The Activism Debate, continued…
Posted on behalf of Rick Sterling. Rick Sterling is an Aerospace Engineer at UC Berkeley. He was active in support of the southern African liberation movements during the 1970’s and 80’s. He is currently on the board of the Mt Diablo Peace and Justice Center and a member of the Middle East Study Group in the Bay Area, California.
Dear Jeff and others interested in this debate –
I have read with interest the debate between yourself and Alex de Waal posted at his website “Making Sense of Darfur”. You make a number of sweeping assertions and generalizations about critics of the Save Darfur Coalition and their arguments, going so far as to denounce some as “serial apologists for genocide”.
Since one of your objectives was to persuade Alex to disassociate himself from other critics of the Save Darfur Coalition, perhaps it would be appropriate for one of those persons to add another voice and perspective?
Following are some questions and comments in response.
You assert that critics of the Save Darfur Coalition want nothing to be done to help the situation in Darfur. While there is a broad range of critics and viewpoints, that generalization is false. “Left” or “progressive” critics of the Save Darfur Coalition do not want that. Rather, they want to stop US and/or European intervention, which would make conditions far worse for the population. Local solutions including properly funded African Union (AU) troops are seen as positive. We question or disagree with Save Darfur’s characterization of the situation as ‘genocide’ so there is a basic disagreement about the facts of the situation. Alex spoke to that. That said, it is clear that YES, there have been and continue to be atrocities and human rights abuses. We want to see appropriate action to stop these but this should primarily involve people from the area.
You claim that military intervention is not on the agenda and even the idea is “ludicrous”. On what basis do you say that? US military intervention in Africa has come in various ways. This has included assassination (Patrice Lumumba) and the financing of terrorist groups who destabilize the government (UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique). Currently we have US support for the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia. Thus, for you to dismiss the possibility as “ridiculous” is not very convincing. It is especially unconvincing when other people with much more influence than ourselves are actually calling for such intervention. For example here is what William Kristol and Vance Serchuk proposed in their 2004 opinion-editorial titled End the Genocide Now: “Now it’s time for the threats to end and the consequences to begin. After all, in addition to the humanitarian imperative, the United States has a strategic interest in Sudan…. If the regime in Khartoum is going to be forced to accept foreign intervention on its territory, or if that regime is going to be changed, Washington must be a leader in the effort.” Kristol comes from the same influential group who advocated the invasion of Iraq and is currently arguing for an attack on Iran. Given the presence of oil in Sudan, its strategic location and China’s role in the country, it would be surprising if the US was not planning how they can influence events there.
Prendergast and the Save Darfur Coalition say they are NOT advocating military invasion. However they are doing just that campaigning for “no fly” zones enforced by foreign aircraft. We can look at the very recent examples where no fly zones have been implemented (northern Iraq and Yugoslavia) to see how this happens.
You accuse people of being “serial apologists for genocide”. On what basis do you assert this serious accusation? Surely you are not referring to Mahmood Mamdani’s excellent article "The Politics of Naming" published in the London Review of Books. If this is the case, I urge people to read the article and evaluate for themselves whether your designation is accurate.
You suggest with derision that some critics of “Save Darfur” see it as a Zionist or imperialist plot. Of course, most of the people working for the Save Darfur Coalition probably have honorable intentions. That is not the point. One does not have to be a political scientist to note that there are some distinctive and unusual characteristics in the ‘Save Darfur’ peace effort. One key distinction is the coalition’s money. The grassroots movements for peace in Vietnam, Central America, Palestine or South Africa never had the bucks it takes to run full-page color ads in Newsweek. Another distinguishing characteristic the coalition’s composition, including right wing elements such as Kristol and former Senator Bill Frist. These right wing elements support the coalition’s glaring, repeated and incorrect use of ethnic stereotypes to "simplify" the conflict. The rhetoric follows something along the lines of ‘devilish Arabs are murdering African villagers’. The organization’s membership and influence includes these and others averse to critisizing the US occupation of Iraq and Israeli aggression and occupation in Palestine. These types also occupy the coalitions upper-ranks. For example Lawrence Rossin is a former member of the National Security Council. He was Ambassador to Croatia and before that a key member of the US team during the period when Yugoslavia was rent by division and then attacked by NATO. This is a very long stretch from normal peace movement leaders.
Does it matter whether Save Darfur has been promoted by militarist or Zionist advocates? Perhaps not. The real question is : Does the Save Darfur Coalition advance or detract from the cause of peace and justice in Sudan and the world? They certainly helped to get legislation in Congress and likely to also increase federal funding to a special appropriation of $362 million in 2007! This is certainly impressive fundraising. But is this money going toward resolving the conflict and improving Darfuris’ lot?
What about other but related issues of peace and justice? Are the members of Save Darfur being informed about Somalia? About Africom? My personal experience with members locally is that they are not well informed. The local high school traditionally has a “progressive club”. In that past they have been active in opposition to the Iraq occupation. This year they are focused on Darfur and Iraq seems to have been dropped. Another personal anecdote: I was recently at an event where someone was passing out information advertising an upcoming event about the situation in Palestine and Gaza. One irate person responded “Are you going to be talking about genocide in Darfur?!” He seemed to think it inappropriate to discuss Palestine. So there is a real question whether Darfur activism is leading to more or less overall activism for peace and justice.
The above anecdotes do not prove anything but they do suggest that some of the concerns and questions may have a basis and require more than a trite dismissal.
– Rick Sterling