Johann Hari: Spielberg has taken a stand. We must too

Share
Related Topics

Steven Spielberg has finally decided he does not want to be part of a holocaust stamped "Made in China". It's an overdue decision – but one that could now begin an Olympic chain reaction to save the starved survivors in Darfur.

Many people will react to this news by asking – what does China have to do with an African genocide unfolding thousands of miles away from its mainland anyway? The answer is stark. China pays for the genocide. China arms the genocide. China obstructs all attempts to stop the genocide. Indeed, the genocidal Sudanese dictatorship is so enmeshed with the Chinese Communist dictatorship that it should be rebranded as Chudan – a pooled government with pooled responsibility.

When I stood last summer on the borders of Darfur, the hacked and broken people I met were victims of Chudan. Their catastrophe began in 2004, when the local Muslim population of Darfur finally grew sick of being neglected and ignored by the oil-rich National Islamic Front government in Khartoum. A few rebel groups began to rise up – and Khartoum reacted with deranged violence. They sent the Arab Janjaweed – "men on horseback" – to slay the uppity black population, so they could never shout out again.

Osman Ibrahim was one of the lucky ones. He's my age – 29 – and when we met, he was running for his life with his wife and four children. One morning a month before, Osman had been tending his crops in his village 30 miles away, when he heard the sound every black Darfuri dreads. It was the whirr of the Sudanese military's helicopters, followed by the approaching horses and machine-gun fire of the Janjaweed. "The helicopters bombed my house," Osman said, "and the Janjaweed started to kill everyone in the village."

He gathered his children and ran. If they had stayed, the Human Rights Watch reports suggest, his wife and children would have been gang-raped, and then they would have all been killed. Some 450,000 people like them have died so far, with more than 2.5 million more on the run.

The helicopter that blew up Osman's village, and the AK-47s that were used to slaughter his friends, were provided and paid for by China. Why? One word: oil. Since 1993, China has been scouring the earth for the few fossil fuels not seized and burned by Europe and America, and it found the friendliest pool of petrol in Sudan. They have ploughed $10bn of capital investment into Sudan's oilfields, and they snaffle 60 per cent of Sudan's petrol: more than 400,000 barrels a day.

What does Sudan get in return? Enough cash to pay for the slaughter – but that's only for starters. Since 1996, China has been Sudan's main supplier of weapons. On the international stage, China covers Sudan's back. Since the genocide began, the Chinese have been systematically obstructing any attempts at the UN to protect Darfur's civilians. China's special envoy, Liu Guijin, visited Darfur and declared, "I didn't see a desperate scenario of people dying of hunger." No, he said – he simply saw people "grateful" for China's "contribution".

Then the threats to disrupt the Olympics came – and they began to shift their tone. It was reported that China voted for a UN resolution authorising a force of 22,500 peacekeepers – but this was mere Sino-spin. In reality, they announced they would only vote for the UN resolution provided a clause was added. The UN must "invite the consent" of the genocidal regime in Khartoum before UN troops could be dispatched, they insisted. Khartoum has predictably refused to consent – so the peacekeeping mission seems to have died in its crib.

Yet if China threatened to turn off the tap on Sudan's economy, arms and international support, the dictatorship would almost certainly wind down the genocide rather than face implosion.

So can we make it happen? It's notoriously hard to pressure the Chinese dictatorship. They keep their population almost totally ignorant about Darfur, hidden away behind the Great Firewall of China – so internal anger on this issue is almost non-existent. That's why the Beijing Olympics are remarkably serendipitous, providing a rare pressure-point for the world's worried citizens.

Enter (and exit) Spielberg. He is a hefty international symbol, one the Chinese dictators cannot shrug off. But alone, he is nothing like enough. Luckily, for the Chinese coming-out party to go well, they need the guests to stick to the dress-code and the strict etiquette they lay down. All moral people should refuse to play along – not for symbolism, but because each pint of shame changes China's calculations. We will succeed in stopping the genocide when the Chinese dictatorship is more frightened of having its $50bn party ruined than of losing 400,000 barrels of Sudanese oil a day.

The best people to help us achieve this are our athletes. Before they are sportsmen, they are men. Before they are sportswomen, they are women. They have a responsibility to other men and women who are being raped and butchered, just for being black. If we learned anything from the 20th century, it is that "I was told to say nothing" is the weakest excuse of all.

So let them pledge to unfurl Darfuri flags from their podiums if they win. Let them promise to hold up pictures of burned Darfuri children. Let them talk about Darfur at every Olympic press conference. The Chinese Communists know they cannot black out every image: they will begin to panic.

Obscenely, the British Olympic Association (BOA) has tried to do the Communist Party's work for it. In the past week, it has attempted to ban all Olympic athletes competing under the Union Jack from even mentioning this holocaust, inserting a "gagging clause" about "politically sensitive subjects" into their contracts.

So far, only one outstanding athlete has refused to shut up about Darfur: the badminton player Richard Vaughan. More need to speak out, today. You can ask the chief executives of the BOA why they are trying to stop them at colin.moynihan@boa.org.uk and simon.clegg@boa.org.uk.

We can also pressure the advertisers. The Chinese are raking in tens of billions from European and American corporations desperate to be associated with the Olympics. The human rights group Dream For Darfur approached the major ones – Coca-Cola, Johnson and Johnson, Panasonic, Volkswagen and more – to ask them simply to speak out on Darfur. They refused. The campaigners called the report: "And now – not a word from our sponsors". If China thought they would lose this revenue, they could be panicked even more.

The first genocide of the 21st century is passing into the night, and the trail of blood runs right back to Beijing. The only question now is – do we want to throw an Olympic party slipping and sliding in the slaughter, or do we want to use this moment to protect Osman and his terrorised countrymen?

j.hari@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...