"the blogger whose youthful effusions have won him bookmarks all over Whitehall ... horribly compelling" - The Guardian
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
"Darfur: the holocaust continues ... and nobody comes out looking good" saith Johann Hari. Well, nobody except Western journalists who can demonstrate an entirely costless compassion by demanding something be done, perhaps.
In the first paragraph he sets the context:
So 2004 ends with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, admitting: "Quite frankly, our approach towards Darfur isn't working." The 75,000 people killed in the genocide in Darfur this year would probably agree. The "solution" agreed in the summer by the UN Security Council has had no effect at all. In fact, the situation in the killing fields is getting worse: Save the Children has been forced to withdraw its aid workers this week.
Ah yes, you shrug - more remote statistics and terrible stories from Africa.
His response could scarcely be any more insulting to the intelligence of every reader.
Well, 12-year-old Adam Erenga Tribe knew some of those statistics. He called them family. This August, he came home from school to find the corpses of his big brothers rotting in the yard. Inside, his mother and father had been shot through the neck by the Janjaweed militias. These men on horseback have been scything through the black population of Darfur for more than a year now, destroying black villages. But don't worry: Adam didn't have much time to dwell on his grief. The next day, he was captured by the Janjaweed and enslaved.
Well, there we are then! Accused of relying on more remote statistics and terrible sob stories from Africa, Johann Hari moves from remote statistics to a terrible sob story from Africa. That changes everything, doesn't it? Get our boys into the line of fire at once, Prime Minister!
It's scarcely possible to list all the things wrong with reaching moral and military judgements in this sentimental way. I mean, what does it prove? Has there ever been a conflict in which such stories could not have been told? It is precisely because such stories and statistics are so common that people in the West aren't convinced now that they form a unique casus belli. War is not some sort of historical exception, but the norm across the world for most of human history. That the modern West has surpassed this should not blind us to the realities of the whole globe: at the turn of the millennium, thirty different wars were raging simultaneously. We will never run out of sobering statistics and shocking stories - though admittedly not all of them will be blessed with the convenience of the protagonist suffering such an unpleasant coincidence, and bearing a Western-sounding first name.
Hari argues at length that the atrocities of Darfur are racist in character - perhaps because he accepts the Orwellian 'hate crime' mentality that seventy-five thou killed for racial reasons is worse than seventy-five thou killed for some other reason. What he argues is correct - the warfare is between Arabs and black people - but he really doesn't do it well.
"Look at the pictures. Both sides are black. How can it be a genocide when black people kill black people?" This argument has been echoed in many Western countries, even in the pages of the liberal press, and it shows an extremely naive understanding of what "race" means.
Some of the most important revelations of modern science and medicine only make sense if one understands race as a biological category. People of recent African ancestry are blessed, for example, with much greater resistance to malaria because of their race. The trade-off is that the same genes which produce this defence against malaria also have the phenotypic effect of making sickle-cell anemia more likely. It would be exceedingly moronic to argue on this basis that one or other race is inherently superior to the other, but no more so than claiming that race is somehow a patriarchal Western construct with no scientific grounding.
The examples he gives as some sort of refutation boggle the mind. Of course the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland are physically indistinguishable: who in their right mind has ever suggested they are of separate races? Certainly the Afrikaaners were willing to ignore the racial basis of their own apartheid system when it suited them, just as government officials in every time and place have been willing to bend and overlook the rules when they see a benefit to doing so. That is proof of corruption, not the non-existence of race.
So "race" is a fluid category, and in Darfur it is a relatively new one.
Yes, it's a fluid category, like almost any system of human categorisation, which nonetheless aren't normally attacked on the grounds of being to any degree imprecise. No, it's not a new one anywhere in the world.
This isn't some "age-old conflict" or "ancient tribal battle", as patronising Westerners often assume. Until very recently, the tribes of Darfur had high levels of inter-marriage, and didn't think of themselves in the simplistic racialised categories of Arab vs African. That has been changing only in the past few years, since the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum began to arm Arab militiamen - the Janjaweed - to slaughter the rebellious African population.
Well, maybe. But of course the roots of these tensions really do go back to ancient times, and seem to spring up all over the world where there is plenty of 'diversity' and rather little in the way of wealth. It's difficult to read Johann Hari without noticing the way his own brand of historicism, which just takes it as given that things are ever moving in a left-liberal 'progressive' direction, is constantly infecting his articles. Has the thought occurred that the reason such tensions sprung up in recent decades and have now had such murderous consequences is precisely because inter-marriage and the like were becoming the norm, and an awful lot of people didn't like it? That the racism was long-standing, but the tensions came to the fore because there was so much of the mixing and coming together that naive leftists assume will end racial hatred? Whatever the cause in this particular case, ethnic conflict and dislike, irrational as they may be, are about as close as one can get to a human universal. The ultra-liberal Netherlands is waking up to this, and perhaps Johann Hari will sooner rather than later.
The question in the meantime is what to do about those cases of it which occur many thousands of miles from our doorstep. When the national interest is not a factor, all wars are wars of choice. It is only fair to note that Hari does not advocate invasion in this particular article, but it is the only logical destination for those who argue as he does that something must be done before it is too late, assuming effectiveness is in any way a consideration.
Herein lies the problem. We can, in the middle of a global struggle against militant Islam, try to fight wars of choice that do not in any way advance the national interest. We can intervene, intervene, intervene wherever stories of orphaned Adams in Africa can be told. But we will need to find the troops and equipment from somewhere, because they just do not exist right now. We cannot fight any more wars than those we are waging now. Even to attempt it, we will need to divert billions of pounds a year to defence spending, and in the long-term, restore conscription.
That's the future for this country that men like Hari always end up outlining - demonstrating their compassion for all the world by demanding that their fellow countrymen police the world. Britons are absolutely right to have no interest in such nonsense.
If we don't stop the genocide, what will the world say to Adam when this holocaust is over? Let me guess: never again.
Better yet, why don't we tell the British people "Never again" of misadventures like those in Kosovo? Overturning the ethnic cleaning of Bosnian Muslims by Serb troops, we now have the attempted genocide of Serb Christians and the successful ethnic cleansing of the region's gypsy population by the Islamic narco-terrorists of the KLA. Our troops may easily be trapped there for decades, wasting training designed to defend this country as social workers charged with the impossible task of settling parochial ethnic and religious tensions that are as old as any language and which defy rational comprehension. If Johann Hari looks hard enough, he can find conflicts just like this the world over, where we can get involved, and then - our army boots firmly planted but nothing settled - will without a doubt find it impossible to leave. It's the white man's burden back with avengeance, based this time only in unmerited liberal guilt, and now without even the consolation of an empire.