Kokkinochoma 455 00, Yunanistan
I was fortunate enough to hear mamdani speak not too long ago. He is a captivating orator--careful with his words and illuminating with his stories. His analysis of Darfur, here and elsewhere (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n05/mamd01_....) resounds with penetrating clarity much needed in the heyday of Save Darfur’s self-delusion. The third clause in the subtitle of this book is but a hint of Mamdani’s bold linkages seldom admitted elsewhere. preliminary cautionary note: I found his talk of citizenship and sovereignty to be somewhat convoluted-- he comes across in several places as an odd sort of nationalist. I will defer to my admiration and trust of Mamdani until I read his citizen and subject, which I’m guessing will help me in these matters. This book, Mamdani says, is 'an argument against those who substitute moral certainty for knowledge, and who feel virtuous even when acting on the basis of total ignorance.’ and the argument has a direct target: Only those possessed of disproportionate power can afford to assume that knowing is irrelevant, thereby caring little about the consequences of their actions. Not only is this mind-set the driving force behind the War on Terror, it also provides the self-indulgent motto of the human rights interventionist recruited into the ranks of the terror warriors…It is this shared mind-set that has turned the movement to Save Darfur into the humanitarian face of the War on Terror.... Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant (6). This ethical injunction is, I think, one I could get behind. The rallying cry around ‘genocide’, in the case of Darfur, is only made possible through an absence of knowledge. If genocide is defined as ‘killing with an intent to eliminate an entire group’ (3), then the conflict in Darfur can definitively not be termed as such. This is arguably Mamdani’s most controversial intervention in the debate. And not only does he challenge this seemingly unquestionable perception, that of near of unending racial violence, but by investigating the political implications for historical narrative that renders the labeling of genocide possible, he accounts for how and why this act of naming came into being,. What is the significance, for example, of ex-prez Bush’s accusation against the government of Sudan of genocide, the first government historically to level that charge against another? What purpose could such an act serve in relation to other US political objectives? What does it mean when ubiquitous advertisements, produced by highly funded media campaign, stress the urgency of our need to intervene, now, today? What is the appeal of these moralistic narratives? Why the mass mobilization around this issue? Why now, especially when African violence is typically relegated to back pages in tiny print? Near universal condemnation for genocide, Mamdani argues, has a strange effect: in contrast to brutality of unimaginable proportions ‘counter-insurgency and war appear to be normal developments’. War is hence ‘taken as an inevitable if regrettable part of defending or asserting national sovereignty, domestically or internationally’ (279). Power gives itself the honorable role of labeling horror, for extraordinary categories are needed in order to obfuscate power’s constitutive violence. The result, in our current geopolitical situation, is this: the astonishing spectacle of the United States, which has authored the violence in Iraq, branding an adversary state, Sudan, which has authored the violence in Darfur, as the perpetrator of genocide. Even more astonishing, we have a citizens’ movement in America calling for a humanitarian intervention while keeping mum about the violence in Iraq. And yet…the figures for the number of excess dead are far higher for Iraq than for Darfur. The numbers of violent deaths as a proportion of excess mortality are also higher in Iraq than in Darfur (279). Way to go mamdani, huh?! good god i want to cheer him on and on. what a fucking mess. The politics of naming here coincide with the politics of numeration as pundits plaster alarmist statistics as far as their moralism will take them (in what seems to be the paradigmatic characteristic of the fatality-crier from the West, see somalia, the campaign for military intervention is hyped as the numbers of deaths decrease dramatically). And so the framing of the matter works to bolster support for the War on Terror. It does this, as the above quote shows, on several levels. First, the inflated sense of violence elsewhere functions a valve to siphon the energies and the guilt of US citizens, of all stars and stripes, away from a war in which they, as citizens, are more directly culpable. The appeal to intervention in Darfur is couched in apolitical terms, appealing to a moral compass in which the coordinates are clear, thereby rendering considerations of complicity irrelevant; ‘Americans can feel themselves to be what they know they are not in Iraq: powerful saviors’ (62). And Americans seemed well-placed to take the bait, being a country characterized, Mamdani observes, by generosity in the form of charity and stinginess at tax time. This need for a philanthropic self-perception must be great, for mass movements of the sort not seen since Vietnam have coalesced around Save Darfur’s high finance mobilization efforts: people throng through the streets with mass produced placard, advertisements for immediate intervention jam our airwaves, and STAND chapters blossom on all campuses, including my alma mater (see the flower of indignation bloom in most peculiar ways: http://icprogressivealliance.com/2009... ). Darfur becomes not only interpreted through language conducive to the War on Terror’s misdirection efforts but in turn becomes justification for the war. As decontextualization of the conflict in Darfur (made possible by Save’s moral appeals) frames the conflict in a neat racial binary--the threatening barbaric Arabs committing genocide against the passive savage African-- the Arabs involved can be quite easily marked as terrorist. “the more thoroughly Darfur was integrated into the War on Terror, the more the depoliticized violence in Darfur acquired a racialized description: a ‘genocide’ perpetrated by ‘Arabs’ upon ‘Africans’” (64). If this is the story those in power are trying to tell, Mamdani tells a different one-- one that effectively, I think, undermines this official narrative. To do so, he challenges the pivotal Arab v African assumption around which the charge of genocide rests and the whole ball gets rolling. Mamdani poses the question: who is an Arab (104-8)? To what do members appeal in the process of claiming Arabic