Thursday, September 28, 2006

Darfur And The Politics Of The Left’s Indifference

Above the thousand thousands buried here.
I am every old man here shot dead.
I am every child here shot dead.
Nothing in me will ever forget this.

That's from the poem Babi Yar, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. It was 65 years ago today that the Jews of Kiev began to assemble under orders at the intersection of Melnikovsky and Dokhturov streets. From there they were taken in large groups to a ravine called Babi Yar, where they were instructed to take off their clothes and lie down on the pile of corpses already filling the ravine, in order to be shot. It took two days to kill 34,000 Jews in this way.

What has been happening in Darfur over the past two years is more or less the same thing, several times over. In today’s commemoration of the slaughter at Babi Yar, Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, observed: We must draw lessons from the past and apply them to the future. Babi Yar and the Holocaust were not crimes committed by outlaws or madmen – they were planned by politicians, they were prepared by bureaucrats, and they were carried out by soldiers.

In the case of Darfur, it is quite clear that the world is not drawing lessons from the past. And among the nations of the the world, Canada is perhaps particularly culpable, because Canada is uniquely positioned among the United Nations’ member states to put in motion a multilateral initiative that would end the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

But Canada is not seizing this opportunity. Why?

It’s a long story, which I try to tell in my column today. A lot of it’s got to do with the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last January. The previous Liberal government had to be shamed into paying attention, and when the Conservatives were elected it was back to square one. But a key factor is also the strange silence of the Canadian left - among political activists, the “antiwar” movement, and social-justice advocates. In some cases, it’s not just silence, but outright and explicit opposition to any military intervention at all.

And dainty ladies in Brussels frills,
Squealing, poke their parasols into my face.

Clement Apaak, the 36-year-old founder of Canadian Students for Darfur, started mobilizing campus support for a robust Canadian response as soon as it became obvious that the corrupt Islamist regime in Khartoum was arming Janjaweed militias to slaughter Darfur’s civilians.

Apaak describes a disturbing indifference to the Darfur slaughter that involves “some level of racial undertones” in all developed countries, but it’s the indifference within the Canada’s “activist” left that Apaak says he finds especially galling. It’s a key reason why the effort to mobilize public support for meaningful action on Darfur has failed to gain any real traction in Canada.

“I consider myself centre-left, and I have been very active and vocal on a lot of issues, but I have to admit I have been very disappointed about the blatant silence of the left on this issue,” Apaak told me.

He blames a knee-jerk antipathy to the current United States administration, which is widely regarded as being hostile to the regime in Khartoum. Then there’s the irrational suspicions about the involvement of Jewish organizations in raising public awareness about the Darfur genocide - an irrationality that has been cunningly exploited by Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a proponent of the delusional theory that world Jewry intends to “redraw the region…in order to protect the Israelis, to guarantee the Israeli security”.

The silence on Canada’s left is of a type that Mohamed Haroun, president of the Darfur Association of Canada, has also noticed among the religious leadership of Canada’s Muslims. Most of the dead Darfuris are Muslims who also happen to be black.

“If you can find out why the left has been so silent about this," Apaak said, "I would like to know.”

Some insights into the the left’s silence on Darfur, and silence about the slaughter of Muslims generally, can be found here. Follow Gadi's links.

There is also this documentary, which Shalom Lappin brought to my attention yesterday. It features Shalom's views, along with the views of other Euston Group members such as Norman Geras and Alan Johnson. There is also the dedicated Eric Reeves to pay attention to.

Today, Bill O'Neill gets straight to the point of our responsibiity to protect Darfur here.

Incidentally, the photograph that accompanies this post is of Mihad Hamid, a one-year-old girl whose mother was killed while attempting to escape an attack from helicopter gunships and Janjaweed marauders on a Darfuri village. That’s a bullet in Mihad’s back. She is believed to have died within hours of the photograph being taken.

The story of that photograph, and of the brave photographer who took it, is here.

The "Internationale," let it
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.

