The United States is in the midst of fighting a war that is supposed to bring freedom to Iraqis. If the U.S. truly believed in freedom, then it would not have allowed the situation in Darfur to get this far. Clearly, our world governments are more interested in freeing oil than they are in freeing civilians from the spiked chains of annihilation.
Limited accessibility into Darfur makes estimating exact death tolls hard, but recently the United Nations projected that around 350,000 people have died with and additional two million people displaced. Thus creating the world’s largest refugee problem. Couple that with disease, lack of medical care, and famine and these numbers will surely increase.
Darfur, meaning “land of Furs,” is the namesake after the land’s original inhabitants, the Furs, who when joined along with several other Black ethnic groups such as the Massaleit and Zaghawa, make up the large majority of the non-Arab Sudanese. Before the indifferent sword of colonialization incorporated Darfur into the Anglo-Egyptian map of Sudan, this province existed as a successful self-governing Sultanate State of Kayra. With the increasing migration of Arabs into Darfur, tensions between the African pastoralists and the Arab nomads started showing itself in various degrees. Because nomadic lifestyle is often unstable and hostile, nomads are always fighting their way through harsh elements and foreign territories in the effort to carve out niches. Unfortunately some of these places where these niches are carved displace the people who lived there before them.
The subtle tensions amongst the various ethnic groups have been exploited by corrupt powers that have little interest in the people. Despite the tensions, Arabs and Africans have long co-existed and intermarried creating the racial composite we see in Darfur today. The blurring of physical identity between Arabs and Africans has challenged outsiders who usually determine race through the limited Western eyes of Black and White. With over 500 ethnic groups in this cradle of civilization, Sudan is too genetically rich to narrow people down into a basic Western racial paradigm. In Sudan, “Arab” refers less to the appearance of which we usually affix stereotypical Arab physical identity, and more to what James Baldwin described when referring to Whiteness which is a ”State of mind.” For there are many Arabized populations within Sudan who may or may not look Arab but are completely Arab in loyalties. Although observable racial traits play a role in Darfur, if the non-Arab population submitted to complete Arabization they would have more of a chance to be accepted than African Americans have in the United States.
Unlike the conflict between the North and South Sudan, the Darfurian conflict has nothing to do with religion, for the executed and the executioners are all Muslims. Part of the problem is that they are not Arabized Muslims. Many indigenous Darfurians maintain their core cultural ties with their respective ethnic groups. Despite years of Darfurian support of Northern policy against the South, many non-Arabs started seeing that Islam’s racial tolerance was not always applied by the Arabs. As a result, feelings of betrayal have been expressed by many Afro-Darfurians.
With Khartoum granting preferential treatment to Arabs coupled with years of ignoring the overall need of this remote region, rebels within Darfur subsequently organized. Two of the largest rebel groups are the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Khartoum claims that through the African Union, the SLA and JEM are being armed with U.S. backing. Ending “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” can not be done the through training and arming rebel groups such as the SLA and JEM, especially when the latter is controlled by Hassan al-Turabi. In the past, Turabi used to be one of the most powerful men behind Khartoum’s military regime of Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Since his falling out with the Government of Sudan (GOS), Turabi has used Darfur as his headquarters in order to reclaim power in Khartoum. It is important to note that Turabi was the Speaker of Parliament in GOS and led the Khartoum supported National Islamic Front (NIF) which aimed to apply sharia law to all of Sudan including upon non-Muslims of the South who are predominately Black Africans. If the U.S. decides to intervene through military might by backing Turabi, they will be funding yet another rebel who will turn on them in the same vain as of Osama Bin Laden.
In response to the rebels in Darfur, Khartoum admits to mobilizing militias to counteract insurgencies but have denied any relationship to the most notorious of these militias, the Janjaweed. Janjaweed derives from the Arabic word jinjaweit which means “horse and gun.” The convoy of cloaked men on horses, carrying guns loaded with the bullets of racial bigotry evokes images of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Like the KKK, the Janjaweed are powerless alone but their bigotry is exploited by the GOS who makes sure these otherwise poor Arabs are equipped with expensive arms. The semblance of power allows the Janjaweed the authority to deem weapons as more deserving of admittance into Darfur than food, water and medicine. The Janjaweed are the third arm of the GOS. Like anyone born with a third arm, the Janjaweed are viewed as a freakish outgrowth that extends itself out of the government body that is trying to hide its less desirable parts. It is equivalent to the U.S. government denying culpability in places like Abu Ghraib where the naked humiliation of Iraqis prisoners by Americans are excused as isolated incidents that in no way reflect the regime. Throughout history, the so-called renegades who represent the power are used as tools who eventually take the fall. Logically, like most corrupt governments, the GOS has denied ties with this renegade group citing the violence is random. Random violence does not propagate a scorched earth policy that burns specific people from their land so that they are open to systematic rape, slavery and murder. Random violence does not grind customs, social structure into extinction. Random violence does not have pogroms that destroy the indigenous Africans of Darfur.
