Save Darfur, Eat de Waal

Me, I love a good feud. The best ones are not between people with wildly opposing views (I’m thinking Creationists against Darwinists) but between people who should basically be on the same side (say Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins).  Generally these are motivated not by intellectual differences but by pure loathing. So too on Darfur, where post-ICC the Save Darfurers are ganging up once again on their favourite target. No, not Khartoum or the Janjaweed but Alex de Waal.

The first sign of their loathing appeared on the Newsweek website a couple of years ago when "rock star advocate" John Prendergast took de Waal to task in no uncertain terms. The whole thing is seven pages long and degenerates pretty quickly into the "you don’t know what you’re talking about" kind of row. 

There have been odd skirmishes since but the ICC indictments – which you could argue suggest that de Waal’s understanding of Sudan is rather more on the money, having argued that the search for justice might undermine peace efforts – have turned things properly nasty.

John Norris, of Enough, uses no names but who on earth can he be referring to in his post entitled Bashir’s Best Buddies?

Somewhat sadly, Bashir’s most enduring loyalists may prove to be the arm chair analysts in New York and Washington who have made a cottage industry out of being critical of international justice, activism, or any forward leaning efforts to actually end a crisis rather than simply managing its consequences.

In other words, if you’re not with the Darfur saviours you are nothing but an apologist for the deadly Khartoum killing machine. Of course de Waal is not a blameless victim in the whole thing. His slightly pompous description of the difference between the advocates viewing the conflict from a distance and his own experience of the "mountains" up close, contains an appeal to authority to justify his position.

But there is a difference between a landscape painter and a mountain climber, and it is clear who we want to guide us down from the highest passes.

You are the man for the job then, I guess Alex. But really, could you have possibly overstepped the bounds in your responce to Eric Reeves, another notable Save Darfurer?

It is deeply unfortunate that your health has prevented you from visiting Darfur, and that you have never had the opportunity to visit Khartoum or to live in Sudanese society.

Eric Reeves was one of the frst writers to raise the issue of the slaughter in Darfur back in 2003. He is also battling cancer. Still, we don’t quite make it into the Oasis-Blur territory (you’ll remember Noel Gallagher’s pithy putdown to Damon Albarn: "I hope you die of Aids") but you have to question the wisdom of ending a scathing critique of Reeves’ position with a cheery…

with best wishes for your rapid recovery.


Of course this is all tremendously entertaining, but aren’t people still dying in Darfur? The serious point is that this kind of polarisation has bedevilled efforts to help the people of Darfur for years. I tended to think that it was the mammoth Save Darfur movement that had stifled opposition to their position, choking off proper debate. But now both sides are trying to do it, making the chances of a proper peace ever more distant.