Ask The Audience: Sudan

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

How in the world does genocide get such little attention?  Do a google search of the Dish with the term Burma and you get 160 hits. Compare how other issues are treated by the Dish: the value of Buddhism, for example, is given an extended discussion with multiple viewpoints. Andrew (though hardly alone) has not opined as to the fate of several of the tougher, nonmilitary responses which were introduced in Congress and left to die in committee.  Most notable was the Darfur Accountability Act which passed unanimously in the senate but, following a visit to Washington D.C. by Salah Gosh (the reported engineer of the genocide) was killed in the House without even a discharge petition.  How does such a momentous story get ignored by everyone save a couple of human rights outlier journalists (the most mainstream coverage it received was in Harper's)?  But what I think is more telling is the difference in tone on the Dish between torture and genocide.

Yes, of course there the obvious big difference that our government was the one who did the post 9/11 torturing and not committing the genocide in Darfur.  But the principle of international law on genocide is that it and slavery are the two acts supposed to be so abhorrent that they justify ignoring state sovereignty and reflexively taking action. Andrew apparently believes this is true for torture -- look at his favorable writing regarding Spain's interest in prosecuting American officials -- but not for genocide.  As for his bright line on when it is appropriate to either take military action on genocide (is it never?) or stronger sanctions, even if it hurts our relation with the Arab League?  Who knows, he doesn't write about it. 

My main point is that genocide was supposed to be different -- an overarching issue so grave that it demands both attention and response (that's also a reason why it's a different question than, say, Congo, though the death tolls there are far greater.  Congo deserves a response on its own but I don't want to digress too much).  As the Washington Post wrote, Darfur is as-if God answered the excuses on Rwanda that we didn't know what was going on before the mass death was over and said "OK humans, here's one in slow motion -- let's see how you do with this one."  Well, we know how we do when it's Europeans that are involved -- at some point we step in and stop it.  But we can't even do a no-fly zone or economic sanctions with teeth when its Africa.  Rationalizations for the difference can be made, but racism has the most explanatory power -- the reason for the difference in coverage, attention, and demands on our politicians isn't because we were stretched to thin that we couldn't afford to send an aircraft carrier over for a no-fly zone, it's because as Pat Buchanan said (with regard to an earthquake in Turkey) that they're different from us, and when it comes to those kinds of differences nobody is more different than a black African.