[OPE-L] Mamdani: The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency]

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Tue Mar 06 2007 - 23:59:18 EST


Have not yet myself studied this piece.
rb

The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency
Mahmood Mamdani

LRB |  Vol. 29 No. 5 dated 8 March 2007
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n05/print/mamd01_.html

The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate
of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly
similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the
official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The
victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather
than targeted as individuals. But the violence in the two places is
named differently. In Iraq, it is said to be a cycle of insurgency and
counter-insurgency; in Darfur, it is called genocide. Why the
difference? Who does the naming? Who is being named? What difference
does it make?

The most powerful mobilisation in New York City is in relation to
Darfur, not Iraq. One would expect the reverse, for no other reason
than that most New Yorkers are American citizens and so should feel
directly responsible for the violence in occupied Iraq. But Iraq is a
messy place in the American imagination, a place with messy politics.
Americans worry about what their government should do in Iraq. Should
it withdraw? What would happen if it did? In contrast, there is
nothing messy about Darfur. It is a place without history and without
politics; simply a site where perpetrators clearly identifiable as
'Arabs' confront victims clearly identifiable as 'Africans'.

A full-page advertisement has appeared several times a week in the New
York Times calling for intervention in Darfur now. It wants the
intervening forces to be placed under 'a chain of command allowing
necessary and timely military action without approval from distant
political or civilian personnel'. That intervention in Darfur should
not be subject to 'political or civilian' considerations and that the
intervening forces should have the right to shoot  to kill  without
permission from distant places: these are said to be 'humanitarian'
demands. In the same vein, a New Republic editorial on Darfur has
called for 'force as a first-resort response'. What makes the
situation even more puzzling is that some of those who are calling for
an end to intervention in Iraq are demanding an intervention in
Darfur; as the slogan goes, 'Out of Iraq and into Darfur.'

What would happen if we thought of Darfur as we do of Iraq, as a place
with a history and politics  a messy politics of insurgency and
counter-insurgency? Why should an intervention in Darfur not turn out
to be a trigger that escalates rather than reduces the level of
violence as intervention in Iraq has done? Why might it not create the
actual possibility of genocide, not just rhetorically but in reality?
Morally, there is no doubt about the horrific nature of the violence
against civilians in Darfur. The ambiguity lies in the politics of the
violence, whose sources include both a state-connected
counter-insurgency and an organised insurgency, very much like the
violence in Iraq.

The insurgency and counter-insurgency in Darfur began in 2003. Both
were driven by an intermeshing of domestic tensions in the context of
a peace-averse international environment defined by the War on Terror.
On the one hand, there was a struggle for power within the political
class in Sudan, with more marginal interests in the west (following
those in the south and in the east) calling for reform at the centre.
On the other, there was a community-level split inside Darfur, between
nomads and settled farmers, who had earlier forged a way of sharing
the use of semi-arid land in the dry season. With the drought that set
in towards the late 1970s, co-operation turned into an intense
struggle over diminishing resources.

As the insurgency took root among the prospering peasant tribes of
Darfur, the government trained and armed the poorer nomads and formed
a militia  the Janjawiid  that became the vanguard of the unfolding
counter-insurgency. The worst violence came from the Janjawiid, but
the insurgent movements were also accused of gross violations. Anyone
wanting to end the spiralling violence would have to bring about
power-sharing at the state level and resource-sharing at the community
level, land being the key resource.

Since its onset, two official verdicts have been delivered on the
violence, the first from the US, the second from the UN. The American
verdict was unambiguous: Darfur was the site of an ongoing genocide.
The chain of events leading to Washington's proclamation began with 'a
genocide alert' from the Management Committee of the Washington
Holocaust Memorial Museum; according to the Jerusalem Post, the alert
was 'the first ever of its kind, issued by the US Holocaust Museum'.
The House of Representatives followed unanimously on 24 June 2004. The
last to join the chorus was Colin Powell.

The UN Commission on Darfur was created in the aftermath of the
American verdict and in response to American pressure. It was more
ambiguous. In September 2004, the Nigerian president Olusegun
Obasanjo, then the chair of the African Union, visited UN headquarters
in New York. Darfur had been the focal point of discussion in the
African Union. All concerned were alert to the extreme political
sensitivity of the issue. At a press conference at the UN on 23
September Obasanjo was asked to pronounce on the violence in Darfur:
was it genocide or not? His response was very clear:

    Before you can say that this is genocide or ethnic cleansing, we
will have to have a definite decision and plan and programme of a
government to wipe out a particular group of people, then we will be
talking about genocide, ethnic cleansing. What we know is not that.
What we know is that there was an uprising, rebellion, and the
government armed another group of people to stop that rebellion.
That's what we know. That does not amount to genocide from our own
reckoning. It amounts to of course conflict. It amounts to violence.

