Hitler didn't stop. Why will Sudan be a different story?

By Olivia Warham, May 17, 2012
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Churchill described appeasement as feeding a crocodile, hoping it chooses to eat you last. If humans learned anything from the 20th century, it should have been that if you keep averting your eyes to genocide elsewhere, eventually you will have to fight to save your own neighbourhood, and you will do so at enormous cost.

Alas, we have failed to draw the obvious conclusions from appeasement. Hence those who form "the international community" are responding to 21st century genocide in Sudan as if the Holocaust never happened. And whether in Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia or Sudan, there has been a predictable pattern to the world's reaction, or lack of it. Our leaders have refused to recognise racial ideology for what it is. Hitler was never coy about his plans for European Jewry. Neither was Slobodan Milosevic when he blamed the Bosnian Muslims for Serbia's ills; nor Rwanda's extreme Hutus when they bombarded their population with propaganda about "exterminating the cockroach" Tutsi minority.

Many Arab Sudanese call their fellow black African citizens "slave" to their faces; the Sudanese air force has destroyed 90 per cent of the black African villages in Darfur, leaving nearby Arab towns untouched; and the Sudanese leader, Omar Bashir, uses words like "cleanse" for how he plans to be rid of his enemies. Yet the world accepts the spin of an indicted war criminal who dismisses the killing as ancient tribal infighting. It is cast as Muslim against Christian - yet the people in Darfur are Muslim, just the wrong type of Muslim, because they are black. This is moral equivalence - where outsiders allow themselves to say: "They're all as bad as each other".

Hitler had academics to provide an intellectual framework for "lebensraum", telling a generation of unemployed Germans their historic destiny was to achieve Greater Germany. Milosevic did exactly the same, as did the Rwandans.

He blames Israel for plotting to destroy him

Another element of this dismal pattern is downplaying the scale of the killing. Think of how London and Washington suggested Polish escapees were exaggerating what they had seen in the Nazi death camps. Diplomats played the same game during the Rwandan genocide. The world must face up to the fact that now, in Sudan, many thousands of black African Christians of the Nuba Mountains are being hunted from helicopters like animals.

Time and again ethnic cleansing is framed as a humanitarian disaster requiring aid rather than intervention. This is how Bashir is positioning the impending disaster. The Red Cross felt compelled to hide the reality of the death camps for fear of the truth impeding their work. The same happened in Bosnia when Europe's leaders argued against intervention because it would endanger the aid programme.

Leaders misunderstand the asymmetrical reality of genocide, in which a government motivates and arms its citizens to kill a minority in its population. Hence the UN called for a ceasefire in Rwanda, where the armed Hutu were slaughtering the unarmed Tutsi. How could they implement a ceasefire any more than Jews being herded onto cattle trucks could do so?

Bashir is an avowed Islamist who considers Iran's government and Hizbollah his closest friends. He gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden for five years. He has said "there will be no talk of diversity" in his new Sudan, and he blames Israel for plotting a conspiracy to destroy him.

Too much time has been spent working with Sudan's Bashir as a partner for peace, just as Chamberlain did with Hitler at Munich and the EU did with Milosevic. Is it naivety or willful ignorance when we assume leaders have the best wishes of their citizens at heart? How long must innocent civilians suffer while diplomats negotiate with a leader who repeatedly breaks his word?

I am not suggesting armed intervention. The UN passed resolutions allowing for targeted sanctions against the architects of the genocide. But they have failed to implement them because Security Council members put their commercial interests before ethical concerns, just as many countries valued their trading relationship with Nazi Germany, choosing not to see the consequences of unfettered expansionist fascism.

We must recognise genocide for what it is, and respond with concerted political will and targeted sanctions, rather than appeasing its practitioners in the hope that they might stop.

Olivia Warham is the director of Waging Peace

Last updated: 11:05am, May 17 2012