By Aijaz Zaka Syed
It seems like only yesterday. But it’s nearly two years ago that I did an impassioned piece on the tragedy of Darfur. Thank God, it managed to make its point. It was widely noticed and talked about. It even brought me European Union’s media prize. I collected my prize in Brussels and promptly consigned the issue to the back of that amazing cold storage called human mind.
Meanwhile, two years on, little has changed in Darfur. It continues to bleed and burn as ever. The world may have moved on. It might have grown weary of reading and hearing about the conflict in a region that is hardly a stranger to strife and war. But Darfur remains stuck in the time warp where it was two years ago. Only more people have died. More innocents have paid with their lives for the goals and objectives of those fighting this terrible war.
I am sure there are some noble objectives driving this war too. Else, why would Sudan look the other way while tens of thousands of innocent people — its own people — are killed, raped and hunted like animals in the full glare of world media?
Two years ago, in 2006, when I wrote that piece on Darfur there were fears that close to 300,000 people might have already perished. Even a conservative survey by the WHO in 2006 estimated that at least 200,000 people had died of fighting and disease and malnutrition caused by it.
This week, the UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told the Security Council that as many as 300,000 people are estimated to have died of war, famine and disease in the conflict. And the UN official says the figures are based on an ‘educated guess’ admitting more people might have died during the past couple of years. Millions have been driven out of their homes and towns into neighboring countries and wilderness.
Sudan of course has once again rejected the UN warnings, just as it has repeatedly done in the past.
It has accused the world body of exaggerating the death toll. Mohamed Ali al-Mardi, a former justice minister, told Al Jazeera that the UN is manipulating figures in order to raise money for its operations in the region. “This is the only way to raise funds from donors and charitable communities — by giving them a very dramatic picture about the situation in Darfur,” al-Mardi insisted. “Now the situation is far better than it has been at any previous time.”
I wish I could share this optimism. But then Sudan has always insisted there’s no problem in its Western region. While the UN and numerous aid agencies get all worked up over the grave humanitarian disaster they face daily in Darfur, the powers that be in Sudan seldom seem to notice the epic tragedy that has been unfolding in their backyard.
That is what it is, the backyard that Sudan’s politicians want nothing to do with.
And yes, while UN mandarins debate if the toll is 200,000 or 300,000, Sudan has always insisted that the total number of those killed in the conflict does not exceed 10,000.
It has repeatedly accused the West, especially the US, of running a motivated campaign against the country in the name of rights abuses in Darfur. Khartoum alleges that it is yet another victim of the Western conspiracies targeting the Muslim world, just as Saddam’s Iraq had once been or Ayatollahs’ Iran currently is.
You know what, this is what I used to believe too when reports first surfaced in the Western media about the situation in Sudan. Given the long history of Western interventions and machinations in the Muslim world, this concern is not totally without basis. So it’s understandable if one fell for the claim that the noise over Darfur was part of the Western designs on Sudan and its rich natural resources that include oil.
There are several neocon and missionary groups active in the US and elsewhere — some of them corresponded with me after my article was reproduced by many US blogs — whose interest in Darfur is not entirely altruistic.
That said, one finds it hard to accept Sudan’s contention that there is no problem in Darfur. Also absurd are its claims that the extent of humanitarian crisis and the resulting casualties are exaggerated.
There have been hundreds of independent accounts that go to confirm what the UN and aid agencies have been screaming about for five years now. Many of these sources are not based in the West and do not share its biases and agenda either. Most of them are genuine and respected human rights activists. It’s high time Sudan is persuaded to face the reality of Darfur. For this issue has been the shame and disgrace of Arab and Muslim world.
More unfortunate is the silence of the Muslim world. Save for some half-hearted voices here and there, there has been little or no debate on one of the most disastrous conflicts of our time in forums such as OIC and Arab League. Even the ever-proactive Muslim street is strangely silent over Darfur. I haven’t heard a single voice of protest ringing out there.
Tonnes and tonnes of newsprint and television footage have been devoted to the conflicts in Palestine and Iraq by the media in the Muslim world and rightly of course. But where’s our outrage when it comes to Darfur?
Why? Is this because the victims as well as the perpetrators of those atrocities in Darfur happen to be both Muslim? Or is it because we find it inconvenient to hold up a mirror to our brotherly, fellow Arab and Muslim country? Don’t you think there should be greater Muslim outrage in this case since the oppressor also happens to be Muslim?
The people of Darfur have waited for five long years for the Arabs and Muslims to speak out and tell Sudan: Enough is enough. End this fratricide now. Enough of spilling Muslim blood! When will that happen? When there’s no one left to save in Darfur?
Sudan is a great country and many Sudanese people happen to be my good friends and colleagues. Most of them are just as agitated, if not more, as the rest of the world by the disgrace of Darfur.
This is why Sudan has to act and act now to end the bloodletting in its Western region. I am not suggesting, as many in the West do, that the marauding militias in Darfur are commanded by Khartoum. But by not acting to rein in these killers and end the genocide of its own people, Sudan ends up sharing the blame.
For, as Burke warned, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
-Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org