Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 11 November 2006

Darfur, Muslim world’s shame

BY Aijaz Zaka Syed, The Khaleej Times

October 31, 2006 — This is an issue that has been staring us in the face for the past three years now. Over 300,000 people dead; three million driven from their homes and a country at war with itself. Darfur remains a huge challenge for the conscience of the Arab and Muslim world and an ever growing black spot on its visage.

Why are the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, otherwise swift to protest any slight or perceived injustice in any part of the globe, then silent on the shame of this great humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Sudan’s Darfur?

For one, most Arabs and Muslims, an overwhelming majority of them, do not really know what is going on in Darfur. For two, they suspect that the hue and cry of the West over Darfur and its indignant condemnation of Sudan are politically motivated, as always. Most Arabs and Muslims believe that the West has an axe to grind in seeking action against Sudan on the question of Darfur. Given the current tendency in the West to target everything Islamic, this suspicion is not really without basis.

Indeed, the Islamic world has every reason to be distrustful of Western motives in seeking action against Africa’s largest, Muslim-majority and Arabic speaking country. After all, the Middle East and Africa share a long history of manipulation and exploitation by the colonial West over the past couple of centuries.

The West may indeed have an agenda in pushing for an international peacekeeping force in Darfur. Many in Sudan suspect, and not without reason, that the Western concern for the people of Darfur is motivated by a greed for the country’s rich natural resources. Sudan is home to huge and largely untapped energy resources.

But even if the West’s interest in Darfur is driven by its political and economic interests, should the Muslim world ignore the larger issue at stake? That is, the endless and systematic ethnic cleansing of the people of Darfur?

We in the Islamic world haven’t still forgotten the great ethnic cleansing of Albanian Muslims in the Balkans a decade ago and rightly so. The mass murder and rape of Bosnian and Kosovan Muslims at the hands of Serb militias shook the Muslim world, from Morocco to Malaysia. Today the tragedy of the Balkans is being replicated in Africa. The Muslims are being slaughtered and raped once again but not in a remote corner of Christian Europe but right in the heart of the Muslim world and at the hands of fellow Muslims.

Few in the Arab and Muslim world know and realise that those getting killed in Darfur over the past three years are as Muslim as the members of murderous Janjaweed militia.

But since the West is leading the protests against the Darfur genocide demanding action against Sudan, most people in the Islamic world assume that the ‘wicked, infidel’ West is again out to target the believers. But how wrong, how tragically mistaken they are! If only they knew that their ignorance and deafening silence on the issue has sent hundreds of thousands of innocent people, almost all of them Muslims, to their death in Darfur.

Let’s face it. Darfur is the most systematic and planned annihilation of a Muslim population in the 21st century by the Muslims. Between 300,000 and 500,000 black-skinned Africans in Darfur have died already. Countless women have been raped and tortured, some killed. Three million are dispossessed and driven out of their homes and safe enclaves in a so-called Arab and Muslim country. No wonder the UN describes it as “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster”.

Why then is the Muslim world silent, for God’s sake? Where is our conscience? Where is our moral outrage? Where are protesting Arabs and Muslims? Why is the so-called Muslim street silent over Darfur? Why doesn’t this mass murder of helpless and innocent people agitate us, just as those innocent Muslims dying in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan do?

Even if we didn’t know those dying in Darfur are indeed Muslims, shouldn’t we still raise our voice against the 21st century’s first and biggest genocide? Aren’t we supposed to stand up and speak for those who cannot do it for themselves?

We never lose an opportunity to blast the West for practising double standards, from Palestine to Iraq to Afghanistan. But what are we doing in Darfur? We turn away our collective gaze while people are dying out there right now, forgotten and forsaken by the rest of the world including the Arab and Muslim countries.

The Arab League refuses to confront Sudan on the shame of Darfur. In fact, it is the other way round. Sudan keeps complaining that League members do not support and stand by it in international forums. Support for what? For murder and rape of fellow Muslims?

The Organisation of Islamic Conference, which claims to represent the faithful everywhere, is yet to wake up to this continuing outrage. The League and OIC are too busy preparing those pointless, regulation resolutions to pay attention to the infinite suffering of the people in Darfur. To the Muslim world’s shame, if anyone has really forced Sudan to take some perfunctory steps on Darfur, it is the uproar and activism of human rights groups in the West.

When will the Arabs and Muslims wake up from their slumber of indifference to stop what is going on in Darfur? For if they do not, they will end up sharing the responsibility for the 21st century’s worst crime against humanity. As Edmund Burke warned, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

* Aijaz Zaka Syed can be reached at aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.com