Genocide in Darfur? Relax! At its summit last week in Qatar, the Arab League decisively rejected the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. “We emphasis our solidarity with Sudan and our dismissal and rejection of the decision handed down by the International Criminal Court,” read the Arab League communiqué.
It is worth exploring with what exactly the Arab League is expressing solidarity. Al-Bashir has overseen the genocidal campaign of the government-backed Janjaweed militias in the Darfur region of western Sudan, in which 400,000 people have been killed and over 2,500,000 left homeless. In 2004, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan said the situation in Darfur was “world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.”
Three years later, a U.N. Human Rights Council mission reported that “gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law continue across the region,” and called upon the Sudanese government to “comply with its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.” A 2008 report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that “the scale of destruction suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy.” ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that al-Bashir had order government forces “not to bring back any wounded or prisoners. He wanted to commit genocide.”
But instead of denouncing the Darfur genocide and calling al-Bashir to account, as one might expect from the adherents of the vaunted Religion of Peace, the Arab League has closed ranks behind him. And not just the Arab League: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared: “What is required from all of us is to stand with our brothers in Sudan and its leadership in order to prevent dangers that affect our collective security.” Whose collective security? That of the Islamic world: the 57-government Organization of the Islamic Conference called the ICC’s arrest warrant “unwarranted and unacceptable.” And the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, said that the warrant was nothing less than a “plot against Islam.” In a jab at Obama, he added: “We consider the warrant as a political insult against Muslims, what we expected from changes in the U.S. administration was that we would not witness such stances.”
Al-Bashir himself would agree. As long ago as 2004 he claimed that “the international concern about the Darfur issue is targeting the status of Islam in Sudan.”
It is disquieting enough that the Arab League and its Muslim allies seem to value Islamic solidarity over bringing a criminal to justice, but the proposition that to oppose genocide in Darfur is to attack Islam should give the Obama administration pause. During his trip to Turkey this week, Obama repeated that the U.S. seeks “broad engagement” with the Islamic world “based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.”
It would be worthwhile for him to ponder the question of what respect means in this context, when to speak out against mass murder is considered an act of disrespect. Al-Bashir has repeatedly criticized the West, saying in 2007 that “Western nations have no ethics or morals and we will export it to them.” Manifesting once again his taste for obliteration of peoples, he added: “These countries have the political, military and economic strength. We are strong with our values and we are waiting on Allah’s promise to obliterate them.”
Instead of focusing on respect, Obama would do a greater service to the victimized Muslims of Darfur by focusing on justice. He has declared in Turkey that “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.” But when major Muslim entities consider that defense of basic human rights constitutes a war with Islam, what will Obama say?
So far he has said nothing about this. But the Arab League’s unwillingness to confront al-Bashir and oppose the Darfur genocide can only bode ill, not only for the people of Darfur, but also for the immense bet Obama is waging — his hope that if he reaches out with respect to the Islamic world, that respect will be returned. The multitudes who continue to be slaughtered in Darfur, whose deaths go unnoticed and unmourned by Muslim leaders in the name of Islamic solidarity, bear witness to the hollowness and naivete of that hope.