I have in the past on this blog taken potshots at the SaveDarfurers; my essential criticism is that many seem like hypocrites or bandwagoners engaging in advocacy without really understanding what it is they are advocating or why. (I don’t necessarily mean that you are, rather only that most are.)
The most common defense I hear from readers runs somewhere along the lines of, "at least they’re doing something!" or "but we can’t just do nothing! we have to do something!" or "doing something is better than doing nothing at all" etc.
Something. Nothing. Nothing something nothing.
Mahmoud Mamdani, I believe, offers an explanation for this stunning lack of articulateness in an essay published last March in the London Review of Books when he argues that in America, the Darfur conflict has been "emptied of its political content." He reasons this is why it’s easier for sunny college kids to advocate the end of mass murder in Darfur than in Iraq, where we Americans are much more conscious that the situation has moral and political complexities–even if we can’t exactly name them–not to mention our own complicity in their creation; or at least I naively cling to the hope that we have become aware of that much, even though it is certainly easier to wage a theoretical battle against a theoretical evil in lands that may as well be theoretical than it is to admit your own, very concrete sins.
From the Democracy Now interview:
Well, I was struck by the fact—because I live nine months in New York and three months in Kampala, and every morning I open the New York Times, and I read about sort of violence against civilians, atrocities against civilians, and there are two places that I read about—one is Iraq, and the other is Darfur—sort of constantly, day after day, and week after week. And I’m struck by the fact that the largest political movement against mass violence on US campuses is on Darfur and not on Iraq. And it puzzles me, because most of these students, almost all of these students, are American citizens, and I had always thought that they should have greater responsibility, they should feel responsibility, for mass violence which is the result of their own government’s policies. And I ask myself, “Why not?” I ask myself, “How do they discuss mass violence in Iraq and options in Iraq?” And they discuss it by asking—agonizing over what would happen if American troops withdrew from Iraq. Would there be more violence? Less violence? But there is no such agonizing over Darfur, because Darfur is a place without history, Darfur is a place without politics. Darfur is simply a dot on the map. It is simply a place, a site, where perpetrator confronts victim. And the perpetrator’s name is Arab, and the victim’s name is African. And it is easy to demonize. It is easy to hold a moral position which is emptied of its political content. This bothered me, and so I wrote about it. (emphasis added)