Show Hide image

The politics of peace

The war in Darfur may be over, but that is not the end of Sudan’s troubles

Darfur is no longer in intense conflict, despite what some American campaigners would like you to believe. The situation in that troubled region is in fact a sideshow to a much bigger event in Sudan, namely the referendum in the southern part of the country, tabled for January 2011, on whether Sudan will remain united.

Partitioning a state is a risky business, no­where more so than Sudan. After 50 years of on-off civil war, the depth of distrust and animosity between northern and South Sudan is such that the great majority of southerners want to take their chance with independence. But with a host of unresolved issues, ranging from an undemarcated border to the millions of southern Sudanese resident in the north, it is likely that any split will be not just acrimonious, but disorderly and violent. Both sides have used the past four years - in effect a truce, not a true peace - to buy weapons and reorganise their respective armed forces.

Neighbouring countries are worried about a resurgent conflict involving the young, desperately fragile state of South Sudan and an embittered north, driven towards political Islam, in a war that drags in other nations along an Arab-black African fault line which threatens to split the continent. The US special envoy for Sudan, General Scott Gration, sees it as his task to avoid this disaster.

Before the current instability, southern Sudan was already in trouble partly of its own making, partly not. When a truce finally came with the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005, the region had experienced virtually no development in half a century and faced a legacy of destruction and division, much of it manipulated by successive governments in Khartoum. It also had the curse of oil - 90 per cent of the revenue of the autonomous government of South Sudan comes from petroleum.

Sharing in the oil bonanza was one reason that the rebels of the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement were keen to sign the peace agreement, but the transformation from guerrillas to government has yet to be fully accomplished. Vast sums of oil income remain unaccounted for and last year's crash in oil prices cut the government's income by 70 per cent. The seizing up of the financial system led to salaries for more than 200,000 men on the army payroll being paid late or not at all, contributing in turn to an upsurge in banditry.

If a new north-south war starts, peace talks, international pressure for humanitarian aid and a new mandate for the UN peacekeepers in South Sudan will all be necessary. What is needed now is a political process that builds enough trust between sides for the northern and southern Sudanese to make common decisions about their future. Whether as one nation or two, they will still be neighbours.

Designer activists

There is not much time left to grapple with these huge challenges, but the conditions are propitious. The Darfur crisis in western Sudan, which has taken up so much time, energy and resources, is stabilising. After war broke out in 2003, rebel groups were defeated in a counter-insurgency in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the space of two years and which unleashed a humanitarian crisis. Now, however, armed conflict has subsided substantially. There is a huge legacy of displacement and destruction to overcome, but with the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid) increasingly effective and most areas stable, the opportunities for progress are strong.

In August, General Martin Luther Agwai, the outgoing Unamid force commander, confirmed this when he said: "As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur." He continued: "If war is a conflict whereby today you attack and then go back home and stay [for] three, four, five months and come back . . . then there is a war in Darfur. But if that is not the definition, then there is no war as of now in Darfur . . . I think the real thing now is to speed up the political process."

Agwai is an experienced military officer with strong personal morality. He has served in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and rose to become chief of defence staff in the Nigerian army. He sees the file on every violent incident reported in Darfur, and his staff compile the numbers killed in violence in the still-troubled region. In July the figure was 40; in August it was 50. The numbers are probably an undercount, but by only a margin. Agwai's emphasis on the need for a political process fits with the movements of Sudan's civil society organisations and political parties, which are working to prise open the political space in advance of next year's general elections, the first multiparty contest since 1986. They welcome the decrease in violence - and the increase in their leverage - and have no illusions about their brutal government, seeing their best hope in step-by-step dismantling of its monopoly on power.

International campaigns, particularly in the US, claim that they want the same things as the Sudanese - peace and democracy. The Save Darfur Coalition and the Enough project, which calls for robust US action to end genocide, have built up a head of steam. At its best, this movement - which includes an extraordinary array of film stars, private philanthropists and a new breed of "designer activists" - provides awareness about wars and mass atrocities in faraway lands, but, at its worst, it can become a pulpit for latter-day philanthropic imperialism.

