Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 26 March 2009

Gaza and Darfur: Some people matter more than others

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By Savo Heleta

March 25, 2009 — The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza created fury and protests around the globe and especially in the Arab and Muslim world. A number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa saw some of the largest demonstrations in their history that condemned the killings of civilians and children by the Israeli forces.

At the same time, the Middle Eastern media, such as Al Jazeera, had a 24/7 coverage of the conflict.

One has to wonder why the Darfur conflict has never received similar attention.

Since 2003, Sudan’s western province of Darfur is an epicenter of a conflict between the mainly African rebels and the Arab-controlled government of Sudan and its proxy militias.

As in Gaza, the civilians in Darfur are paying the highest price. It is estimated that over the last six years about 200,000 people have died in Darfur from fighting, starvation, and diseases. The United Nations and aid agencies estimate that over two million Darfurians, out of a population of about six million, are currently living in refugee camps.

Even in the grimmest moments in Darfur, in 2003 and 2004, when the entire communities have been brutally destroyed by the government forces and their militias, a very few people in the Arab and Muslim world protested and condemned the killings of innocent Darfurians. Up to this day, not one Arab or Muslim leader has publicly criticized Sudan’s actions and atrocities in Darfur.

Suffering in the hands of an Arab regime

The Sudanese ruling elite portrays itself as an Arab regime both at home and abroad. Some would say this helps explain the lack of concern for the Darfur conflict in the Arab world. However, both sides in Darfur are Muslim and Darfurians, both Arabs and Africans, are Sudan’s most devout Muslims.

Rami Khouri, a Lebanese journalist, thinks that the silence in the Arab world "is not specific to Darfur or Sudan, but rather reflects a wider malaise that has long plagued the region: Arab governments tend to stay out of each other’s way when any one of them is accused of wrongdoing, and most Arab citizens have been numbed into helplessness in the face of public atrocities or criminal activity in their societies."

This changes only when Muslims suffer in the hands of non-Muslims – Americans, Russians, Serbs, or Israelis, to name a few. Then the Arab and Muslim governments and organizations are very active in condemning the atrocities while citizens show solidarity with the victims and demonstrate against "crusaders, infidels, or Zionists."

But when Muslims suffer on a large scale in the hands of an Arab regime, then there is barely any condemnation of the violence and crimes in the Arab and Muslim world.

Even though millions of innocent Muslims have been the victims in Darfur over the last six years, the fact that they are the victims of an Arab regime seems to prevent the Arab public and governments from often even acknowledging the suffering and humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur.

Darfurians matter less than Gazans

Ahmed Hussein Adam, the spokesperson of the Justice and Equality Movement, currently the most powerful Darfur rebel movement, have condemned the killings in Gaza but "observed with deep regret and sorrow the political, diplomatic, and humanitarian mobilizations for the civilians in Gaza, while [the Arab countries] adopted a dismissive attitude for the safety and security of civilians in Darfur."

Adam says that it is shameful that many in the Arab world seem to "consider blood of the people of Darfur [to be] less important than the blood of the people of Gaza."

Abdel Wahid Al-Nur, the leader of one faction of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, thinks that "if the Arab and Islamic countries mobilized 10% of what they [have done recently] for Gaza," they could have stopped the suffering of millions in Darfur long time ago.

Throughout the Darfur conflict, the Arab League stood by Sudan and defended its dismal actions. When the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor decided to seek an arrest of Sudan’s president for the alleged war crimes and genocide committed in Darfur, the League slammed the move and called it an "unbalanced stance."

After the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the Arab and Muslim world continued to support the Sudanese regime. Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, said his country "stands by Sudan with our heart and soul" despite the indictment.

In the aftermath of the recent Gaza conflict, however, the Arab League immediately called on the United Nations to "form an international committee to investigate Israeli crimes in Gaza and set up a criminal court to try Israeli war criminals."

It is appalling that the people of Darfur, who have suffered unspeakable atrocities since 2003, do not matter to many in the Arab and Muslim world only, it seems, because their tormentors are Arab Muslims and not Jews or Christians.

The killings of children and civilians in Gaza have be condemned in the strongest terms possible. But what about the innocent people in Darfur and their anguish and suffering? They are human beings, too!

Savo Heleta is the author of "Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia" (March 2008, AMACOM Books, New York). He holds an Mphil degree in Conflict Transformation and Management from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.



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  • 26 March 2009 05:24, by Akol Liai Mager

    At least some people from nowhere and unknown to Darfurians, are trying their best to re-install a bit of hope to the hopeless, heartless and voiceless African people of Darfur-Sudan. Unlike Nuba Mts, Hangesseners, Beja and South-Sudan African people, Darfurians blood will very soon bring what Tutsi blood brought to Rwanda.

