Crisis in Sudan
June 5, 2005 11:12 AM   Subscribe

The International Criminal Court will soon formally investigate war crimes in Darfur, Sudan. In two years the ethnic Arab militia janjaweed—many who received military training from Gaddafi hoping to set up an "Islamic Legion" of mercenaries—have slaughtered up to 180,000 non-Arabs and raped untold thousands. Nicholas Kristof's piece in the NYT reports on the rape crisis, and features a Flash piece with interviews. Zogby/ICG studies show 80% of Americans support a tougher international response to the situation in Darfur, yet it also revealed a strange datapoint: "African-Americans are among the U.S. sub-groups least aware of the situation in Darfur and least likely to feel that the international community has a responsibility to intervene." A few weeks ago, writer Jeremy Levitt (Chicago Sun-Times) addressed this.
posted by dhoyt (11 comments total)
I disagree with the Sun-Times writer. Black Americans are Americans, period. They don't have a special responsibility towards the Sudan any more than I have a special responsibility towards Yorkshire. That said, I'm glad to hear that the war crimes investigations have begun.
posted by cali at 11:33 AM on June 5, 2005

...writer Jeremy Levitt (Chicago Sun-Times) addressed this.

Actually, I read him as addressing the apparent inattention to Darfur by grassroots African American groups (and especially their leaders) and African American churches. I see no connection to his observation and what the poll shows. Because they are observations of different things.
posted by ~rschram at 12:20 PM on June 5, 2005

On a sidenote regarding the Arab ethnicity of the Janjaweed:

The Arabs are not a distinct ethnic group, since there are both white Arabs and black arabs. Some of the black Sudanese Arabs claim descent ln the male line from Arabs of Mohammed's time, and may well be correct in their claim. Nor is language a sufficient criterion of Arabness since there are many Arabic-speaking jews who are not normally called Arabs. The figure of a hundred million come from the populations of the states in the Arab League. For membership ln the Arab League the primary criterion appears to be language: but, despite the presence of Lebanon, which is half Christian, this tends to be coupled with the acceptance of Arab-Islamic culture.

Who Is an Arab?

The word, an Arabic colloquialism, means "a man with a gun on a horse." Janjaweed militiamen are primarily members of nomadic "Arab" tribes who've long been at odds with Darfur's settled "African" farmers, who are darker-skinned. (The labels Arab and African are rather misleading, given the complexity of the region's ethnic history. For simplicity's sake, Explainer will stick with these inelegant terms.) Until last year, the conflicts were mostly over Darfur's scarce water and land resources—desertification has been a serious problem, so grazing areas and wells are at a premium. In fact, the term "Janjaweed" has for years been synonymous with bandit, as these horse- or camel-borne fighters were known to swoop in on non-Arab farms to steal cattle.

Who are the Janjaweed?

Even before the rebellion erupted in Darfur more than two years ago, the Janjaweed, known then as Arab tribesmen, had been raiding African villages, our correspondent says.

The objective then, as it is probably still now, is to drive the African tribesmen from their homes and force them to abandon valuable water points and pasture.

The Janjaweed are nomads and they have been hard hit by desertification, which has greatly diminished water resources and pasture in Darfur.

Sudan's shadowy Arab militia

Underlying these atrocities, there is a war over water going on between settled and nomadic tribes.
posted by y2karl at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2005

Actually, I read him as addressing the apparent inattention to Darfur by grassroots African American groups (and especially their leaders) and African American churches. I see no connection to his observation and what the poll shows. Because they are observations of different things.

I read the survey to imply segments of the black community expressed indifference to intervening in Darfur—or even knew a crisis was occurring—and I read the op-ed to mean the author wished more in the black community/body politic would pay attention to the crisis ("We need a 'Millions More Movement' against genocide in Darfur.")

To me, the two datapoints seem related. YMMV.

Sudan's shadowy Arab militia

Don't forget to take your own advice and "Click the links!", karl. The BBC story was the second link in my post ("many who received military training from Gaddafi hoping to set up an 'Islamic Legion' of mercenaries").
posted by dhoyt at 1:03 PM on June 5, 2005

Here's the actual numbers to accompany this data point about blacks. Numbers in brackets are other numbers I took from the report that were not mentioned on the web page:
  • Not at all aware of what's happening: 20% blacks / 14% all "likely voters". The 20% number here is not in the report. The report has "not at all" aware and "not very" aware, both of which together it calls "not aware". Numbers for "not at all" aware for blacks are not given. For the umbrella "not aware" group: 36% all, 40% blacks, 48% uneducated (less than HS diploma), 41% poverty ($15k and less income), 40% southerners and young adults (18-29). Blacks don't look significantly less aware.
  • International Community should step in: 83% college grads / 80% whites / 72% blacks and hispanics / [70% all; Shouldn't step in: 22% blacks, 32% uneducated, 25% poverty, 25% single adults, 20% women, 20% independent voters. Blacks seem more likely to support international intervention].
  • Terms "genocide" or "crimes against humanity" applicable: 68% blacks / 80% all. [Number on blacks not in the report. Those who say it's neither: 10% all / 20% blacks, uneducated, 18-19 year olds / 16% southerners, single adults]
  • U.S. should deploy troops: 50% blacks / 37% hispanics / 36% whites. [65% little education / 48% poverty / 48% 18-29 year-olds].
  • U.S. should pay more attention to Africa: 67% blacks / 53% all likely voters. [60% hispanics, democrats, jews, single adults, college graduates]
Margins of error are +/- 3.2%, but "higher in subgroups" like blacks.