heritage—language, religion, race, culture? Mamdani answers that being an Arab is a political identity. Although Mamdani doesn’t say outright how politics are differentiated from all these things, language, religion, culture, etc., I think the following pointed quote is an adequate indication of what he means: ‘Genealogy is less a historical claim about migration and more a contemporary acknowledgement of a common political association…Its starting point is not the dead but the living, not ancestors but the present generation. It thus claims a common past for those linked together in the present’ (107). Tracing back ones ancestors to Muhammad’s lineage is a process of identity seeking with reference to the current configurations of ones surroundings. So it is, perhaps, with all relations to history, and Mamdani’s historical retelling is no different. So-called Arabization, he details (and it should be clear for what purpose), is a historical process in Sudan that reflects more an internal ‘mark of assertion’ than a sign of mass migration or the coming of hordes of wise strangers from the sandy beyond, as conventional histories suggest. Rather, the migratory Arab nomads, West African pilgrims and peasants and slaves from the south—three groups that characterize the large migratory populations in Sudanese history—more or less assimilated to local cultures in Sudanese regions. It wasn’t until around the 16th century that the Funj sultanate began to see itself as Arab and the 18th century that the middle class merchants began to assert an Arab identity for commercial purposes. During colonial rule, however, these identities were forced to solidify around the question of land rights. The practice of divide and conquer becomes in colonial times ‘reidentify and rule’ (146). Native administration and indirect rule as pseudo-systems of governance were made possible through the process of organizing strict categories of Settler and Native based on tribe. The central objective in this process of retribalization, argues Mamdani, is marginalize the influences of the Mahdiyya revolutionary movement of the late 19th century. Mahdism continued the Sultanates’ centralizating processes of unifying eastern and western Sudan. And the North and the South were further separated in the 1920s as a defense against the Egyptian Revolution and later Egyptian nationalism following WWII, and the more general fear of a spread of Arabic. This divide was essentially an administrative category but, given the privileged position afforded to those termed ‘native’, the granting of ‘customary’ land rights and participatory governmental access, the categories of the census, as it were, ‘developed teeth’, ‘turning tribe from a benign administrative identity into a basis for discriminating against one group of colonized and in favor of another’ (152). As the meaning of “dar” or home narrowed to mean specific plots of earth, land became an asset imbricated in the formation of political identity. ‘Multiple and overlapping rights’—a matter of the highest importance, especially when the majority is constituted by overlapping identities--were discounted as a possibility except, he says ‘in a hierarchical sense.’ (237) Each administrative unit contained the seeds of institutionalized ethnic discrimination: ‘Superimposing a grid of ethnically defined dars on a multiethnic population was a recipe for an explosive confrontation between two kinds of residents in every dar: those with and those without political and land rights. The rest was only a matter of time’ (168-9). The dynamism of ethic and tribal groupings, gutted and guided by colonial administrative apparatus, should make clear that what is justified in the name of tradition, or relegated to the backwaters of eternal tribal conflict, is actually something that arose concomitantly with modernization. The effects of these policies are far-reaching and Mamdani details how the following interrelated processes are effected by and respond to colonialisms identity strangle-hold: the politics of State Arabization in the late 50s and 60s, the deepening separation between the North and the South, the Nimeiry regime’s challenge of indirect rule through failed implementation of reforms, Cold War proxy wars of Reagan’s US and Qaddafi’s Libya, the Sahelian drought as an important factor both in heightening debates over access to resources and in the large population of Chadian refuges, the militarization of Chadian refugees and the Darfur region, the Islamists support of dar-less tribes in the 90s, the split between al-Bashir and Turabi, all leading up to the 1987-89 civil war. This conflict he argues, took place through an increasingly polarizing native-settler paradigm inherited from colonialism and exarcerbated with continued external interference. Each group, those with dar defending their customary rights and the darless claiming rights to resources as ‘citizens’, claimed victimization: The Arab tribes as ‘victims of a Fur-sponsored drive to rid the land of Arab settlers’ (232) and the Fur ‘as victims of a supremacist Arab dialogue’ (233). ‘The more they saw themselves as victims with little control over this rapidly unraveling situation, the more both sides tended to slide into an exclusionary rhetoric that inevitably opened them to outside influences that further racialized and inflamed the discourse’ (245). Mamdani of course goes into detail about the origins of the SLA and the JEM, the governments counterinsurgency movement’s increasing militarization and association with the Janjawiid, and the naivite of the negotiations. The more recent history stuff is pretty thoroughly examined, always through the following frame: ‘Local tensions arise from the colonial system and the nationalist failure to reform it; regional and global tensions arise from the Cold War and the War on Terror’ (12). so. Humanitarian intervention works alongside the War on Terror, both requiring a righteous subjects and precarious relations between law and power. ‘The responsibility to protect’ is essentially ‘a right to punish but without being held accountable—a clarion call for the recolonization of ‘failed’ states in Africa. In its present form, the call for justice is really a slogan that masks a big power agenda to recolonize africa’ (300). Consequently doing good, being a good person is only made possible by a double (or is it triple/quadruple/infinitely dexterous) denial: the near complete decontextualization of other’s histories in Darfur, and the ignore-ance of both one’s current role as invader in Iraq and the future role as neo-imperialist in Darfur. The question to be asking is this: ‘who has the responsibility to protect whom under what conditions and towards what end?’ (276).