Across the Bay

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

When Silence is Golden

Just one day after Tueni's op-ed (see post below), Rami Khouri refuses to be outdone and decides to write a piece on the Darfur genocide. Khouri puts on his "truth is hell" face, and digs in. Let's take a look, shall we?

Let's start with the first paragraph and work our way down:

"The relative silence of the Arab world has been one of the striking dimensions of the tragic events in the Darfur region of western Sudan in the past 18 months. Up to 50,000 people may have died and over a million have been made refugees there, as a result of attacks by Arab militias. The international consensus was reflected in the recent UN Security Council resolution giving the Sudanese government one month to disarm the militias and restore security. Human rights groups and governments in the West have described events in Darfur as "ethnic cleansing" and even "genocide," while the Sudanese government rejects these accusations and claims that no more than 5,000 people have died in the region."

Khouri's ambiguity on whether these "tragic events" should be called "genocide" or "ethnic cleansing" is apalling, considering that when the Israelis went into Jenin, and this is just an example, all the Arab commentators didn't hesitate for one second to call it "massacre" and "genocide." As for "ethnic cleansing," simply read Tueni's piece I refered to. According to Arab statistics, namely the tales of Saeb Erekat (and the epic reports of biased journalists like Fisk and Reeves), the number of the dead in Jenin was "in the hundreds" (the fact that this is a lie is irrelevant for my purpose here). Same applies to Sabra and Shatila. The official estimation is somewhere between 800-1000 (Fisk of course triples that). Does anyone in the ME not label Sabra and Shatila a "massacre" or worse (and this is not to deny that label, bear with me)? What do the Palestinians call the flight of 700,000 refugees in 1948? An-Nakba, "the disaster."

Fine, why then is Rami Khouri hesitant to use these labels, putting them in quotation marks, and playing "objective reporter", when he himself provides the number of 50,000 dead and over a million refugees (leaving aside his newfound "objective caution" in using the modal "may" before each statistic!)?

"Based on documentation by credible international human rights groups and the UN itself, the world finally moved to stop the human suffering in Darfur when the United States and the UN took the lead to act in June. Throughout the past 18 months, as the tragedy has unfolded in Darfur, the Arab world has been conspicuously absent from the debate. While a few voices in the region have spoken out for decisive diplomacy to restore security and calm in Darfur, many other voices in the media and among government officials have taken a much more relaxed stance, even accusing the US of meddling in the region to secure future oil interests."

Indeed. Who exactly "in the region" wrote against the Sudanese genocide? The only voices were Ammar Abdul Hamid, on his brilliant site Tharwa Project, and to a lesser extent Hazem Saghieh, in London's Al-Hayat. Plus, there were the following pieces by Kamel Labidi in The Scotsman and Abdel Rahman al-Rashed in London's ash-Sharq al-Awsat. The real crusader was Julie Flint, a non-Arab last time I checked, who wrote two scathing pieces on the Sudanese genocide and the Arab indifference and outright denial. Granted, the Daily Star published her and Abdul Hamid, but that's hardly enough to take credit for. The closest the Daily Star got was in this editorial, where they described the situation as "on the verge of genocide."

Khouri is right in noticing that the number of voices denying the killings and supporting the Sudanese dictatorship far outnumbers that of the critics. The Arab media of course was more than happy to be the mouth piece for official denials and polemics of Sudanese officials (see my post "Arabism at its most Ugly") who called the international outcry everything from "war against Islam" to "conspiracy to secure oil". The particular case Khouri mentioned about the US seeking oil, appeared in that beacon of integrity (and home to Edward Said's delusional conspiracy theories in his latter days) the Egyptian semi-official Al-Ahram, and can be read here.

Like Labidi, Khouri takes the easy way out blaming Arab governments:

"The Arab silence on this issue probably is not specific to Darfur or Sudan, but rather reflects a wider malaise that has long plagued our region: Arab governments tend to stay out of each other's way when any one of them is accused of wrongdoing, and most Arab citizens have been numbed into helplessness in the face of public atrocities or criminal activity in their societies."

This is way too convenient, and falls in line with the usual blame shifting that's rampant in the ME. The claim that the Arab citizen has been "numbed into helplesness" actually doesn't stand to scrutiny. 1- They are clearly not numbed by the incessant airing of violent pictures from Iraq and the Palestinian territories, and Khouri himself brings those up at every chance as an excuse for everything. 2- It's clear from Flint's piece that the Arab intellectual elite was way too happy to indulge the Sudanese government's propaganda and to integrate that into the all-consuming pathological narrative of Arab anti-Westernism.

Nowhere does Rami Khouri actually touch on what's wrong with the Arab peoples, societies, and cultures. What's wrong with their intellectual circles, and their journalists, not just their politicians. It's one step from blaming the regimes, to concocting conspiracy theories about who's sponsoring them, and turning this around against the West, conveniently removing any blame from the Arabs. But this is more than just government policy. We're not just talking about government action, we're talking about popular reaction to those policies, and coverage and criticism of government actions. If the Arab citizen and the Arab journalist are simply "numbed to helplessness" by their governments' brutal actions, then why not simply close shop and go home Mr. Khouri? And then you dare complain that the West has had it with your pathologies and is seeking to take matters into its own hands instead of waiting on you useless "intellectuals"? If indeed the Arab citizen is "numbed" and "helpless" and if the governments are in total control not having to worry about local criticism, how can you say with a straight face that reforms can only come from the "inside"? If you're numbed, and your fellow intellectuals are stoned, and the governments are corrupt murderers, then how are we ever to take what you say seriously?

