Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Darfur and Iraq: Spot the difference

28 Mar 2007 12:57:00 GMT

Blogged by: Nina Brenjo

You might not immediately draw too many parallels between Iraq and Darfur, but the two conflicts are in fact remarkably similar, says Mahmood Mamdani, professor of anthropology at Columbia University.

The civilian death tolls in both places over the past three years are roughly the same, victims are targeted as part of a group, rather than as individuals and much of the killing is carried out by paramilitaries with close links to the military, Mamdani writes in the London Review of Books.

So, why are they called different names? The events in Iraq are explained as a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency, whereas the conflict in Darfur has been branded genocide by some people.

Iraq is a "messy" place, according to the professor, it lacks an "identifiable victim group", as David Bosco, contributing writer at Foreign Policy magazine, pointed out back in January. Nothing messy about Darfur, says Mamdani - that's to say nothing messy about the way it's portrayed as "a place without history and without politics; simply a site where perpetrators clearly identifiable as 'Arabs' confront victims clearly identifiable as 'Africans'".

Activists - often the very same people calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq - are clamouring for military intervention in Darfur. They couldn't be more wrong, argues Mamdani, since what is happening in Darfur is a civil war, rather than genocide.

Writing in New African magazine, Alex de Waal, an adviser to the African Union during the peace negotiations in Abuja in 2005, agrees and says those calling for international troops for Darfur are suffering from "salvation delusion". According to de Waal, political settlement is the only way to solve the conflict in Darfur.

Mamdani points to the 2005 report by the U.N.'s Commission on Darfur which concluded that the Sudanese government hadn't carried out a policy of genocide, but that both the government with its janjaweed helpers and the rebels were guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, respectively. The report mentions mercenaries playing a part in Darfur, another parallel with the conflict in Iraq, where they are sometimes called "contractors".

The media plays a significant role in simplifying the conflict in Darfur and the professor singles out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who has managed to reduce "a complex political context to a morality tale unfolding in a world populated by villains and victims who never trade places and so can always and easily be told apart". Mamdani accuses Kristof of glossing over the fact that the rebels have also played a part in contributing to civilian suffering in the region.

International campaigners - namely the Save Darfur group - have also simplified the violence in western Sudan as "Arab" against "African" and created an image of a one-sided conflict, says Mamdani. How else would they bring together groups that would normally be at opposite ends of the spectrum on many issues? By presenting Darfur as a single-issue campaign, groups such as the American Jewish World Service, the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the National Association of Evangelicals and others stand side by side when calling for military intervention to save Darfur. If the issue was Iraq, such a coalition would almost certainly collapse like a pack of cards.

No comments: