Who Are Darfur’s Arabs?

Powerful piece by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times about two sisters affected by violence in Darfur. Kristof was in Chad (or the Darfur area as he calls it) for a few days with George Clooney, raising awareness of the conflict and the looming ICC indictment of President Bashir. Which is great. And makes for eyeopening reading. Until you read his analysis of the situation:

Suad, 27, fled from Darfur to a refugee camp in Chad five years ago with her husband and beloved younger sister, Halima, who is now 12 — if she is still alive.

Then Sudan dispatched its janjaweed militias into Chad to slaughter members of black African tribes — applying to eastern Chad the same genocidal policies that had already gutted Darfur.

What is he getting at? Are the Janjaweed not black and not African? We can skip over the genocide claim as that’s big and complex and there are plenty of notable people who hold the same position. But it’s time we really put and end to this idea that Darfur’s Arabs are somehow not black Africans. What are they? Outsiders? It is thinking like this that has left them marginalised, beyond the reach of aid and convinced they are the victims of some sort of international conspiracy. The vast majority have had no role in the fighting, have seen their migration routes closed and markets disappear in the war.

I have spent the past week interviewing Arab leaders in Khartoum as I wait to travel to Darfur. I have met a man who commanded an Arab rebel group and heard suggestions that non-aligned Arab tribes may be ready to come out against the government. I heard a lot of anger that the world has bought into a false dichotomy, developed for ideological reasons by a government keen to manipulate perceived differences. "We are all black Africans," they tell me.

Darfur has long been a melting pot of different tribes, peoples and cultures. Even its name contains Arabic – Dar, meaning home, of the Fur. So let’s not stick to these naive notions that this nasty, horrible, intractable conflict has anything to do with black Africans and foreign Arabs. Thinking like that is in danger of making us forget that all Darfuris are victims.