Gaza and Darfur: Some people seem to matter more than others

Not one Muslim leader has publicly criticized Sudan's atrocities.

omar al bashir and  mubarak 248 ap (photo credit: AP)
omar al bashir and mubarak 248 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has created fury around the globe, especially in the Muslim world. A number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa saw some of the largest demonstrations in their history condemning the killing of civilians and children in the military operation. The Middle Eastern media, such as Al Jazeera, covered the confliclt 24/7. One has to wonder why the Darfur conflict has never received similar attention. Since 2003, Sudan's western province of Darfur has been the epicenter of a conflict between the mainly African rebels and the Arab-controlled government of Sudan and its proxy militias. As in Gaza, the civilians in Darfur are paying the highest price. It is estimated that over the past six years, about 200,000 have died from fighting, starvation and disease. The United Nations and aid agencies estimate that more than 2 million Darfurians, out of a population of about 6 million, are living in refugee camps. Even in the grimmest moments in Darfur, in 2003 and 2004, when entire communities were brutally destroyed by the government forces and their militias, very few in the Arab and Muslim world protested the killings. To this day, not one Arab or Muslim leader has publicly criticized Sudan's actions in Darfur. THE SUDANESE RULING elite portrays itself as an Arab regime. Some would say this helps explain the lack of concern for the Darfur conflict in the Arab world. However, both sides in Darfur are Muslim and Darfurians - both Arabs and Africans - are Sudan's most devout Muslims. Rami Khouri, a Lebanese journalist, thinks the silence in the Arab world "is not specific to Darfur or Sudan, but rather reflects a wider malaise that has long plagued the region: Arab governments tend to stay out of each other's way when any one of them is accused of wrongdoing, and most Arab citizens have been numbed into helplessness in the face of public atrocities or criminal activity in their societies." This changes only when Muslims suffer at the hands of non-Muslims - Americans, Russians, Serbs or Israelis, to name a few. Then the Arab and Muslim governments and organizations are very active in condemning the atrocities, while citizens show solidarity with the victims and demonstrate against "crusaders, infidels, or Zionists." But when Muslims suffer on a large scale at the hands of an Arab regime, there is barely any condemnation in the Arab and Muslim world. Even though millions of innocent Muslims have become victims in Darfur over the past six years, the fact that they are victims of an Arab regime seems to prevent the Arab public from even acknowledging the humanitarian catastrophe. AHMED HUSSEIN ADAM, spokesman of the Justice and Equality Movement, currently the most powerful Darfur rebel movement, has condemned the killings in Gaza but "observed with deep regret and sorrow the political, diplomatic and humanitarian mobilizations for the civilians in Gaza, while [the Arab countries] adopted a dismissive attitude for the safety and security of civilians in Darfur." Adam says it is shameful that many seem to "consider the blood of the people of Darfur less important than the blood of the people of Gaza." Abdel Wahid al-Nur, leader of one faction of the Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, thinks that "if the Arab and Islamic countries mobilized 10 percent of what they did for Gaza," they could have stopped the suffering of millions in Darfur a long time ago. Throughout the Darfur conflict, the Arab League stood by Sudan and defended its dismal actions. When the International Criminal Court's prosecutor decided to seek the arrest of Sudan's president for alleged war crimes and genocide, the league called it an "unbalanced stance." After the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, the Arab and Muslim world continued to support the Sudanese regime. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, said his country "stands by Sudan with our heart and soul" despite the indictment. In the aftermath of the recent Gaza conflict, however, the Arab League called on the UN to "form an international committee to investigate Israeli crimes in Gaza and set up a criminal court to try Israeli war criminals." It is appalling that the people of Darfur, who have suffered unspeakable atrocities since 2003, do not matter to many in the Arab and Muslim world because their tormentors are Arab Muslims and not Jews or Christians. The deaths of children and civilians in Gaza must be condemned in the strongest terms possible, but what about the innocent people of Darfur? They are human beings, too! The writer is the author of Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia (AMACOM Books). He holds an M.Phil degree in conflict transformation and management from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.