Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir and Damien Lewis

Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur. By Halima Bashir with Damien Lewis. 2008. One World Books. Hardcover. 316 pp. ISBN 978-0-345-50625-2.
Reading this book should strengthen one’s resolution to oppose the falsehoods that one person is better than another by virtue of one’s birth and that one person should usurp the rights of another if the opportunity presents itself. It is the failure of peoples of the world to nip these falsehoods in the bud which lead to the massive casualties the author Dr. Halima Bashir describes in Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur.

One could quibble with certain aspects of the book, most specifically its lack of analysis of Sudanese society, ecology and politics.For example, a map of the places Dr. Halima mentions should have been included. In addition, constructions like “black Africans” and “Arabs” are oversimplifications of Sudanese society.
One hopes the reader will go on to learn more about Sudan before advocating counterproductive policy initiatives.
But this book does not need to include these things to be valuable. Regardless of the accuracy or precision of the expressions of Dr. Halima’s claims about the place of the Zaghawa (Dr.Halima’s tribe and the tribe of most members of the Justice and Equality Movement), the Masalit, the Fur and the other “black African” tribes relative to the “Arabs,” no government should institutionalize discrimination against groups within the society it governs such as those she experienced becoming a physician, and certainly no government should use scorched-earth counterinsurgency tactics. Finally, no government should encourage rape, which is among the most shocking practices of the Sudanese government’s war against peoples it identifies as sources of rebellion in Dar Fur.
The book’s final chapters discuss Dr. Halima’s efforts to win asylum status in the United Kingdom. I hope that United States pro-Dar Fur activists would focus more of their energy on opening the United States to more refugees, simply because the solution of the actual civil war is, as of my writing these words, beyond the influence of these activists.
One of the more interesting themes in Dr. Halima’s book is her criticism of city Arabs. Their privilege allows them to be weak, foppish, lazy and generally unproductive. What strikes me about her descriptions is that they appear to have adopted entirely the habits of the British colonizers. This phenomenon of an elite class which perpetuates the patterns of colonial rule is common in nearly all formerly colonized nations.
Another detail worthy of note is the difference between al-Khartoum and the rest of the country. This focus on the capitol city and perhaps the neighborhoods of the provincial capitols where the government-sponsored elites live is also a frequently reproduced pattern in the global south.
Dr. Halima’s descriptions of her early childhood were also important. There may have been some elements of nostalgia and tribal pride, but her family members truly came to life in her narration and provided an authenticity to the narrative.
The authors have produced a well organized, easily followed and engaging narrative.
May Allah have mercy on the victims of the crimes described in Dr. Halima’s book. May Allah restrain those criminals and prevent them from continuing their oppression. May Allah forgive us for our weakness and inactivity in supporting the victims of this genocide.
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