Comparing Cartoon and Darfur

Why does supposedly violation against an aspect of religious belief trigger international row, violent demonstrations, and economic boycott; while evidently violation against humanity seemingly does not bother Muslims?

Darfur crisis now, depicted as the first genocide in the 21st century, is in the front page of American media. Darfur-related “dot org” is easily searchable in Google; and the very word Darfur reached more than 29.000.000 links — obviously more than the words “Muhammad Cartoon”, which are less than 3.500.000 links. In addition, this weeks, there will be massive rallies for Darfur in main cities like Washington DC and Seattle.

Then why does Darfur crisis yield no significant reaction from Muslims? Do Muslims care more on literally religious teachings than the universal message of religion for humanity (rahmatan lil alamin)? Are they angry only for religious blasphemy but not for human right violation?

First of all, it is a matter of information. Unlike in the US, news about Darfur is not much covered by media in the Muslim world. Why not? I am not quite sure as I can not really answer the similar question why Darfur is so highly covered in the US.

Responding why Darfur had suddenly attracted international interest, Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, told The New York Times, "I don’t know why one place gets attention and another not. It’s like a lottery... I myself have said that the biggest race against the clock is Darfur, but in terms of numbers of people displaced, there are already more in Uganda and the eastern Congo."

If we bought his lottery theory, the explanation why Darfur case is not massively covered is that it did not win the media’s lottery in the Muslim world. I think, however, we need more explanation than such lottery theory.

I see that Muslim reactions to humanity crisis mostly depend on the “Muslim and non-Muslim” of the issue. Muslims are really concerned to the human right violation in the Balkans, Chechnya, southern Thailand, or Palestine where Muslims are oppressed by non-Muslims.

By contrast, they are more reluctant to react in the cases where Muslims are in conflict with other Muslims. Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Iraq, bloody conflicts between the Indonesian government and Acehnese, Turkish or Iraqi governments against Kurdish, are some of apt examples how Muslims prefer to be silent about their fellows.

It is more evident in the Afghanistan case: when the conflict was between Afghan-Soviet, Muslims from all parts of the world came to defend; when it then involves Muslim-Muslim, Muslims seems to have no choice. Darfur crisis, involving Muslim government and Muslim rebels, I think is just another similar case to which Muslims prefer to be indifferent.

Therefore, I would argue that Muslims must stop thinking in this way. Humanitarian crisis, whether involving Muslim or Non-Muslim, has to be stopped. Violation against human right is as ‘insulting’ as blasphemy against religious teaching. As they were angry for the cartoons, they should angry for human right violations.

It is inseparable part of Islamic teaching to protect human right and life, included in the principle of al-hifz bi al-nafs (protecting human life).

However, I am cognizant that Darfur crisis is not only humanitarian crisis. Regrettably, as some analysts say, Darfur crisis has been manipulated for foreign political objectives. There is oil fuelling, literally and politically, this crisis.

It is not about winning a “lottery” that Darfur is on the top list. Sudan is the largest country in Africa. It is under an Islamic regime that is almost similar with the ‘defiant’, as American media puts it, Iran, and it has a significance oil reserve. Since 1997 their oil has been tapped by Asians, China, Malaysia, and India, and no America — American oil companies are prohibited from doing business with a ‘terrorist state’. Now, they can not let these Asians monopolize the oil. They are playing the game amid the conflicts.

For some Muslims, who are bored with the interventionist policy of the US, campaigning international intervention is necessarily opening the door for this ‘gas-guzzling’ country to make the oily Sudan as another Iraq. Should we understand this reason, we know how difficult Muslims have to take side.

Human right violence must be stopped at any price. But, at the same time, we do wish that oil-oriented policy is not the right price we pay.

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