Threat to peace


In the last month we have seen or read about Israel rejecting calls for a nuclear free Middle East; condemned  the NonProliferation Treaty; put out news stories that it has placed nuclear armed submarines off the coast of Iran; attacked a ship belonging to a country that signed an accord with Iran that a US administration had sought; attacked and killed unarmed civilians on  relief aid boats in international waters; continued the blockade and siege of a defenseless population and American troops are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for what?

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The Darfur Deception


by Muhammad Idris Ahmed
Darfur ProtestIn Errol Morris’s 2004 film The Fog of War, former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara recalls General Curtis LeMay, the architect of the fire-bombings of Japan during WWII, saying that “if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” LeMay was merely articulating an unacknowledged truism of international relations: power bestows, among other things, the right to label. So it is that mass slaughter perpetrated by the big powers, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, is normalized through labels such as “counterinsurgency,” “pacification” and “war on terror,” while similar acts carried out by states out of favor result in the severest of charges. It is this politics of naming that is the subject of Mahmood Mamdani’s explosive new book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror.

Like the Middle East, parts of Africa have been engulfed in conflict for much of the post-colonial period. While the media coverage in both cases is perfunctory, in the case of Africa it is also sporadic. To the extent that there is coverage, the emphasis is on the dramatic or the grotesque. When the subject is not war, it is usually famine, disease or poverty — sometimes all together, always free of context. The wars are between “tribes” led by “warlords,” that take place in “failed states” ruled by “corrupt dictators.” Driven by primal motives, they rarely involve discernible issues. The gallery of rogues gives way only to a tableau of victims, inevitably in need of White saviors. A headline like “Can Bono save Africa?” is as illustrative of Western attitudes towards the continent as the comments of Richard Littlejohn, Britain’s highest-paid columnist, who wrote at the peak of the Rwandan genocide “Does anyone really give a monkey’s about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them.”

Darfur is the conspicuous exception to this trend, though Rwanda did enter Western vocabulary after the 1994 genocide. This, Mamdani argues, is primarily due to the efforts of one organization — the Save Darfur Coalition (SDC) — whose advocacy has been central to turning this into the biggest mass movement in the United States since the anti-Vietnam mobilization, bigger than the anti-apartheid movement. While the mobilization did have the salutary effect of raising awareness about an issue otherwise unknown to the majority of US citizens, its privileging of acting over knowing renders this less meaningful. Indeed, the campaign’s shunning of complexity, its substituting of moral certainty for knowledge, and its preference for military solutions, precludes the very end that it purports to strive for. Invoking what it claims are lessons of the Nazi Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide, it combines slogans such as “never again” with the battle cries of a new “good war”, such as “boots on the ground”, and “out of Iraq and into Darfur”. Mamdani contends that SDC is not a peace movement, it is a war movement.

The SDC was established in July 2004 through the combined efforts of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service. It has since been joined by a broad spectrum of political and religious organizations, a gaggle of celebrities and prominent intellectuals. It has spawned student chapters all across the country that range from the high school to university levels. Led by an advertising executive, it is the only organization capable of bringing together such unlikely partners as the Reverend Al Sharpton and author Elie Wiesel, actor George Clooney and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. If the signature activity of the anti-Vietnam war movement was the teach-in, for the SDC it is the advertising campaign. The expert has been replaced by the celebrity, the campaigner by the advertising agent. With an annual budget of $14 million the SDC employs the DC-based PR firm M+R Strategic Services (M&R) for its publicity. While M&R boasts a clientele comprising mainly green and humanitarian non-profits, in 2002 it was exposed by PR Watch for using its progressive credentials to greenwash DuPont, one of the world’s leading polluters. The centrality of propaganda to the SDC’s success was underscored by the fact that in the period between Spring 2007 and January 2008, the president of M&R Bill Wasserman also served as Save Darfur’s executive director.

