Friday 9 March 2007

Darfur, Iraq: same difference?

"The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather than targeted as individuals. But the violence in the two places is named differently. In Iraq, it is said to be a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency; in Darfur, it is called genocide. Why the difference? Who does the naming? Who is being named? What difference does it make?"

Thus writes Mahmood Mamdani in the London Review of Books this month, in an article on "The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency". I hadn't stopped to question the way the war was being covered in the media. To be honest, I'd switched off. I'm quite apathetic to human evil. It doesn't surprise me any more and I don't know if there's much I can do about it, or whether I should even be trying to do something. On which moral ground would I be standing? The only way I can see to downscale this kind of bloodshed in the future is to control the sale of arms and military expertise that our governments and companies offer to other countries. There's a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. How about a general weapons non-proliferation treaty? How many more deaths have been caused by common and garden guns compared to nuclear devices? Has there been anything since America dropped the bomb twice on Japan at the end of the Second World War? Would it be better to take away the guns and let the tribes fight it out? I don't believe Iraq should stay as one country if the people living there don't want it. Perhaps Sudan should be allowed to fracture in its own way, as happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Mamdani concludes: "The worst thing in Darfur would be an Iraq-style intervention. That would almost certainly spread the civil war to other parts of Sudan, unravelling the peace process in the east and south and dragging the whole country into the global War on Terror."

Where's Chomsky when you need him?

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