Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Selections from the Devil's Dictionary

Here's are a few timely selections from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary:

CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

DIPLOMACY, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.

DISTANCE, n. The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep.

HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

IDIOT, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.

JUSTICE, n. A commodity which is a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service.

LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

MAD, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that themselves are sane. For illustration, this present (and illustrious) lexicographer is no firmer in the faith of his own sanity than is any inmate of any madhouse in the land; yet for aught he knows to the contrary, instead of the lofty occupation that seems to him to be engaging his powers he may really be beating his hands against the window bars of an asylum and declaring himself Noah Webster, to the innocent delight of many thoughtless spectators.

PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.

In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.

POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

PRECEDENT, n. In Law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a Judge may choose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases. As there are precedents for everything, he has only to ignore those that make against his interest and accentuate those in the line of his desire. Invention of the precedent elevates the trial-at-law from the low estate of a fortuitous ordeal to the noble attitude of a dirigible arbitrament.

REVOLUTION, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment. Specifically, in American history, the substitution of the rule of an Administration for that of a Ministry, whereby the welfare and happiness of the people were advanced a full half-inch. Revolutions are usually accompanied by a considerable effusion of blood, but are accounted worth it — this appraisement being made by beneficiaries whose blood had not the mischance to be shed. The French revolution is of incalculable value to the Socialist of to-day; when he pulls the string actuating its bones its gestures are inexpressibly terrifying to gory tyrants suspected of fomenting law and order.

TRIAL, n. A formal inquiry designed to prove and put upon record the blameless characters of judges, advocates and jurors. In order to effect this purpose it is necessary to supply a contrast in the person of one who is called the defendant, the prisoner, or the accused. If the contrast is made sufficiently clear this person is made to undergo such an affliction as will give the virtuous gentlemen a comfortable sense of their immunity, added to that of their worth. In our day the accused is usually a human being, or a socialist, but in mediaeval times, animals, fishes, reptiles and insects were brought to trial. A beast that had taken human life, or practiced sorcery, was duly arrested, tried and, if condemned, put to death by the public executioner. Insects ravaging grain fields, orchards or vineyards were cited to appeal by counsel before a civil tribunal, and after testimony, argument and condemnation, if they continued in contumaciam the matter was taken to a high ecclesiastical court, where they were solemnly excommunicated and anathematized. In a street of Toledo, some pigs that had wickedly run between the viceroy's legs, upsetting him, were arrested on a warrant, tried and punished. In Naples an ass was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the sentence appears not to have been executed. D'Addosio relates from the court records many trials of pigs, bulls, horses, cocks, dogs, goats, etc., greatly, it is believed, to the betterment of their conduct and morals. In 1451 a suit was brought against the leeches infesting some ponds about Berne, and the Bishop of Lausanne, instructed by the faculty of Heidelberg University, directed that some of "the aquatic worms" be brought before the local magistracy. This was done and the leeches, both present and absent, were ordered to leave the places that they had infested within three days on pain of incurring "the malediction of God." In the voluminous records of this cause celebre nothing is found to show whether the offenders braved the punishment, or departed forthwith out of that inhospitable jurisdiction.

VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009


Quotable: "like dabs of dark paint spattered across the blue shine of the lawn"

I walked among the guys heaped in long white rows like snowbanks, careful not to bump into somebody, till I came to the wall with the windows. I walked down the windows to one where the shade popped softly in and out with the breeze, and I pressed my forehead up against the mesh. The wire was cold and sharp, and I rolled my head against it from side to side to feel it with my cheeks, and I smelled the breeze. It's fall coming, I thought, I can smell that sour-molasses smell of silage, clanging the air like a bell—smell somebody's been burning oak leaves, left them to smolder overnight because they're too green.

It's fall coming, I kept thinking, fall coming; just like that was the strangest thing ever happened. Fall. Right outside here it was spring a while back, then it was summer, and now it's fall--that's sure a curious idea.

