the ‘failed state’, descend into ‘civil war.’ Israel’s ongoing massacre, ethnic cleansing and deliberate starvation program is justified by the interventionists as necessary because Palestinians can’t find leaders that will recognize Israel’s security needs. The Sudan crisis has provided the interventionists with an opportunity to simply change the subject: “If you care so much about the Palestinians,” they can ask, “why don’t you care about Sudan? If you care so much about Iraqis, then why don’t you support intervention to save people in Sudan?” The next step, of course, is to accuse those who talk about Western murders and crimes as ‘anti-semites,’ ‘anti-Americans,’ or racists. To this, anti-occupation people can reply by calling the liberal interventionists hypocrites, citing liberal indifference or contribution to crimes in the above cases as evidence. Mutual cries of hypocrisy, however, even when true, won’t help those who are actually being “murdered, raped and assaulted,” who are actually “hungry…homeless…sick and…have been driven out of their own country.” In the specific case of Sudan and Darfur, for example, the hypocrisy of gangsters like Martin, Powell, and Blair does not make atrocities in the region any less real, or the crisis any less urgent. Postcolonial state Suffice it to say that similar dynamics exist in Darfur’s crisis as exist in so many other conflicts that plague the third world today: a legacy of colonial destruction; a postcolonial state that acts like the colonial state did; an elite that uses the state as its own private estate to dole out privileges and power; mobilization along ethnic lines using racist ideologies; interference from outside powers; closed political spaces leading to armed insurgencies, and a state that responds to armed insurgencies with vicious counterinsurgency. Lansana Gberie, an Africa expert who has studied numerous interventions and conflict situations in the continent, advocates an African solution, he says: “By the end of August 2004, the AU had 305 soldiers on the ground in Darfur as part of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, and the UN was working with the AU on a plan that would raise this force level to 3,000 AU troops and 1,200 police officers. However, the Sudanese government had rejected AU offers to increase the size of the force and extend its mandate to include the protection of civilians, insisting on an AU role that is limited to observation and monitoring.” Gberie sensibly argues that the Sudanese government’s consent ought to be irrelevant (as irrelevant, for example, as Israel’s consent ought to be if an international intervention to protect Palestinians from massacre, assassination, and starvation were ever mounted). The example he provides, however, is equally unsavory to anti-imperialists: “However, the issue of consent should be irrelevant. There was no consent in 1999, to the aerial bombardment and insertion of some 50,000 NATO troops into Kosovo in response to the deaths of some 2,000 people.” When one considers the problems the NATO intervention caused compared to those it solved, this ‘success’ of ‘humanitarian intervention’ seems less ‘humanitarian’ and less ‘successful.’ The same is true of the world’s response to the mass murder in the Congo, which took place largely in Rwandan and Ugandan-controlled parts of the Congo between 1998-2001 while the liberal interventionists were still trying to find ways of using the Rwandan genocide of 1994-1995 as a rhetorical device to justify future Western interventions. Western medicine Ramesh Thakur, Vice Rector of the UN University, who Gberie also cites, is correct when he argues that “Western Medicine is no cure for Darfur’s ills”, and that “a Western intervention, far from offering a solution, may add to the problems.” Thakur has good reasons for thinking so. The US’s actions in Afghanistan, where funds were available for bombing but not for rebuilding, show that the US is more interested in building bases, controlling regions, and controlling energy sources than solving local humanitarian crises. The oil connection in Darfur also casts doubt on US humanitarian intentions. Sudan is a country with a Muslim population and — even though the Islamist regime is oppressive and unpopular — an invasion would do little for pro-US sentiment in a region where such sentiment is sorely lacking. US military doctrine, which compensates for its reluctance to risk its soldiers by using firepower and ruthlessness against non-US civilians, tends to have very un-humanitarian effects. A year after the Iraq invasion, there should be little doubt about any of these points. Given that, one would have to disagree with the conclusion of the Black Commentator’s well-reasoned editorial of September 23, 2004, that: “No matter how cynical US motives, Colin Powell’s invocation of the Genocide Convention in Darfur invigorates forces seeking a more just world. When criminals are compelled to cite the law, we know that justice is within our reach.” In fact, we know no such thing. The Colin Powell brand of criminal always cites the law, whether he’s ignoring it, upholding it, or tearing it up. Proposals for an African Union intervention as cited by Gberie, however flawed, could have the best chance of success (it was African intervention that brought the Congo civil war to a halt). The Sudanese government agreed to stop military flights over Darfur and to disarm the paramilitaries that used massacres to displace 1.45 million within Sudan and force another 200,000 to flee to Chad, and cause the deaths of some 70,000 over the past year. The government also allowed aid workers free access to Darfur. False debates Now that an agreement has been reached, there are still very grave concerns. There are many reports of local violations of the ceasefire, particularly by Sudanese police. The day before the agreement, UN Special Representative Jan Pronk expressed worries that both parties were losing control of the situation: “The government does not control its own forces fully. It co-opted paramilitary forces and now it cannot count on their obedience. The border lines between the military, the paramilitary and the police are being blurred.” Meanwhile the rebels are in “a leadership crisis...There are splits. Some commanders provoke their adversaries by stealing, hijacking and killing; some seem to have begun acting for their own private gain.” Pronk worried that “they may turn to preying on the civilians in areas they control by force — and we may soon find Darfur is ruled by warlords.” Should the accords hold, however, it is important to note that it will not have been because of intervention or bluster by imperial powers, but primarily because of pressure and diplomacy by the African Union. Now it should be noted that the AU consists of regimes that have hypocrisy problems of their own (Nigeria — where the accords were signed — has a regime that knows something about hypocrisy). But in the most difficult, and even horrific of circumstances, Africans have managed to at least begin to resolve conflicts that the imperial powers helped to create and to aggravate. For activists, the key will be what it has been — to avoid falling into false debates about whether we need to support imperial interventions in order to help the oppressed victims of regimes that, for whatever reason, happen to be on the imperial target list rather than the imperial client list. Imperial interventions are destructive, leave the world worse off, and need to be challenged and stopped. Our support for such adventures can only result in discrediting ourselves and forcing us to join the long list of hypocrites. The real world demands not allowing genuine concern for victims of atrocities to be transmuted by interventionist hypocrites into apologetics for an imperialism that will ultimately produce more victims of more atrocities. But those same victims deserve better than mere denunciations of intervention and its apologists as hypocrites and warmongers. Perhaps Khalid Fishawy and Ahmed Zaki of Egyptian alternative media site kefaya.org posed the challenge for movements best: “Could we imagine building a front for the potentials of peoples and democratic movements in Sudan, hurt and disaffected by war, with the solidarity of the global antiwar movement, to impose democratic mechanisms caring for the interests of oppressed Sudanese communities, races, cultures and classes, against the rapacity of the interests of US and Western European Imperialists? Could this aim be possible? Is it promising for the global justice and peace movement to regain its momentum, instead of supporting undemocratic authoritarian and fundamentalist forces, this time in Sudan, under the title of allying with whomever is against the American Empire?” ABOUT THE AUTHOR Justin Podur is based in Toronto and visited the blockade on Thursday April 20.