"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


saving the date

I've been staring at this post from Alex de Waal over on the SSRC's excellent Making Sense of Darfur blog for the last few minutes, trying to figure out why on earth the Save Darfur movement has decided that September 21 is a good day to fast for Darfur, given that it marks the Eid, the day that devout Muslims (including most...Darfuris) break the Ramadan fast. While I'm sure that this is all an unintended coincidence, um, guys, you might want to think about rescheduling. Just a suggestion.

However, as de Waal points out, a culturally insensitive, poor choice of date is the least of the problems in the movement for the moment:
"Having spent most of the last few months in Sudan, especially Darfur, it is increasingly evident that “Save Darfur”—here meaning not just the Save Darfur Coalition but the wider movement—is out of touch with realities. What they describe and prescribe has little or no relation to what is happening and what should be done.

"Next was a revealing quote from John Prendergast in response to the remark by Gen. Martin Agwai, outgoing UNAMID Force Commander, that the war in Darfur was essentially over. He could not dispute Gen. Agwai’s facts nor his integrity. Prendergast’s criticism was that this was 'something that takes the wind out of the sails of international action.'

"This was perhaps more illuminating than Prendergast intended: his campaign is not about domestic solutions but international (read: U.S.) action. That’s Save Darfur’s second big error: if there is to be a solution, it will come from inside Sudan, and must be political, addressed at the structural political challenges of Sudan. A campaign focused on a genocide that isn’t happening, for the U.S. to step up its pressure to stop killing that has already ended, is just making Save Darfur look poorly-informed, and America look silly."

That should keep the activists good and mad for a few days.

I've long maintained on this blog that poorly informed activism is often more harmful than good. If de Waal is right, then the Save Darfur movement's focus on what was going on 2004 is certainly hampering peace efforts today, which isn't good for the people of Darfur. Surely the thousands of committed Darfur activists in the U.S. and Europe can recognize this, and can agree that it is better to advocate for a long-term peace than to insist on a set of objectives that are no longer relevant to the situation. Right?

(HT: @alunmcdonald)

(Before those of you who hate Alex de Waal leave a mess of comments and send nasty emails about how this entire post is invalid because you hate Alex de Waal, please remember that the fact that you don't like Alex de Waal or things he has said in the past doesn't mean he's wrong here. And remember that he, unlike you, has spent decades working in Sudan, including in Darfur, where he conducted his doctoral thesis research in the 1980's. It's possible that even if you disagree about the particulars, he does know what he's talking about.)

UPDATE: An anonymous commenter lets me know that the Eid is actually September 20 this year (beginning at sunset on the 19th), not the 21st. This appears to be accurate, at least according to the Lebanese cleric cited in a story I found on a google search. Since de Waal's wife is Muslim, I would assume he has some good reason for thinking it's the 21st. Can any readers enlighten us here?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eid ul-Fitr is on Sept 20 (starts at sunset on the 19th), not the 21st.

Monday, September 14, 2009 10:36:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Okay, then. Does it continue for more than one day? I'd think de Waal got it right, considering that his wife is Muslim.

Monday, September 14, 2009 12:26:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that poorly informed activism is often more harmful than good. However I must disagree with John Prendergast, the fact that the situation is no longer getting worse should provide an impetus for international action. The genocide in Sudan has been handled horrendously by the international community for the past six years; the recent stall in violence gives the international community the perfect opportunity to get their act together. Furthermore I believe Scott Gration was correct in appealing to refugees to return to their homes and villages and in suggesting that the United States ease sanctions against Sudan. It is through these very measures that change can finally be enacted within Sudan. It is important that the Sudanese feel safe enough to return to their homes, especially considering that the refugee camps aren’t that safe themselves. As General Agwai and Rodolphe Adada have commented the decline in violence this year provides an opportune moment for all sides to sit down and reach a peaceful and politically egalitarian solution to end the conflict in Sudan.
While many of the Save Darfur Coalition’s goals are valid the methods that the campaign has undertaken so far to achieve their goals are horrible misguided. Their recent decision to fast to somehow incentivize world leaders to “lead a more effective and urgent peace process for Darfur, Build an international coalition for strict implementation of the North-South peace deal, Implement a policy that creates real consequences for those who continue to attack civilians, block life-saving aid, undermine peace, and obstruct justice,” seems juvenile and bound to have a minimal impact on the crisis.

Monday, September 14, 2009 12:32:00 PM

Anonymous Ranil Dissanayake said...

Eid is celebrated for four days in Tanzania (I'm based in Zanzibar currently, which is 92% Muslim). Only the first two days of Eid are officially holidays, but the celebrations take place over four. We expect it to start on 20th Sept, and so will run until 24th Sept, with 20th and 21st being the main celebrations. Both your anonymous commenter and Alex are thus correct in their assessments.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 2:53:00 AM

Blogger Ash said...

I seem to remember from that part of the world that Eid begins when the relevant religious leader sees the first sliver of the new moon, or something like that, which means the start is somewhat subjective and can be a day or so different in different places.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 6:03:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Ranil, thanks so much for clearing that up.

Ash, yeah, I found some info on that. Apparently the clerics have already pretty much determined that the moon will be in the right phase on the 20th, and that seemed to hold in a bunch of parts of the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 9:04:00 AM

Anonymous Andrew Farrand said...

Muslim religious leaders in each different country determine the exact day on which the 'Eid falls for their community. Because different people are interpreting the rules in each country, the date can vary by 1 or 2 days in either direction.

But the 'Eid celebration is usually not limited to a single day anyway; rather, it's usually several days of public holiday and celebration, so whether Sudanese authorities choose the 20th, 21st, or 22nd for the Eid really doesn't matter - De Waal is correct that the "Save Darfur" fast date still coincides with the Eid time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 12:43:00 PM

Anonymous NebT said...

Oh this thing religion

Thursday, September 24, 2009 9:43:00 PM


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