The apparent diversity of the SDC’s affiliates also obscures the fact that its agenda is mainly driven by Zionist organizations and the Christian Right. However, Mamdani pays scant attention to the composition of the SDC even though he devotes a whole chapter to its politics and methods. As The Jerusalem Post reported ahead of the SDC’s rally in Washington on 30 April 2006, it is “[l]ittle known … that the coalition, which has presented itself as ‘an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations’ was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.” It noted that even in 2006 that coalition was “heavily weighted” with a “diverse collection of local and national Jewish groups.” The Washington Post reported the same day that “[k]eeping the peace within the diverse Save Darfur Coalition has not been easy” due to tensions, in particular, between evangelical Christians and the mostly Muslim Darfuri immigrants. The Sudanese immigrants also objected to the lineup of speakers which, according to the paper, included “eight Western Christians, seven Jews, four politicians and assorted celebrities — but no Muslims and no one from Darfur” (two were eventually added at the last minute). Ned Goldstein has suggested in his investigation of the Zionist interests behind the SDC that Darfur is being deployed as a strategic distraction from Israeli crimes against the Palestinians (most recently at the UN anti-racism conference). The salient feature of the SDC propaganda is to paint the conflict as war between “Arabs” and “Africans” and to label the violence “genocide.”

The genocide debate hinges on two factors: numbers and identity. For mass violence to qualify as genocide the killing has to be on a large enough scale, and the intent to eliminate a discrete racial, ethnic, or religious group has to be established. Mamdani argues that in order to sustain its claim of genocide, the SDC has inflated casualty figures and racialized the conflict.

The mortality figure of 400,000 has become a staple of SDC propaganda even though it has been repeatedly discredited. In 2007, the British Advertising Standards Authority chided the SDC (and the Aegis Trust) for breaching “standards of truthfulness” in its use of the figure for its UK advertising campaign. The number had already been challenged when a panel convened by the US Government Accountability Office in collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences concluded that of the six estimates they studied, the figures presented by the SDC were the least reliable. The most reliable estimate was the study carried out by the World Heath Organization-affiliated Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) that had recorded 131,000 excess deaths at the peak of the conflict of which only 30 percent were due to violence. The violence had dropped sharply after January 2005; this, Mamdani avers, was due mainly to the intervention of African Union peacekeepers. By 2008, the total deaths for the whole year had dropped to 1,500. These numbers are far lower than what constitutes an emergency according to the UN, let alone genocide.

The conflict began as a civil war in 1987-89, driven less by race or ethnic rivalries than by a struggle for land and resources — it pitted the mostly nomadic landless Arabs against the mostly sedentary Fur peasants. Compounded by Khartoum’s botched attempt at land reform during the 1990s, turning it into a party to the civil war, the simmering conflict erupted into a full-scale insurgency in 2003. This eventually led to the government’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign where it turned to nomadic tribes from Darfur and Chad to serve as proxies.

Mamdani identifies three causes as having contributed to the conflict. First, is the history of colonial rule wherein the British went about a project of retribalizing Darfur through a system of native administration which created tribal homelands and introduced a principle of discrimination that privileged “natives” over “settlers.” This led to the dispossession of nomadic tribes, especially the camel nomads of the north. The tribal identities were further solidified through a census that required each registrant to choose a “race”; a written history that presented Arabs as “settlers” from the Middle East; and laws that gave preferential treatment to whoever was deemed a “native”. This narrative also allowed the British colonizers to present themselves as merely following the precedent of an earlier Arab colonization.

Drought and desertification was the second contributing factor. The Sahara’s southern rim expanded by 100 kilometers, forcing nomadic tribes further south and eventually to encroach on the lands of the sedentary Fur tribes.

Finally, the civil war in neighboring Chad where opposition groups armed by Cold War rivals — the US, France and Israel on one side, and Libya and the Soviet Union on the other — had frequently taken refuge in Darfur, leading to a proliferation of weapons and militias. Mamdani explains that the Western powers were involved in the conflict long before the Sudanese government was; and Omar al-Bashir’s Islamist regime wasn’t even in power at the time.