    Dear Heleta, I did note some of your words as follows: "One has to wonder why the Darfur conflict has never received similar attention" I was thinking that you really don’t know why, but as I read your article on and on, I understood that you are fully aware of the reasons and not only that you are an expert who is trying to make some analysis.

    Majority Arabs don’t value lives, faith, culture or religion other than theirs and never cared about non-Arab people’s feelings. Arabs are using Islam as means to install one Crazy Arab King or Emir on-to-Throne to rule the Globe then the Arab are Purer than other Muslims and therefore, must rule the world forever. This world dreamed for by Arab will then be an Animal Farm’s stylse one and who dout it will see it with their own eyes if that dream succeed.

    People of the World must stand up and say Big No to an Animal Farm stylse’s world. Pigs did not sustain their Animal Farm Kingdom simply because they were not intelligent enough unlike Arabs and for that their Kingdom they built using tricks and cheats collapsed with no return. But, Arab mind may not be different from that of Pigs, this is because we saw it in Andollise State in a place known today as Spain and we will see it soon in Sudan.

    Finally, Savo Heleta gained full credit from non Arab world and I would personally be happy for more Articles from Heleta or likes.

    repondre message

    • 29 March 2009 03:05, by uncorrupt_dinka

      Slavery: Mauritania’s best kept secret

      By Pascale Harter
      BBC News, Nouakchott

      kyra is a runaway Mauritanian slave. Her earliest childhood memories are of fetching water, tending animals and cooking and cleaning. "I was tied up all night and all day. They only untied me so I could do my chores. In the end I could barely move my limbs."

      She never earnt a single penny.

      "All those years," she told me, "and I don’t even own a goat".

      Mohamed could not tell me his surname or his age.

      As a slave he didn’t own the right to either.

      But in a candlelit shack in the sandy outskirts of the capital, Nouakchott, he told me the story of his life. "

      I don’t know how I became a slave," he told me. "

      I was just born one. My family were slaves. We did all the hard work for our master and all we received in return was beatings."

      Proof

      After three attempts at making slavery illegal, the latest as recently as 1981, Mauritania has finally enacted a law which goes further than ever before, making slave ownership punishable with a fine or prison sentence. But a year on, and no-one has yet been prosecuted under the new law. "We enacted it just to meet international standards," says Bamariam Koita, director of the government’s Human Rights Commission.

      Mr Koita maintains that no-one has been prosecuted because slavery was abolished long ago in Mauritania.

      "Have you seen a slave? Have you seen a slave market? Of course you haven’t," he puffed, confidently answering his own question.

      He has a point. Human beings in chains are not bought and sold in the full glare of Nouakchott’s market. It’s even worse than that, according to Boubakar Messaoud, founder of the local association SOS Slaves.

      "A captured slave knows freedom, so to keep him you have to chain him," says Mr Messaoud.

      "But a Mauritanian slave, whose parents and grandparents before him were slaves, doesn’t need chains. He has been brought up as a domesticated animal."

      Rape

      Skyra was born to a slave mother so there was never any question she would be anything else. She remembers the years she spent treated like an animal.

      "They raped me often," she says shaking with anger. "At night, when everyone was asleep, they came for me and I couldn’t stop them. If I had been free I would never have let this happen to me".

      A living reminder of her slavery nestles in Skyra’s lap, another sleeps at her feet, on the floor of her corrugated iron shack.

      "My master is the father of my first child, my master’s son is the father of my second child and my baby girl’s father was my master’s nephew".

      In this way says Boubakar Messaoud, "We have achieved what the American plantation owners dreamed of - the breeding of perfectly submissive slaves".

      Count the slaves

      Skyra was not perfectly submissive. Her small insurrections earned her beatings until she found the strength - and the opportunity - to run away. She was determined that her children would not be born into slavery as she had been.

      Mohamed escaped his master when soldiers passed by his isolated village in the desert. "When my master demanded the soldiers hand me over, I told them I would rather they shot me dead and buried me right there than return with my master."

      In answer to the Mauritanian government’s assertion that slavery no longer exists in Mauritania, Mohamed recites the names of the family members he left behind in slavery. "If I tell you their names, can you count them?" he asked shyly. "I was never taught". There are eight members of his immediate family still living as slaves, and Mohamed tells me there are many more in Mauritania.

      It is difficult to know how many though. International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International are prevented from entering the country to conduct research.

      "Not only has the government denied the existence of slavery and failed to respond to cases brought to its attention," says Amnesty, "it has hampered the activities of organisations which are working on the issue, including by refusing to grant such organisations official recognition."

      Boubakar Messaoud and other members of SOS Slaves have been imprisoned and harassed by the authorities for their anti-slavery campaigning.

      It seems the government has little interest in really wiping out slavery. Meanwhile slavery remains Mauritania’s best kept open secret.

      "Everyone knew we were slaves," said Mohamed. "It’s a normal thing, to have slaves in Mauritania."

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