Death in Darfur
By MOHAMED BUISIER
Wall Street Journal
June 2, 2006; Page A18
Once again, the international community, and the U.N. in particular, is being shamed into acting to stop the massacres in Darfur, and once again the Arab League and Arab leaders are unwilling and unable to face facts, or to deal with them in a civilized and humane manner.
Indeed, the most recent Arab League summit, which took place in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum -- presumably as a show of support to the host government -- ended with a resolution denying that any massacres had taken place in Darfur and expressing resistance to any outside intervention in the "internal" affairs of an Arab country. (Not surprisingly, this stance is identical to that taken by Osama Bin Laden.)
By adopting this argument, the Arab League was not just covering up for the atrocities perpetrated by the Sudanese government, but also for the direct or indirect involvement in this part of the Sudan of some of the Arab governments attending the summit. It is but one more shameful manifestation of Arab governments turning a blind eye to the continuing inhumane atrocities committed against their own citizens.
The fact that the Arab League is ineffectual is no longer news. Indeed, it may even work to the advantage of those present at the summit that many of the delegates were asleep, as Al-Arabiya TV cameras showed: In the future, if justice were to prevail in Darfur, the conferees could claim that they were sleeping when the resolution was passed and blame the whole ugly episode there on a Western/Zionist conspiracy to destroy the image of Arabs and Muslims.
While not dwelling on the cause of the problem, other Muslim leaders, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, have tried to raise awareness of the humanitarian tragedy that is taking place in Darfur. But such pleas should be directed at the Arab and Sudanese governments and not just at the international community, particularly as Sudan continues to oscillate between denying and allowing international access to Darfur. Sudan's track record does not inspire confidence.
But why should anyone be surprised that the Arab League is denying yet one more massacre in its midst? In fact, some Arab leaders and so-called Arab intellectuals continue to assert that Saddam Hussein is still the legitimate president of Iraq even after his massacres of Iraqis have been unearthed. After all, for many decades now, legitimacy in this part of the world has been gained at the point of a gun (or for those diehard romantics in Western foreign ministries, by the sword).
The contrast between the Arab League's denial of any massacres in Darfur and the handover of Charles Taylor by the Nigerian government to the U.N.-backed special court in Sierra Leone is telling, to say the least. Taylor, who had received support from some members of the Arab League, will be the first African leader to face war-crimes charges.
It remains a serious concern that while many regions of the world are moving forward and finding, with the support of the international community, mechanisms to bring the likes of Chile's Pinochet, Yugoslavia's Milosevic and Liberia's Taylor to justice, the Arab League's denial of the atrocities in Darfur demonstrates not only disrespect for human life, but proof that the Arab world may be falling into a darkness of which we had only a glimpse in New York, Madrid and London.
Can the Arab world hope for, and expect, a miracle from its warlord leaders and their heirs? Or is it condemned to a downward spiral in which cruel and autocratic leaders are replaced with even more barbarity?
The Arab world is in a race against time. Its leaders, for once, should stop and think if it is in their interest to continue governing by force, and instilling fear, hatred and a dangerous sense of impotence in their populations. It is time to break out of this culture of fear, wherein the rulers fear those they govern, and the people fear their rulers. Opening up the political space for democratic participation, and encouraging a more civilized dialogue between state and society based on respect for the rights of the individual, would be a step toward breaking this cycle of fear.
If the Arab League and Arab leaders cannot constrain or punish those in their midst who commit heinous atrocities against their own populations, they should not complain when the rest of the world acts to make this world a less welcoming place for those who are committing atrocities.