Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2009 | Go to article overview
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Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror


Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror By Mahmood Mamdani, Pantheon Books, 2009, hardcover, 398 pp. List: $26.95; AET: $22.

Reviewed by Delinda C. Hanley

I'm ashamed to confess that I am an "underliner," highlighting text that I may want to refer to in future articles. By the time I finished Saviors and Survivors, by the author of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, I had marked up so many pages of this fascinating book, which examines the crisis in Darfur and the world's peculiar response to that crisis, that you'll want to get your own, pristine copy.

Putting the Darfur conflict in historical context, Mamdani asks a revealing question: Why was the world silent about far more deaths in conflicts in Rwanda, Angola, and the Congo, or deaths caused by AIDs and malaria on that continent, while Darfur became a tragedy of epic proportions?

The author provides thought-provoking answers, and explains why some Americans call this conflict a genocide. It began when the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC issued its very first ever "genocide alert" in 2004, and soon, along with the American Jewish World Service, launched the "interreligious umbrella organization" Save Darfur Coalition (SDC). Save Darfur drew its foot soldiers from the student community across the U.S., Mamdani explains. A panel discussion at the museum on Sept. 14, 2004 led to the formation of an outreach program, Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND), which quickly spread across campuses. Students led a successful divestment campaign against companies that did business in Sudan.

Following an impassioned speech in May 2006 by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the SDC became a powerful lobby and, Mamdani writes, "by 2007, the coalition had grown into an alliance of 'more than 180 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations' claiming a '130 million person network.'"

Almost none of the money raised by Darfur advocates ever reached the people in Darfur, however. With an annual budget of $14 million, derived primarily from foundation grants and individual contributions, Save Darfur employs a staff of more than 30, as well as a full-time advertising agency, M+R Services, based in Washington, DC. Expensive, full-page Save Darfur ads never corresponded to reality on the ground, Mamdani charges.

"Ironically, the first international outcry arose at almost the same time as the dramatic reduction in the level of fatalities," Mamdani writes, "yet international media reports did not acknowledge this development, and the international outcry did not subside...the rhetoric of the Save Darfur movement in the United States escalated as the level of mortality in Darfur declined."

In fact, figures released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2004, the year the Save Darfur campaign was launched, stated that most of the dead were not direct victims of violence, that the main cause of death was diarrhea, reflecting "poor environmental sanitation." Of course, Mamdani points out, these deaths may have been indirectly caused by violence because fighting delayed and sometimes deliberately obstructed the provision of emergency relief.

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