I realized I still had my eyes shut. I had shut them when I put my face to the screen, like I was scared to look outside. Now I had to open them. I looked out the window and saw for the first time how the hospital was out in the country. The moon was low in the sky over the pastureland; the face of it was scarred and scuffed where it had just torn up out of the snarl of scrub oak and madrone trees on the horizon. The stars up close to the moon were pale; they got brighter and braver the farther they got out of the circle of light ruled by the giant moon. It called to mind how I noticed the exact same thing when I was off on a hunt with Papa and the uncles and I lay rolled in blankets Grandma had woven, lying off a piece from where the men hunkered around the fire as they passed a quart jar of cactus liquor in a silent circle. I watched that big Oregon prairie moon above me put all the stars around it to shame. I kept awake watching, to see if the moon ever got dimmer or if the stars got brighter, till the dew commenced to drift onto my cheeks and I had to pull a blanket over my head.

Something moved on the grounds down beneath my window--cast a long spider of shadow out across the grass as it ran out of sight behind a hedge. When it ran back to where I could get a better look, I saw it was a dog, a young, gangly mongrel slipped off from home to find out about things went on after dark. He was sniffing digger squirrel holes, not with a notion to go digging after one but just to get an idea what they were up to at this hour. He'd run his muzzle down a hole, butt up in the air and tail going, then dash off to another. The moon glistened around him on the wet grass, and when he ran he left tracks like dabs of dark paint spattered across the blue shine of the lawn. Galloping from one particularly interesting hole to the next, he became so took with what was coming off--the moon up there, the night, the breeze full of smells so wild makes a young dog drunk--that he had to lie down on his back and roll. He twisted and thrashed around like a fish, back bowed and belly up, and when he got to his feet and shook himself a spray came off him in the moon like silver scales.

He sniffed all the holes over again one quick one, to get the smells down good, then suddenly froze still with one paw lifted and his head tilted, listening. I listened too, but I couldn't hear anything except the popping of the window shade. I listened for a long time. Then, from a long way off, I heard a high, laughing gabble, faint and coming closer. Canada honkers going south for the winter. I remembered all the hunting and belly-crawling I'd ever done trying to kill a honker, and that I never got one.

I tried to look where the dog was looking to see if I could find the flock, but it was too dark. The honking came closer and closer till it seemed like they must be flying right through the dorm, right over my head. Then they crossed the moon--a black, weaving necklace, drawn into a V by that lead goose. For an instant that lead goose was right in the center of that circle, bigger than the others, a black cross opening and closing, then he pulled his V out of sight into the sky once more.

I listened to them fade away till all I could hear was my memory of the sound. The dog could still hear them a long time after me. He was still standing with his paw up; he hadn't moved or barked when they flew over. When he couldn't hear them any more either, he commenced to lope off in the direction they had gone, toward the highway, loping steady and solemn like he had an appointment. I held my breath and I could hear the flap of his big paws on the grass as he loped ...

Source: Character of "Chief" Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, pp. 141-142 (2007 Penguin Classics illustrated reissue).

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Quotable: "the jumble in the bags"

I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.

I remember the very day that I became colored. Up to my thirteenth year I lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town. The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando. The native whites rode dusty horses, the Northern tourists chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles. The town knew the Southerners and never stopped cane chewing when they passed. But the Northerners were something else again. They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village.

The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a gallery seat for me. My favorite place was atop the gatepost. Proscenium box for a born first-nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing. I'd wave at them and when they returned my salute, I would say something like this: "Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin'?" Usually automobile or the horse paused at this, and after a queer exchange of compliments, I would probably "go a piece of the way" with them, as we say in farthest Florida. If one of my family happened to come to the front in time to see me, of course negotiations would be rudely broken off. But even so, it is clear that I was the first "welcome-to-our-state" Floridian, and I hope the Miami Chamber of Commerce will please take notice.

During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there. They liked to hear me "speak pieces" and sing and wanted to see me dance the parse-me-la, and gave me generously of their small silver for doing these things, which seemed strange to me for I wanted to do them so much that I needed bribing to stop, only they didn't know it. The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the county--everybody's Zora.

But changes came in the family when I was thirteen, and I was sent to school in Jacksonville. I left Eatonville, the town of the oleanders, a Zora. When I disembarked from the river-boat at Jacksonville, she was no more. It seemed that I had suffered a sea change. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown--warranted not to rub nor run. ...

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.

But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small, things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place--who knows?

Source: Zora Neale Hurston. "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." The World Tomorrow. May, 1928.

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Monday, March 02, 2009


Interpol Asked to Arrest Israeli War Criminals

Here's some news that will probably never see the light of day in most US news outlets.

