Wednesday 28 February 2024

Why Palestine, Why Not Sudan? The Racism of Low Expectations

 A while ago I heard a Sudanese immigrant on the CBC asking why there was so much Canadian support for the Palestinians, and so little for Sudan.

There’s a civil war in Sudan between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group, and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). As a consequence, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization, about 6 million people are internally displaced in Sudan and another 1.8 million people are displaced externally in bordering African countries that can ill afford to help them. As in Gaza, these displaced people suffer from insufficient food, drinking water, and health services, with many people at high risk of diseases such as cholera.

Israel is subject to a quadruple set of expectations. First, like all other states, it is bound by international laws forbidding genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Second, expectations are high because it is a democratic state. Third, many critics consider it a colonial state. Finally, it is a Jewish state. Anti-Semites leap with glee onto any evidence of Israeli wrongdoing. Others—including hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jews within Israel and elsewhere—are horrified by Israel’s current assault on Gaza.

One reason for the difference between Gaza and Sudan may simply be that information on the Gaza crisis is much more immediate and available than information on Sudan. News media are full of day-to-day counts of those killed. Despite the terrible death rate among journalists, many are still reporting from Gaza. Gazans still have sporadic access to cell-phones and the ability to tell their stories to relatives and  journalists. By contrast, news media do not deliver day-to-day accounts of the suffering in Sudan.


Many Canadian doctors have served in Gaza in the last few months, and returned with horrific accounts. If Canadian doctors are also serving in Sudan, their stories are not being reported at the same rate by the media. 


Perhaps there is so little concern with Sudan because Canadians simply don’t know enough about the intricacies of Sudanese politics. We don’t understand why the two sides are fighting each other. We also don’t know which other countries are intervening in Sudan, on which side, and why.

And it doesn’t seem as if Canada has a stake in this civil war, so there’s no reason to protest our own government’s actions in it, whereas many Canadians want our government to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. .    

Another reason may be that we don’t think there is any way we can influence the competing factions in Sudan. We know that Israel wants to cultivate an international image of a democratic country fighting a legal war of self-defense, but it doesn’t seem to matter to either of the current factions in Sudan what Canadians or other Westerners think.

Israel fits the narrative of evil colonialism, of special concern to Canadians today given our own colonial past (and present). Sudan, by contrast, is a post-colonial state. No matter how long a country has been independent, anti-colonialists assume that their leaders have no independent capacity to make decisions. Any war crimes or crimes against humanity committed by either side can be attributed to the legacy of their former colonial rulers. So the leaders of the warring sides are not to blame.

And while Israel is a Jewish state, Sudan is Muslim. Many Canadians who are unafraid to criticize Israel are afraid to criticize any authorities if they are Muslim, even the most brutal and cruel.  

But perhaps part of this is just the racism of lower expectations. There’s a long Western history of assuming that Black people are naturally barbarous. So, it’s not fair to hold Black elites in Black countries to the same standards we hold “white” Israelis to. In this view, we can’t expect any better from Black people. When Black babies die, that’s just the way it is.     

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