By October, the Security Council had established a five-person
commission of inquiry on Darfur and asked it to report within three
months on 'violations of international humanitarian law and human
rights law in Darfur by all parties', and specifically to determine
'whether or not acts of genocide have occurred'. Among the members of
the commission was the chief prosecutor of South Africa's TRC, Dumisa
Ntsebeza. In its report, submitted on 25 January 2005, the commission
concluded that 'the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy
of genocide . . . directly or through the militias under its control.'
But the commission did find that the government's violence was
'deliberately and indiscriminately directed against civilians'.
Indeed, 'even where rebels may have been present in villages, the
impact of attacks on civilians shows that the use of military force
was manifestly disproportionate to any threat posed by the rebels.'
These acts, the commission concluded, 'were conducted on a widespread
and systematic basis, and therefore may amount to crimes against
humanity' (my emphasis). Yet, the commission insisted, they did not
amount to acts of genocide: 'The crucial element of genocidal intent
appears to be missing . . . it would seem that those who planned and
organised attacks on villages pursued the intent to drive the victims
from their homes, primarily for purposes of counter-insurgency
warfare.'

At the same time, the commission assigned secondary responsibility to
rebel forces  namely, members of the Sudan Liberation Army and the
Justice and Equality Movement  which it held 'responsible for serious
violations of international human rights and humanitarian law which
may amount to war crimes' (my emphasis). If the government stood
accused of 'crimes against humanity', rebel movements were accused of
'war crimes'. Finally, the commission identified individual
perpetrators and presented the UN secretary-general with a sealed list
that included 'officials of the government of Sudan, members of
militia forces, members of rebel groups and certain foreign army
officers acting in their personal capacity'. The list named 51
individuals.

The commission's findings highlighted three violations of
international law: disproportionate response, conducted on a
widespread and systematic basis, targeting entire groups (as opposed
to identifiable individuals) but without the intention to eliminate
them as groups. It is for this last reason that the commission ruled
out the finding of genocide. Its less grave findings of 'crimes
against humanity' and 'war crimes' are not unique to Darfur, but fit
several other situations of extreme violence: in particular, the US
occupation of Iraq, the Hema-Lendu violence in eastern Congo and the
Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Among those in the counter-insurgency
accused of war crimes were the 'foreign army officers acting in their
personal capacity', i.e. mercenaries, presumably recruited from armed
forces outside Sudan. The involvement of mercenaries in perpetrating
gross violence also fits the occupation in Iraq, where some of them go
by the name of 'contractors'.

The journalist in the US most closely identified with
consciousness-raising on Darfur is the New York Times op-ed columnist
Nicholas Kristof, often identified as a lone crusader on the issue. To
peruse Kristof's Darfur columns over the past three years is to see
the reduction of a complex political context to a morality tale
unfolding in a world populated by villains and victims who never trade
places and so can always and easily be told apart. It is a world where
atrocities mount geometrically, the perpetrators so evil and the
victims so helpless that the only possibility of relief is a rescue
mission from the outside, preferably in the form of a military
intervention.

Kristof made six highly publicised trips to Darfur, the first in March
2004 and the sixth two years later. He began by writing of it as a
case of 'ethnic cleansing': 'Sudan's Arab rulers' had 'forced 700,000
black African Sudanese to flee their villages' (24 March 2004). Only
three days later, he upped the ante: this was no longer ethnic
cleansing, but genocide. 'Right now,' he wrote on 27 March, 'the
government of Sudan is engaged in genocide against three large African
tribes in its Darfur region.' He continued: 'The killings are being
orchestrated by the Arab-dominated Sudanese government' and 'the
victims are non-Arabs: blacks in the Zaghawa, Massalliet and Fur
tribes.' He estimated the death toll at a thousand a week. Two months
later, on 29 May, he revised the estimates dramatically upwards,
citing predictions from the US Agency for International Development to
the effect that 'at best, "only" 100,000 people will die in Darfur
this year of malnutrition and disease' but 'if things go badly, half a
million will die.'