I don't really like how they do the breakdowns of subgroups. Many questions are "yes/no/don't know" and they often state something like: "one in three of blacks say 'yes'" without letting you guess how many say "no" or "don't know". Can't they just give the real damn numbers and the real margins of error? Also they appear only to be talking about likely voters.
posted by fleacircus at 1:40 PM on June 5, 2005

This summary shows that the picture is more complex that a simple racial split on opinion. People who have low education, low income, live in the South, etc etc. are also less likely than most people to 1) be aware of the genocide, 2) support intervention to stop it. If one could look at the dataset from the survey, and run one's own analysis, I think it would show that--controlling for education--there's no difference between black and white level of awareness or attitude.
posted by ~rschram at 2:01 PM on June 5, 2005

Don't forget to take your own advice and "Click the links!", karl. The BBC story was the second link in my post ("many who received military training from Gaddafi hoping to set up an 'Islamic Legion' of mercenaries").

Oh, dear. I should have caught that. Well, apart from the fact I was not, ahem, questioning your sources twice in two threads when I could have found out by clicking the link in the first one, I stand corrected.
posted by y2karl at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2005

The same link was used to make an independent observation--that the picture is more complex than a simple racial split between janjaweed and black tribes, as well as in regards to Americans' opinions on military intervention in Darfur--unrelated to your contentions, let it also be pointed out.
posted by y2karl at 3:26 PM on June 5, 2005

I went to a very good forum on Sudan a couple weeks back, in which it was advanced that the Jangaweed (then more nomad than guys with guns) had a fairly benevolent relationship with the settled people of Darfur. The nomads would get food from the farmers, and would graze their cattle over the land, providing fertilizer and other such benefits to the land.

The situation is a bit more complicated than in Rwanda, where the Belgians very directly sowed the seeds of ethnic tension between formerly peaceful Hutus and Tutsis, but the basic structure of the violence is very similar. The British rule of the Sudan favored the Northerners in Khartoum, which is today home to the central government. The Khartoum government methodically empowers the Jangaweed, and acts with contempt toward the farming people, calling them slaves, etc. - the usual lead up to genocide - long before these events actually began. I'm not saying it very well, but I tihnk there's a good point to be made that many of these African wars - Rwanda and Sudan in particular - have a lot more to do with the aftermath of colonial influences and colonial methods of maintaining control of the population than with any kind of inherent differences or grievances among ethnic groups. Greivances appear as soon as one group is systematically favoured and given power over the other - this shouldn't be surprising.

Our tendency to frame the conflicts primarily as ethnic conflicts is a subtle way of making it acceptable to avoid involvement. WE are enlightened beings, after all, and if those savages can't live with their neighbors, it is none of our business. And especially by framing it as tribal differences and ancient feuds (which they aren't), we can feel as though these fights have been occuring in just such a fashion for millinea, and that no small intervention will help. But, of course, none of this is true. The conflicts are not ancient, but colonial. While Westerners are not pulling the triggers, it is Western culture that created the conflicts and sold the guns.

With Rwanda, we saw directly the price of non-intervention. As soon as the killing stopped, and the Tutsis took control of the country, the Hutus fled by the million to escape feared reprisals. The crowded refugee camps suffered mass famine and cholera epidemics, which were what finally did bring international aid. Billions of aid dollars were spent on clean-up, compared to the few hundred million which would have funded an intervention force to put an end to the genocide. The size of the Tutsi army which took the country showed very clearly the strength and conviction of the Hutu majority - stopping the murder would have taken only the slightest effort.

Of course, Sudan is different, but not neccesarily much different. There are the complications of the oil, which always makes the international game a bit murkier. But we can't stand by and think ourselves morally unobligated, as we did with Rwanda. It is foolish to do nothing.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:57 PM on June 5, 2005

While we're at it, let's connect this to historical American problems with ethnic tensions - that age old strife between black and white. I find it very interesting that one of the primary reasons used in the 1950's in defense of segregation was that it was the 'old way,' and that segregation had always been. That whites and blacks had never been able to live together equally, so any attempt at integration is bound to fail. And of course, along came a document (The Strange Career of Jim Crow) which said that segregation had come to the south only slowly after the civil war, and hadn't really come in force until the 1890's. In fact, blacks and whites had lived together peacefully, if not equally, in southern cities for many, many years, even before the civil war.

By framing problems as ancient and as problems of human nature, we let ourselves off the hook of intervention. Because who can stop human nature? But it is almost always the case that the closer you look for human nature, the harder it is to find. For such a fundamental force, human nature is exceedingly whimsical and difficult to pin down.


If black Americans are the least likely to know about Sudan, it is obvious that they would also be the least likely to think intervention is neccesary. If they are less likely to know, the survey likely says more about sources of information than inclination to learn. Are blacks more or less likely than white America to get information from more comprehensive media like newspapers or even radio, or do they rely more on network and cable news? Even reading the newspaper wouldn't neccesarily mean you've heard of Darfur in this country, unless your paper happens to sindicate Kristoff, who's been the only consistent media voice on the topic. The commentator sounds like he's saying that because our blacks don't care about what's going on over there, we shouldn't have to care either. Another poor excuse for moral failure.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:27 PM on June 5, 2005

Who cares if rank-and-file African Americans know or don't know about these horrors? They are powerless!

The idea is to get rich Americans and Europeans and Middle Easterners of whatever background to know and care. They have the power!

Ten million African Americans marching on Washington couldn't dislodge a flea from the White House lawn.

What about the super-duper rich who are profiled on the front page of today's New York Times? Get them to make a few phone calls.

If African American had the power to influence government policy on the scale required to meet this crises, they might want to start by addressing their own problems first...
posted by Faze at 5:24 PM on June 5, 2005

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