guess who forgot sudan

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Jul. 29, 2004 10:11 | Updated Jul. 31, 2004 14:05
    Middle Israel: Guess who forgot Sudan

    Ours - we seemed to have cause to brag - is not the era that was enslaved by the East-West rivalry's cynicism, nor is it always dominated by the selfish cost-benefit mentality that became the hallmark of the post-Cold War zeitgeist.

    With UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan personally visiting the Darfur region where thousands of Sudanese have been slaughtered, raped and displaced by their own countrymen, and with world powers threatening to sanction Khartoum for its alleged responsibility for that catastrophe, it is tempting to conclude that while one part of the world is sick, the world beyond it is not.

    If only it were so.

    The disaster in Sudan did not begin this year, and is not confined to the Darfur region which is now in the headlines. The recent deaths of 30,000 Sudanese are but a subchapter in a conflict that has been raging for more than two decades, and which according to modest estimates has taken the lives of more than 1.2 million people.

    Politically, the tragedy in Sudan brings together all that is ill about post-colonial Africa on the one hand, and the dictatorial Middle East on the other.

    Here too, as they did in Iraq and Lebanon, European map drawers maneuvered hostile populations into political cohabitations that very soon bred endless civil wars, in this case between Arab Muslims in the north and black Christians in the south.

    In 1983, the northerners imposed Islamic law on the entire country, including millions of Christians. Though that decree has since been tempered, it touched off the massive bloodshed whose aftermath the world is now witnessing. Meanwhile, as the Sudanese government was spending its already limited resources fighting its own citizens, much of the country ended up in the throes of severe, African-style famine.

    WHILE ALL this raises many harsh questions - where, for instance, were the Vatican, the UN, the Arab League, and the Organization of African Unity - one seems even more perplexing: where was the media?

    Where was everybody while a few hours' flight south of Rome, the largest African country's air force was systematically bombarding civilian populations, and at one point even hospitals, in an ongoing campaign that resulted in the biggest mass murder anywhere since the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia during the late 1970s?

    The Sudanese War, after all, involved many more people than the mere 10 million involved in the massively covered, current round in the Israeli-Arab conflict, whose combined death toll from both sides totals hardly 4,000 people?

    Couldn't some of the media armadas that converged on Jerusalem throughout those years have been directed, at least occasionally or even just momentarily, to Sudan?

    In Israel, there are "normally" nearly a thousand foreign correspondents, who are reinforced be several hundred more whenever the situation heats up. Couldn't at least some of this personnel, and just a fraction of the numerous inches and endless airtime that were dedicated throughout those years to the Arab-Israeli conflict, been allocated to the Sudanese catastrophe?

    Apparently not.

    First of all, it is much more pleasant for a foreign correspondent to be stationed in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv than in Khartoum, even before the imposition there of Shari'a law, not to mention hell holes such as Darfur, where most Western journalists are not built to spend more than a short period of time without beginning to wonder why they chose their profession.

    Secondly, Africa - even when it comes to slave trade, murderous racism, and unabashed fundamentalism including the basest persecution of Christians - is, for the Western media, not a story.

    During the Cold War, Africa would still get, occasionally, its moment in the sun, as part of the media's score-keeping obsession while the superpowers were constantly locking horns over influence across the Third World. Since 1989 even that quasi-relevance has disappeared. For the American press, the biggest story of the 1990s was not the butchery of thousands of Sudanese, but the sexual misdemeanors of the leader of the free world.

    YET SUDAN is relevant.

    Sudan is relevant morally, because it has been the stage of wholesale murder of innocents; Sudan is relevant politically, because in the post-9/11 world any attempt to impose Shari'a law, anywhere, can no longer be seen as anecdotal; and Sudan is relevant journalistically, because just like the West Bank, it is the stage of a major clash between antagonistic tribes and competing faiths.

    As far as the media is concerned, the Middle East is Israel and Palestine. Yet in reality the Middle East is well more than a quarter-of-a-billion Arabs who populate a vast landmass that stretches from Morocco on the shores of the Atlantic to Oman on the shores of the Indian Ocean. These generally ignored masses are so politically oppressed and so frequently destitute, that their plight ultimately generates religious wars in Africa, festering slums in Europe, and terror attacks in America. Yet their stories, which beg to be told, remain untold.

    Political dissidents rotting in Syrian, Egyptian and Lebanese jails do not win even a tenth of the attention accorded to freedom fighters like Andrei Sakharov or Alexander Solzhenitsyn during the Cold War.

    Evils such as the oppression of the Arab woman - by far the world's least emancipated and employed female - remain largely ignored, as are Arab leaders' squandering of their people's petrodollars or the jailing of gays by Egypt.


    Because when it comes to budgeting foreign coverage, news organizations see Israel as an indispensable story, and its neighbors as a curiosity at best, a waste of resources at worst. That, coupled with its accessibility, freedom and comfort, is why Israel is host to more than twice as many Western correspondents than the entire Arab world.

    That disproportionate scrutiny is also why Israel is fingered even when killing the guilty, while its neighbors get away even with killing the innocent. And that is also why whenever asked whether there is anything wrong with how the media covers the Jewish state I say there isn't; what's wrong is how the Arab states are not covered.

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