The UN commission's report was released on 25 February 2005. It
confirmed 'massive displacement' of persons ('more than a million'
internally displaced and 'more than 200,000' refugees in Chad) and the
destruction of 'several hundred' villages and hamlets as 'irrefutable
facts'; but it gave no confirmed numbers for those killed. Instead, it
noted rebel claims that government-allied forces had 'allegedly killed
over 70,000 persons'. Following the publication of the report, Kristof
began to scale down his estimates. For the first time, on 23 February
2005, he admitted that 'the numbers are fuzzy.' Rather than the usual
single total, he went on to give a range of figures, from a low of
70,000, which he dismissed as 'a UN estimate', to 'independent
estimates [that] exceed 220,000'. A warning followed: 'and the number
is rising by about ten thousand a month.'

The publication of the commission's report had considerable effect.
Internationally, it raised doubts about whether what was going on in
Darfur could be termed genocide. Even US officials were unwilling to
go along with the high estimates propagated by the broad alliance of
organisations that subscribe to the Save Darfur campaign. The effect
on American diplomacy was discernible. Three months later, on 3 May,
Kristof noted with dismay that not only had 'Deputy Secretary of State
Robert Zoellick pointedly refused to repeat the administration's past
judgment that the killings amount to genocide': he had 'also cited an
absurdly low estimate of Darfur's total death toll: 60,000 to
160,000'. As an alternative, Kristof cited the latest estimate of
deaths from the Coalition for International Justice as 'nearly
400,000, and rising by 500 a day'. In three months, Kristof's
estimates had gone up from 10,000 to 15,000 a month. Six months later,
on 27 November, Kristof warned that 'if aid groups pull out . . . the
death toll could then rise to 100,000 a month.' Anyone keeping a tally
of the death toll in Darfur as reported in the Kristof columns would
find the rise, fall and rise again very bewildering. First he
projected the number of dead at 320,000 for 2004 (16 June 2004) but
then gave a scaled down estimate of between 70,000 and 220,000 (23
February 2005). The number began once more to climb to 'nearly
400,000' (3 May 2005), only to come down yet again to 300,000 (23
April 2006). Each time figures were given with equal confidence but
with no attempt to explain their basis. Did the numbers reflect an
actual decline in the scale of killing in Darfur or was Kristof simply
making an adjustment to the changing mood internationally?

In the 23 April column, Kristof expanded the list of perpetrators to
include an external power: 'China is now underwriting its second
genocide in three decades. The first was in Pol Pot's Cambodia, and
the second is in Darfur, Sudan. Chinese oil purchases have financed
Sudan's pillage of Darfur, Chinese-made AK-47s have been the main
weapons used to slaughter several hundred thousand people in Darfur so
far and China has protected Sudan in the UN Security Council.' In the
Kristof columns, there is one area of deafening silence, to do with
the fact that what is happening in Darfur is a civil war. Hardly a
word is said about the insurgency, about the civilian deaths
insurgents mete out, about acts that the commission characterised as
'war crimes'. Would the logic of his 23 April column not lead one to
think that those with connections to the insurgency, some of them
active in the international campaign to declare Darfur the site of
genocide, were also guilty of 'underwriting' war crimes in Darfur?

Newspaper writing on Darfur has sketched a pornography of violence. It
seems fascinated by and fixated on the gory details, describing the
worst of the atrocities in gruesome detail and chronicling the rise in
the number of them. The implication is that the motivation of the
perpetrators lies in biology ('race') and, if not that, certainly in
'culture'. This voyeuristic approach accompanies a moralistic
discourse whose effect is both to obscure the politics of the violence
and position the reader as a virtuous, not just a concerned observer.

Journalism gives us a simple moral world, where a group of
perpetrators face a group of victims, but where neither history nor
motivation is thinkable because both are outside history and context.
Even when newspapers highlight violence as a social phenomenon, they
fail to understand the forces that shape the agency of the
perpetrator. Instead, they look for a clear and uncomplicated moral
that describes the victim as untainted and the perpetrator as simply
evil. Where yesterday's victims are today's perpetrators, where
victims have turned perpetrators, this attempt to find an African
replay of the Holocaust not only does not work but also has perverse
consequences. Whatever its analytical weaknesses, the depoliticisation
of violence has given its proponents distinct political advantages.

