Darfur: a by-word for tragedy and hypocrisy

At the end of April, western human rights and charitable bodies organized a series of events to mark the fourth anniversary of the outbreak of fighting in the Darfur region of western Sudan. During this period, Darfur has become a by-word for human tragedy, with the Sudanese government of Omar Bashir being blamed for perpetrating a “genocide” against “African” tribespeople in the region, with the help of the notorious Janjaweed, described as militants belonging to “Arab” tribes, supported and equipped by the Sudanese government. According to information provided by various sources, including local political factions opposed to the Khartoum government, western aid agencies and international bodies such as the UN, over 200,000 people have been killed in the region and numerous war crimes committed, including the use of starvation and rape as weapons of war. Independent reports confirm that a massive tragedy has undoubtedly taken place there, even if the scale has been exaggerated by some parties for their own political purposes. Although African Union troops have been posted in the region as peacekeepers since 2005, peace agreement was reached last year and further talks between the government and various factions are due to resume this month, there appears little prospect of the issue being resolved any time soon.

Tragedy apart, Darfur has also become a by-word for political hypocrisy. Many in the West use it to highlight the supposed hypocrisy of many Muslims. According to them, the Muslims that make so much fuss about the tragedies in Iraq and Palestine are silent about the supposed genocide being perpetrated by a Muslim government on a Muslim people in the Sudan. Another point often made is that Muslims accuse the West of being anti-Muslim while ignoring the fact that the West is trying so hard to help the people of Darfur while Muslim governments do nothing. Like Bosnia before it, Darfur has become an example that Westerners use to prove that the West is not anti-Muslim and that Muslims are paranoid to suspect that it is.

The real political hypocrisy over Darfur, however, is not by Muslims but by many Westerners. There also appears to be a wilful ignorance of the real situation in Darfur. The reality is that the war in Darfur was begun, and is being continued, by some of Sudan’s neighbours, and larger powers behind them, to maintain pressure on the Khartoum regime. It is not a coincidence that the Darfur conflict escalated as the cnflict in the south of Sudan was settling down. As in that conflict, rebels fighting the Sudanese government are being supported and encouraged from outside the country, with the result that what was originally just another case of tribal conflict, exacerbated by an element of unrest against a distant central government, has become a genuine human catastrophe. While it is true that policies pursued by the Sudanese government have contributed to the tragedy, as they have tried to quell trouble in the region, so too have the policies of Western governments and agencies, whose extreme statements on the issue have encouraged those factions opposing the government to increase their demands and operations.

Nor is it true to suggest that the West has no interest in the region. In fact the West’s interest is both is maintaining disorder there, in order to justify its military and political interference, as typified by Ethiopia’s war in Somalia, and the belief that there may be substantial oil reserves in the Darfur region for future exploitation by Western oil companies.

Considering the West’s record of exploitation in the Muslim world, and of ruthlessly pursuing its interests at any cost to other peoples, nobody should be surprised that Muslims are reluctant to accept its protestations of goodwill over Darfur at face value. It is difficult to accept the sincerity of the concern over the death of 200,000 African Muslims of the same governments that were responsible for the deaths of up to a million Iraqi children –” and countless more adults –” through economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s; not to mention the 600,000 or more who have died there since the US invasion in 2003. Many aid agencies and workers may be sincere in their concern; but the suspicion is unavoidable that their work is being manipulated and exploited for political purposes by political factions with their own agendas. It would be nice to see some recognition of this possibility from the agencies themselves.

Yes, Muslims are aware of the tragedy of Darfur, and deeply saddened. But it is just one of many tragedies that we face, and no one should be surprised if we are reluctant to invite our hypocritical enemies in to solve them.