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Darfur is a right mess – but that does not absolve us. Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ailbhe Darcy, Ireland Dec 18, 2007
Genocide , Peace & Conflict   Opinions


Recently, however, there have been signs that China may be changing its stance on Darfur due to international pressure. Calls for sustained pressure and possible boycotts of the Olympics have come from diverse corners, including French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou, Genocide Intervention Network representative Ronan Farrow, author and Sudan scholar Eric Reeves and the Washington Post editorial board, with Sudan divestment efforts have concentrated on Petrochina.

If only China could be prevailed upon to recognize its responsibilities in Darfur, it would certainly be in a better position than any other state to exert pressure for change. As Justin Willis writes, the Sudanese government “is a government whose disregard for ‘international opinion’ is both practiced and not without a certain appalling wit: faced with demands for one individual to be handed over for trial for war crimes, the government appointed him head of a commission to investigate human rights abuses.” Not so China: China might be susceptible to our threats and charms.

One of the pernicious riddles of international humanitarianism is: Just how much do we owe these faraway people, anyway? The title of Not on Our Watch recalls those banners supposedly waved by some demonstrators against the invasion of Iraq in February 2003: Not in my name. Some commentators saw this slogan as a symptom of egotistical Western culture – the ‘because I’m worth it’ generation, they sneered. Protestors, they said, were only trying to wash their hands of the dirty work, to save, as Slavoj Žižek put it in the LRB recently, their “beautiful souls.”

In Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, the protagonist Henry Perowne watches anti-war demonstrators pass and is disgusted. If these people would really prefer Saddam’s torture to Bush’s bombs, he thinks, they should at least be somber about it. But I think we danced and sang that day because we saw how many of us there were and thought we had finally managed to come out in numbers enough to save the world. We never dreamt that we would be ignored and the world would carry on as before. I find it hard to be convinced, moreover, that there can be immorality in an active attempt - however selfishly motivated - to make the world a better place.

In The Times this month, Anjana Ahuja reports on new research, conducted in Canada, that suggests that we donate to the needy to avoid feeling ashamed, rather than to feel good. Robert Fisher and colleagues from the University of Alberta studied four televised fundraising appeals over two years.

They found that people donated more money when they received nothing back. Presenters who offered material incentives for giving (such as entry into a competition or some kind of freebie) attracted less money than those who emphasized where the money would go. Professor Fisher concludes that the motivation to help is not personal gain but an overwhelming sense of obligation. I find this possibility incredibly heartening. Perhaps we can find it in our hearts to feel ashamed of what is happening in Darfur.

Writing, in the preface, about the title of their book, Cheadle and Prendergast declare – perhaps over-optimistically, given the fate of those anti-war marches – that “…we know that there are thousands, maybe millions, like us who desire to tell their children and grandchildren that at a time when there was a terrible thing called genocide, to which those in power turned a deaf ear and blind eye, people like us spoke so loudly, in numbers so great, that we could not be ignored.

We take our “watch” as seriously as any officer on board [a ship.]” In October 2006 – more than a year ago now – 120 survivors of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the Cambodian genocide, backed by six aid agencies, submitted an open letter to the European Union, calling them to do more to end the atrocities in Darfur. We owe it to them, and to the people of Darfur, not to wait for more propitious times – to keep up the search for an answer now, however hopeless that search might seem from here.

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Ailbhe Darcy

Ailbhe Darcy was born in Dublin and currently lives in Cambridge. She has published poetry widely in Ireland and Britain and will make her US debut with a poem in the next issue of The Cortland Review. She writes critically for a number of journals and websites and co-edits an online journal of new Irish art and writing at www.moloch.ie.
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