Opinion: With Darfur still burning, the question that must be asked – has the Liberal hand lost its touch in times of crisis?

With the relentless genocide in Darfur still incendiary, our attention must turn to the lack of affront from the liberal contingent. Unlike the Arab/Israeli conflict or the violence in Sri Lanka, the Liberal Democrats have lucid policy on the crisis in Sudan. Without a doubt the strength of Lib Dem rhetoric does not match the strength of our policy. This begs the question: has the Liberal hand lost its touch in times of crisis?

It was Liberals who hailed the end of Apartheid. The recent death of Helen Suzman was a poignant reminder of this. It was liberal democracy that salved a war torn Europe and Liberal thought that bound former totalitarian states together so tightly peace was the only option. But why has this process ground to a halt?

In short, we let the bastards grind us down. During the Cold War the ‘Realist’ voices in international relations gained momentum and we hung our heads in shame. Despite the Cold War being over, Liberals everywhere are still suffering a hangover which rears its aching head in regard to problem children such as Darfur. But it is us who have the better track record.

If it was less than 70 years ago that contemporary liberal democracies bombed us, and we them, with the intention of killing as many civilians as possible, why do so many consider a peaceful, prosperous Africa a pipe dream? Realism offers the lazy a ‘get out of jail free card’ card. The justification of conflict as inevitable, natural even, eases the guilt of those who do nothing.

Liberal Youth has been working with Aegis Students in order raise awareness of the situation in Darfur, where 400,000 people have been murdered and 2,000,000 displaced from their homes. Liberal Youth holds regular training sessions at our conferences and distributes campaign packs, but now it is time for the Liberal movement in the UK to take the campaign to the next level.

In the coming year I will be organising increased non-violent direct action aimed at persuading companies to divest in the Sudanese government. In 1940 no British companies were happily trading with Nazi Germany. If they have no conscience of their own then our reason for being should be to fill that vacuum.

Tightening the economic belt on the Sudanese government may mean that life for the civilians elsewhere in Sudan gets tougher. I believe that it is from this reality that a lot of liberal guilt stems. However, the reluctance of modern liberalism to take the hard line delays Sudanese compliance with UN Resolution 1769, the disarmament of the Janjaweed militias as per the Darfur Peace Agreement and impedes access in Darfur for humanitarian aid workers and NGOs.

I say all of this knowing that any victories we achieve could be undermined by the ever growing economic power of the Chinese. What I fear most, however, is that the action we do take will not be backed up by a strong united voice from within.

Since the beginning of the new year some of my friends’ Facebook statuses have ranged from heralding the Singhalese soldiers of Sri Lanka as heroes to expressing views on Israel that are not dissimilar to those held by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Where international relations are concerned it became in vogue to start taking sides. No one is simply pro-peace anymore… and that is our fault.

* Sara Scarlett is Vice-Chair of Communications for Liberal Youth.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • To be honest I’m not sure a political party supporting Divestment would necessarily be constructive. The divestment campaign is a good thing but I think it’s best kept out of government. There are a number of reasons to think that excessive focus on Darfur is creating problems in resolving the situation – I recently heard a talk by Laurie Nathan, one of the chief mediators in negotiating the DPA, and he felt that one of the key problems is that the rebels were taking Western opprobrium of the Khartoum regime to mean that they had unlimited support, and were therefore adopting unreasonable negotiating positions. Although I agree that Khartoum is most of the problem, having governments adopt a postion I think would exacerbate this.

    Also, to be honest, I think if we are going to talk about Sudan, we are absolute idiots if we talk about Darfur – the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the North-South conflict is vulnerable, and if that were to collapse the catastrophe there would make Darfur look like a picnic – and banish any chance of sorting out the mess there. The most important thing we as a party could do on Sudan is ensure that the CPA remains on the agenda and that the government commits fully to supporting the South Sudanese government to develop their country, making sure the pressure remains on Khartoum to hold the independence referendum provided for in the CPA.

  • UKIP youth. 31st Jan '09 - 8:30am

    First in reply I am disabled, so therefore I cant help gramatical or spelling issues.I’m sorry if this does not meet up to your high liberial standards.

    Wit and Wisdom isnt very wise and should realise that in the real world, a country does have a right to defend itself. Isreali has suufered hugely due to the rocket attacks suffered by its citizens, who’s lives are effected by these rockets daily. Therefore isreali clearly has a right to defend itself, and as I said before, I in no strech of the imagination advocate what is happening in darfur… so therefore I’m not saying its justifiable…possibly your should read before opening your large mouth???

  • UKIP Nonsense 31st Jan '09 - 8:45am

    UKIP Youth, you should take your own advice: you’ve failed to respond to Wit & Wisdom’s point.

