C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

It's all about who you know

'Who is still standing with the regime in Harare?' asked Jeremy Sear the other day. The short answer - not too many people. For years the Mugabe regime has been brutalising its citizens - this has been well-publicised in the media, across the world. As a 'failed state', we are now permitted to seriously look at a range of options, and engage in the typical hand-wringing: multilateralism versus unilateralism, sanctions, humanitarian intervention, 'surgical' military strikes, the imposition of democracy from above, and so on.

That we are even asking these questions suggests something relatively unique about the Mugabe regime. We should not merely ask who is standing with Harare, but note who isn't. For there are a great many regimes across the world who are more or less brutal to their people. There are many dictators who routinely display their contempt for democracy and its trappings, yet we do not see them on our news.

Why are we not called upon to debate possible 'interventions' for Mubarak, for instance, instead of Mugabe? What about Israel - the analogy of 'apartheid' to describe the occupation is limited - the IDF's actions with respect to Palestinians are indistinguishable from those of Mugabe towards the opposition, Israel's superior technology notwithstanding. Why are we permitted to condemn atrocities in the Sudan, but not the rampant bloodshed in the Congo, or the crushing of the democracy movement in Uzbekistan? Why is Chavez denounced as a 'thug' and 'dictator', when, in the very next country, Colombian trade unionists are murdered on a regular basis?

The only reasonable hypothesis that I can see for this phenomena, whereby the suffering of some victims is noted, and others ignored, is that our media and governments are distinguishing between victims based on the client status of their governments. Brutality in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Central Asia and elsewhere is not merely tolerated, but largely ignored by our foreign affairs politicians and our media. Meanwhile, thuggish regimes who are outside of US hegemony or control are fodder for condemnathons - this category includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela (!), Sudan, 'terrorist' Somalia (but not Ethiopia), and, of course, Zimbabwe.

In all of this, I am not suggesting that Mugabe and his cronies are anything other than murderous. Nonetheless, even if such a thing as 'humanitarian' sanctions or military involvement were possible, I would still think it essential to point out that most of the world's 'failed states' are propped up by the US, or some other would-be imperialist (increasingly China and Russia, occasionally still Europe). South Africa is no more morally obliged to 'pressure' Mugabe than are we Australians when it comes to 'pressuring' the US government for its contempt for human rights and human life.