“Save Darfur”: Fast the Eid!
America’s Darfur campaign sometimes goes beyond parody. The last few weeks have shown this to the full, beginning with the fantastical “Sudan Now” campaign and culminating in the proposal to fast the Eid. It beggars belief.
Having spent most of the last few months in Sudan, especially Darfur, it is increasingly evident that “Save Darfur”””here meaning not just the Save Darfur Coalition but the wider movement””is out of touch with realities. What they describe and prescribe has little or no relation to what is happening and what should be done. Three recent “Save Darfur” activities highlight this.
First is their campaign to push Obama to “keep the promise” and the ridiculous advertisements in newspapers and the Obamas’ vacation destination. They might do well to recall John Maynard Keynes’s well-known riposte to someone who accused him of inconsistency: “When the facts change, I change my mind? What do you do sir?” The facts have changed, the campaign hasn’t. A few months ago I asked rhetorically, “Can Sudan activism transform itself for the Obama era?“ So far, the record is dispiriting.
There’s an episode in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 where the principal character, Yossarian, is tending to a badly wounded young airman, Snowden. He goes about stemming a leg wound in the airman’s leg, while the boy mutely nods, until Yossarian realizes that he is meaning that there’s another wound too””a piece of shrapnel has got inside Snowden’s flak jacket and torn open his side. Yossarian has been busy bandaging the wrong wound while the poor boy is dying. It’s the defining trauma of the book. And it’s the defining error of the “keep the promise” campaign””money misspent on a campaign that is only hampering General Scott Gration the task he has correctly identified, which is finding a workable political settlement for Sudan as a whole. The efforts by “Save Darfur” to try to link its clamour on Darfur with the national issue stretches credibility.
Next was a revealing quote from John Prendergast in response to the remark by Gen. Martin Agwai, outgoing UNAMID Force Commander, that the war in Darfur was essentially over. He could not dispute Gen. Agwai’s facts nor his integrity. Prendergast’s criticism was that this was “something that takes the wind out of the sails of international action.”
This was perhaps more illuminating than Prendergast intended: his campaign is not about domestic solutions but international (read: U.S.) action. That’s Save Darfur’s second big error: if there is to be a solution, it will come from inside Sudan, and must be political, addressed at the structural political challenges of Sudan. A campaign focused on a genocide that isn’t happening, for the U.S. to step up its pressure to stop killing that has already ended, is just making Save Darfur look poorly-informed, and America look silly. Intermittently, “Save Darfur” has tried to rebrand itself as a peace movement””but its origins as an intervention campaign make it virtually impossible to make the transformation. Peace cannot be forced or dictated. If “Save Darfur” is interested in peace, the best it can do in the cause of peace is to fall silent.
Third–and simply stunning–is the choice of date for a fast for Darfur: 21 September. Muslims have been fasting since the beginning of Ramadhan and Eid will fall on 20 and 21 September. As soon as I mentioned the date to my wife, who is a Muslim, she laughed out loud. Not just her: every Muslim, Sudanese or otherwise, I have mentioned this to (trying my best to keep a straight face) has guffawed in amazement. Just as Darfurians are breaking their fast, Save Darfur’s campaigners will be starting theirs. The choice of day is astonishingly ignorant of, and insensitive to the Muslim world. “Save Darfur” may be a multi-faith initiative, but Muslims hardly count. “Save Darfur” isn’t about Sudan, or indeed Darfur, at all–it’s about an imagined empathy and generating a domestic American political agenda. Shame on you, Prendergast and your fellow “activists”, shame, shame, shame.
The American Activism Movement regarding Sudan has long been, intentionally or not, a representative case of harmful and impeding manipulation and politicization of the facts and ground realities. The activists efforts being exerted throughout the time of conflict have never been building blocks in constructing a peaceful solution. They have been reversal in nature and mere obstacles in the process of peace building in Sudan.
The failure of the Activist Movements in realizing their very goals of defending the victims of the conflicts in Sudan stem from their partiality and lack of objectivity in handling the conflicts. From the begining, the activists did no deliberated analysis and honest data collection in evaluating the situations, instead they built their conceptions on inherited political stances and accumulated enemity toward the government of Sudan. This superficial handling of a very sensitive and complicated situation, such as Darfur conflict, has deprived the activists from their core points and displayed them as biased and ill-informed.
I find myself in total agreement with you this time. Peace in Sudan is unattainable within any intervention agenda. Save Darfur did a lot of harm than it can understand. I always thought that with a genuine peace from within agenda and more understanding to the dynamics and context of this part of the world, Save Darfur could have done more better utilizing their huge funds in real humanitarian work that can relief the suffering of the Darfurian IDPs in the camps, as well as supporting the on going peace efforts. But again, Save Darfur can not be isolated from its origin and original agenda which I am sad to admit that they are not Sudanese Agenda in any sense.
If fasting the eid is not a joke of yours Alex, I think that is the most weird thing I had ever heard in my entire life. Fasting the Eid is not only funny, it is strictly “Haram”.
Dear Alex, please tell me that this is a propaganda ploy of the NCP and is not true. It is so offensive to those of us who have been involved in human rights advocacy in Sudan. Regards, Khalid
Dear Ahmed and Khalid,
Sadly this incident is not a joke and is not propaganda, though I am sure it will be exploited to the full by those who want to discredit “Save Darfur.” It shows just how far this campaign has come from its early days. It began as a genuine outpouring of rage and compassion. In my view it became misguided, though still well-intentioned, in 2006. Now, in the face of those who argue that it has altogether more sinister objectives, it is difficult for me to defend it as an instance of slightly anachronistic American exceptionalism. Something much more profound has gone wrong.