The Arab-versus-African narrative obscures the fact that since at least the British colonial era, Arabs have been Darfur’s most deprived constituency. “If Darfur was marginal in Sudan,” writes Mamdani, “the Arabs of Darfur were marginal in Darfur.” Contrary to the British historiography — whose assumptions have since been reproduced in 20th century nationalist writings — most Arabs arrived in Sudan as refugees fleeing persecution in Mamluk Egypt. Moreover, the diffusion of Arab culture was more a consequence of commerce than of conquest. Mamdani demonstrates that “Arab” is not a racial, ethnic, or cultural identity. It is an assumed political identity that is more a reflection of preference and power than of genealogy. For example, former slaves once freed would become Fur in Darfur, and Arab in Funj, the Sultanate in riverine Sudan where Arabs dominated. To be an Arab in Darfur therefore signifies nothing so much as weakness. The conflict in Darfur today is as much between Arabs (the Abbala camel nomads against the Baggara cattle nomads) as it is against the relatively privileged Fur and Massalit, and the less privileged Zaghawa. The SDC however emphasizes the north-south axis of the conflict that pits Arab against Fur and ignores the south-south Axis which pits Arab against Arab.

The Darfuri rebels likewise defy easy classification. When the insurgency began in 2003, there were two major groups — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) — they have now split into 26. JEM, which is the largest rebel organization, has an Islamist orientation and draws its inspiration from Hassan al-Turabi, the influential Sudanese Islamist and one time ally of Omar al-Bashir. In contrast, the SLA is secular-Africanist with ties to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the South (led by the late John Garang). Before the split between the Islamists in Khartoum, the government had employed Darfuri Islamists led by future JEM founder Khalil Ibrahim for its counterinsurgency in the south. (Ibrahim opposed the power-sharing agreement that ended the war in the south.) However, according to Sudan scholar Alex de Waal, both organizations learned “to characterize their plight in the simplified terms that had proved so effective in winning foreign sympathy for the south: they were the ‘African’ victims of an ‘Arab’ regime.” The government’s response to the insurgency was at first a half-hearted attempt at reconciliation, followed by the arming of a proxy force comprising nomadic militias, many of them from Chad, who have come to be known as the Janjawid. The consequences were devastating, with large-scale bloodletting and the displacement of 2.5 million people.

Khartoum’s use of proxies to quell an insurgency and the resulting death and displacement parallel US policies in Iraq, where ethnic-sectarian militias have been deployed against the mostly-Sunni insurgency. Yet, unlike Iraq, where in excess of a million have died according to the lates ORB poll, and five million displaced, the violence in Darfur has been labeled a genocide. Darfur has also spawned domestic mobilization in the US on a scale for which there is no parallel in the case of Iraq. Mamdani argues that this is due to the fact that Iraq requires Americans to act as citizens, with all the responsibility and complicated political choices it entails, whereas Darfur only requires them to act as humans where they choose to take responsibility out of a sense of philanthropy. He notes that “In Darfur, Americans can feel themselves to be what they know they are not in Iraq: powerful saviors.” As the Nigerian writer Uzodinma Iweala observed, “It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption.” In adopting the language of good and evil, Mamdani observes, the SDC has acted as “the great depoliticizer” in precluding political reconciliation in favor of a moral (read military) solution.

In Saviors and Survivors, Mamdani emphasizes regional over international solutions. Western modes of conflict resolution in Africa resemble nothing so much as the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programs: “Those who made decisions did not have to live with their consequences, nor pay for them.” The Western emphasis on the humanitarian crisis in lieu of a political solution merely prolongs the conflict. By contrast, the AU’s approach is both humanitarian and political. The African Union’s (AU) intervention in Darfur had been largely successful in reducing the violence, yet its operation was undermined by Western powers that failed to deliver the support they had pledged when the AU brokered the N’DJamena ceasefire agreement in April 2004. It was also vilified in SDC propaganda. Mamdani asserts that much of the foot-dragging was to discredit the AU so that the notion of an African solution for an African problem could be discredited. The aim was to “blue hat” the AU forces and bring them under Western command. In a Washington Post op-ed pointedly titled “Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa,” Iweala asked, “How is it that a former mid-level US diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?”

