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Of Jesus and Genocide

July 2, 2009

In the Save Darfur Coalition’s most recent blog post*, they have the audacity to appeal to the reader’s religious sensibilities in a forum not geared specifically toward religious outreach.  Though they’re writing about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, they should still be careful not to alienate secular readers.  Instead, they say:

In this situation, what does God command of us?  Micah 6:8 comes to mind. “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”…It is only by doing the first of these two commandments that the third is achievable. By seeking to do justice and love mercy, we may walk humbly with our God.

Micah 6:8’s a pretty good passage, but let me remind SDC of another, lesser known one: “And lo!  When thoust bloggeth about Darfur, thou shalt not playeth the religion card as a cheap, easy way of claiming the moral high ground, so sayeth the Lord.”  That’s somewhere in Deuteronomy, I think.  Furthermore, I’m no biblical scholar (shocking, I know), but I’m not so sure God would command military intervention in Darfur.  Not the love-thy-neighbor God, anyway.  Maybe the God George Bush talks to.  The one who commands His followers to bomb abortion clinics and Middle Eastern elementary schools.  Yeah, that God prolly just loves Him some militaristic shenanigans.

Christs message, according to SDC (His Vorpal Sword)

Visual Approximation: SDC’s interpretation of Christ’s message.

But the most ridiculous part of the post is the assertion that it doesn’t matter if genocide is occurring in Darfur:

The recently re-sparked question of whether the [sic] or not the atrocities in Darfur constitute genocide has put the spotlight on semantics. But what about the victims? What about justice?

Whether or not Bashir has committed “genocide” is irrelevant. He has been very much complicit in and behind the slaughter and displacement—along with a plethora of other horrors—of millions. Regardless if the “g” word is used to describe it, it is morally repugnant.

I appreciate the idea that we should be equally outraged by horrible human rights abuses, no matter what they’re officially called (see: Operation Iraqi Freedom), but to argue that labels are irrelevant is woefully naive and even dangerous.  While the author seems to think that the genocide label only serves to tell us how “morally repugnant” we should find the conflict, the use of the term is actually incredibly important to finding solutions in Darfur.  If genocide is occurring, then the international community must act and military intervention is probably appropriate, as is punishment of the perpetrators.  If genocide is thought of as over or having never occurred, then a diplomatic solution (like what Gration is suggesting) may be more appropriate.  So, actually, SDC’s whole policy hinges on the genocide label.

The label is relevant in additional ways too.  Some suggest that the term “genocide” attracts more activist attention and may force world leaders to act, while others say that calling the Darfur crisis a genocide is like crying wolf and that future use of the term may not be taken seriously if the Darfur crisis is improperly labeled as genocide.  On a related note, a genocide in Darfur would set a precedent for U.S. policy.  If this is, indeed, the first genocide of the 21st century, then the way the world – particularly the U.S. – responds will dictate how we respond to future genocides.

Temporal arguments also abound, with some saying genocide took place in ’03 and ’04 but not from ’05 on, so the response to the crisis needs to change with the realities of the conflict. Additionally, R2P and the ICC rely on the term.  (Someone tell Ocampo not to worry about the genocide charge!  Turns out it doesn’t matter!)  Others think that the label just generates debate and turns the focus to terminology as opposed to finding a solution to the Darfur crisis, and so on.

Obviously, the genocide label matters, and SDC knows better than to suggest that it doesn’t.  It matters not because it will help us decide how morally outraged we should be, but because the use of the label will dictate what legal and political solutions we can pursue for this and future crises.  But I don’t think that SDC really believes the genocide label is irrelevant.  I think what they may be trying to do here is distance themselves from the “ongoing genocide” narrative currently dominating activist circles.  Perhaps they know damn well that people simply don’t believe them when they say that the crisis is continuing with the same ferocity as when it began, so they’re trying to quietly draw away from rhetoric that describes the genocide as ongoing, like when they said in an email:

We’re at a new stage in this conflict. What once was the daily threat of armed gunmen terrorizing Darfuri villages has been replaced by despair and a daily struggle to survive in crowded, under-resourced refugee camps.

Perhaps they think that if they tweak their messaging, little by little, they will eventually be calling it a “humanitarian crisis” like everyone else, which will allow them to have their cake and eat it too: They called it a genocide when it behooved them to do so, then they eased into different language without ever formally having to admit that it’s not a genocide anymore.

Now I appreciate this kind of slyness as much as the next guy and I’d applaud them for their smooth move if only they weren’t making dumb mistakes like this.  Unfortunately, you can’t quietly make a semantic transition by making stupid comments like “Whether or not Bashir has committed ‘genocide’ is irrelevant.”  I see what they’re trying to say, but they’re just going about it all wrong.  Come on, people.  You know better than this!  Get it together.

*After this post was originally published, SDC added a disclaimer to all their blog pieces.  See my follow up post about it here.


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