At first, Black America thought it was only in America. But in reality, the world doesn’t really give a shit about black-on-black violence. Ten years ago, the international community didn’t do squat and allowed machete wielding mobs kill 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. At that time American Muslims were concerned with 10,000 white Bosnians who were slaughtered by white Serbs and Croats.The Muslims were also concerned over the sactions against Iraq and escalating violence in Chechnya. So, now in the midst of a hellish war in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats against Iran, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, between 300,000 and 450,000 Africans have been killed in the past 4 years. 2 million people are internally displaced countless women raped and tortured. That is 2 million displaced in a country of 40 million (5% of the population) and the region of Darfur had a population of 6 million (1/3 of the population).
“The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the term as: Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The conflict in Darfur has been going on for almost four years. Throughout this I have been pretty appalled by the lack of response by the American Muslim community to the continuing crisis in Darfur. Now, Muslims remain silent because they are too preoccupied with conspiracy theories. Let me qualify that, some of us Muslims do care. And we are savvy enough to see through the bullshit conspiracy theories and opportunistic organizations (with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab leanings) that are basking in this shameful tragedy (crying crocodile tears as they press their political agenda). There are some very energetic and concerned students from the Islamic Society of Stanford University that organized an information meeting this past Friday evening. Many Muslims have been silent on this issue because of accusations that Israel has funded and armed the rebel groups in Darfur. Others are silent because the most outspoken organizations advocating sanctions against Darfur are linked to Zionist groups. Carl G. Estabrook’s article Is Humanitarian Interventionism Humane? points out that not a single Darfurian spoke at the events last year. And Muslims voices were silenced during the events.
For those interested in the history of the region, New York Review of Books has a review of two recent books on the conflict here . Read the reviews and check out the books. Ignorance is not an excuse at this point.
Here are excerpts from letters and emails that I have written to community members (any mistakes are my own, feel free to comment if you have corrections):
Yoooooooooo, I’m glad someone spoke up. But the Muslim community’s reponse has been really wack. I remember going to an event held at SCU and met some of the Lost Boys. Muslims were in denial about Sudan’s policies against Southern Sudan. It was still that us versus them mentality. It was still sweeping our dirty secrets under the rug. Some Muslims claimed it was a conspiracy, that Zionists were trying to make Muslims look bad. That is so ridiculous when you look at what has gone on. It is so ridiculous to dismiss people’s real life stories. These people wanted to turn a blind eye to the camps. They wanted to turn a blind eye to the thousands of stories of children who fled for their lives. They wanted to believe that these stories were all hype. The reaction made my stomach hurt. It seemed like I could barely get a response by my Muslim friends when I sent out information that the Sudanese was now targetting Muslims. Oh, now we sort of care because the victims are Muslim. And years later, after all the publicity, we get a few obscure leaders who take a strong stance????
A few Islamic organizations have been stepping up, such as Islamic relief.
Islamic relief provides a timeline for the conflict in Darfur up to 2004:
There are many human rights violations in Africa, and throughout the world, that people don’t care about. That is because they don’t know about it. We don’t know because our media is myopic. Also, people in America don’t really care because they are racist and it doesn’t matter if brown people, let alone black people kill each other. They believe that ethnic groups and “tribal people” are always fighting. That was the theory that Clinton accepted in the 90s. That theory influenced him and therefore he did nothing as a million people died. As for us Muslims, we tend to focus only on issues as they relate to the Muslim community. My hope is that we break out of our own myopia.
We should hate injustice whenever it crops us. We should all care, whether it is in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Chechnya, etc. Do we have a moral obligation to do, say, or at least feel something? It is wrong for a government to target civilian populations. Do I think that sanctions will end the violence? No, more will die. I do believe that we need peace keeping troops, whether from the UN, African Union, or even if the Muslims could get themselves together and we should send some observers there. My primary problem is that few people are coming up with a solution to end the killing, raping, and maiming. I remember how Muslims were deeply concerned about Bosnia in the 90s.Bosnia was an incredibly complex region and there are still UN troops there. Some people claim that the US got involved only when they saw al-Qaeda operatives in Yugoslavia defending the besieged Bosnians. Whether or not they were actually tied to al-Qaeda, there were at least some Americans who did go to Bosnia and Chechya to help them. But I digress…
I especially care about this isse, because it exposes the hypocrisy of the Muslims who are committing atrocities. It makes Muslims look like racist Arab imperialists who hate Black Africans. This is especially problematic because of the long history of raiding and enslavement of black Africans by Muslims. This conflict, as well as other acts by earlier opportunists, turns people away from Islam who would have otherwise been inclined to do so. I know we have many other conflicts in the world, but even if we aren’t able to right a wrong can we not at least hate it with our heart. Instead, we focus on why Americans would be interested in the conflict. It is sad when we only focus on the atrocities committed against us while we look away when Muslims kill each other over sectarian and ethnic differences.
