The ‘Village Voice’, Prejudice and Hypocrisy: Nat Hentoff on Sudan

0
150

The Islamist extremists who perpetrated the horrific events of 11 September 2001 within the United States doubtlessly hoped that their terrorist attacks would have several consequences. One of these would have been to provoke confrontation and hostility in North America, Europe and elsewhere between Muslims and non-Muslims. The need to prevent this undeserved racial and anti-Muslim backlash has been realised and acted upon. President Bush, for example, has gone out of his way to warn against any negative stereotyping of Arabs or Islam. [1]

It has come as a surprise, therefore, that ‘Village Voice’, a well-known and established progressive New York newspaper has seen fit to repeatedly publish articles fuelling both anti-Arab and anti-Islamic prejudice. These articles have also been inaccurate and hypocritical.

The articles in question, written by columnist Nat Hentoff, have repeatedly made claims of Arab "slavery" and "slave redemption" in Sudan. [2] In these articles Mr Hentoff has unreservedly echoed the claims made by Christian fundamentalist groups, including Christian Solidarity International (CSI).

"Indiscriminate and Wholly Undeserved Prejudice Against Arabs and Muslims"

Christian Solidarity International has repeatedly made claims of "slavery", "slave raiding" and "slave redemption" in Sudan. These claims have now been comprehensively exposed as inaccurate and deeply questionable, where not simply fraudulent. The sorts of claims made by CSI, and repeated by Hentoff, have been criticised by Anti-Slavery International, the oldest human rights organisation in the world. In a submission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, for example, Anti-Slavery International warned that:

Unless accurately reported, the issue can become a tool for indiscriminate and wholly undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. [We] are worried that some media reports of "slave markets", stocked by Arab slave traders – which [we] consider distort reality – fuel such prejudice. [3]

It is a matter of record that CSI has been forced to retract claims it has made about Sudan. These have included, for example, CSI claims that "Arab militiamen" attacked a "government-run slave detention center" in Adila, Sudan. [4] CSI alleged that scores of "slaves" had been abducted. Jenny Hopps, spokesman for Save the Children UK, an organisation closely involved with the Adila centre, stated, however, that "the Adila peace center was not attacked" and that nobody from the center was missing or in danger". CSI had to retract its claims, admitting that everyone at the peace center was "safe and secure". [5]

The claims made by Christian Solidarity International about Sudan were independently discredited as early as 1999. [6] In 2000, the Canadian government also clearly questioned the credibility of CSI’s assertions of large-scale "slave redemptions", stating that: "[R]eports, especially from CSI…were questioned, and frankly not accepted." [7] As recently as 2002, a Western diplomat in Khartoum openly stated that CSI has "zero credibility" among mainstream aid organisations and the United Nations. [8]

Of even more concern are the assertions that CSI has not just been irresponsibly inaccurate in its claims, but also fraudulent. In February 2002, for example, in an unprecedented international focus, ‘The Washington Post’, ‘International Herald Tribune’, ‘The Irish Times’, and Britain’s ‘Independent on Sunday’ published articles exposing deep-rooted corruption at the heart of CSI’s claims of "slave markets" and "slave redemption" in Sudan. [9] The ‘Independent on Sunday’ reported that it was able to "reveal that ‘redemption’ has often been a carefully orchestrated fraud". [10] In an open letter in 2000 a senior commander in the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Aleu Ayieny Aleu, stated that "slave redemption" had become a "racket of mafia dimensions". [11] Aleu declared: "It was a hoax. This thing has been going on for no less than six years". [12] The ‘New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, (interestingly described by Hentoff as "normally reliable"), also reported on the "trickery" involved, "with false slave traders selling make-believe slaves many times over." [13]

In May 2002, in a feature entitled "The Slave Trade and Mass Redemptions Hoax in Sudan", Dan Rather and the CBS "60 Minutes" programme independently confirmed the unreliability of CSI’s claims about Sudan. [14]

