April 24, 2005

Take That, Bob Zoellick!

How important is it if Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick gave a low figure for the number of people murdered in the Darfur genocide? The Washington Post thinks it's vitally important; if people believe only 160,000 people have died through violence, disease or malnutrition (as Zoellick is reported to have said in Sudan) instead of more widely accepted figures approaching 400,000, why, then

"...the Russians and Chinese will pursue their commercial interests in arming Sudan's government and extracting its oil; Europe will make inadequate humanitarian gestures; [and} the Arab world will ignore the murderous policy of a fellow Muslim government"

Is there a Pulitzer Prize for Naivete' I haven't been told about? Maybe -- maybe -- some European governments might base what the Post aptly calls their humanitarian gestures on a mistaken statement about how big the Darfur disaster is. If there is even the slightest evidence that this sort of consideration moves the Russians or, especially, the Chinese it is a well-kept secret. And as for the Arab world...

Look, I know I have written about this before. I'm sure I will again. But it can't be pointed out too often that the genocide in Darfur is genocide being committed by Arabs, fully consistent with past actions of an Arab government stretching back a generation or more, throughout the whole of which time said government has not only been tolerated but warmly accepted in the family of Arab nations. No Arab government, least of all the one in Cairo, is lifting a finger to stop it; Arab media is silent about it, and about that silence Western media is itself silent.

The odds that genocide in Darfur will continue unless this changes appear excellent. If Zoellick should be faulted for anything it isn't this nitpicking business about numbers, but for addressing Darfur solely as an internal Sudanese matter for which other Arab states bear no responsibility at all.

For the life of me I don't understand the pussyfooting around about this. What possible difference can it make if Arab governments supporting an Arab government engaged in genocide have a few quasi-free elections? Even the much-derided "clash of civilizations" theory assumes that use of the plural is appropriate. Yet how different, really, are the things about Arab culture that produce the terrorism we all object to and those that produce the barbarism in Darfur and its acceptance by the Arab world? If democratization and the transformation of the Arab Middle East are to have any meaning, stopping outrages like this one has to be accepted as a regional responsibility. You can call it an Islamic responsibility if you like, since most of Darfur's victims are Muslims. In any event, the least we can do is end this decorous silence from the administration and the Western media -- which has no color of an excuse for ignoring this aspect of the problem -- about calling this an Arab genocide and demanding that Arabs do something about it. We might be disappointed; for all I know there are Saudi clerics who think mass murder in all its forms is a dandy idea. We won't know if we never say anything.

Posted by at April 24, 2005 06:12 PM | TrackBack (6)

Like I said before (I think), it isn't technically true that the Arab media is "silent" about Darfur, and in any case, how would you know? But that's a minor quibble, because the overall point is valid from what I've seen on Al Jazeera. There is definitely no chorus of Arab voices urging action.

Posted by: praktike at April 25, 2005 12:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with you that this is a vitally important point. You seem to be the first and so far perhaps the only one to pick it up. Well done, but now how can you get this issue the attention it deserves?

Posted by: sammler at April 25, 2005 08:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, sammler, that is the key question. I don't have an answer right now.

I meant what I said in an earlier Darfur post: there have to be about 100,000 people in the United States alone better qualified than I am, by virtue either of their backgrounds or the positions they hold, to be addressing this issue in the context of the Arab world's relation to the civilized world and its norms. But Darfur is nonetheless talked about as if what were happening there were some kind of natural disaster or the atavistic violence of a somewhat more violent than usual youth gang.

I'll be working on it.

Posted by: JEB at April 25, 2005 05:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Both the Arab News and Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat (both Saudi publications) have been consistent in criticizing the Khartoum government for its actions and inactions regarding Darfur.

Posted by: John Burgess at April 30, 2005 03:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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