Iran seeks arrest of 15 Israeli "war criminals"

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has asked Interpol to arrest what it says are 15 Israeli "war criminals" who were involved in the conflict in Gaza in December and January, the Tehran prosecutor said in remarks reported on Sunday.

Iran, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, said in December it had set up a court to try Israelis for attacking Gaza. It had said at the time it was ready to try those it accused in absentia.

"In the current week, we have completed our investigation (of) about 15 individuals who were among those criminals," Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said.

"Based on our investigation and according to article two of the Interpol charter, we asked Interpol to arrest these suspects," he said in comments carried by Iranian state television, according to the BBC's monitoring service.

Mortazavi said Iran had drawn up charges against 34 Israeli commanders and 115 individuals, adding that the charges included "war crimes, invasion, occupation, genocide and crimes against humanity," the television reported.

Israel's 22-day assault on Gaza, which it said aimed to suppress Palestinian cross-border rocket fire, killed more than 1,300 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Iranian officials have said Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, scored a victory over Israel by surviving the Israeli attacks.

Israeli and U.S. officials have accused Iran of providing weapons and training to Hamas militants in Gaza. Iran insists it only gives moral, financial and political support to Hamas and the Palestinians.

Israel has promised its military personnel state protection from foreign prosecution.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Dominic Evans)

Iran: Seeking Interpol warrants for Israelis

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's judiciary has asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants for 15 Israelis in connection with the Gaza offensive, Iranian state TV reported Monday. Interpol denied receiving such a request.

The TV said a court set up to investigate Iranian complaints against Israel provided Interpol with a list of Israeli leaders and details on accusations against them.

Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi was quoted as saying Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were all on the list. Others were top military officers involved in the recent offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers.

However, Interpol said it has not been asked to issue warrants for Israelis linked to the Gaza offensive. The international police agency said the denial was an "unusual step" for the organization because it "does not ordinarily comment on false stories reported in the media."

In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor dismissed the purported Iranian request as a political stunt. "This does not even deserve to be dignified with a comment, this is crude propaganda, it is a ridiculous, why don't they investigate Hamas war crimes?" he said.

Iran does not recognize Israel and is the main backer of Hamas.

Israel said it launched its three-week assault on Gaza to halt years of rocket fire on Israeli communities. Some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the offensive, officials have said.

Associated Press Writer Elaine Ganley contributed to this report from Paris.

INTERPOL issues denial of reported Iranian request seeking arrest of 15 senior Israeli officials

Statement by INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters, Lyon, France

While INTERPOL does not ordinarily comment on false stories reported in the media, in light of the nature of recent erroneous articles reporting that INTERPOL is being used by Iranian authorities to seek the arrest of 15 senior Israeli officials on alleged charges of war crimes in Gaza, the Organization is taking the unusual step of making the following public statement:

"INTERPOL has neither been requested to issue by Iran, nor has it issued on behalf of Iran or any of its 187 member countries any Red Notices for persons wanted internationally or other requests seeking the arrest of senior Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in relation to the Gaza offensive in December and January."INTERPOL's Constitution strictly prohibits the Organization from making 'any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character'.

All further enquiries should be directed to the source reported in the media. Since INTERPOL has received no information in relation to the alleged false claim, INTERPOL is unable to comment further on this matter.

Here's the text of Article 2 of the INTERPOL Constitution:

Its aims are:
(1) To ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights';
(2) To establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute effectively to the prevention and suppression of ordinary law crimes.

And here's part of what INTERPOL says about war crimes investigations:

The General Secretariat is expanding its role in providing international co-ordination and support for law enforcement agencies in member countries and international organizations responsible for the investigation and prosecution of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against Humanity.

Interpol has been supporting member countries and the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals in the location and apprehension of criminals wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against Humanity since 1994, primarily through the publication of Red Notices and the provision of other investigative assistance. However, many countries have recently expanded their activities in this field, and have established specialized units dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of these offences regardless of where they have occurred.

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Analyzing Darfur's Conflict of Definitions--Interview With Professor Mahmood Mamdani

Mahmood Mamdani has been cited here before in reference to Darfur. Below is a recent interview with him.