Remember Babi Yar. On to Darfur.


Blogger Stuart Morris said...

Perhaps the silence on the part of the left regarding Darfur is because there are a number of complexities to the situation.

For example, the atrocities are not being committed by only one side. And during the last rounds of negotiations, the promise of further potential international intervention may have actually derailed the peace process when rebel groups refused to come to a deal, possibly because they felt that they would benefit more should the west intervene.

Also, the conflict doesn't fit into the nice two-sided morality play that many westerners are comfortable with. One of the rebel factions recently switched sides and is fighting on the government's side. And despite much effort to classify the conflict as Arab vs non-Arab, non-black vs black, and/or Muslim vs non-Muslim, none of those familiar models fits this conflict, which leaves many at a loss as to what should be done to end it.

One concern over military intervention a la The Responsibility to Protect is that should western military forces intevene, it makes an already complex conflict far more complex ("Oh boy, here come the crusaders again."), and the peacekeepers might well end up being targeted by all sides. Think Somalia on steroids.

On top of all that, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq is likely causing many to rethink the concept of knee-jerk humanitarian intervention as a fairly naive notion. More's the pity.

Having said all that, Harper's policy on Darfur is shameful — we should have troops and equipment ready to go.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

I agree the situation is far from simple.Its not Like only one-side is committing the atrocities.
There has been civil war for the past twenty years.The rebel attacks the government.The government attacks rebel helded areas.And like in most wars of this nature,its the ordinary people who get targeted.
I have no problem with the UN going in or supporting the African Unioin Forces with monies equipment etc.
But it is pointless to send in American or NATO Forces over the objection of the government.The last thing needed in the area is another shooting war,between Western Forces and the locals.With all its "superior"firepower and technology the americans can"t even protect ordinary Iraqi's.So its going to be different in Darfur!Its quit understandable why many people are suspicious and distrusting of military intervention by forces other than the UN.Especially Anerican Forces.
After all a couple of the Rebel groups have come to the table have signed a peace treaty,autonmy treaty.
So who's side do we take?We should be pressuring the groups to the table.
The diplomatic pressure should be non-stop,while supporting the UN as the institution which must resolve this issue.
To bitch about the "left" not supporting military intervention is a bit strange,in light of all the recent wars,and misery that was unleashed,and continues to this day.Indeed recent actions should be a lesson of the futile nature of military intervention.
Its not the "left"thats going to solve this problem its the powers that be.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

The other day, I was reading a pretty good article (I think it was by Alan Johnosn, but that might be way off) that speculated that the reason for the Sudanese government's reluctance to allow UN troops in was fear of being captured and prosecuted for war crimes/atrocities. Point being that guaranteeing that this would not happen might go a long way to the Sudanese approving a humanitarian force.

Anyone else spot that article? I haven't been able to find it since.

4:34 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

"Its not the `left' thats going to solve this problem. . ."

Thanks, Dirk, for being helpful, even if it was unintentional.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Stephen K said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Stephen K said...

It is complex, but the genocide, yes genocide, that is happening in Darfur right now is coming from the Janjaweed with the authorization of the government in Khartoum, and it must be stopped now, before it becomes a genocide of historic proportions.

As a leftist myself, I am extremely disappointed with the lack of attention this issue receives from the left. It is my opinion that my generation will be marked by how it responds to this crisis, or fails to. They were right to oppose the war in Iraq (I was very involved in that), but very wrong not to make a stand on this.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

dpu....I also read the article,concerning the fears of certain members of the Sudanese Gov.
I would agree,the international community should guaranteeing that this would not happen.
This does not mean that at sometime in the future the people of Sudan might seek justice.
But in the mean time,the priority should be getting all sides to the table.End the killing,and securing the refugee's,has got to be the priority.
Demonizing the government serves no purpose,other than to give the government the motivation and reason not to let in any Western Forces.
This is not an issue of one-side perpetrating all the atrocities and the other side attempting to defend them selves.Its a bit more complex.

