Quote of the Day: Cul-de-sacs and Three Way Intersections

by matttbastard

To sit back and ignore this crisis because “it’s not happening here” does a grave injustice to the cause of anti-oppression work. If we allow the U.S. government and ourselves to sit back and ignore this crisis, we might as well sit back and ignore the crises that happen here as well. As long as oppression and hate and genocide are allowed anywhere in the world, it will be allowed and justified at home.

But on the other hand, I feel that I also must remind that it is often easier to stand against oppression that isn’t happening in your own back yard. It’s a two-way street, with a cul-de-sac up the road and one of those three-way intersections a half a mile away where you have to take a left exit to go where you want. It ain’t always easy. Stand up against world-wide oppression, but don’t think that gives you a pass to ignore what is going on in your own neighborhood. You will be tired. You might also find yourself confused at times. But you won’t be nearly as tired and confused as those slaves were after an 18-hour day in the fields.

– The Thin Black Duke, Blogging Against Genocide

Besides the links included in Kevin’s post, make sure to check out Eric Reeves’ invaluable site (though I don’t agree with all of Reeves’ conclusions/solutions):

Eric Reeves is Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He has spent the past eight years working full-time as a Sudan researcher and analyst, publishing extensively both in the US and internationally. He has testified several times before the Congress, has lectured widely in academic settings, and has served as a consultant to a number of human rights and humanitarian organizations operating in Sudan. Working independently, he has written on all aspects of Sudan’s recent history. His book about Darfur (“A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide”) was published in May 2007 (available here). He is also at work on a longer-range project surveying the international response to ongoing war and human destruction in Sudan over the past 18 years (“Sudan — Suffering a Long Way Off”).

OTOH, Ken Silverstein contends that some Darfur advocacy campaigns like Save Darfur render an extremely convoluted and chaotic situation to a simplistic battle between good and evil, victim and oppressor. Silverstein points to a recent op-ed by David Rieff:

To communicate a more complicated message may be more accurate but it is inevitably less compelling, and according to the conventional wisdom, campaigns need to be compelling if they are to have a hope of success.

In the case of Darfur, there is in fact considerable controversy about whether the government of Sudan and the janjaweed have committed genocide. Save Darfur, the Holocaust Museum and the U.S. Congress say they have; the European Union and many of the most important relief groups working on the ground in western Sudan say they have not. There is also a heated debate among statisticians, demographers and activists about how many people have been killed or displaced. Understandably, those who are campaigning for an international intervention to rescue the Darfuris tend to accept the higher figures; indeed, for many it is the brute number of dead that drew them to activism in the first place.

To suggest that things may be more complicated is in no sense to deprecate their commitment. But it is to say that if, proverbially, the first casualty of war is truth, then the first casualty of activism is complexity. If Save Darfur had said, “Look, the situation in Darfur is very convoluted and, while the government of Sudan deserves the lion’s share of the blame, the rebels are no prize either,” how many contributions would the group have received, and how many volunteers would they have inspired?

Precious few, most likely. And yet — although it probably was the case that in 2004, the conflict in Darfur could accurately be described as a campaign of terror and murder against Darfuri civilians orchestrated by the Khartoum government — in 2007, the conflict has degenerated into one in which rebel factions are fighting one another while factions within the janjaweed are doing the same. In other words, it’s a war of all against all.

None of this is to say that the crisis in Darfur is manufactured. It is all too real. But a crisis that involves innocent victims and evil victimizers is different from one in which there is evil enough to go around — which, as the headlines demonstrate, is what is actually going on in Darfur.

Also see Lenin’s classic Sudan and lurid morality tales for young imperialists*:

The current crusading about Sudan reminds me of the old saying from the pan-African movement: nothing about us, without us. That it is also a slogan of the disability rights movement is somehow appropriate, since oppressed or marginalised groups tend to suffer from a great deal of imperious generosity by philanthropists and charitable overseers who think of them as children.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

*And here’s where my anti-imperialist/interventionist leanings come into play, which is why, after much thought, I ultimately chose not to directly participate in the Blog Against Genocide campaign. A difficult decision, one that will likely breed much inner turmoil and second-guessing (which neatly sums up my overall relationship over the years with the situation in Darfur; confusion, cul-de-sacs and three way intersections, indeed.)