It should perhaps be noted that Hentoff has a track record of relying upon Christian fundamentalist organisations for questionable articles on Sudan, claiming Islamic "jihad". They have also proved equally inaccurate. [15]

Fact Checking and Double-Standards

Mr Hentoff’s reliance on grave and patently inaccurate claims about Sudan is surprising given that he has himself repeatedly demanded of others that their work be accurate and that they check their facts. [16] He has been very critical, for example, of book publishers, stating that "most of them are chronically irresponsible when it comes to checking the accuracy of the product they send to bookstores…" [17] He has also been quick to complain about "the laziness of the press" in making claims "without doing their own reporting". [18] In another critique of other journalists entitled "Facts are Elusive on TV Talk Shows", Hentoff observed: "Although we now have more access to what is alleged to be information, actual facts are getting harder to find. That is particularly true of the increasing numbers of bombastic, Punch-and-Judy talk shows." [19]

Nat Hentoff’s Hypocrisy: One Rule for Americans, Another for the ThirdWorld

At the very least Hentoff is guilty of double standards. He has written extensively and repeatedly on how American civil liberties have been endangered by aspects of the post-September 11 war on terrorism. He has been particularly critical of the standards of evidence within tribunals. Hentoff has vigorously criticised the fact that hearsay or second-hand evidence could be admitted. He defines "hearsay" as including "rumors, gossip, and statements that cannot be verified". [20] Yet this is precisely what Hentoff has relied upon in article after article on Sudan in ‘Village Voice’ – articles which called for very drastic actions for that country and its people.

It would appear at face value that Mr Hentoff believes that there are one set of values and rights for Americans and another, less exact, set of values for the Sudanese. Uncorroborated hearsay evidence is undesirable for Americans but acceptable for Africans.

Conclusion

Nat Hentoff is an acknowledged expert on the American constitution and the first amendment. He also appears to be an authority on jazz. He should perhaps be advised to keep to these areas of expertise, and away from Sudanese affairs. His reputation as a first-class journalist can only but suffer as a result of his articles on Sudan. They appear to be more sensationalistic propaganda than responsible journalism. While complaining about "the laziness of the press" he has been guilty of this himself. Hentoff’s predilection for accepting hearsay Islamophobic claims made by Christian fundamentalist organisations such as Christian Solidarity International is self-evident. Any responsible journalist realises that sources and accuracy are everything – Hentoff has pontificated on this at length – yet Hentoff has unreservedly relied upon a group such as CSI independently described as having "zero credibility" amongst humanitarian organisations. It is ironic that a progressive newspaper such as the ‘Village Voice’ has seen fit to publish such questionable allegations, especially given their anti-Muslim and anti-Muslim overtones. Sadly, Hentoff’s columns on Sudan have reduced the pages of Village Voice to the level of an inaccurate, bombastic, Punch-and-Judy show.

Notes:

[1]. See, for example, "’Islam is Peace’ Says President. Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.", Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 17 September 2001; and "Bush Hails Islam as a Religion of Charity, Compassion, Peace", News Article by ArabicNews.com, 9 November 2002.

[2]. Nat Hentoff, "Freedom for Sudan’s Slaves?", ‘Village Voice’, 13 November 2003; Nat Hentoff, "Free Markets, Slavery, and Bush", ‘Village Voice’, 23 July 2002; Nat Hentoff, "The Abolitionist Congresswoman", Village Voice, 8 May 2001; Nat Hentoff, "Gang-Rape Capital of the World", ‘Village Voice’, 1 January 2002; Nat Hentoff, "Gang Rape in Sudan", ‘Village Voice’, 13 February 2001; Nat Hentoff, "George W. Discovers Sudan", ‘Village Voice’, 15 May 2001; Nat Hentoff, "Hillary: Help Free the Slaves. Are You Backing the Slave Trade", ‘Village Voice’, 22 March 2000.

[3]. The reference number of this submission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is TS/S/4/97.

[4]. See, "Militia Attacks Northern Sudanese Slave Center. Slaves Reported Missing", News Article by ANS, 8 June 2002.

