By Rosalind Robson
More than four years since the war in Darfur began and not much less time since a massive international campaign called for them, the UN has agreed to send “peacekeeping” troops to Sudan. The deployment coincides with an agreement between all but one of Darfur’s opposition groups, to jointly seek peace talks with the Sudanese government.
The UN “humanitarian” intervention, due to start at end of the year, will be the biggest such operation in the world. At 26,000-strong, the full UN force (a supplemented African Union force in reality) will still probably not be big enough, if it were operating effectively (and that is a big if), to provide adequate protection for the hundreds of thousands of people now living in refugee camps in Darfur (200,000 have fled across the border into Chad).
The UN troop decision is largely the result of continued international pressure. Should socialists have supported that international campaign?
Socialist Worker’s Alex Callinicos thinks categorically not (SW 11 August). He says the Americans — it is in large part Americans — who campaign for Darfur are victims of “ideological displacement”. Their anxieties about what the Bush government is doing in the world has led them to attack poor old General Omar al-Bashir and his government in Sudan. Moreover, says Callinicos, the conflict in Sudan has been represented “in a way that reinforces the dominant ideology.”
So what do the emotionally delusional yanks say about the government of Sudan? That the government of Sudan is responsible for, by sponsoring and aiding with army incursions, the janjaweed militia. That is has caused the death of 200,000 people and made homeless two million. But isn’t that just a fact rather than the raving of people who can’t face up to reality. It’s not a reality Callinicos choses to represent in his article. He side-steps this most central and important accusation of the Darfur campaigners, and indeed most right thinking people in the world.
Callinicos attempts to give Bashir’s government quasi victim status by saying that the conflict in Darfur has been depicted, by the pro-UN troop campaigners, as a struggle between genocidal “Arabs” slaughtering “black Africans”. This, he says, fits in with an Islamophobic view of Arabs as violent and backward.
Just because Callinicos asserts that an anti-Arab spin has been dominating the media and the campaign doesn’t make it so. In fact, after a little confusion at the beginning of the war, no serious media have represented the conflict in Darfur as an Arab versus African one. Most commentators now recognise and talk about the complex “racial identity” of Darfurians. Catch up Callinicos!
But the point here is that Callinicos doesn’t want to mention, tackle or deal with the central accusation of the campaign for Darfur.
A far better, subtle analysis of what’s going on in Darfur is in Jok Madut Jok’s recent book, Sudan: Race, Religion and Violence. None of it points in the direction Alex Callinicos would like it to. In horrific detail it shows how Sudan is dominated by a Arab elite, wedded to military forces, which has embraced an Islamist ideology over many years. It describes its hostile and murderous attitude to other groups of Arabs, Africans, national minorities, trade unionists and everyone who threatens its rule. This is not the kind of free-from-stereotypes analysis Callinicos cares for.
It is not “Islamophobic” to criticise an Arab elite. We criticise it because it is an elite, and one that is brutally ruthless in preserving its own power. It is not “Islamaphobic” to call their militia henchmen bloodthirsty. 200,000 people died. The fact that Callinicos choses to make neither of these points shows, once again, the extent of his and his organisation’s utter bankruptcy.
In fact Callinicos’ depiction of the war in Darfur is in tune with that of the dominant ideologues. The US did not want to call the killing in Darfur a genocide. The governments of the west blather on about it all being a very complex conflict in order to rationalise their failure to outright condemn the actions of the Sudanese government. Is that not what Collinicos does to?
Solidarity did not support the campaign for troops to Darfur. For one thing we do not see it as our business to advocate big power military intervention? And we were highly sceptical that the troops will bring peace.
Alex Callinicos doesn’t pull his punches on this issue. He calls the advocacy of troops “childish”. Other SWP apparatchiks may regret Callinicos’ snotty patrician style, wishing to be more diplomatic towards these Darfur campaigners... all the better to recruit ’em to the party.
Solidarity remains convinced about the potential problems with the troops. They might well, one might even conclude that it is probable, that as with other UN missions, they will cause conflicts in an area which is now awash with different armed militias of many political hues and loyalties. Equally we are aware that along the way, it’s possible some good will be done — in providing enough security on a temporary basis for food to get through for instance. The Darfur campaigners are not childish, it is simply that there is a terrible lack of political alternatives in the world. A strong labour movement in more parts of Africa, a proper solidarity movement with a progressive or trade union opposition in Sudan — these things would help make the situation and the possibilities look very different.
The main political problem in Sudan will remain what the central power is prepared to do. It will not be introducing autonomy or democracy for the people of Darfur any time soon. Nor will the governments of the west be pressing them to do that. Bashir has accepted the UN troops only because he has managed to do what it wanted in Darfur, break up the opposition, fragment it, make friends with part of it and turn that part against other parts, to negate, repress and kill enough people. Tragically, peace still look like a long way off.
In what cause would we get on the streets against UN troops in Sudan? As anti-imperialists? In order to be against the imperialists who, to all appearances, did not want to send troops, who want to stay friends with, not conquer, the Sudanese government. A true knee-jerk anti-imperialist, who always says the opposite of what is US foreign policy, would be advocating more troops! Or should we oppose troops in order to side implicitly with a murderous, fascistic regime? We’ll leave that foul politicking to the Socialist Workers Party.
As far as we can, we advocate solidarity with the people who have suffered at the hands of the Sudanese government — trade unionists, students; we should try to establish labour movement links. For sure, before you can say “peace deal signed” our government will be deporting Sudanese refugees back to their newly “safe” country. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.