The conflict in Darfur is highly politicised, and so is the
international campaign. One of the campaign's constant refrains has
been that the ongoing genocide is racial: 'Arabs' are trying to
eliminate 'Africans'. But both 'Arab' and 'African' have several
meanings in Sudan. There have been at least three meanings of 'Arab'.
Locally, 'Arab' was a pejorative reference to the lifestyle of the
nomad as uncouth; regionally, it referred to someone whose primary
language was Arabic. In this sense, a group could become 'Arab' over
time. This process, known as Arabisation, was not an anomaly in the
region: there was Amharisation in Ethiopia and Swahilisation on the
East African coast. The third meaning of 'Arab' was 'privileged and
exclusive'; it was the claim of the riverine political aristocracy who
had ruled Sudan since independence, and who equated Arabisation with
the spread of civilisation and being Arab with descent.

'African', in this context, was a subaltern identity that also had the
potential of being either exclusive or inclusive. The two meanings
were not only contradictory but came from the experience of two
different insurgencies. The inclusive meaning was more political than
racial or even cultural (linguistic), in the sense that an 'African'
was anyone determined to make a future within Africa. It was pioneered
by John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army
(SPLA) in the south, as a way of holding together the New Sudan he
hoped to see. In contrast, its exclusive meaning came in two versions,
one hard (racial) and the other soft (linguistic)  'African' as Bantu
and 'African' as the identity of anyone who spoke a language
indigenous to Africa. The racial meaning came to take a strong hold in
both the counter-insurgency and the insurgency in Darfur. The Save
Darfur campaign's characterisation of the violence as 'Arab' against
'African' obscured both the fact that the violence was not one-sided
and the contest over the meaning of 'Arab' and 'African': a contest
that was critical precisely because it was ultimately about who
belonged and who did not in the political community called Sudan. The
depoliticisation, naturalisation and, ultimately, demonisation of the
notion 'Arab', as against 'African', has been the deadliest effect,
whether intended or not, of the Save Darfur campaign.

The depoliticisation of the conflict gave campaigners three
advantages. First, they were able to occupy the moral high ground. The
campaign presented itself as apolitical but moral, its concern limited
only to saving lives. Second, only a single-issue campaign could bring
together in a unified chorus forces that are otherwise ranged as
adversaries on most important issues of the day: at one end, the
Christian right and the Zionist lobby; at the other, a mainly school
and university-based peace movement. Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice
wrote of the Save Darfur Coalition as 'an alliance of more than 515
faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organisations'; among the
organisers of their Rally to Stop the Genocide in Washington last year
were groups as diverse as the American Jewish World Service, the
American Society for Muslim Advancement, the National Association of
Evangelicals, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the US Holocaust
Memorial Museum, the American Anti-Slavery Group, Amnesty
International, Christian Solidarity International, Physicians for
Human Rights and the National Black Church Initiative. Surely, such a
wide coalition would cease to hold together if the issue shifted to,
say, Iraq.

To understand the third advantage, we have to return to the question I
asked earlier: how could it be that many of those calling for an end
to the American and British intervention in Iraq are demanding an
intervention in Darfur? It's tempting to think that the advantage of
Darfur lies in its being a small, faraway place where those who drive
the War on Terror do not have a vested interest. That this is hardly
the case is evident if one compares the American response to Darfur to
its non-response to Congo, even though the dimensions of the conflict
in Congo seem to give it a mega-Darfur quality: the numbers killed are
estimated in the millions rather than the hundreds of thousands; the
bulk of the killing, particularly in Kivu, is done by paramilitaries
trained, organised and armed by neighbouring governments; and the
victims on both sides  Hema and Lendu  are framed in collective
rather than individual terms, to the point that one influential
version defines both as racial identities and the conflict between the
two as a replay of the Rwandan genocide. Given all this, how does one
explain the fact that the focus of the most widespread and ambitious
humanitarian movement in the US is on Darfur and not on Kivu?

Nicholas Kristof was asked this very question by a university
audience: 'When I spoke at Cornell University recently, a woman asked
why I always harp on Darfur. It's a fair question. The number of
people killed in Darfur so far is modest in global terms: estimates
range from 200,000 to more than 500,000. In contrast, four million
people have died since 1998 as a result of the fighting in Congo, the
most lethal conflict since World War Two.' But instead of answering
the question, Kristof  now writing his column rather than facing the
questioner at Cornell  moved on: 'And malaria annually kills one
million to three million people  meaning that three years' deaths in
Darfur are within the margin of error of the annual global toll from
malaria.' And from there he went on to compare the deaths in Darfur to
the deaths from malaria, rather than from the conflict in Congo: 'We
have a moral compass within us and its needle is moved not only by
human suffering but also by human evil. That's what makes genocide
special  not just the number of deaths but the government policy
behind them. And that in turn is why stopping genocide should be an
even higher priority than saving lives from Aids or malaria.' That did
not explain the relative silence on Congo. Could the reason be that in
the case of Congo, Hema and Lendu militias  many of them no more than
child soldiers  were trained by America's allies in the region,
Rwanda and Uganda? Is that why the violence in Darfur  but not the
violence in Kivu  is named as a genocide?

