Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kuperman's Sudanese spin machine

Alan J. Kuperman is perhaps one of the most disingenuous scholars to grace the editorial pages of The New York Times in the past few years. What can we expect, after all, from an academic who uses car and banking insurance as simile in regards to genocide?

His argument to bomb Iran has already been thoroughly demolished, but his 2006 piece on Darfur warrants briefly revisiting. The gist of Kuperman's argument is that Darfuri rebel groups, reluctant to sign peace accords with the Khartoum regime, have propagated needless violence by refusing to lay down arms. Other nations, Kuperman supposes, shouldn't give indication that they'd ever intervene on behalf of such groups, in order to discourage rebels like those in Darfur from taking up arms in the first place. His incendiary claim that the Save Darfur movement has emboldened the rebels to sacrifice their own civilians is used as further evidence but presented without support. Blatantly ignoring Carl Sagan's maxim that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Kuperman's editorial is mostly an ill-informed missive against Darfuri victims:

“Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region's blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations.


America, born in revolution, has a soft spot for rebels who claim to be freedom fighters, including those in Darfur. But to reduce genocidal violence, we must withhold support for the cynical provocations of militants who bear little resemblance to our founders.”

Kuperman's ultimate thesis resides in his “moral hazard hypothesis.” Chiefly, according to Kuperman, marginalized groups have been willing to engage in armed rebellion and sacrifice their civilian populaces to entice foreign – presumably Western-backed – intervention, which results in genocide against the rebelling population. It's a morose and cynical thesis, and one he frequently trots out while bending the very fabric of history.

Although he is correct asserting that the rebel groups are poorly misunderstood in the West, Kuperman evidently falls victim to ignorance himself. As part of his disinformation campaign, he fires a cheap salvo by claiming that today's victims were yesterday's oppressors while failing to provide much-needed context. While in past decades tribal skirmishes had made life difficult for some “Arabs” (a term often used for political enemies in Sudan among non-Arabs), these were likely the result of numerous external factors, including desertification and rampant water shortages. Territorial disputes over resources were rife preceding the conflict and further exacerbated by a government-led Arabization campaign in place since the 1970s.

Kuperman presents the 2003 uprising, which began with the occupation of Gulu by about 300 rebel fighters, in a vacuum. In reality, it was the culmination of years of systemic oppression against ethnic Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribe members. To complicate matters, Khartoum engaged in a regional power restructuring throughout the 1990s that stripped powers from the Masalit hereditary chief, appointed northern Arabs with Arabization-driven agendas into positions of power in Darfur and routinely jailed and tortured Masalit community members. Such state-led oppression led to the authorship of the Black Book, a work of 15 Darfuri political activists drawing upon sensitive state records and published in 2000, alleging that Sudan intended to keep Darfur economically disadvantaged through government measures – a claim that has since vindicated by Oxford economist Alex Cobham. Nor does Kuperman mention that the notorious janjaweed militia existed before the Darfur rebellion even began. Sudanese civil administrators operating from Khartoum were fielding the proxy militias as early as 1996, even recruiting and arming 20,000 volunteers from neighboring Chad. These militias looted Fur and Masalit farms and villages throughout the 90s, forcing tribes to create self-defense militias – the very militias that would evolve into the Darfuri rebel groups of the 1990s.

Ultimately he urges the U.S. rescind any support – material or otherwise – toward groups that allegedly sacrifice their own people for political ends. This is a fair supposition on its face, but one that bears no relation to either Darfur or other genocides, and instead allocates blame on the victims themselves. The rebellion was a direct result of Sudanese government oppression, and the genocide was undertaken directly by Sudanese state agents and their malicious proxies as a method of further eroding Darfur tribal groups. To ignore the root causes of the issue is to misconstrue the issue itself. Kuperman is right suggesting Darfuri rebels bear little resemblance to America's founding fathers, because the tyranny they faced paled in comparison to the systemic terror imposed on the Fur and Masalit during the late 1990s and early 2000s in western Sudan that gave birth to the Darfur rebellion.

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