Indeed, the administration’s mixed signals, alternately condemning and lauding the regime, have done little to rein in the Janjaweed marauders who keep the Darfur people from leaving fetid camps to plant crops and rebuild their shattered villages. And one reason the administration has not acted more forcefully is that the potent Christian groups involved in foreign affairs–those who anchored the religious coalition that compelled results in southern Sudan with unity and toughness–have been fragmented in their response to Darfur. This fact tarnishes the achievement in the south, and the stain will fall most heavily on the evangelical world. Born-again Christians in America, it will be said, care more about the deaths of their fellow believers in the south than about the deaths of Muslims in the west.
Given its special access to the White House and its grassroots muscle, the evangelical community remains uniquely situated to mobilize against what President Bush himself has described as “genocide in Darfur.” As one insider explained, “If evangelicals are not prioritizing it, then the administration will not prioritize it.” But the nation’s evangelicals should prioritize it. Even without sending American troops to the region, forceful and moral options remain. The administration can stop sending mixed messages, mount a determined effort to expand and empower African Union forces, add U.S. logistical support, secure more aid, and massively increase diplomatic and economic pressure.
And to make all this happen–to halt the rape and murder of Darfur–the vital element is action from the American religious community. ~Allen D. Hertzke, First Things (courtesy of Orthodoxy Today)
When we consider the Janjaweed militias’ violence and forced relocation of the largely non-Arab population of Darfur, as Christians we must naturally deplore and condemn it as immoral and vicious. Nothing can be said that will justify the wanton killing and brigandage that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300,000. The violence in Darfur, like the war in the south for the past twenty years, also reflects the brutality and criminality of the Islamist Sudanese regime. In several places in Africa one faultline that triggers much of the violence of that troubled continent is the religious and cultural divide between Muslim and non-Muslim populations–throughout western Africa and in the Sudan the same sort of conflict over the imposition of shari’a recurs. This faultline made the conflict in southern Sudan seem much more clear and made the nature of the response seem much more readily apparent.
However, in Darfur the conflict is between two sets of Muslims, for whose illumination Christians should pray but to whom they owe nothing but the simple charity that Christians should extend to all. Rendering humanitarian assistance and bringing supplies to the dislocated people, now residing in camps in the desert or in neighbouring Chad, are legitimate things that Christians, if they felt so inclined, might reasonably do as an expression of this basic charity. But as a matter of principle, Christians living in the United States have vastly greater obligations to many, many others, all of which takes priority over compassion for Darfurian Muslims. Not to put too fine a point on it, but today we have our own displaced populations from the Gulf Coast who need our support and to whom we, as Christians who have lived in this country all our lives, owe far more. Once we have fulfilled our obligations to our countrymen, to whom we should always have greater loyalty and affinity, we might consider in what ways, if any, we might assist foreigners in need. Scripture teaches us not to turn away the poor, the stranger and the traveler when they come to us, but it does not teach us to neglect our own for the sake of going to another land to tend to the oppressed there.
The violence in Darfur is principally over the limited resources of land in the desert, which the now-displaced largely, but not wholly, non-Arab peoples of western Sudan possessed and which the Arab militias have taken. This conflict has divided along tribal and ethnic lines that are presumably as complex and foreign to any Westerner as the Sudan is far from America. It is folly to pretend that we understand enough to resolve this situation with any sort of competence. As in so many other crises, the administration’s ear may be captured by a heavily biased and interested lobby that has the interests of none of the Sudanese at heart and the information it receives will likely be inaccurate or deliberately distorted. This has happened throughout the 1990s and again in the months prior to the invasion of Iraq. All of this does beg the question: “what is Darfur to us?” We might ask that question whether we are secular or Christian Americans.
The Sudan is one of those invented countries, based on previous colonial administrative boundaries, that arose in the wake of decolonisation in Africa that has no naturally obvious boundaries nor any ethnic, religious or cultural cohesion. Its disintegration, especially under the strains of the misrule of Khartoum, is not very surprising. But it should be troubling to outsiders who are concerned about the creation of more completely lawless zones in which Islamists can operate and through which they can move undetected and without any state controls.