It seems that genocide has become a label to be stuck on your worst
enemy, a perverse version of the Nobel Prize, part of a rhetorical
arsenal that helps you vilify your adversaries while ensuring impunity
for your allies. In Kristof's words, the point is not so much 'human
suffering' as 'human evil'. Unlike Kivu, Darfur can be neatly
integrated into the War on Terror, for Darfur gives the Warriors on
Terror a valuable asset with which to demonise an enemy: a genocide
perpetrated by Arabs. This was the third and most valuable advantage
that Save Darfur gained from depoliticising the conflict. The more
thoroughly Darfur was integrated into the War on Terror, the more the
depoliticised violence in Darfur acquired a racial description, as a
genocide of 'Arabs' killing 'Africans'. Racial difference purportedly
constituted the motive force behind the mass killings. The irony of
Kristof's columns is that they mirror the ideology of Arab supremacism
in Sudan by demonising entire communities.[*]

Kristof chides Arab peoples and the Arab press for not having the
moral fibre to respond to this Muslim-on-Muslim violence, presumably
because it is a violence inflicted by Arab Muslims on African Muslims.
In one of his early columns in 2004, he was outraged by the silence of
Muslim leaders: 'Do they care about dead Muslims only when the killers
are Israelis or Americans?' Two years later he asked: 'And where is
the Arab press? Isn't the murder of 300,000 or more Muslims almost as
offensive as a Danish cartoon?' Six months later, Kristof pursued this
line on NBC's Today Show. Elaborating on the 'real blind spot' in the
Muslim world, he said: 'You are beginning to get some voices in the
Muslim world . . . saying it's appalling that you have evangelical
Christians and American Jews leading an effort to protect Muslims in
Sudan and in Chad.'

If many of the leading lights in the Darfur campaign are fired by
moral indignation, this derives from two events: the Nazi Holocaust
and the Rwandan genocide. After all, the seeds of the Save Darfur
campaign lie in the tenth-anniversary commemoration of what happened
in Rwanda. Darfur is today a metaphor for senseless violence in
politics, as indeed Rwanda was a decade before. Most writing on the
Rwandan genocide in the US was also done by journalists. In We wish to
inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, the most
widely read book on the genocide, Philip Gourevitch envisaged Rwanda
as a replay of the Holocaust, with Hutu cast as perpetrators and Tutsi
as victims. Again, the encounter between the two seemed to take place
outside any context, as part of an eternal encounter between evil and
innocence. Many of the journalists who write about Darfur have Rwanda
very much in the back of their minds. In December 2004, Kristof
recalled the lessons of Rwanda: 'Early in his presidency, Mr Bush read
a report about Bill Clinton's paralysis during the Rwandan genocide
and scrawled in the margin: "Not on my watch." But in fact the same
thing is happening on his watch, and I find that heartbreaking and
baffling.'

With very few exceptions, the Save Darfur campaign has drawn a single
lesson from Rwanda: the problem was the US failure to intervene to
stop the genocide. Rwanda is the guilt that America must expiate, and
to do so it must be ready to intervene, for good and against evil,
even globally. That lesson is inscribed at the heart of Samantha
Power's book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.
But it is the wrong lesson. The Rwandan genocide was born of a civil
war which intensified when the settlement to contain it broke down.
The settlement, reached at the Arusha Conference, broke down because
neither the Hutu Power tendency nor the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda
Patriotic Front (RPF) had any interest in observing the power-sharing
arrangement at the core of the settlement: the former because it was
excluded from the settlement and the latter because it was unwilling
to share power in any meaningful way.

