Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why do the Arab League, African Union and Muslim world hate Arabic-speaking African Muslims?

The arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court of Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir has provoked outrage in the Muslim world and in much of Africa. Bashir was indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, the western region of his country.

The arrest warrant is historic. A few former leaders, such as Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia's Charles Taylor, have been indicted by international tribunals, but Bashir is the first sitting head of state to face such charges. Whether he faces trial is highly doubtful unless, like Milosevic and Taylor, he is apprehended after being evicted from power.

The condemnation of the arrest warrant by the African Union, the Arab League and the Muslim world in general is both understandable and predictable.

Understandable in that there are legitimate complaints about double standards. The early ICC trials have dealt with warlords from Uganda and the DR Congo, and now the controversial indictment of a Sudanese one. Many ask why Pres. Bush has never had to answer for the illegal aggression against and criminal rape of Iraq. Many ask why Israeli Prime Minister Ohlmert and his cabinet colleagues don't have to answer for what even independent human rights' organizations believe are its war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Critics claim that only Africans and Muslims are ever subjected to justice. And it's hard to argue.

Predictable in that these organizations are quick to rally around brutes in high places but silent about the crimes these brutes commit. The Arab League is quick to condemn Israel every time their prime minister sneezes without covering his mouth. But it's uttered barely a peep about the hundreds of thousands that have been slaughtered in Darfur. The AU doesn't quite adhere to this despicable silence, but they still seem more concerned about not offending sitting heads of state (coughMUGABEcough) than anything else. Its predecessor organization, the OAU, was often referred to as a country club for dictators. The AU is shedding that reputation far too slowly.

The Muslim world rightly believes it's under siege from the west. They notice that pretend western 'concern' about Muslim places like Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in military invasions and about Muslim Darfur in proposed invasion and an actual attempt at international justice. They notice that pretend western 'concern' about Christian places like Zimbabwe only ever results in endless talk.

The thing that the Arab League ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are Arabic-speaking. The thing that the African Union ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are Africans. The thing that the Muslim world ignores in its knee-jerk defense of Bashir is that the victims in Darfur are mostly Muslim.

The reason is that these reactions are less a knee-jerk defense of Bashir than a knee-jerk opposition to anything that can be manipulated into being portrayed as 'neo-colonialism.' And in many cases, 'defenders' of Bashir are really more interested in not setting a precedent that might be used in the future to subject themselves to justice.

These critics don't give a crap about the fact that hundreds of thousands of Arabic-speaking African Muslims are being slaughtered. They just wanted to take up the 'anti-colonial' mantle. As I've written several times before, it's both sad and sickening that it's remarkably easy to mobilize international opinion is by being against something or hating someones (no matter how right the position), but incredibly difficult when it comes to being in favor of something (helping the victims).

When the son of the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher unsuccessfully allegedly tried to organize a coup against the monster running the oil-state of Equatorial Guinea, he was arrested and faced trial. This was widely praised in Africa as a blow against neo-colonialism, even by people who loathed the man who is arguably the world's worst despot.

So it begs the question: if it's right and proper to put someone on trial for a crime that ultimately killed nobody and only targeted a single individual, why is it so outrageous to put someone on trial for crimes that have actually killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced many more and resulted in countless rapes?

Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu is always a strong voice first and foremost in FAVOR of humanity -- all of humanity, not just any particular sub-section of it. He had an excellent op-ed piece in The New York Times about exactly this hypocrisy.

He asks of African leaders quite succinctly, "[A]re they on the side of justice or on the side of injustice? Are they on the side of the victim or the oppressor?"

It's a question everyone should ask themselves, especially apologists for Bashir.

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