Julie W., a graduate student in Global Affairs at NYU, e-mailed me a set of four thought-provoking questions about Somalia's future. With Julie's consent, I'm posting her questions and my replies in four successive posts. (To read the posts in their proper order, begin here.)
Here is Julie's fourth question:
A UN representative recently said that the current situation in Somalia was the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa. Why do you believe that the humanitarian crisis in Somalia has received so much less international attention than the situation in Darfur?
. . . and my response:
Sad to say, ever since our humiliating retreat in 1993, most Americans have not wanted to hear about Somalia at all. Our purposes in "invading" Somalia in 1992 with a massive show of military strength were far more altruistic than were the Ethiopians' last year, and the results -- at least initially -- were far more positive and humane. But, as we know, after our efforts had saved tens of thousands of Somali lives, things went sour, largely because we Americans undertook to repair the "root causes" of Somalia's problems by force. When Gen. Aideed and others resisted our repair efforts, most Americans reacted -- not unreasonably -- as if we'd had our hands bitten while trying to feed people. Never mind that it was far more complex than that, the result has been that Americans have generally been unsympathetic to humanitarian crises afflicting Somalia ever since.
What's worse, since 9/11, Americans have been led to believe by their government that Somalia, in its perpetual state of anarchy and violence, was an ideal "breeding ground for radical Islam" if not a training camp for al Qaeda suicide bombers. Accordingly, they've registered little surprise that their government has not only condoned but encouraged and supported Ethiopia's invasion of its neighbor under the banner of the "war on terror."
Darfur, meanwhile, has been a poster child for humanitarian intervention, a place where hateful Arab rulers have tormented and brutalized virtuous and impoverished black farmers by unleashing horse-mounted killers called "janjaweed" (as evil-sounding a name as you could possibly think of!) to burn their villages and rape their women. How could good and evil be more clearly delineated? How could we not come to the rescue of the people of Darfur? (To my mind, what's been inexplicable about Darfur is how slow we've been to come to its rescue. Perhaps it's because we're afraid of having our hands bitten once again. . . .)