What the humanitarian intervention lobby fails to see is that the US
did intervene in Rwanda, through a proxy. That proxy was the RPF,
backed up by entire units from the Uganda Army. The green light was
given to the RPF, whose commanding officer, Paul Kagame, had recently
returned from training in the US, just as it was lately given to the
Ethiopian army in Somalia. Instead of using its resources and
influence to bring about a political solution to the civil war, and
then strengthen it, the US signalled to one of the parties that it
could pursue victory with impunity. This unilateralism was part of
what led to the disaster, and that is the real lesson of Rwanda.
Applied to Darfur and Sudan, it is sobering. It means recognising that
Darfur is not yet another Rwanda. Nurturing hopes of an external
military intervention among those in the insurgency who aspire to
victory and reinforcing the fears of those in the counter-insurgency
who see it as a prelude to defeat are precisely the ways to ensure
that it becomes a Rwanda. Strengthening those on both sides who stand
for a political settlement to the civil war is the only realistic
approach. Solidarity, not intervention, is what will bring peace to
Darfur.

The dynamic of civil war in Sudan has fed on multiple sources: first,
the post-independence monopoly of power enjoyed by a tiny 'Arabised'
elite from the riverine north of Khartoum, a monopoly that has bred
growing resistance among the majority, marginalised populations in the
south, east and west of the country; second, the rebel movements which
have in their turn bred ambitious leaders unwilling to enter into
power-sharing arrangements as a prelude to peace; and, finally,
external forces that continue to encourage those who are interested in
retaining or obtaining a monopoly of power.

The dynamic of peace, by contrast, has fed on a series of
power-sharing arrangements, first in the south and then in the east.
This process has been intermittent in Darfur. African Union-organised
negotiations have been successful in forging a power-sharing
arrangement, but only for that arrangement to fall apart time and
again. A large part of the explanation, as I suggested earlier, lies
in the international context of the War on Terror, which favours
parties who are averse to taking risks for peace. To reinforce the
peace process must be the first commitment of all those interested in
Darfur.

The camp of peace needs to come to a second realisation: that peace
cannot be built on humanitarian intervention, which is the language of
big powers. The history of colonialism should teach us that every
major intervention has been justified as humanitarian, a 'civilising
mission'. Nor was it mere idiosyncrasy that inspired the devotion with
which many colonial officers and archivists recorded the details of
barbarity among the colonised  sati, the ban on widow marriage or the
practice of child marriage in India, or slavery and female genital
mutilation in Africa. I am not suggesting that this was all invention.
I mean only to point out that the chronicling of atrocities had a
practical purpose: it provided the moral pretext for intervention.
Now, as then, imperial interventions claim to have a dual purpose: on
the one hand, to rescue minority victims of ongoing barbarities and,
on the other, to quarantine majority perpetrators with the stated aim
of civilising them. Iraq should act as a warning on this score. The
worst thing in Darfur would be an Iraq-style intervention. That would
almost certainly spread the civil war to other parts of Sudan,
unravelling the peace process in the east and south and dragging the
whole country into the global War on Terror.

Footnotes

* Contrast this with the UN commission's painstaking effort to make
sense of the identities 'Arab' and 'African'. The commission's report
concentrated on three related points. First, the claim that the Darfur
conflict pitted 'Arab' against 'African' was facile. 'In fact, the
commission found that many Arabs in Darfur are opposed to the
Janjawiid, and some Arabs are fighting with the rebels, such as
certain Arab commanders and their men from the Misseriya and Rizeigat
tribes. At the same time, many non-Arabs are supporting the government
and serving in its army.' Second, it has never been easy to sort
different tribes into the categories 'Arab' and 'African': 'The
various tribes that have been the object of attacks and killings
(chiefly the Fur, Massalit and Zeghawa tribes) do not appear to make
up ethnic groups distinct from the ethnic groups to which persons or
militias that attack them belong. They speak the same language
(Arabic) and embrace the same religion (Muslim). In addition, also due
to the high measure of intermarriage, they can hardly be distinguished
in their outward physical appearance from the members of tribes that
allegedly attacked them. Apparently, the sedentary and nomadic
character of the groups constitutes one of the main distinctions
between them' (emphasis mine). Finally, the commission put forward the
view that political developments are driving the rapidly growing
distinction between 'Arab' and 'African'. On the one hand, 'Arab' and
'African' seem to have become political identities: 'Those tribes in
Darfur who support rebels have increasingly come to be identified as
"African" and those supporting the government as the "Arabs". A good
example to illustrate this is that of the Gimmer, a pro-government
African tribe that is seen by the African tribes opposed to the
government as having been "Arabised".' On the other hand, this
development was being promoted from the outside: 'The Arab-African
divide has also been fanned by the growing insistence on such divide
in some circles and in the media.'

Mahmood Mamdani is Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and a
professor of anthropology at Columbia University. His most recent book
is Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of
Terror.

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