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Darfur Doesn’t Lend Itself to Black and White Distinctions

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Another in the series, How to Think About Darfur, by James North

The New Republic
has a long cover article on Darfur, along with a shorter piece by editor-in-chief Martin Peretz. For Peretz, Darfur is black and white:

"Even if not in numbers, the Darfur genocide is of the same order of moral magnitude as the shoah.
It will haunt us in whatever day of judgment we face, and it will haunt
us when civil and civilized people at last come to bring some just
order to the world, including the moment when some court renders

The main article, by deputy editor Richard Just, is slightly more
nuanced, but he still insists that "the genocide continues to this
day." He is unclear about a solution. He suggests that the invasion of Iraq prevented NATO
from also intervening in Sudan, and he does recognize that the reality
in Darfur has changed over the last few years. And in the end, he has enough integrity to
balk at sending American or European troops now. But he therefore has
nothing concrete to offer– other than to flagellate Western governments
for not acting some years ago.

As I have noted, the Khartoum regime committed its worst crimes in
Darfur in 2003-04, after two rebel movements launched attacks. But much
has changed since then. The two rebel groups splintered, and one of the
larger fragments is led by an odious young man named Minni Minawi, who
could probably be tried for war crimes himself.

Darfur has turned into a free-for-all. The respected International Crisis Group reports, 
"In just a few years, the Darfur situation has evolved from a rebellion
with defined political aims and a clear set of actors, into a conflict
increasingly marred by shifting alliances, regional meddling and a
growing complex tribal dimension."

The "Arabs" versus "Africans" interpretation, never entirely valid, is
now even more muddied. The Crisis Group explains, "Dissent is also
growing among Darfur’s Arab tribes, leading to new alliances with
non-Arab groups, and sparking clashes between and within Arab tribes
and Arab-led groups."
The commander of the small United Nations-African Union observer mission in Darfur (UNAMID), a Nigerian general named Martin Luther Agwai, blames the rebels for not reunifying, and coming to the conference table.

"I am not in any way saying that the (Khartoum) government is clean,"
General Agwai explained. "But what I am saying is that also the other
side cannot be said to be saints. So my appeal is that the pressure
should be exerted on both sides."

I said earlier that if I lived in Darfur
in 2002-03, I think I would have supported the Sudan Liberation Army,
the larger of the two original rebel groups. I am not a pacifist, but
the older I get (mid-50s now), the more I understand the valuable insights of
pacifism. If you take up violence, even in a just cause like Darfur,
you inevitably add to the overall level of violence, with consequences
that you cannot predict, which may last for years, decades or even
longer. Your solution may turn out to be even worse than your original

But is there a solution, aside from blaming "Arabs," calling a complex
situation "genocide," and wailing over the fact that the West did
nothing 5 years ago? We will see.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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