John Prendergast of Enough condemned Agwai's words: "The perception . . . that if it is not getting worse . . . it [must be] getting better is something that takes the wind out of the sails of international action." While the Unamid commander imagined peace negotiations in which the various Sudanese parties would sit around a table and make compromises, Prendergast wants a show of US power.

A more nuanced approach came from Donald Steinberg of the International Crisis Group, who feared that a statement of success might harm political support for Unamid: "We saw such difficulty in drawing up the mission . . . it's still not where it should be . . . Premature declarations from prominent officials might undermine existing political support for Unamid and other peacekeeping and aid efforts." This is an odd argument - that demonstrating the success of a peacekeeping mission undermines it. The implication of this is that there can be success only when "we" decide there is success.

The atrocity story

The sort of liberal internationalism that the Save Darfur campaign represents - a legacy of the neocon moral fervour engendered by the Bush administration - conflicts with the other hallowed liberal principle emphasised by President Barack Obama, which insists that a nation should be able to determine its future free from foreign diktat. Sudan needs a judicious balance between the two approaches. But it has become clear that the Save Darfur Coalition, with its campaign for Obama to "end the genocide", can handle only the atrocity story, not the politics of peace. This is shamelessly misleading about what is happening in Darfur.

It is a form of dishonesty that has a wider import, too. It turns Sudanese politics into a high-stakes international game of bluff, feeding the Khartoum government's paranoia that it faces an American regime-change agenda and fuelling the rebels' readiness to persevere in order to get that intervention. If the Save Darfur campaign succeeds, the political failure of Sudan will become a US-owned problem in the heart of Africa. This is what Gration most wants to avoid - while his domestic adversaries seem intent on bringing it about. "Saving Darfur" risks losing Sudan.

Most likely, however, political realism will succeed and the human rights fundamentalists will snarl at the heels of the Obama administration, barking "betrayal". But should the activists get their way, the limits of humanitarian imperialism in dealing with complex political problems will have to be relearned, painfully.

Alex de Waal is the co-author, with Julie Flint, of "Darfur: a New History of a Long War"
(Zed Books, £12.99)

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

reddit.com/user/0I0I0I0I
Show Hide image

We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white women

Alt-right women are less visible than their tiki torch-carrying male counterparts - but they still exist. 

In November 2016, the writer and TED speaker Siyanda Mohutsiwa tweeted a ground-breaking observation. “When we talk about online radicalisation we always talk about Muslims. But the radicalisation of white men online is at astronomical levels,” she wrote, inspiring a series of mainstream articles on the topic (“We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men,” wrote Abi Wilkinson in The Guardian). It is now commonly accepted that online radicalisation is not limited to the work of Isis, which uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. Young, white men frequently form alt-right and neo-Nazi beliefs online.

But this narrative, too, is missing something. When it comes to online radicalisation into extreme right-wing, white supremacist, or racist views, women are far from immune.

“It’s a really slow process to be brainwashed really,” says Alexandra*, a 22-year-old former-racist who adopted extreme views during the United States presidential election of 2016. In particular, she believed white people to be more intelligent than people of colour. “It definitely felt like being indoctrinated into a cult.”

Alexandra was “indoctrinated” on 4Chan, the imageboard site where openly racist views flourish, especially on boards such as /pol/. It is a common misconception that 4Chan is only used by loser, basement-dwelling men. In actuality, 4Chan’s official figures acknowledge 30 percent of its users are female. More women may frequent 4Chan and /pol/ than it first appears, as many do not announce their gender on the site because of its “Tits or GTFO” culture. Even when women do reveal themselves, they are often believed to be men who are lying for attention.

“There are actually a lot of females on 4chan, they just don't really say. Most of the time it just isn't relevant,” says Alexandra. Her experiences on the site are similar to male users who are radicalised by /pol/’s far-right rhetoric. “They sowed the seeds of doubt with memes,” she laughs apprehensively. “Dumb memes and stuff and jokes…

“[Then] I was shown really bullshit studies that stated that some races were inferior to others like… I know now that that’s bogus science, it was bad statistics, but I never bothered to actually look into the truth myself, I just believed what was told to me.”