I hope that the planned fast on Eid al Fitr is only a fringe event or will be called off when wiser heads prevail. But I fear for the worst.
The Save Darfur movement lives in fear of becoming insignificant,and have done little to hide there dissapointment over the fact that the violence is dieing down.
Save Darfur is trying to trample the green shoots of peace.
Regardless of the Western activismsâ€™ misconceptions and deeds, your Making Sense of Darfur blog seems to have followed a similar path. You too have wasted a lot of time, resources and energy to prove that the ICC was 100% wrong in its decision to condemn the current regime and its head, of Darfur crimes, as well as your continuous efforts to ridicule Darfur activists.
Paradoxically, you have been probably the first person to draw the attention to the fact that this regime had effectively carried its tried weapon, of unleashing tribal militias to fight a proxy war in Darfur. You have mentioned this in your article â€œCounter Insurgency on Cheapâ€. We all know the consequences and the magnitude of destruction such strategy could cause once launched by the government. This had happened in the South and as a result millions of innocents lost their lives.
These are obvious and simple facts Alex to be contested in favor of this regime. Reaching to a sustainable peace in Darfur is a genuine goal for many of us and we would support any efforts that could lead to it. However, it is equally important to accept the facts and deal with grievances and bring about justice as basis for reconciliation, which should first be achieved among different tribes in Darfur.
Your blog could do better than, what seems to be fighting for the sake of Khartoum Government, which I sincerely believe it is not.
Having known you for many years, and knowing your personal and professional commitments, not to mention our joint efforts to bring relief and attention to neglected areas of eastern Sudan in the 1990s, I take your comment seriously. It’s cause for concern that there’s a (mis)perception that this site is motivated by opposing Save Darfur and its ilk. That isn’t true: we publish pieces in support of them as well. I have credited Save Darfur and the ICC with helping bring down the levels of violence in Darfur in 2004-05. One of my major criticisms of Luis Moreno Ocampo is that he is doing a poor job of pursuing justice, not that he shouldn’t be doing it. But giving credit never seems to be news, while criticising a high-profile campaign always generates news. It’s interesting that whenever there’s a critical piece on the site, the number of hits goes up. Perhaps that is because there are so many activist sites full of condemnations of Sudan, but so few places with any reasoned criticisms of the campaign.
My main worry about this misperception is that the campaigners have succeeded in defining the terms of the debate, which is in terms of evil misdeeds. It is as though the root cause of Sudan’s crisis is malign intent by the government. What happened to that strong tradition of seeing the cause of Sudan’s crises in structural political factors, and the misdeeds as symptomatic of that? Avoiding a crisis in south Sudan and the transitional areas won’t be achieved by pre-emptive condemnation of the kind of military campaigns that the Govt of Sudan is likely to launch in the event of a war–once it comes to a violent conflict, Khartoum will take scant notice of human rights advocacy. Avoiding the crisis will come through a political process. We need to grapple with the politics if there is to be a chance of respecting human rights.
Your comments vary between the Save Darfur Coalition and the “Save Darfur” movement. It might be worthwhile to distinguish different components of the movement, as you have done at times but don’t do in this post. Presumably you believe some international action regarding the situation in Sudan is valuable and you regard some activists as supporting politically wise and culturally sensitive policy prescriptions for international actors.
Dear Eric Frenkil,
I read the invitation again on StopGenocideNow.org, and also I read the attached message, there is no mentioning of “If your faith and health permit”. I maintain the strong believe that this is quite a non-cultural-sensitive invitation.
September 21, is already marked by the UN as the International Day of Peace. Peace in Sudan requires real efforts, and Save Darfur movement or activism could have chosen any other practical and sensitive mean for showing solidarity. As a Sudanese and within my culture, as a moderate Muslim, fasting the Eid is a sin, and I would never want others to show solidarity with me in an eyebrow lifting and sinful act even though it is committed, most probably in good will and intention, by people who may or may not share me my belief, but nonetheless the act is performed in my support.
I believe that it would have been more appropriate if Save Darfur and the activities called for invitation for the congressional representatives to call on the US admin to adopt some peace building policies, definitely other than interventionism, to accelerate or boost the current peace efforts in Sudan; or otherwise, as coming from humanitarian work background, I would have preferred if the invitation was for support to provide funds that can enable the Darfuri IDPs to meet basic humanitarian needs and celebrate the end of their fasting in a dignified way; that could have been more effective as an expression of solidarity with them in this day. Please accept my apologies I do not see any benefit coming to the Darfuri people from the fasting of celebrities or congressional representatives in the US. I do believe in the total futility of such activities, of course other than a self oriented public propaganda.
We disagree with Alex on some issues regarding the conflict and peace in Darfur, however, we also appreciate the fact that the â€œMaking Sense of Darfurâ€ blog provided an invaluable forum for balancing and discussing, in a constructive way, many important issues related to Darfur, such as the discussions on the ICC and the discussion of Mahmood Mamdaniâ€™s book ‘ Saviors and Survivors’ which I believe provided a platform for the most comprehensive and in depth discussion, I ever came across, of Save Darfur movement and the Darfur problem. We may agree in some details, yet, we do not deny the overall contributions of such discussions in specific, or those of the blog in general.
Eric, you wrote in your second comment to this article:
“I would like to mention that the StopGenocideNow.org fast that you referred to (coming to me through their Sept 19th email) seems to choose the first day of Eid el-Fitr as a mark of solidarity with Muslims.”
But if fasting during the time of Eid ul Fitr is haram (forbidden) how could the calling for a fast during Eid ul Fitr be considered as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims?
Oscar is absolutely right fasting on a day which is forbidden for Muslims to fast on is an insult rather then an act of solidarity