[5]. See CSI press release dated 15 July 2002, on Christian Solidarity International website, http://www.csi-int.ch/csi-prl/csi-press_releases.htm

[6]. See, for example, Richard Miniter, "The False Promise of Slave Redemption", ‘The Atlantic Monthly’, July 1999.

[7]. John Harker, ‘Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission’, Prepared for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000

[8]. "Baroness Faces Anger Over Sudan ‘Slave Scam’", ‘The National Post’ (Toronto), 20 April 2002.

[9]. "The Great Slave Scam", ‘The Irish Times’ (Dublin), 23 February 2002; "Scam in Sudan – An Elaborate Hoax Involving Fake African Slaves and Less-than-Honest Interpreters is Duping Concerned Westerners", ‘The Independent on Sunday’ (London), 24 February 2002; "Ripping Off Slave ‘Redeemers’: Rebels Exploit Westerners’ Efforts to Buy Emancipation for Sudanese", ‘The Washington Post’, 26 February 2002; "Sudan Rip-Offs Over Phony Slaves", ‘International Herald Tribune’, 27 February 2002.

[10]. "Scam in Sudan – An Elaborate Hoax Involving Fake African Slaves and Less-than-Honest Interpreters is Duping Concerned Westerners", ‘The Independent on Sunday’ (London), 24 February 2002

[11]. "The Great Slave Scam", ‘The Irish Times’ (Dublin), 23 February 2002.

[12]. "Ripping Off Slave ‘Redeemers’", ‘The Washington Post’, 26 February 2002.

[13]. "A Slave’s Journey in Sudan", ‘The New York Times’, 23 April 2002.

[14]. "The Slave Trade and Mass Redemptions Hoax in Sudan", CBS "60 Minutes", 16 May 2002.

[15]. On 23 June 2003, for example, Nat Hentoff wrote an article on Sudan, published in ‘The Washington Times’, entitled "The Fight Against Genocide and Slavery". This article, relying on claims made by the Servant’s Heart fundamentalist group, alleged that Sudanese government forces had murdered 59 civilians and 2,500 civilians, and abducted others, in two separate incidents. Hentoff’s article also asserted that they were "victims of jihad". The American government-funded Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT), monitoring the Sudanese conflict, investigated all of the claims referred to by Hentoff and stated with regard to his first claim that "the allegation that the [Government of Sudan] lead militias forces launched an attack on 27 May 2003 is unsubstantiated. The claim that 59 persons were killed as a result of this attack is also unsubstantiated. Finally the claim that the [Government of Sudan] abducted 16 persons was also found to be unsubstantiated."(Executive Summary, ‘The Report Of Investigation: Longochok Area’, Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 30 June 2003.) With regard to the second allegation made by Hentoff, that 2,500 civilians had been killed by government forces in Liang, the CPMT investigation concluded that: "The claim…has not been substantiated." (Executive Summary, ‘The Report Of Investigation: Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji and Yawagi Villages’, Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 19 June 2003). The CPMT pointedly made the following recommendation: "That all sources carefully screen future allegations for credibility, source of information, accuracy, and the feasibility of such an allegation being truthful so as to cautiously avoid inflaming the situation and reality on the ground." (‘The Report Of Investigation: Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji, And Yawagi Villages’, Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 19 June 2003)

[16]. See Nat Hentoff, "Blurring Nonfiction and Fiction. Can You Trust What You Read?", ‘Village Voice’, 15 December 1999

[17]. Nat Hentoff, "The Accuracy That’s Owed to Readers", ‘Jewish World Review’, 2 November 1999.

[18]. Nat Hentoff, "The Ordeal of Charles Pickering. Are Times Editorials Fact-Checked?", ‘Village Voice’, 17 October 2003.

[19]. Nat Hentoff, "Facts are Elusive on TV Talk Shows", ‘Jewish World Review’, 15 May 2001.

[20]. Nat Hentoff, "Spinning the Military Tribunals", ‘Village Voice’, 25

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.