To be clear, online alt-right radicalisation still skews majority male (and men make up most of the extreme far-right, though women have always played a role in white supremacist movements). The alt-right frequently recruits from misogynistic forums where they prey on sexually-frustrated males and feed them increasingly extreme beliefs. But Alexandra’s story reveals that more women are part of radical right-wing online spaces than might first be apparent.

“You’d think that it would never happen to you, that you would never hold such horrible views," says Alexandra. "But it just happened really slowly and I didn't even notice it until too late."

***

We are less inclined to talk about radical alt-right and neo-Nazi women because they are less inclined to carry out radical acts. Photographs that emerged from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this weekend revealed that it was mostly polo shirt-wearing young, white men picking up tiki torches, shouting racial slurs, and fighting with counter-protestors. The white supremacist and alt-right terror attacks of the last year have also been committed by men, not women. But just because women aren’t as visible doesn’t mean they are not culpable.  

“Even when people are alt-right or sympathisers with Isis, it’s a tiny percentage of people who are willing or eager to die for those reasons and those people typically have significant personal problems and mental health issues, or suicidal motives,” explains Adam Lankford, author of The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers.

“Both men and women can play a huge role in terms of shaping the radicalised rhetoric that then influences those rare people who commit a crime.”

Prominent alt-right women often publicly admit that their role is more behind-the-scenes. Ayla Stewart runs the blog Wife With a Purpose, where she writes about “white culture” and traditional values. She was scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally before dropping out due to safety concerns. In a blog post entitled “#Charlottesville May Have Redefined Women’s Roles in the Alt Right”, she writes:

“I’ve decided that the growth of the movement has necessitated that I pick and choose my involvement as a woman more carefully and that I’m more mindful to chose [sic] women’s roles only.”

These roles include public speaking (only when her husband is present), gaining medical skills, and “listening to our men” in order to provide moral support. Stewart declined to be interviewed for this piece.

It is clear, therefore, that alt-right women do not have to carry out violence to be radical or radicalised. In some cases, they are complicit in the violence that does occur. Lankford gives the example of the Camp Chapman attack, committed by a male Jordanian suicide bomber against a CIA base in Afghanistan.

“What the research suggests in that case was the guy who ultimately committed the suicide bombing may have been less radical than his wife,” he explains. “His wife was actually pushing him to be more radical and shaming him for his lack of courage.” 

***

Just because women are less likely to be violent doesn’t mean they are incapable of it.

Angela King is a former neo-Nazi who went to prison for her part in the armed robbery and assault of a Jewish shop owner. She now runs Life After Hate, a non-profit that aims to help former right-wing extremists. While part of a skinhead gang, it was her job to recruit other women to the cause.

“I was well known for the violence I was willing to inflict on others… often times the men would come up to me and say we don’t want to physically hurt a woman so can you take care of this,” King explains. “When I brought other women in I looked for the same qualities in them that I thought I had in myself.”

King's 1999 mugshot

 

These traits, King explains, were anger and a previous history of violence. She was 15 when she became involved with neo-Nazis, and explains that struggles with her sexuality and bullying had made her into a violent teenager.

“I was bullied verbally for years. I didn't fit in, I was socially awkward,” she says. One incident in particular stands out. Aged 12, King was physically bullied for the first time.

“I was humiliated in a way that even today I still am humiliated by this experience,” she says. One day, King made the mistake of sitting at a desk that “belonged” to a bully. “She started a fight with me in front of the entire class… I’ve always struggled with weight so I was a little bit pudgy, I had my little training bra on, and during the fight she ripped my shirt open in front of the entire class.

“At that age, having absolutely no self-confidence, I made the decision that if I became the bully, and took her place, I could never be humiliated like that again.”

Angela King, aged 18

King’s story is important because when it comes to online radicalisation, the cliché is that bullied, “loser” men are drawn to these alt-right and neo-Nazi communities. The most prominent women in the far-right (such as Stewart, and Lauren Southern, a YouTuber) are traditionally attractive and successful, with long blonde hair and flashing smiles. In actuality, women that are drawn to the movement online might be struggling, like King, to be socially accepted. This in no way justifies or excuses extreme behaviour, but can go some way to explaining how and why certain young women are radicalised. 