Analyzing Darfur's Conflict of Definitions
Interview With Professor Mahmood Mamdani

By Isma’il Kushkush
IOL Correspondent — Sudan

"How you define the [Darfur] problem shapes the solution," says a world renowned Africa specialist in an interview with

Professor Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University, US believes that defining the conflict as Arab against African is inaccurate and says much more about the potency of race in the West rather than the relevance of the notion in Darfur. He believes that estimates of 400,000 dead in Darfur are inflated, irresponsible and unrealistic.

Mamdani, who was named as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world by the US magazine Foreign Affairs in 2008, is from Uganda, and is the current chair of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Dakar, Senegal.

He is the author of numerous books and articles, including the book Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. His upcoming book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, politics and the War on Terror will be published in English by Pantheon (Random House, New York) on March 17, 2009 and by Verso (London) a month later.

Following is the full interview conducted by IOL correspondent in Khartoum, Sudan, Isma'il Kushkush. (IOL): The conflict in Darfur is often described in the media and by activists as a war pitting "black Africans" against "Arabs". How accurate do you think this description is?

Prof. Mahmood Mamdani: Even if you take the terms for granted, the majority of the "Arabs" in Darfur — the southern Rozayqat [Arab clans] — are not involved in the conflict. If you narrow the focus to those who are involved in the conflict, which is the northern Rozayqat, the Fur, the Masaleet, and the Zaghawah, then you realize that the distinction which best captures the difference between them is that the northern Rozayqat are those tribes in Darfur who received no [tribal] homeland, no "dar", in the colonial dispensation, because the colonial dispensation did not give a tribal homeland to those who were fully nomadic and were thus without settled villages. At the same time, the colonial dispensation gave the largest homelands to peasant tribes with settled villages... Please continue reading the full answer for this question here

Media Usage of African vs. Arab

IOL: Why do you think that activists and the media, especially the Western, define the conflict in Darfur in such a simplified manner: African vs. Arab?

Mamdani: Well, I think it is political. You can make sense of it not by focusing on those they are defining, but on their audience. Whereas the former live in Darfur, their audience is in the West. They understand that the Western audience would be quick to grasp a racialized distinction and would be easy to mobilize around it. It says much more about the potency of the history of race in the West rather than the relevance of the notion of race in Darfur.

A "Genocide"?

IOL: The conflict in Darfur is described in some corners as "genocide", while others reject that term and use "civil war". Can you comment on the usage of the term "genocide"; is it accurate to describe conflict in Darfur as "genocide"?

Mamdani: If you read the two international reports on Darfur, one from the UN Commission on Darfur and the other from the International Criminal Court (ICC), you will find no great disagreement over how many people have died. The real disagreement is on what to call it. The UN Commission says that this is a "counter-insurgency". They say the killings took place as a consequence of an effort to militarily defeat an insurgency. The ICC says no, this is evidence of a larger intention to kill the groups in question, the Fur, the Masaleet, and the Zaghawah.

How do you prove it? The claim is not made on the basis of those that have actually been killed; the claim is that they would be killed if the conflict went on because that is the intention of the perpetrators. From this point of view, the only way to arrest the killing is to arrest the political leadership of Sudan, and not to urge the two sides to negotiate. The UN Commission was arguing the reverse; that all efforts should be invested in negotiations and in stopping the conflict. The ICC seems to be arguing the opposite; that negotiations would only appease and give time to those who are bent on genocide. It seems to me that the ICC is responding not to what is going on in Darfur but to a particular constituency in the West.

"Genocide" vs. "Counter-insurgency"

IOL: Why do you think the term "genocide" has been used to describe the conflict in Darfur but not in Congo or Iraq despite the similarities in the conflicts that pit the "state" against an "insurgency"?

Mamdani: The conflicts in Congo and Iraq are different; the scale of killings is much higher. In Congo it is said to be four to five million. In Iraq it is said to have exceeded a million. So from that point of view, these conflicts are much worse than that in Darfur. The conflict in Iraq arises from an occupation and resistance to an occupation. The conflict in Darfur started as a civil war between tribes in Darfur, 1987 and 1989, and the government was not involved at all. The government became involved, first in 1995 and then 2003, but it is still not an occupation, it is an internal conflict.

So why would what's happening in Darfur be described as "genocide" while the numbers involved are less than in Iraq and when the conflict began as a civil war between tribes internal to Darfur and only then developed into an insurgency against the central government, followed by a counter-insurgency in response to that insurgency? Why?

The answer is basically that in international law "counter-insurgency" is considered a legitimate response by a government to an "insurgency"; "genocide" is not. Only if you call Darfur "genocide" you can justify an external intervention in Darfur. If you call it "counter-insurgency", intervention becomes an "invasion" of Darfur. That's the reason.

"Dead" vs. "Killed" Controversy

IOL: The number of "dead" in Darfur has been an issue of controversy. Can you comment on the studies made on this topic and is there a distinction between the terms "dead" and "killed" in Darfur?

Mamdani: We are fortunate that there was actually a review of all the major studies estimating the mortality in Darfur. The review was in 2006 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which is an audit agency of the US government. The GAO was asked to review six different studies of mortality in Darfur, including a study sponsored by the US state department estimating nearly 400,000 dead over eighteen months in 2003-2004, at the high end, and at the low end a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating 70,000 dead over roughly the same period.

The WHO study made a distinction between those "dead" and those "killed". It said that roughly 80% of these 70,000 had died from malnutrition, dysentery, from the effects of drought and desertification, and 20% from violence.

The GAO got together with and asked the American Academy of Sciences (AAS) to nominate a team of twelve experts. These experts went over the six studies, and they concluded that the high end studies were totally unreliable in terms of methodology, in terms of projection. Their findings are on the website These were sent to the US State Department — which agreed with the GAO in writing — and to Congress, and then to the media, which basically ignored it. I find it quite amazing that it did not have any impact on the public debate in the United States or in the West. The public debate continued to be dominated by the Save Darfur Coalition and its totally inflated, irresponsible, and unrealistic estimates of 400,000 dead. The problem is that this is a very politicized movement which has had no effective counter-response.

Contrast in Numbers of Dead

IOL: Whatever the real numbers of dead in Darfur are, no one can deny a tragedy has occurred. But why do you think there is a contrast in the numbers of dead used by activist groups, the media, and even governments?

Mamdani: I think the answer is two fold: One, there is a legitimate debate. Let's say, take the WHO figures, 70,000 died. 20,000 roughly died from violence, 50,000 roughly died from non-violent causes, mainly children dying from dysentery, things like that. Now the debate is this: One group says those who died from violence are the only ones who died from the conflict. The other groups say: Not really. Many of those who died from non-violent causes like dysentery really died from indirect effects of the conflict because the conflict stopped supplies from coming in. From this point of view, those who could have been rescued died, they died of dysentery, but really, had it not been because of the conflict, they would have been saved. That is a legitimate debate. It is a debate that appears in all cases like in the case of the American Indians who died in the Indian genocide you will find many died from diseases, like smallpox, which they did not have to die from. That is a legitimate debate.

There is a second debate that is not legitimate, which is entirely political. The best example is the Save Darfur Coalition and their figures of 400,000. Here you find two things: One you find an extrapolation which is completely unjustifiable and unwarranted. The GAO showed that they [Save Darfur Coalition] extrapolated from deaths in refugee camps in Chad without taking into account any local variations.

They also extrapolate from death rates from 2003, 2004, when the conflict was at its highest, by assuming that the same rate continued in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. This is how the UN got its figure of 300,000 [last year] when Holmes, the undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs said: "It was 200,000 in 2005 therefore it must be 300,000 now". "Therefore", meaning, if the same rate continues which is patently absurd, because the UN's own people on the ground showed that the mortality rates — not just deaths from killings — dropped low in Darfur starting January 2005. It was less than 200 per month, in other words, less than it would take to call Darfur an "emergency". So this kind of presumption, that nothing has changed, and therefore you just extrapolate from pre-existing rates, is totally unjustifiable.

Also unjustifiable is the Save Darfur Coalition's refusal to acknowledge that people are also dying from another cause, drought and desertification. So instead of a debate on how many of those could have been saved had there been no conflict, there is simply silence. This too is a deliberate denial to acknowledge a developed catalogued by the UN's own agency.

"Right" vs. "Wrong" to Avoid Political Complexity

IOL: The conflict in Darfur is portrayed sometimes as a "moral issue"; one that pits "right" against "wrong" as opposed to a "political issue" with its various complications. Can you comment on that, and why do think it is portrayed as such?

Mamdani: It is very important how you define the conflict. In retrospect, one can see that none of those who were involved in this conflict when it began in 1987-1989 as a civil war — the northern Rozayqat one side, the Fur, the Masaleet, and the Zaghawah on the other side — really had control over the issues that triggered the conflict. The issues were no doubt complex.

The really long term issues stemmed from how the British redesigned the hakura [land] system that came out of the Sultanate of Darfur. It eliminated individual ownership and re-divided all the land as "tribal land" with larger hakuras for peasant tribes, smaller ones for semi-nomadic tribes with cattle and no hakuras for fully nomadic tribes with camels. That was one issue. The second trigger was ecological, the expanding desert, pushing the tribes in the north down south, leading to the conflict around Jebal Marra. In 1995, the government tried to solve this conflict by giving land to tribes without hakura, but they should have realized that since all the land in Darfur was already divided up, to do it by taking lands from tribes with hakura would restart the conflict, as indeed happened.

In 2003/2004 when the insurgency began, the government responded to it with a purely security framework with no regards for the issues that had led to this conflict with no attempt to solve the basic problem. Because the rebel movements are anchored in those tribes with hakuras, they are not raising the question of land; the question that pushed the hakura-less tribes into the conflict. The government is simply looking at the security question and the issues being raised by the rebels which is the marginalization of Darfur, but not looking at the issues internal to Darfur which created the conflict in the first place. So, the government has a very narrow vision. The government does not seem to have a Darfur vision. It is evident that Darfur is marginal. There don't seem to be people with a Darfur vision in the government.

Those outside of Sudan, the Save Darfur movement in the US, are looking at it from their own vantage point which is not simply a global vantage point or a West-centered one, but worse, it's the vantage point of the most reactionary circles in the US, those waging the "war on terror". They are painting this conflict not as a conflict over questions of land, not a conflict over questions of law and order, an insurgency/counter-insurgency — which is how the Government of Sudan is seeing it —, but as a conflict between "Arab" and "African"; they've racialized the conflict completely. They are partly responsible for the conflict being racialized. Consider the fact that it is a much more racialized conflict now than it was five years ago.

When the Save Darfur movement claims that this violence is African versus Arab its explanation is not historical or political. Its explanation basically is that the Arabs are "race-intoxicated" and they are just trying to wipe out the Africans. The Save Darfur movement does not educate the people they mobilize about the history of Darfur. It does not educate them about what issues drive the conflict. So they know nothing about the politics of Darfur, the history of Darfur, the history of the conflict. All they know is that Darfur is a place where "Arabs" are trying to eliminate "Africans". That's all. Darfur is a place where "evil lives", so they have completely "moralized" the conflict and presented it as a struggle against evil. This evil is thus portrayed as ahistorical, or trans-historical, living outside of history — except that evil is said to live in this place called Darfur and Sudan.

The conclusion means of course that you have to eliminate this "evil". There is no settlement to a conflict like that. You can't settle it, you can't negotiate, there is only one way to have peace and which is to eliminate the evil. So ironically they are trying to create that which they say they are combating.

Darfur's Terminology: Of Importance?

IOL: We've discussed the issue of terminology in the Darfur conflict: "genocide" vs. "counter-insurgency"; "African" vs. "Arab"; "killed" vs. "died"; "moral issue" vs. "political issue". Some would argue that it really does not make a difference if we make these distinctions. How important is it to have a correct understanding of these terms to reach a solution for the Darfur conflict?

Mamdani: How you define the problem shapes the solution. If you define it as a "war of liberation", you have a different attitude to it. If you define it as "terror", you have a different attitude to it. If you define the person as a "terrorist" or as a "liberator" you have totally opposite attitudes to that person. If you define "violence" as "self-defense" or as "aggression" you have a different attitude to that violence. If you explain the issues behind the violence you are more likely to address the issues to stop the violence. But if you portray the violence as "senseless" without any reason, with no issues, with no backgrounds, then you are likely to think that the only way to stop the violence is to target those involved in it.

So "definition" is crucial. "Definition" tells you what the problem is. And in a way, the entire debate rightly should be about what the problem is. Every doctor knows that diagnosis is at the heart of medicine; not prescription. Wrong diagnosis, wrong prescription, and the patient will die. The heart of medicine lies in the analysis.

Isma’il Kamal Kushkush is a Sudanese-American freelance writer currently based in Khartoum, Sudan.

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