Linguistic Gymnastics and Genocide

Interesting op-ed piece in The Washington Post today by Michael Gerson, who does a good job of reminding the world that suffering continues in Darfur even though the region may have slipped off our radar in recent months. However, he makes a couple of points that may accidentally cast light on the motivations and thinking of the Save Darfur lobby and the American position on Sudan.

For starters, he rightly points out that the conflict is no longer in an active genocidal phase but then goes on to say this is  only because Sudan has achieved its policy aims – “targeting disfavored ethnic groups, destroying their way of life and forcing millions into camps”.  It is a genocide that has succeeded, he claims.

That doesn’t sound like genocide to me. If those policy aims were in fact secondary to the ultimate aim of destroying in whole or in part those disfavoured ethnic groups, then it would indeed mark a genocide, as defined under the flawed 1948 UN convention. But Gerson doesn’t suggest that. He says the genocide has succeeded. A very odd manipulation of the term, given that the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit are very much still in existence – albeit in desperately difficult circumstances. If there was peace tomorrow (unlikely I know) they would return to their homelands and attempt to rebuild their lives.

Once again, it is evidence that the term genocide has been deployed incorrectly and its supporters are having to wriggle into increasingly elastic shapes to defend its use.

He then goes on to urge President Obama to toughen his stance on Sudan…

Yet boldness — much larger carrots and much larger sticks — is needed. The ultimate carrot would be to offer Sudan’s leader, Omar al-Bashir — currently under international indictment for war crimes — the legitimacy he seeks, in exchange for the peaceful independence of south Sudan and unconditional cooperation in Darfur. This would be distasteful. But it might be worth repressing our gag reflex to gain permanent, irreversible limitations on the power of Sudan’s regime to do harm.

I’ve added the italics. Forgive me, but I thought it was up to the people of Southern Sudan to decide on independence in a referendum due to be held in 2011. John Garang, the late president, was in favour of remaining a part of Sudan and although support for his position declined with his death, there remains an argument that a unified Sudan – with autonomy and a fair deal for the South – might offer a better chance of achieving peace in Darfur.

Once again, I have to wonder about the motives of advocates for Darfur. Too often there seems to be an alternative agenda at work. I’m not sure what it is, but it isn’t the search for peace.


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