    No one is denying that a Government should act to protect its people. But is Israel really defending itself by doing what it’s doing? Killing ordinary Palestinians with a full military assault because some extremist Palestinians have been firing rockets into Israel – does that sound like a good idea to you (if it does, it just makes me glad UKIP are a fringe party that are falling apart)?

    It’s just creating more resentment, justifying more attrocities in the extremists’ minds (and indeed, weakening the capacity of the Palestinian authorities to control the extremists).

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Jan '09 - 11:11am

    Foreign policy is dogged by the Trot left. They may have descended from those who said “Neither Washington nor Moscow” but their line still seems to be:

    1) See what the USA position is.

    2) Adopt the opposite.

    So really they just carry on the old mental attitudes of the funded-by-Moscow groups that used to exist long ago, even if it’s now done entirely voluntarily.

    What’s more, these groups seem far more interested in taking up lines and having protests about foreign policy than they are in developing left-wing ideas, policies and ways of presenting themselves which might actually appeal to ordinary working people. They have led to the position where the right has dominated because there’s no intelligent left appealing to the sort of people who need one.

    The obvious example is the way that Saddam Hussein was an evil man who had to be tackled, at the least by strict sanctions, so long as he was an ally of the USA. Once he switched, while of course the Trots still had to say Saddam wasn’t a good man (as they still had to condemn the USSR when asked about it), suddenly there were excuses for him, we had to see things from his side, the USA was really the problem that had caused him, and sanctions were an evil attack on the Iraqi people.

    As a result of the Iraqi conflict, the line has been established that decent people are utterly opposed to any intervention in other countries no matter how bad those countries are. So, if we are consistent, we must say that applies to Darfur as well. I think we can see how any intervention there would be written up by the usual crowd as “imperialist occupation”. We LibDems do seem to like following that usual crowd on foreign policy issues because they have big mouths, no-one else is that bothered to make a big protest about them, and it gives us street-cred to go along with them.

    It is silly to talk about being “simply pro-peace” because what does that mean? Everyone is going to say they are “pro-peace”. Who is for war for the sake of it? But some may claim that war-like actions are necessary to stop other war-like actions, others may say they’re some sort of “cry for help” from the oppressed. Isn’t this what we saw from both sides on Gaza?

    I didn’t want to attend any rally against the Gaza conflict because I knew they’d be stuffed with the usual crowd people who just would not acknowledge that part of the issue was the Hammas rocket attacks. Anyone who was really “pro-peace” would have been able to condemn those as forcefully as they condemned the over-reaction of the Israelis to them, but I saw almost no-one anywhere who succeeded in that. All I ever saw was people who told us of the terrible consequences of violence for one side while coughing and mumbling if they were asked about the other.

    For myself, I could have supported intervention in Iraq if I knew it had support in the Arab and Muslim world. It didn’t, and thus what happened with it was inevitable. But had intervention not happened, I’d have put the guilt for Saddam’s continuing oppression on those in the rest of the Arab and Muslim world who stood in the way of it being effective.

    So the same applies to Sudan. It is up to those more close to the Sudanese, geographical and culturally to be the first to condemn them and call for action against them. If they do not, the blood of the victims in Darfur is on their hands, not ours.

  • Sara, nice piece and glad to see Liberal Youth taking on an issue that has far too little play over here. 400,000 dead in the North of England might make it onto the news each night….

    The Lib Dems are a pro-peace party in as much as we all want peace, but you can’t simply be pro-motherhood and apple pie. You have to work out how to attain it. We were right in Kosovo and in Serbia where bombing the Serbs was the quickest way to peace there.

    The party still has not worked out why we were against Iraq- as our opponents never hestitate to point out. Was it the lack of UN approval? Was it the lack of realistic chance of a wothwhile outcome (my own position)? Or was it simply that we don’t believe in armed force? certainly, if it is the last, then the Lib Dems will dwindle and more Darfuris will continue to die.

    Continue to think globally and act locally, Sara!

  • Also double standard makes liberals unabale to deliver. Darfur crisis has been hijacked by evangelicals and the Israel firsters for reasons liberals know well. The minute the president of Sudan has called the campaign against him as a “Western Zionist plot” liberals shyed away because they know there is some truth to that.

    In short, the political climate in Washington makes liberals unabale to intervene in Islamic countries without being able to seperate themselves from the right wing agendas of some Jews and Christians. Also the fact Sudan is a Chinese/Russin client state makes it hard for liberals to seperate themselves from a Western agenda that often divides the world between friendly and unfriendly dictators with issues like supporting terrorism or genocide are used only against unfriendly dictators.

    A case study is how Washington went to great lengths to implicate Iraq with Al Qaeda and 9-11 yet Saudi Arabia which we all know is the real supporter of Al Qaeda got away easily. Liberals know very well why thats the case.

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