I know that I am deeply flawed. But I do believe that I will be held accountable by allowing atrocities to occur without so much as being moved to lift a finger, write a letter, or even feel bad about my own inadequacy to correct that wrong.
I do not think we as a community have adequately addressed the way that race and ethnicity plays out in this conflict. And when we talk about race in the Middle East, we must not use the racial framework in America. Brazil would be a better model, or Latin American countries such as the Dominican Republic. And because this issue is complicated, it is even more important hat we examine the tribalism, regionalism, and classism in our societies.
It is important to not be dismissive of the ways we in the West, and the Muslim world, perceive African identities. Commentators have noted how African lives have been devalued in the press. A similar process is going on in the ways Westerners devalue the lives of Arabs and other “Brown” peoples. For instance, we can compare the press coverage of the UK bombings in summer 2005 when the lives that were loss were European. The most frequent comment you hear in the US is that “Those people have been killing each other for thousands of years.” This, of course, is untrue. It is a racial essentialism about Arabs. It gives Americans comfort to draw upon this racist trope in order to avoid accepting our complicity in the unprecedented violence in the Middle East.
So, back to my point. I do believe that perceptions of African Muslims did, and still has, impact on how Muslims identify with the conflict. Fact is, many Muslims in the Middle East believe that African Muslims are second rate Muslims. Some of this is largely tied to language. Although Muslims in the West are increasingly aware of the high level of Islamic scholarship in Africa. However, African Muslims are often perceived as Muslims who mix their Islam with animist practices and superstition. (Similarly, many immigrant Muslims in America have questioned my Islam even when I wore hijab because they assumed I was in Nation of Islam and therefore not a real Muslim).
There are a number of Arab Muslims who believe that only Arabic speaking Muslims are real Muslims. I myself had this shocking revelation while I was in Morocco. The perception of African Muslims no doubt, plays a role for some who hold that bias. This leads the discussion to the role of Arabism. (This notion is not limited to race since in North Africa, Berber speaking groups were often perceived as less Muslim than their Arabic speaking brethren). I have two examples of Arabism in this conflict, the role of the Arab Union and Gadafi’s role in the development of the Janjaweed’s racist ideologies.
First, the Arab Union really downplayed the conflict. They completely sided with Khartoum and ignored the realities of Darfur. Why? Why did they not take their fellow AU member to task? Well, Arabism played bigger role than doing the right thing. While Ghadafi talks about North African and sub-Saharan unity, he has funded Arab supremacist groups and privileged pastoral nomads over settled black populations. Reports have indicated that he funded and trained some of the Janjaweed because of his dream for Arab unity in the region of Chad and Darfur.
Here is an article the does discuss the formation of the Janjaweed:
This is not an attack on Arabs, but rather, a critique in the way the rhetoric of Arab nationalism has been deployed in ways that marginalize Black Africans in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies. Here is another interesting article that critiques the simplistic binary of Black African/Arab:
I also would like to clarify. This is not to imply that we, as a community, are hypocritical because we focus on the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. But, we do have a problem if our hearts are not moved by the suffering of our brothers and sisters because they do not look like us or are not in the Muslim heartlands. The conflict in Darfur has gone on for four years and only recently did I see Muslims more outspoken about it. For some, it is not on the top of their agenda. I am glad that Saudi organizations have been raising money to alleviate the suffering (it is promising to hear that). I am grateful that Islamic Relief is there (and we have an organization without an alterior motive to donate to). But aid organizations are now getting attacked and they are starting to pull out because it is not safe for them. My hope is the the UN, African Union, and Arab Union will do something so humanitarian aid can continue and that the displaced can be repatriated.
Finally, I would like to say that I’m disgusted with the news coverage on the issue. First, it was Aljazeera who did an amazing job breaking the news in 2003. But since then, you will rarely see a picture of a janjaweed to get a sense that this is truly a black-on-black issue and Muslim-on-Muslim issue. Instead, the media portrays this in a racial dichotomy (African versus Arabs). But contrary to what supporters of the Khartoum government argue in their apologetic statements, just because the groups are in the same “race” does not preclude genocide. Serbs and Bosnian Muslims are both Slavic Europeans and Hutus and Tutsis are both Africans, Ashkenazi Jews are Europeans, as are the Germans. So that flimsy excuse holds no weight.