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Another View of Darfur

I am writing in regard to the October 2009 Bulletin cover article, “In the Face of Genocide.” While I admire Mark Hanis’s [’05] hard work, dedication to human rights, and entrepreneurial spirit, the article—along with such organizations as Save Darfur and GI-Net, which have recently merged—raises some controversial issues. Let me begin with some facts.

In Darfur, “Arabism” is a culture that transcends race. The ethnically diverse groups identifying as Arabs are, although largely nomadic, as indigenous to Darfur as the darker-skinned settled tribes to the south; however, they have been traditionally marginalized—a trend that was strengthened during the British colonial period, which favored southern landed tribes.

The conflict has been primarily motivated by a drought that pushed northern nomads southward in search of arable grazing lands. Beginning in the 1970s and culminating in two periods of extreme violence (1987–1989 and 2003–2005), gross atrocities were committed on both sides. In 2005, the U.N. Commission on Darfur accused the Sudanese government of “crimes against humanity” and the rebel movements of “war crimes,” stating that the Sudanese government actions lacked “genocidal intent” but were consistent with “counterinsurgency warfare” (as in Vietnam).

Although estimates of the number of fatalities from 2003 to 2005 vary from 70,000 to over 400,000, the figure of 118,000—of which 35,000 were due to violence—is probably most accurate (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2006). Many agree that the level of violence since that time has greatly decreased, likely to a level either at or below the level prior to 2003.

Some points to ponder:

Of great concern is the role that the Save Darfur lobby may inadvertently be playing in serving the United States’ imperialist goals. First, Save Darfur ignores the aggression perpetrated by the U.S. government, its allies, and U.S. corporations in carrying out regional proxy wars for control of resources by supplying arms, training, and on-the-ground “advisers” to warring factions in the developing world—in Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and Chad, for instance.

Second, Save Darfur reflects the post-Cold–War doctrine of “the responsibility to protect” as demonstrated by President George W. Bush in his pre-emptive attack on the sovereign state of Iraq. In other words “humanitarianism” trumps sovereignty, a doctrine that elevates those claiming to support “human rights” to be above the law and encourages military interventions over political solutions. It is only used against “failed” or “rogue” states (as defined by the U.S. government) and, as such, forms the underlying ideology of the War on Terror. Such a doctrine could easily be used as a justification for the re-colonization of, for instance, Africa. Save Darfur and the International Criminal Court may actually be serving to prevent a peaceful solution by taking sides in the conflict and seeking to invalidate the Sudanese government.

Finally, it is ironic that the Save Darfur movement gained strength as the peace movement lost momentum. And, although Save Darfur urges military intervention to protect civilians, they do not address the fact that more than a million civilians have died and four million have been displaced as a result of U.S. aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Judy Walenta ’66
Sebastopol, Calif.

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