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National Geographic Prejudice – Part 2

By Dan Lieberman

12 May, 2007
Countercurrents.org

Read Part I

Possible racial prejudice against Arab people in the National Geographic exhibit, Zakouma: Elephant Crisis in Chad, has some more twists. It also highlights how innocent words can unknowingly contribute to misunderstanding and encourage hatred – even if that isn’t the intention.

Note: This article is a sequel to an earlier article titled: Prejudice Comes in Many Forms and From Many Directions. In that article, the relevance of several statements that appear in the exhibit and the selection of Arabs for derogatory comments were questioned. The questioned statements were:

(1) The reporter talks to the villagers in the only remaining village in the Zakouma preserve. "I asked them if the park was good or bad. They said 'it is good, there are no Arabs.'"

(2) Another unnecessary comment in another photo: "The situation in Chad is eerily reminiscent of the Central Republic during the 1980's when conservationists were in an all-out war against hundreds of armed men from Sudan rampaging on horses and camels, the kind of men known as Janjaweed."

(3) Another unnecessary comment in another photo: "Jacob's people, nomadic Arabs, are proud and don't mix with Africans."

(4) Another unnecessary comment in another photo: "They (park guards) travel on horseback thousands of miles a year to see that mostly Arab nomads do not make short work of all this abundance of nature (don't kill elephants)."


The additional troublesome issue is that the exhibit is based upon two articles in the March 2007 issue of the National Geographic magazine and, according to national Geographic representatives, the statements in the exhibit, are based upon entries in a journal kept by renowned ecologist and conservationist J. Michael Fay, author of the articles. Surprisingly, none of the quoted remarks that have been written into the National Geographic exhibit appear in the articles. Also, although undoubtedly unintentional, other remarks, which can be interpreted as prejudiced against Arabs and the Sudan appear in the article text.

J. Michael Fay, who deserves commendation for his extensive and self-sacrificing efforts in promoting conservation of wildlife, is not guilty of any racial bias. Let’s make that clear. He kept honest journals and only transcribed words and thoughts. It is the National Geographic, by unnecessarily highlighting certain aspects of these words and thoughts and turning them into a collection of unproven and biased comments, who promoted prejudice.

More Troublesome Issues

Since the quoted sentences (above) don’t appear in the article, why did the National Geographic include them in the exhibit? After all,

(1) The exhibit has scarce room for comments and it behooved the exhibitors to conserve words in order to illuminate conservation rather than side issues.

(2) The quotations don’t add to the intent of the exhibit. On the contrary, they distract from the intent of the exhibit.

(3) Even if the quotations are verbatim, they are only opinions made by selected persons. If one asked an Arabs person his/her thoughts, he/she would probably say the same about other tribes. In other words, statements are only part of a larger setting and cannot be used without a more complete discussion, including responses from those who are judged.

The article has its own collection of supposed perfidy by Arabs:

(1) “The elephant’s ancestors had survived centuries of raiding by the armies of Arab and African sultans from the north in search of slaves and ivory.”

Why are we being told this?

Which armies raided elephant camps for ivory and slaves?
Why must we know they are Arab – aren’t they either African or western?

Why is ‘search for slaves” included with “search of ivory?” Were the elephants made slaves?

(2) “Still, the two poachers, whom Souleyman identified as Arab nomads, had escaped on horseback with their AK-47 and M-14 assault rifles.”

Why are we being told they are Arab nomads?

Do nomads carry AK-47 and M-14 assault rifles?
Aren’t these bandits, who undoubtedly have no allegiance to anyone and have only one identity, that of thieves?

(3) “There is little love lost between our raging fighting force – a mix of sedentary tribesmen from local villages, some Arab, most Muslim – and the mounted Arab nomads who are the main culprits in the killing of Zakouma’s elephants.”

Why are we being told they are Arab nomads?
Are they Arab nomads or bandits, some of whom just happen to be Arab; similar to “is the mafia Italian or are they criminals, some of whom just happen to be Italian?”

(4) “Nathalie said that lions in the park commonly prey on young elephants. In the early 1980’s when elephant poaching by Arab horsemen from Darfur was out of control in the Central African republic, I had seen many elephants orphaned by poaching become the preferred prey of lions in Manovo-Gouda-Santa Floria National Park. I wondered if this was now happening in Zakouma.”

Why are the words “by Arab horsemen from Darfur” included in the sentence?” The sentence tells the same story without these words.

Why are we given opinion rather than reporting?

(5) “I also thought about the humans living in this area. Their lives ravaged over centuries by the slave trade. In Zakouma, the Goula people built their villages near the rocky crags in the west of the park, in an attempt to escape mounted Arab and Ouaddian raiders, who savaged, captured, and sold them as slaves, decimating their numbers.”

Why are we being told this


Why are we given thoughts rather than reporting?
Are they Arab raiders or raiders who happened to be Arab?

In addition to (4) above, the article concentrated on supposed perfidy by Sudan:

(1) “...so I asked him about the rebels. He said they were targeting the regime of President Idriss Deby and were rumored to be financed by the Sudanese government. The region around Zakouma has always been in the cross fire of opposing interests – be it the U.S. versus Muammar Qaddafi, the Axis powers versus the allies, or the sultans from Ouaddai or Darfur versus the tribes of the south.”

Why is a rumor repeated, after all, it’s only a rumor?
Is this historical analysis of the region around Zakouma, pertinent and correct?

(2) “Ivory taken by poachers either follows a path from the bush to regional cities such as Khartoum and Douala, where it is sold as sculptures and jewelry...”

A long way to Khartoum – why mention it?


(3) "The situation in southeastern Chad is eerily reminiscent of the Central Republic during the 1980's when conservationists were in an all-out war against hundreds of armed men from Sudan rampaging on horses and camels, the kind of men now known as Janjaweed."

This is the one statement that also appeared in the exhibit. What is the purpose of this comment in the article? Don't the use of emotional propaganda words; "eerily reminiscent," "armed men from Sudan," and "kind of men now known as Janjaweed," generate hatred of the Sudanese? Besides, the people known as Janjaweed live in North Darfur, which is too far for them to travel to the African Central Republic. Isn’t the comment only conjecture and out of place?

Leading to a Great Hate

The missing element in the article is the Chad government. While focusing on Arabs and Sudan, the article fails to mention the responsibility of the Chad government in halting the poaching. The poachers are not Arabs or Ouaddians or Gorane or Zaghawa; they are outlaw Chadians and their government has the responsibility to establish law and order in its territory.

These statements, admittedly inadvertent, are only a drop of the waters that irrigate the fields of bias. Nevertheless, prejudiced droplets coalesce rapidly to become cesspools of hate. In the delicate political landscape of contending factions in the Middle East and North Africa, shouldn’t extra care be taken not to influence minds in any biased direction?

Dan Lieberman is the Editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter. Writer of many published articles on the Middle East conflict
alternativeinsight@earthlink.net

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