Khartoum, once a principal ally of bin Laden, was compelled to have him leave the country and has since cooperated to some extent in assisting our government against al-Qaeda. Limiting the areas of the Sudan that it controls–which any ‘humanitarian’ intervention in Darfur would inevitably accomplish–will be to make Darfur into a den of smuggling, criminality and terrorism (just as has happened previously in Bosnia and Kosovo) ultimately to the detriment of the security of Europe and the United States. As a matter of policy, do American Christians want to speed up the process of the Sudan’s fragmentation and dissolution, knowing what the consequences for the West might be?
At least in the case of the war fought by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, evangelicals can convince themselves that there are fellow Christians suffering persecution and that it therefore becomes not only their concern but the concern of the American government by wrapping the issue on the ragged, ugly banner of “human rights.” Incidentally, the SPLA can only be considered as a group of good Christians when compared to the nightmarish villains of the impiously named Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, but let’s grant for the moment that if there are any complete strangers on the other side of the world Christians should seek to help it is other Christians, however ugly and disreputable their political leaders may be.
Legally, the Sudanese government has been within its rights to settle its internal affairs without foreign interference in just the same way that Yugoslavia was in 1999. That its policy has resulted in the mass dislocation of millions and the deaths of hundreds of thousands is true, even as it was not true in Kosovo, but that it is also not a policy of genocide, contrary to ignorant proclamations of Congress and the President, should be self-evident. That we may rightly find the KLA to be much more disreputable and actively anti-Christian and the rebels and refugees of Darfur much more sympathetic should not significantly change how we, as Christians, respond.
The refugees of Darfur are victims of brutal, systematic political retaliation, and it would be fatuous to deny any longer that Khartoum has had a sizeable role in directing and aiding the militias in their war. It should also not be forgotten that these refugees are victims of their own political extremists as well, rebels who thought it would somehow be very clever to attempt to rise up against a Sudanese regime that had fought, with limited success, a 20-year war to prevent the last rebels from achieving their full demands, which at one time included secession from the Sudan and the creation of an independent polity. Evangelicals might ponder whether the peace accords between Khartoum and the SPLA, realised only through considerable foreign pressure, have been worth it when there is every reason to believe that these accords were a signal to other rebels in the Sudan to rise up.
It is reasonable to claim that the refugee crisis in Darfur might never have happened, or would not have been on such a scale, had there been no intervention over the plight of the southern Sudanese. Indeed, Mr. Hertzke admits as much, even as he tries to avoid the obvious implications for his own advocacy and distorts the issue with claims of genocide:
Unfortunately, the very triumph in the south sparked the rebellion in the west. Thus the crisis of Darfur provides vivid evidence of the assertion of Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi that, whenever militant Islamists cannot achieve their goals or govern effectively, they always spread disorder. The Africans in Darfur, though Muslim, had long chafed under the neglect or discrimination by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, and they competed with nomadic Arabs of the region for land and water. As Sufis, they were also viewed as apostates by the National Islamic Front, and because they resisted its extreme interpretation of shari’a, they represented a threat to the regime.
This common resistance tied together the conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur. When the southern peace process showed signs of providing the south with real autonomy by the spring of 2003, Darfur’s rebels seized the opportunity to achieve a similar result and attacked garrisons of the government. Khartoum responded by pursuing yet another genocidal policy.
What other disastrous unintended consequences might more intervention bring? Put simply, had we minded our own business all along, the people of Darfur probably would not have been murdered, had their homes destroyed and been driven into the desert. Interfering in the affairs of other countries has serious, sometimes terrible consequences, and it will not do to say that we meant well. Sudan is another fine case study of how interventionism fairly consistently makes things in a country worse than before, a sterling example of why we should mind our own business, and why noninterventionism is almost always the most moral course of action for any state to take. As an essential part of traditional American foreign policy, it is also the most in keeping with the interests and institutions of our country, to which American Christians owe a powerful, albeit secondary, loyalty.