While random violence can not account for any of these horrendous acts, genocide does. The word “genocide” comes from two ancient cultures: the Greek geno, which means race, type, and tribe and cide which is Latin for murder. The U.N. defines genocide, “as an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, or religious group.” The phrase “in whole or part” has the international community debating how much is too much, as if we are waiting for the whole to be fulfilled with no regard to the part that has already been fulfilled. Compared to the South Sudan, Darfur hasn’t lost as many civilians. Are we waiting for Darfur to catch up? The genocide in Darfur is fulfilling the reasoning behind genocide which is to destroy cultures and/or re-induct the survivors into the image of the conqueror through language, education, and customs. Perhaps the U.S. doesn’t judge genocide the same way because the Western world led the largest genocide that has ever been committed against indigenous Americans. It is no wonder the U.S. doesn’t take genocide against the “other” as serious.
If we factor in genocide with the construction of an 850 mile oil pipeline, which begins in the Melut Basin in the South and ends at the Red Sea, then the agenda to reach peace are become even more complicated. Sudan is quickly replacing Nigeria’s title of possessing the largest amount of untapped oil reserves in all of Africa. With untapped oil reserves, the negotiations over Darfur are manipulated by oil companies vying for contracts to drill and pump oil into the international markets. As a result, corporate conglomerates are fighting a war inside a war because they are all reaching the final peak of oil production.
My brothers and sisters in my Middle-Eastern and North African motherland are not doing a much better job with their weak reaction to Darfur than my new brothers and sisters are in America. After all the Darfurians are as pious as the Muslims in Mecca. Incidentally, those inhabitants of the Middle East and North Africa who are Christian and Jewish also have bloody hands when it comes to their exploitation of Africa. Like Muslims Arabs, they have yet to mobilize a powerful united front to help Darfur. Despite all of the differences between the Arab World and the Western World they have one thing in common: both sides have enriched themselves from Africa by exploiting every imaginable resource, most notably slaves. Where they didn’t exploit and enslave; they colonized. Where they did not colonize; they set up segregated communities where they exploited the mercantile aspect of economics. Afterwards, they never bothered to close the gates of hell they opened. Since then, the devil himself has come out of those gates and found a new home amongst international political criminals.
Given what the world has done to Sudan, Khartoum doesn’t want U.S. interference citing that the U.S. is not in a position to talk about human rights and especially in the area of race. Given that the U.S. has built refugee camps called prisons that house a large number of African Americans, Khartoum is right. Seemingly the superpower of the world is slower to act when the victims resemble the faces of the very population it enslaved for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, the Arab World seems to act on genocide only when the oppressed resemble Palestinians and Iraqis. Yet, this isn’t about whose racial record is worse. It is about stopping genocide.
Outside intervention in Sudan must not further alienate Darfur and Khartoum from one another. Eventually, when the peacekeeping forces and military interventions come and go, the Sudanese will still have to contend with one another. Although only the people of Sudan can solve their national problems, the destruction of humanity is no longer an internal problem but a universal one. Every nation who continues to do nothing to stop the genocide is as responsible as the GOS. I implicate the international community, including the European Union, the Chinese, the Indians and the Pakistanis, all of whom have more interest in excavating oil, even if it includes excavating the people who stand in the way of that oil. I implicate the Arab League who have been unusually passive while watching Sudanese Arabs dishonor Arab identity with misguided agendas of Arabization and Islamization . I implicate the U.S. who with all of its power and resources can bring an end to the genocide. In a nation that has waged war for longer than the country has been independent, politicians and leaders have all been promiscuous on all sides with favors. Sudan will not be able to broker peace in buildings built with the skeletal remains of civilians. At the most base level, the blood must stop flowing so that civil negotiation from all sides can come to the table to bring about peace, not only in theory, but in practice. Brokering peace in the midst of genocide is like trying to see the humanity of a rapist as he is in the process of brutalizing you.
The quick response to genocide should not be determined by the color of one’s race, but rather by the color of blood spilled for a demented definition of humanity. We have every type of communication devices, broadcasts, and articles just like this reporting on Darfur, yet ironically we are as paralyzed as we were before the so-called information age. Virtually every nation on the face of the earth has condemned the genocide in Darfur, but condemning atrocities against civilians should hardly be something for which we deserve a peace prize. We need to scream with as much desperation as those Darfurians are screaming to be heard. Perhaps then we can finally hear each other to the point where stopping their pain is equivalent to stopping our own pain.
Carol Chehade is an Arab American writer and filmmaker who can be contacted at [email protected]