The recent International Criminal Court case has further entrenched the Khartoum government in its defiant stance. Criminal prosecutions during an ongoing conflict merely exacerbate matters, Mamdani argues. More so when the adjudicating body has a demonstrable record of bias. The model for justice must be the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than Nuremberg — survivors’ justice rather than victors’ justice. The well-being of surviving multitudes must not be subordinated to the imperative of punishing individual perpetrators. Mamdani offers a trenchant critique of what he calls the “New Humanitarian Order,” which has supplanted traditional colonialism and turned human rights into the new pretext for intervention. The “international community”, which Mamdani argues is nothing more than a “post-Cold War nom de guerre for the Western powers”, has created “a bifurcated system whereby state sovereignty obtains in large parts of the world but is suspended in more and more countries in Africa and the Middle East” reducing citizens to wards in “an open-ended international rescue operation”.

The Obama Administration already appears to be making a break with its predecessor’s approach and has ordered a review of its Sudan policy. Scott Gration, the new envoy, has already visited Khartoum and Darfur, as has John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the case of the Bush Administration, the SDC was able to mobilize Congress against the State Department that was seeking a political resolution modeled on the power-sharing agreement that ended the longstanding conflict in the south. It remains to be seen how much the Obama Administration is able to resist the formidable lobbying power of the SDC. While Mamdani maintains that the aim of the SDC is to induce the US government to intervene militarily in Sudan, it appears that the real interest of its core organizations is to perpetuate the conflict so as to continue using the image of the Arab as the perpetrator to distract from the regional reality of the Arab as the victim.

Interesting insight into the Israeli national mentality


No matter what they say about nuclear weapons possessed by Iran or hostile Arab neighbors who want to drive the Jews into the sea, it’s the least of Israeli worries, just as  Saddam Hussein’s WMDs were no threat to Israel or anyone else for that matter, because they simply didn’t exist. What is interesting is reading what Israel thinks are their problems and why and the list is far more revealing than any I’ve seen to date.  Here they are in the order mentioned in this article Seven Existential Threats.

1.The Loss of Jerusalem; partly due to the absence of Zionists living in the city.

2.The Arab Demographic Threat; Israel must be 70% Zionist in order to be legitimate and Arabs are having too many children

3. Delegitimization; Israel’s sins are receiving world wide attention which is bad for it’s reputation.

4.Terrorism; we’ve heard it all before.

5. A Nuclear-Armed Iran; we’ve heard this all before too.

6.The Hemorrhaging of Sovereignty; Israel doesn’t exert its control over people under its authority.

7.Corruption;The breakdown of public morality especially among it’s leaders.

The blog, War In Context,  does a decent job dismantling some of the above notions but looking at Oren’s list, the originator of the 7 deadly threats to Israel, it appears his biggest complaint and remedy for it is the absence of Zionism and the need for more Zionism.  Not much mention of Judaism as a religion, but rather Zionism as a political movement.  One other line in his piece that brought about a chuckle was this assertion:

Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist. If it remains officially Jewish, then the state will face an unprecedented level of international isolation, including sanctions, that might prove fatal.

Is he saying democracy is a threat to and not consistent with Israeli interests?  Ohh, America, are you listening?

See for yourself


The Iranian President’s speech to the UN conference on racism can be viewed in its entirety here.

Close but no cigar


omar_bashirI’m still waiting for the indictment to come down against George W. Bush just as it did with Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. What Bashir was indicted for pales in comparison to the crimes committed by Bush under the full might and services of the US government and its military.  The only similarity between the two countries is that both of them have not signed  the International Criminal Court treaty and therefore refuse to recognize its jurisdiction; other than that Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, his rendition (read that kidnapping) of foreign and American citizens to prisons all over the world and their subsequent subjugation to torture and the over one million Iraqi and Afghani refugees brought about because of Bush’s madness, far exceed anything Bashir could ever do with his third world economy, military and infrastructure.

Sudan is the cause celebre of the rich and famous;  a bone tossed to them by policy makers who wanted to give influential people something to assuage their conscience.  It is a rallying point for people who are for change from heavy handed militarism and want to see the rule of law and diplomacy restored to the settling of conflicts.  I admire that spirit; it has been missing for far too long.  America has decided, lately, that the only way to settle conflict is through superior military might, and all other avenues aren’t worth discussing.  Some of us have grown tired of seeing the country through its weight around like a bull in a china shop, destroying everything it says it wants to save or rescue.  However, those who are for saving Darfur are themselves a pawn in the geopolitical game of oil and strategic alliances that have been going on for over 30 years in Sudan.  After settling a decades old conflict with the south, whose leaders are against the ICC arrest warrant for Bashir, Sudan was tagged with the bin laden fantasy, the chemical weapons falacy, oil and now the Darfurian fable with an Israeli interjection that’s sure to raise more than a few eyebrows about Israeli/zionist machinations in Sudan’s internal affairs.

Bush should also be indicted along with Bashir; and Bush’s trial should preceed Bashir’s, but the foundation for a Bush trial is already crumbling, with the news the Obama administration doesn’t want John Yoo prosecuted for his memos inciting the Bush administration to torture.  Such a position by Obama only makes me think that perhaps he will institute some form of torture during his term in office.  Change indeed…

Paper is a WMD according to Israel


We’ve blogged about how israel considers clothes a WMD and has blocked them from entering Gaza but now comes word the Israelis are blocking paper that will be used to print textbooks from entering Gaza as well.   Now before you go off and think the textbooks will be about pigs and monkeys, a term I was called by an Israeli for insisting what’s happening in Gaza is “genocide”, you should know the textbooks that will be printed are human rights courses which are modeled on those developed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, with input from the human rights community in Gaza. They will be taught by specialist human rights teachers in every school, and human rights organizations in Gaza will evaluate the teachers’ performance. This should come as no surprise since the Israelis the biggest violators of human rights in the Middle East want to continue the myth that they are the victims.

From the ‘more things change the more they remain the same’ department


We’ve seen how the Israelis have deployed almost every kind of munition against the Palestinians of Gaza, short of a nuclear bomb.  Genotoxic, chemical, and now flechette rounds have been chronicled used against civilians in Gaza.

Flechettes are 4cm long metal darts that are sharply pointed at the front, with four fins at the rear. Between 5,000 and 8,000 are packed into 120mm shells which are generally fired from tanks. The shells explode in the air and scatter the flechettes in a conical pattern over an area about 300m wide and 100m long.

An anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation, flechettes should never be used in built-up civilian areas. The Israeli army has used them in Gaza periodically for several years. In most cases their use has resulted in civilians being killed or injured.

Amnesty International’s fact-finding team in Gaza first heard about the use of flechettes in the most recent conflict some ten days ago. The father of one of the victims showed the team a flechette which had been taken out of his son’s body.

In its latest post on Amnesty International’s Livewire blog, the team described how on Monday it visited towns and villages around Gaza and found more hard evidence of the use of flechettes.

I’ve ceased being indignant about Israeli atrocity, they are simply too many and the international community seems unwilling to hold Israelis accountable for them.  Flechette rounds were more egregiously mentioned and documented  in the death of the Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana who photographed his own death at the hand of that munition.  The video below clearly depicts the effectiveness of the round.

As is customary with Israeli atrocities exposed, the investigation into this young man’s death exonerated the tank crew and business returned to usual on the part of Reuters, who by the way along with other media, was barred from entering Gaza during the latest Israeli incursion. The revelation of this latest use of flechettes will be equally ignored by the Israelis and forgotten by the international community until the next offense is recorded by a complacent and indifferent media.  What needs to happen, if it hasn’t happened already, is each offense documented should be taken before the International Court and charges of crimes against humanity be lodged against Israel until there is a sufficient body of evidence before a world body which will then pursue charges against Israeli leadership and cite the Israeli government as the pariah it has become.  Short of that, Amnesty International’s mention of such crimes in and of itself  is meaningless and only fodder for bloggers’ cannons.