Sean Brooks has published a three-part review of Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors. The text is available here. The essay reflects the author’s views and not necessarily those of the Save Darfur Coalition.
Though I agree with the general thrust of Mamdani’s message in Saviors & Survivors and believe his book has played a valuable role in bringing some attention to the problematic political usage of the Darfur crisis in the U.S., this review by Sean Brooks does make some valid points. For instance, I share Brooks’ discomfort at with Mamdani’s “citizen”/”consumer” dichotomization of Darfuri IDPs.
Brooks does not seem to perceive that there are political reasons why Darfur garnered such traction in the United States. He does not ask why it is that “The force of Mamdaniâ€™s critique raised some eyebrows in academic and leftist circles, but largely fell silent in the mainstream media and human rights community.” Certainly it was not because the critique lacked validity.
Brooks’ contends that “the coalitionâ€™s advertising in American media markets was not designed to… make Americans feel good once again about their powers abroad.” Quite possibly that was not a conscious intention – but was that a predictable effect? Brooks might reach different conclusions if he simply reflects upon how it was that SDC, with its “small staff,” was able to attract “noteworthies like then-Senator Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi” to its 2006 rally. However, Brooks’ views are unsurprising coming from someone affiliated with Save Darfur Coalition and it is unnecessary to critique them further here.
I must take some issue, however, with Brooks’ contention that “Notwithstanding a difference of opinion on the ICC matter, great overlap and little difference actually exists between the coalition and Mamdaniâ€™s own policy recommendations for the Obama administration on how to resolve the crisis in Darfur and hold together Sudanâ€™s fraying parts.” The open letter to President Obama from which Brooks’ deduces Mamdani’s policy recommendations (and which I played a role in drafting) does include some points that the SDC has also endorsed (though not always emphasized or timed properly). (And, contrary to Brooks, the letter does not comment on the ICC beyond banalities, unless the SDC disputes that the warrant for Bashir presents “both opportunities and dangers” or disagrees that Washington should also submit itself to the jurisdiction of international law.)
However, Brooks does not mention two of the most prominent of the letter’s five recommendations:
# End the CIA’s close ties with the notorious Sudanese intelligence agency, which is deeply implicated in the violence in Darfur.
# Establish a fair and accessible process by which Darfurians can seek asylum in the US
It is difficult to find any mention, let alone emphasis upon these points from any quarter of SDC. Given that these two actions would be among the easiest and most direct ways for Washington to actually support Darfuris, it is remarkable that such simple measures receive zero attention from SDC. Read in totality, the policies advocated by the letter were not “remarkably similar to the calls from Save Darfur at the very same time.” Quite to the contrary. Moreover the differences in policy recommendations reflect the ideological biases of the SDC that I touch upon above.
Mamdani’s book is certainly not “outdated” given that Bush’s War On Terror continues under different language. If we accept Brooks’ assertion that the SDC’s “intentions have always been similar to those who advocate for unheard victims in places like Iraq and Palestine (both causes that seem very close to Mamdaniâ€™s heart),” we must ask why the organization has learned so little from advocacy around these conflicts.
Thanks for your comment. I am not going to respond point by point because the review sets out my opinion as to why the accusations about conspiracies or certain ideologies driving the Save Darfur Coalitionâ€™s efforts (or serving as key factors for its success) are completely false and poorly researched. As I alluded to in the review, it would be nice if those focused on this so-called spin machine spent as much time investigating how Sudanese actors (especially Bashir and the National Congress Party) manipulate the local, regional and international media to serve their interests.
As for the joint letter, I acknowledged in the article that the ICC issue is a key difference between the Save Darfur Coalition and Mamdani (and others). So I think you misunderstood me. It is also important to note that members of Save Darfur and others in the activist movement have questioned the CIAâ€™s relationship with the Sudanese intelligence agency. The problem of building an advocacy campaign around the issue is that there is no way for the general public to ever know if US policy has changed, as the nature of these affairs is obviously confidential and rarely addressed publicly. Perhaps those in the movement should have emphasized the relationship more, but again I am not sure exactly how the movement could have evaluated any changes to American policy or whether US relations were really holding back Washingtonâ€™s pressure on Khartoum.
Concerning Darfuris seeking asylum, I can tell you from firsthand experience working with the Darfuri diaspora in the US for almost four years that Sudanese do receive preferential treatment within the American asylum and refugee processing system. They have had Temporary Protective Status for years. All of the Darfuri cases that I have personally seen in the US have been decided quickly by immigration courts. Oftentimes I have recommended experts or translators for their cases. I also know of an extraordinary case of dozens of Darfuris who were kicked out of Iraq and into Jordan, where they were not allowed to register as refugees. They were ably assisted in the resettlement process by the US which took unusual steps to get them out of Jordan. Most of these Darfuris are now living in Midwestern states in the US.
This does not mean that the system is working to the benefit of all refugee seekers. There are 250,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad and thousands more in Egypt and Israel. Save Darfur has tried to stay abreast of the treatment and processing of refugees and has on different occasions made interventions with US, UN, Chadian, Egyptian, and Israeli officials when necessary and appropriate. The diaspora networks in the United States to my knowledge have also never called on the advocacy movement to make this an advocacy priority.
So again, with the exception of the ICC issue, I would again argue in spring 2009 that the policy recommendations being made by Save Darfur closely matched those in your joint letter. For what its worth, at least five of the individuals or organizations that signed that letter collaborate or have collaborated with Save Darfur in the past.