Monday, July 14, 2008

Al Bashir

The indictment of Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir is gripping, if disturbing, reading. I'm working on a FindLaw column on it for Wednesday afternoon, but for now I'll just record a chilling highlight. The indictment observes that Al Bashir:

employed a policy of exploiting real or perceived girevances between the different tribes struggling to prosper in the difficult Darfur environment. He promoted the idea of a polarization between tribes aligned with the Government, whome he labeled "Arabs," and the three groups he perceived as the main threats, whom he labeled "Zurgas" or "Africans." The image is only one of many devices used by AL BASHIR to disgues his crimes. Boht victims and perpetrators are "Africans" and speak "Arabic."
It's worth noting how much of the Western narrative of the Darfur tragedy has been shaped by Al Bashir's propaganda, accepting that in fact this is a conflict between "Arabs" and "Africans." Although commentators often point out that the victims (as well as the perpetrators) are Muslim, the ethnic differences are generally accepted as real. In this respect, the genocide is similar to the Rwandan genocide: Because Hutu and Tutsi were categories created by European colonialists and later exploited by indigenous strongmen, it was often hard for those committing genocide to know who was Hutu and who Tutsi.

More broadly, the allegations recited in the indictment confirm the "logic" of genocide: the need to find an "other," even when ethnic divisions are small. The targeting of "intellectuals" (including people who wore glasses) by the Khmer Rouge is a high (i.e., low) point for finding any us-versus-them distinction to serve.

Posted by Mike Dorf