“At the age of 15 I had been bullied, raped. I had started down a negative path you know, experimenting with drugs, drinking, theft. And I was dealing with what I would call an acute identity crisis and essentially I was a very, very angry young woman who was socially awkward who did not feel like I had a place in the world, that I fit in anywhere. And I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I hated everything about myself.”

King explains that Life After Hate’s research reveals that there are often non-ideological based precursors that lead people to far right groups. “Individuals don’t go to hate groups because they already hate everyone, they go seeking something. They go to fill some type of void in their lives that they’re not getting.”

None of this, of course, excuses the actions and beliefs of far-right extremists, but it does go some way to explaining how “normal” young people can be radicalised online. I ask Alexandra, the former 4Chan racist, if anything else was going on in her life when she was drawn towards extreme beliefs.

“Yes, I was lonely,” she admits.                                                       

***

That lonely men and women can both be radicalised in the insidious corners of the internet shouldn’t be surprising. For years, Isis has recruited vulnerable young women online, with children as young as 15 becoming "jihadi brides". We have now acknowledged that the cliché of virginal, spotty men being driven to far-right hate excludes the college-educated, clean-cut white men who made up much of the Unite the Right rally last weekend. We now must realise that right-wing women, too, are radicalised online, and they, too, are culpable for radical acts.  

It is often assumed that extremist women are radicalised by their husbands or fathers, which is aided by statements by far-right women themselves. The YouTuber, Southern, for example, once said:  

“Anytime they [the left] talk about the alt-right, they make it sound like it’s just about a bunch of guys in basements. They don’t mention that these guys have wives – supportive wives, who go to these meet-ups and these conferences – who are there – so I think it’s great for right-wing women to show themselves. We are here. You’re wrong.”

Although there is truth in this statement, women don’t have to have far-right husbands, brothers, or fathers in order to be drawn to white supremacist or alt-right movements. Although it doesn’t seem the alt-right are actively preying on young white women the same way they prey on young white men, many women are involved in online spaces that we wrongly assume are male-only. There are other spaces, such as Reddit's r/Hawtschwitz, where neo-Nazi women upload nude and naked selfies, carving a specific space for themselves in the online far-right. 

When we speak of women radicalised by husbands and fathers, we misallocate blame. Alexandra deeply regrets her choices, but she accepts they were her own. “I’m not going to deny that what I did was bad because I have to take responsibility for my actions,” she says.

Alexandra, who was “historically left-wing”, was first drawn to 4Chan when she became frustrated with the “self-righteousness” of the website Tumblr, favoured by liberal teens. Although she frequented the site's board for talking about anime, /a/, not /pol/, she found neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs were spread there too. 

“I was just like really fed up with the far left,” she says, “There was a lot of stuff I didn't like, like blaming males for everything.” From this, Alexandra became anti-feminist and this is how she was incrementally exposed to anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. This parallels the story of many radicalised males on 4Chan, who turn to the site from hatred of feminists or indeed, all women. 

 “What I was doing was racist, like I – deep down I didn't really fully believe it in my heart, but the seeds of doubt were sowed again and it was a way to fit in. Like, if you don't regurgitate their opinions exactly they’ll just bully you and run you off.”

King’s life changed in prison, where Jamaican inmates befriended her and she was forced to reassess her worldview. Alexandra now considers herself “basically” free from prejudices, but says trying to rid herself of extreme beliefs is like “detoxing from drugs”. She began questioning 4Chan when she first realised that they genuinely wanted Donald Trump to become president. “I thought that supporting Trump was just a dumb meme on the internet,” she says.

Nowadays, King dedicates her life to helping young people escape from far-right extremism. "Those of us who were involved a few decades ago we did not have this type of technology, cell phones were not the slim white phones we have today, they were giant boxes," she says. "With the younger individuals who contact us who grew up with this technology, we're definitely seeing people who initially stumbled across the violent far-right online and the same holds for men and women.

"Instead of having to be out in public in a giant rally or Klan meeting, individuals find hate online."

* Name has been changed

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter