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Anti-Arab Prejudice, Oil Make the Difference

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  • World View
    The contrast in western attitudes to Darfur and Congo shows how illiberal our concept of intervention really is Where anti-Arab prejudice and oil make the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2007
      The contrast in western attitudes to Darfur and Congo shows how
      illiberal our concept of intervention really is

      Where anti-Arab prejudice and oil make the difference
      Roger Howard
      Wednesday May 16, 2007

      In a remote corner of Africa, millions of civilians have been
      slaughtered in a conflict fuelled by an almost genocidal ferocity that
      has no end in sight. Victims have been targeted because of their
      ethnicity and entire ethnic groups destroyed - but the outside world
      has turned its back, doing little to save people from the wrath of the
      various government and rebel militias. You could be forgiven for
      thinking that this is a depiction of the Sudanese province of Darfur,
      racked by four years of bitter fighting. But it describes the
      Democratic Republic of Congo, which has received a fraction of the
      media attention devoted to Darfur.

      The UN estimates that 3 million to 4 million Congolese have been
      killed, compared with the estimated 200,000 civilian deaths in Darfur.
      A peace deal agreed in December 2002 has never been adhered to, and
      atrocities have been particularly well documented in the province of
      Kivu - carried out by paramilitary organisations with strong
      governmental links. In the last month alone, thousands of civilians
      have been killed in heavy fighting between rebel and government forces
      vying for control of an area north of Goma, and the UN reckons that
      another 50,000 have been made refugees.

      How curious, then, that so much more attention has been focused on
      Darfur than Congo. There are no pressure groups of any note that draw
      attention to the Congolese situation. In the media there is barely a
      word. The politicians are silent. Yet if ever there were a case for
      the outside world to intervene on humanitarian grounds alone -
      "liberal interventionism" - then surely this is it.

      The key difference between the two situations lies in the racial and
      ethnic composition of the perceived victims and perpetrators. In
      Congo, black Africans are killing other black Africans in a way that
      is difficult for outsiders to identify with. The turmoil there can in
      that sense be regarded as a narrowly African affair.

      In Darfur the fighting is portrayed as a war between black Africans,
      rightly or wrongly regarded as the victims, and "Arabs", widely
      regarded as the perpetrators of the killings. In practice these neat
      racial categories are highly indistinct, but it is through such a
      prism that the conflict is generally viewed.

      It is not hard to imagine why some in the west have found this
      perception so alluring, for there are numerous people who want to
      portray "the Arabs" in these terms. In the United States and elsewhere
      those who have spearheaded the case for foreign intervention in Darfur
      are largely the people who regard the Arabs as the root cause of the
      Israel-Palestine dispute. From this viewpoint, the events in Darfur
      form just one part of a much wider picture of Arab malice and cruelty.

      Nor is it any coincidence that the moral frenzy about intervention in
      Sudan has coincided with the growing military debacle in Iraq - for as
      allied casualties in Iraq have mounted, so has indignation about the
      situation in Darfur. It is always easier for a losing side to demonise
      an enemy than to blame itself for a glaring military defeat, and the
      Darfur situation therefore offers some people a certain sense of

      Humanitarian concern among policymakers in Washington is ultimately
      self-interested. The United States is willing to impose new sanctions
      on the Sudan government if the latter refuses to accept a United
      Nations peacekeeping force, but it is no coincidence that Sudan,
      unlike Congo, has oil - lots of it - and strong links with China, a
      country the US regards as a strategic rival in the struggle for
      Africa's natural resources; only last week Amnesty International
      reported that Beijing has illicitly supplied Khartoum with large
      quantities of arms.

      Nor has the bloodshed in Congo ever struck the same powerful chord as
      recent events in Somalia, where a new round of bitter fighting has
      recently erupted. At the end of last year the US backed an Ethiopian
      invasion of Somalia to topple an Islamic regime that the White House
      perceived as a possible sponsor of anti-American "terrorists".

      The contrasting perceptions of events in Congo and Sudan are
      ultimately both cause and effect of particular prejudices. Those who
      argue for liberal intervention, to impose "rights, freedom and
      democracy", ultimately speak only of their own interests. To view
      their role in such altruistic terms always leaves them open to
      well-founded accusations of double standards that damage the
      international standing of the intervening power and play into the
      hands of its enemies.

      By seeing foreign conflicts through the prism of their own prejudices,
      interventionists also convince themselves that others see the world in
      the same terms. This allows them to obscure uncomfortable truths, such
      as the nationalist resentment that their interference can provoke.
      This was the case with the Washington hawks who once assured us that
      the Iraqi people would be "dancing on the rooftops" to welcome the US
      invasion force that would be bringing everyone "freedom".

      Highly seductive though the rhetoric of liberal interventionism may
      be, it is always towards hubris and disaster that it leads its willing

      ยท Roger Howard is the author of What's Wrong with Liberal Interventionism
      howard1966 @ btinternet.com



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