De Waal responds to Weintraub

Writing on his blog, Alex de Waal responds (civilly) to Jeff Weintraub’s bad faith questioning of de Waal’s position on the Darfur conflict. Weintraub, an academic who has a certain fondness for Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen etc, suspects De Waal may be rubbing elbows with "forces who would rather see the outside world do nothing at all about the crisis in Darfur". These party poopers may have one of several wicked motivations for this stance,  but some of them do it "in order to change the subject to attacking Blair & Bush & Zionism & imperialism". These "forces" are a real bad lot and Weintraub is "sure" De Waal doesn’t want to be associated them. The outstanding criminal among them is apparently Mahmood Mamdani, frequent contributor to ZNet. Weintraub counsels De Waal about "distancing yourself" from "serial apologists for genocide like Mahmood Mamdani". (Searching Weintraubs blog, and the internet generally, I can’t find anywhere that Weintraub refers to any evidence to back up his ridiculous, indeed libelous, assertion.) Weintraub ends by saying that Darfur activists of the ‘Save Darfur’ variety have provoked the only positive action by the international community.

De Waal politely responds to Weintraub’s concerns (excerpts):


… My worry is that the American campaign’s headline description is no longer valid and the proposed solutions aren’t going to work.

I would argue that to describe what is happening in Darfur today as genocide is stretching that much-abused word too far. The level of killings — best estimates are about 7,000 violent deaths since the end of major hostilities in January 2005 — doesn’t in itself refute the charge of genocide, but it does shift the burden of proof onto those who are claiming ongoing genocidal intent.

It’s more than a minor detail that some of the fiercest fighting of the last few months has involved the government fighting against mutinous Arab militias. It’s harder to argue the case for an ongoing Arab genocidal intent when some of the biggest Janjaweed commanders — including Mohamed Hamdan Hemeti and Musa Hilal — are flirting with the rebels. (The question of what really is going on with the Arabs is complicated and I will explore it elsewhere. But you will agree that demonizing the Arabs as genocidaires is a pretty dangerous approach, especially at this particular juncture.)

… Figures for deaths from violence and hunger and disease are controversial, but all data sources concur on two things. One, the great majority of violent deaths occurred between approximately June 2003 and April 2004, with more killings continuing until approximately January 2005. Since then, the numbers of killings have fluctuated from month to month, and place to place, averaging about 200 per month, both civilians and combatants. …

This tells us (a) that the numbers of killings were reduced at almost exactly the point of the first international outcry (we can speculate about cause-and-effect, but the most likely cause was that the government’s offensives had succeeded in their immediate aims and so they scaled back), and (b) that the constant refrain of “things are getting worse” doesn’t apply to the level of killings in Darfur.

… Am I confusing and demoralizing members of this remarkable American grassroots movement for Darfur with my critiques? If I am causing people to think more deeply and explore the issues more, then that’s great. If I prompt people to consider the perils of simplistic responses, then I’m doing well. The activists I know have no difficulty in grappling with these challenges. Those who are dealing with the situation at close quarters — the humanitarians for example — are already confronting these dilemmas, so what I am saying is nothing new to them. (I should re-emphasize that what looks like a consensus from within the American campaign for Darfur, looks like one end of a whole spectrum of opinions when the range of international activism on Sudan is taken into account.)

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