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News :: Human Rights
Darfur - exposing Arab league goals for what they are
03 Aug 2004
The EU and the UN have finally decided to take the first timid steps to try to put an end to what it happening in Darfur in the Sudan.
The EU and the UN have finally decided to take the first timid steps to try to put an end to what it happening in Darfur in the Sudan.

The recent report by Human Rights Watch on Darfur corroborates the worst suspicions of those who have followed developments in western Sudan. There have been killings on a massive scale, expulsions, the systematic torching of villages and – last and not least – the use of rape as a weapon of intimidation and humiliation against the province's black population.

These are not just the depredations of unruly Arab militias. They are the instruments of the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in its war against the black, non-Arab population of the province.

This is, of course, not the first time Sudan has been involved in violence against its non-Arab population. For decades the Sudanese government has been trying to suppress an insurrection of black tribes, mainly the Dingas, in the South. In that case Khartoum was trying to impose Islamic law on the Southerners, who are mainly Christians and animists.

In Darfur, those oppressed by the Sudan government are themselves Muslims. But in both cases, the Khartoum government has been engaged in oppressing and brutalizing black, non-Arab population groups.

International public opinion – obviously slow to react, as in the case of Rwanda, to a horror in a far away land, where the victims are blacks and the details appear murky – has, however, overlooked the wider context in which these actions have occurred.

One of the characteristics of Arab nationalism – epitomized in the official ideology of the Arab League – has been to view the region as exclusively Arab. Obviously, the majority of the population in the arc stretching from Morocco to Kuwait are culturally and linguistically Arab.

Yet by calling it "the Arab region," Arab nationalist discourse states not only a demographic fact but also presents a normative entitlement: In the book of mainstream Arab nationalism, there is only one legitimate nation-bearing people in the area – the Arabs.

This exclusivist, hegemonic aspect determines much of Arab politics.

Hence there is no Arab voice accepting the rights of the Kurds in northern Iraq for self-determination; hence the difficulties of Algeria in accepting the Berbers – and their language – as a legitimate political component of the country; hence the violent opposition to the attempts of the Christian Maronites to mold a slightly different identity for Lebanon; hence the angry response in Egypt when the issue of the Christian Coptic is raised. The Egyptian riposte has consistently been that there are no minorities in Egypt.

It is in this context that the deep unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of Israel has to be understood.

If any nation in Central or Eastern Europe were to maintain that it has the monopoly of being a Staats-Nation (to use a historically discredited German term), nobody would accept it – and international opinion would, justly, brand it as racist and chauvinistic.

This, however, is at the core of the belief system of Arab nationalism. The violence in Sudan – as well as the current violence in Iraq, aimed, among others, also against Kurdish autonomy – is just a more violent expression of the same pernicious thread running though dominant Arab political thinking.

No wonder the Arab League, so vociferous on other issues, has been silent.

What is happening in Darfur is much worse than what Slobodan Milosevic tried to do to the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Nobody wants to see the international community involved in another humanitarian war in Africa.

But the issue in Darfur is not just a need for more or quicker humanitarian aid. It is the consequence of a deep, far-reaching version of ethnocentric Arab nationalism, and it has to be robustly confronted, intellectually and politically, for what it is.

This work is in the public domain
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