Terry said.... "Thanks, Dirk, for being helpful, even if it was unintentional."
thats why I used the quotes.who is this "left"?

The "left" I hear,are talking about Darfur,are talking about a need to do something.But under the UN.The same UN that countries like the US critize as ineffective.An ineffectivness that is due in part to US actions to make it ineffective.The UN can only be as effective as its strongest member allow it be.But instead they undermine.While picking and chosing which UN resolutions,and international laws,etc they will abid by,and then critizing other nations that do the same.
Darfur must be resolved with the UN,and with UN forces,should the use of an armed force be needed.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

I have to admit that I'm confused by the assertion that teh left is silent on Darfur when the federal NDP has been making quite a bit of noise about it.

11:10 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...


I know you get a kick out of turning my crank, but really. . . First you go to great lengths to try to explain the silence of the left on Darfur. Then you say you're confused by the very assertion that the left is silent.

You go ahead and be confused about whatever you like. If it's the NDP's noise-making that confuses you, you might read the column to which the post refers, where you will find this: "The New Democratic Party routinely voices its support for some kind of peacekeeper-type intervention in Darfur. But elsewhere on the Canadian left — among political activists, the “antiwar” movement, and social-justice advocates — the Darfur issue has failed to establish any real momentum."

12:55 PM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

I know you get a kick out of turning my crank, but really. . .

I'm sorry you feel that way, Terry. If that's an accurate assessment of your opinion of my comments, I'll stop commenting here. However, my intent is to honestly comment on your posts, not to turn your crank.

1:48 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

DPU: You left me utterly confused about whether you were confused, what you were confused about, or whether you were just being confusing.

That's Grade-A crank-turning, buddy.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Stuart Morris said...

You left me utterly confused about whether you were confused, what you were confused about, or whether you were just being confusing.

Well, at risk of further crank-turning, or at risk of more pointing out of the bleeding obvious, the NDP is in the forefront of the left in Canada. One would even say that by far the majority of Canadian leftists are represented by that party. The others that you are being critical of could be said to be marginal to that ideology, at best.

Yet the crux of your posting (and article) is that "the left" is silent on Darfur, or actively opposed to intervention.

My source of confusion is that your contention reads as though the left is silent on Darfur, except for the vast majority of the left.

Possibly I should start reading "the left" as "the fringe left."

2:59 PM  
Blogger scout said...

hey guys, how's life in the confusion lane today? maybe you could put your turn signals on :)

8:30 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

DPU and Dirk here described very succinctly the complexity of the situation. I almost hear the discussions in UN, with Muslim countries, Russians and Chinese (each protecting its own interests and/or dirty deeds).

Which boils down essentially to "do nothing" decision, successfully carried out by UN for so many years.

It is sometimes frustrating to be a cynic.

4:12 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...


The NDP's occasional references to Darfur do not amount to a significant contribution from the "left" to the purposes identified by the Cdn Darfuri Assocation or the Canadian Students for Darfur. The NDP hasn't shown much leadership on this issue at all.

Whatever "crux" you might "read into" the post, or the column, here again is what I actually wrote in relation to your confusion: "The New Democratic Party routinely voices its support for some kind of peacekeeper-type intervention in Darfur. But elsewhere on the Canadian left — among political activists, the “antiwar” movement, and social-justice advocates — the Darfur issue has failed to establish any real momentum."

So if you want to take issue with that, please do.

I didn't refer to the activist left as the "fringe" left. But maybe you've got a point, that the reason Canadians concerned about Darfur don't find that criticial and necessary support from the activist left in Canada is precisely because it has degenerated to a mere left "fringe". It wasn't the point I was making, but if that's your point, I don't think I'd bother you by arguing against it.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Thought I might link to an intresting article on Darfur,by Alex de Waal a writer and activist on African issues. He is a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University and a director of Justice Africa.
By the way,there are pages of info on Darfur at the site linked to.Just use the search function(search for Darfur)

3:22 PM  

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