[DEBATE] : More Geldof heroics in the service of humanitarian imperialism
grinker at mweb.co.za
Mon Mar 26 12:58:14 BST 2007
How Geldof urged writers to go to war over Darfur
25 March 2007 07:33
As Berlin celebrates the European Union's 50th birthday, there is a ghost at
the festivities. Darfur was never meant to be centre stage or even to have a
minor role. But Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, will on Sunday discuss
over a private lunch with other leaders what Europe must do to help end the
massacres that have claimed 200 000 lives.
Much of the impetus for action comes from two letters. One is a plea by
British Prime Minister Tony Blair to fellow leaders to back United Nations
sanctions against the Sudanese government -- a call that was immediately
condemned by the regime in Khartoum, and the second, more notable letter was
published on Saturday in newspapers in all 27 member states. The signatories
to this demand for EU action are the leading cultural figures of Europe.
Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, Günter Grass, Jurgen Habermas, Vaclav Havel, Seamus
Heaney, Bernard Henri-Levy, Harold Pinter, Franca Rame and Tom Stoppard have
united to list the sanctions that, in their view, Europe must impose
The Observer can reveal the story behind the letter, drafted as Sudan
refuses to hand over two officials named as war crimes suspects by the
International Criminal Court and as the UN humanitarian chief John Holmes
was barred from visiting one of Darfur's overflowing refugee camps by the
Sudanese military guard on Saturday.
It is a resurgence of the double act of Tony Blair and Bob Geldof, last
witnessed at Live 8 and the Gleneagles Summit of 2005. On 9 March, as he
flew back from a ministers' meeting in Brussels, Blair opened a long letter
from Geldof. It began "Hi, Tony" and it demanded something "substantial and
real" to stop the genocide.
Geldof pointed out that this weekend's anniversary was the perfect moment to
highlight the obligations of Europe, a region born out of atrocity and
slaughter and Africa's near neighbour.
He wanted an initiative to put Darfur on the same continuum as "Auschwitz
and Srebrenica". As matters stood, he complained, the focus would be on
"some shite pop concert". Or, as Geldof told the Observer on Saturday: "The
Euro 50 moment was too good an opportunity not to present an alternative
view of our history. It's about recomposing the picture.
"NGOs [non-governmental organisations] have always done the hungry African
kid, and people would put a few quid in, which is vital. But now people are
being whipped and raped at will. We should not let that happen. It could be
stopped in a three-week period, but it isn't. What was needed was not to
hijack the Europe weekend, but to offer an achievable goal. Then you have to
go and achieve it."
Geldof rang the names on his list. Some, such as Stoppard and Pinter, he
knew. Havel and he had once had dinner, and Heaney was "a fellow Paddy."
French writer, Bernard Henri-Levy, is on record as loathing Geldof's
tactics. "We had a fight 20 years ago [in the aftermath of Live Aid] when he
called me 'the greatest killer since Stalin'." All agreed to support
economic sanctions against Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir.
Helped by the influential NGO Crisis Action and others, Geldof planned to
fly his icons to Chad, on three private jets he had borrowed. "But they're
all old men, and some are ill or deaf. And we had only days to plan it."
Instead, just after 6am on a flight to Belfast, he "bashed out" the first
draft of a letter for their signature.
The laureates of literature proved less amenable to his efforts than his
Band Aid song co-writer, Midge Ure, had once been. "Seamus said: 'I can't
sign this, Bob. It's too extreme.' Finally Heaney and Stoppard produced a
version that satisfied all, including Günter Grass, co-opted into the SS as
a young man and who, like Heaney, has never before become embroiled in
As the letter took shape, Geldof received many textual queries. "Eco had
something to say about 'the subtext of the symbiosis', and Pinter wanted to
know what a 'gist' was -- he had misread the word gift. Stoppard said one
phrase was 'otiose'." Geldof conceded on all points, on the basis that "I
Don't Like Mondays will not be heard in 2050, and they will all be read".
Meanwhile Blair- - who, like Gordon Brown, speaks frequently to Geldof --
was preparing his own missive. A copy of the demands he sent last week to
Merkel and all other leaders has been obtained by the Observer. Al-Bashir,
Blair warns, is "going backwards on all substantive agreements made". On
Saturday Sudan said the West had exaggerated the crisis. After four years of
violence in Darfur, there was now only scattered violence, Al-Samani
Al-Wasiyla, Sudanese Foreign Minister of State, said in Nairobi. "No one is
denying the crisis, but if you try to solve it with arms do you really
expect to save lives? We don't want another Somalia in Darfur," he added,
referring to 16 years of almost constant anarchy there
But for Blair the time has come "for the international community to take
action". He is pushing for a new United Nations Security Council resolution
and hopes for agreement.
By contrast, the Geldof end of the pincer action focuses on Europe's duty to
curb Bashir and his henchmen. "Forbid them our shores and our health service
and luxury goods," his supporters write. "Freeze their assets in our banks,
and move immediately to involve other concerned countries."
Many would consider this a thin list against blatant atrocity, but Geldof
says it is "code to get the UN behind us" ... "It can have a massive impact
Today, as every day, many will die in Darfur, slaughtered by their fellow
countrymen or strafed by the missiles of a president who has gauged the
supine nature of international will and flouted any attempt to curb his
It is easy to mock the efforts of those who work for change, or cavil over
the worth of their demands. The question is whether an unprecedented
coalition of politicians and Geldof's icons, the successors of Goethe, Ibsen
and Shakespeare, can evoke a spark of humanity and rage in Europe. If not,
then Darfur, and much else, may stand condemned.
The text of the letter urging Darfur Action
How dare we Europeans celebrate this weekend while, on a continent some few
miles south of us, the most defenceless, dispossessed and weak are murdered
Has the European Union -- born of atrocity to unite against further atrocity
-- no word to utter, no principle to act on, no action to take, in order to
prevent these massacres in Darfur? Is the cowardliness over Srebrenica to be
repeated? If so, what do we celebrate? The thin skin of our political join?
The futile posturings of our political class? The impotent nullities of our
The Europe which allowed Auschwitz and failed in Bosnia must not tolerate
the murder in Darfur. Europe is more that a network of the political
classes, more than a First-World economic club and a bureaucratic
excrescence. It is an inherited culture which sustains our shared belief in
the value and dignity of the human being.
In the name of that common culture and those shared values, we call upon the
27 leaders to impose immediately the most stringent sanctions upon the
leaders of the Sudanese regime. Forbid them our shores, our health service
and our luxury goods. Freeze their assets in our banks and move immediately
to involve other concerned countries.
We must not once again betray our European civilisation by watching and
waiting while another civilisation in Africa is destroyed. Let this action
be our gift to ourselves and our proof of ourselves. When it is done, then
let us celebrate together with pride.
Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, Gunter Grass, Jurgen Habermas, Vaclav Havel, Seamus
Heaney, Bernard Henri-Levy, Harold Pinter, Franca Rame, Tom Stoppard -
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
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