Khouri has the audacity to continue:

"Most ordinary Arab citizens do not speak out against the atrocities in Sudan because their modern history has taught them that they have neither the right nor the ability to impact on the policies of their own government, let alone other Arab governments. The Arab citizenry collectively has been numbed into a sad state of helplessness and docility in the face of government policies. We watch Darfur today like we watched atrocities in decades past - as pained but powerless spectators."

This is simply a lie! When Arabs wanted to take action to prevent the Iraq war (which ironically came to remove one of these murderous regimes Arabs are helpless against), they took to the streets all over the world. They drew the attention of Hollywood actors and all kinds of activists, including Jeanine "what about the refugees" Garafolo (who apparently has a specific preference for one kind of refugee over another) and other such stooges. Where is that action now? I'll tell you what it is. If it's perpetrated by one of their own, Khouri shuts up. If it's America, then he voices outrage.

But the more disgusting part is the section on "impacting government policy." The Arabs cannot impact government policy, so they sit idly by or cheer on (like the hypocrite Khouri did with Saddam Hussein). Let me quote a friend of mine's reaction to this line: "Since when is journalism contingent on government action? And if in fact it is do Arab governments act on other issues the Arabs speak out on?" If that were the case, then Mr. Khouri should have hung his gloves long ago! Such dishonest, hypocritical, and cowardly nonsense.

Finally, comes the moment of truth:

"Darfur troubles us all, but moves few to action in the Arab world. Darfur is very far away for most Arab citizens, and pains closer to home are more urgent - whether the pain of inequity, corruption and economic stress in one's own country, the impact of Israeli occupation policies in Palestine and neighboring states, or the American war machine in Iraq. We grieve in our hearts for the suffering of Sudanese nationals in Darfur, but as individual Arab citizens we can do little to change facts in faraway lands - because we can do equally little to change realities in our own neighborhoods in Beirut, Amman, Rabat, Damascus, Riyadh or Cairo." (Emphasis added.)

What miserable, self-centered (even racist), hypocritical drivel! What this amounts to is the following: "if it's Arab blood spilled by 'foreigners', then we care. If it's the blood of 'foreigners' -- so as not to say °abīd -- spilled by Arabs, with Arab indifference, eh, what can I tell you. Sue the regimes." Arabs in Khouri's mind are the universe's only and consummate victims. They should be the center of everyone's attention. Meanwhile he couldn't give a damn about the lives of hundreds of thousands being killed and raped by Arab rulers with the citizenry's full knowledge and compliance, if not complicity! Abdel Rahman al-Rashed actually nailed it:

"They are not the victims of Israeli or American aggression; therefore, they are not an issue for concern. This is how an approach of indifference towards others outside the circle of conflict with foreigners, and of permitting their murder, is spread as you read and write about the Darfur crisis and consider it an artificial issue, or one unworthy of world protest.

...

As for Arab intellectuals who see nothing in the world but the Palestinian and the Iraqi causes, and who consider any blood not spilled in conflicts with foreigners to be cheap and its spilling justifiable – they are intellectual accomplices in the crime.
" (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, this is the same excuse and propaganda that the Sudanese Foreign Minister used (see my "Trifecta from Hell" post below)!

"How come the Security Council ... and those with a humanitarian agenda are so active when it comes to such a situation, when they turn a blind eye to the miserable situation in the Palestinian territories."

This shows that there is in fact no disconnect in this instance between the official and popular stance as Khouri claims. The official propaganda would not work if it didn't have a ready audience. The words of the Sudanese official could have easily been penned by Khouri himself!

But who can slow Khouri down?

"The more troubling consequence is that small groups of bombers and terrorists have exploited this state of Arab helplessness, seeking public support for their militancy. Thus large numbers of ordinary, decent Arab citizens instinctively reject the atrocities against fellow Arabs in Darfur, but do not speak out or act to stop them; and equally large numbers of Arabs - majorities in troubled lands, the polls tell us - similarly do not speak out when Arab terrorists bomb Arab, American or other targets.

A troubled Arab citizenry's silent acquiescence in violence and passivity in the face of homegrown atrocity, is today the single most important, widespread symptom of the malaise that plagues this region. It would be a terrible mistake to misdiagnose the Arab silence on Darfur as reflecting some Arab, Islamic or Middle Eastern cultural acceptance of violence. This is, rather, a troubling sign of Arab mass dehumanization and political pacification at the public level, which are largely our own fault due to our acceptance of poor governance and distorted Arab power structures over a period of decades.
"

This is a nothing more than a sleazy attempt at self-exoneration. No Mr. Khouri, you're wrong. This most definitely says something about the current prevailing Arab and Islamic culture. It's what I called a "passive-aggressive" culture. The myth of a hijacked majority doesn't hold water. This culture, with its rulers and citizens, is a product of a dark and deadly set of ideologies. Ideologies that are far more widespread than Khouri cares to admit. One is called Arab Nationalism, the other is called Islamism. These are by far the most dominant ideologies of the region, subscribed to, in one way or another, by millions of people and intellectuals. In an earlier post, I mentioned Kanan Makiya's line in Cruelty and Silence on never washing Arab laundry where a Westerner can see it. Makiya labeled it an "ever so destructive dictum of Arab cultural nationalism." Makiya therefore correctly identified the problem as a cultural-ideological failure. That's precisely what we're witnessing today. But these intellectuals are really following the logical path of Arab nationalism! That's the inevitable result of that ideology! That's the cradle in which it was born and that's the only place it could lead to.

The minority is not who Khouri thinks it is. The besieged minority are the progressive liberals, in a culture dominated by intolerant, murderous and racist ideologies.

Spare me the alligator tears, Mr. Khouri. In this case, Arab silence is preferable.