Geographic Prejudice – Part 2
By Dan Lieberman
12 May, 2007
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.
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
Which armies raided elephant
camps for ivory and slaves?
Why must we know they are Arab – aren’t they either African
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
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
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
(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
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
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