School of Politics and International Studies

Responsibility to Protect Student Journal

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Understanding Identity in Darfur: How Western Media Has Impacted the Conflict

Casey Bush, Clark University, US

Casey studies History and Political Science, focusing on Holocaust and Genocide Studies. As Campaign Coordinator for STAND she looks forward to pursuing her passion for genocide prevention.

Since conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003, Western scholars have sought to explain the causes and consequences of what we now understand as one of the 21st century’s first instances of genocide. Julie Flint, Alex De Waal and John Prendergast have spent over a decade visiting Darfur and writing about the conflict’s causes and effects. Students read these articles, eyes wide and hearts heavy, in order to grasp a sliver of an understanding as to how neighbors can kill neighbors. In response to the tragedy, the Western world took up the “Save Darfur” movement, which united people from across the United States, including influential figures from Don Cheadle to George Clooney. As more and more people became involved in the movement, however, representations of the conflict were simplified. Students were taught that the conflict was between the Arabs and non-Arab black Africans in which nomadic Arabs were genocidally targeting non-Arab Darfuris. Perhaps this was because it was easier to explain the conflict in such a way or maybe because it was far too complex to understand fully. In fact, the conflict in Darfur is more nuanced than a simple black versus non-black war. However, after searching through article after article in the New York Times and the Washington Post, it has become clear that the Western media has a different understanding of ethnicity, blackness, and identity than that which is held in Sudan. Thus, in this piece I will address the faulty Western understanding of the Darfur conflict in terms of identity and attempt to understand how this understanding affects policy-making. To do this, I will outline a brief history of the conflict, analyse various news articles to determine how Western media understands the conflict, explain the ways that media has an effect on US policy, and then offer a final analysis and recommendations for students who aspire to be informed activists.

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