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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Darfur exposes trait of Arab politics

: After Rwanda, the world learned once more the peril of genocide in rogue states.

Yet the world, or the United Nations as its representative body, is seemingly a reluctant learner with flawed memory.


Over the past 18 months, nearly 50,000 Darfurians have been killed and more than a million made refugees by Arab Janjaweed militias, allegedly supplied with military support by the Sudanese government of strongman Gen. Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum.

For more than two decades, Sudan, with an estimated population of 35 million, has been torn apart in a bitter civil war between a predominantly Arab-Muslim north, and a Christian-black south. This conflict has resulted in an estimated two million dead and another four million made homeless in their own country.

Darfur, however, exposes another dimension of the internal conflict in Sudan.

Here, the victims are Muslim, black and non-Arab. Those perpetrating the brutalities are Muslims of Arab origin.

The tragedy unfolding in Darfur has been well-documented by reputable international human rights agencies such as Human Rights Watch. There is no disputing in this instance the facts of a state-supported ethnic cleansing being repeated in the heart of Africa.

But Sudan is a member of the Arab League, an organization representing 22 Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Hence, the Arab League immediately rallied around Sudan at the UN to ease pressures being placed on Bashir's regime.

The diplomatic manoeuvres of the Arab League are predictable. It exists to defend the interests of Arab states -- meaning regimes in power -- and not the Arab people.

The one constant in the history of Arab states over the past five decades is the abuse of people by power-holders in a part of the world -- between the Atlantic Ocean and the Persian Gulf -- where regimes rule without popular legitimacy.

It is understandable, though inexcusable, that there are no demonstrations in the streets of Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Tunis, Algiers or elsewhere in the wider Arab-Muslim world, denouncing the Khartoum regime for its crimes in Darfur.

Freedom and democracy are sorely lacking among the Arab League members, and popular condemnation of an Arab regime would not be tolerated.

Arabs and Muslims, however, now live in growing numbers in cosmopolitan centres of the West, and enjoy freedoms denied their people elsewhere.

Here they came out in unprecedented numbers, protesting American-led wars to liberate Afghans and Iraqis from despots. But in their unconscionable silence over Darfur, they disclose how selective is their outrage.

This silence is also revealing of culturally entrenched bigotry among Arabs, and Muslims from adjoining areas of the Middle East.

Blacks are viewed by Arabs as racially inferior, and Arab violence against blacks has a long, turbulent record. The Arabic word for blacks ('abed) is a derivative of the word slave ('abd), and the role of Arabs in the history of slavery is a subject rarely discussed publicly.

Here, the contrast between the Arab treatment of blacks, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or not, and the Israeli assimilation of black Jews of Ethiopia, known as Falashas, cannot go unnoticed.

The tragedy of Darfurians ironically has exposed to the world the racial dimension of Arab-Muslim culture and the hollowness of rhetoric proclaiming the brotherhood of Muslims.