April is Genocide Prevention Month in the United States--marking the anniversaries of six genocides around the world--and the month has gotten off to a dismal start. Arab leaders have just concluded their annual summit by showing solidarity with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the Arab dictator recently indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Defying an arrest warrant, al-Bashir has spent the last week jetting to friendly capitals in Africa and the Middle East. "He is taking an important standing," chirped Mirwan Bishara, senior political analyst for Al Jazeera television. "It is a real act of defiance."
If so, it has a dark Orwellian quality to it. Arab apologists for the Sudanese leader seem determined to ignore what they are, in fact, defending: a violent, vengeful Islamist who has engineered the ethnic cleansing and displacement of millions of African Muslims. That is the considered judgment of numerous investigations by human rights groups and international agencies carried out over the last six years of the conflict in Darfur. It is the verdict of an international tribunal--an entity of the United Nations, by the way, that the United States has declined to join. In response to the court's ruling, Sudan has expelled 13 humanitarian relief organizations from the region, putting at risk the lives of at least a million internal refugees.
Yet there was the smug and smiling al-Bashir, literally getting the red carpet treatment upon his arrival at the international airport in Doha, the Qatari capital. There never was any risk, as some suggested, that the Sudanese president would be arrested during his Arab League excursion. He got nothing but kisses, for example, from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who presides over his own regime of terror). Indeed, Assad opened the summit meeting by calling on member states to reject the ICC ruling. He complained that those who "committed massacres and atrocities in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon" should be arrested first. The Sudanese government, cheered on by its Arab allies, insists that the court's warrant is just another American plot to rob oil resources from Sudan.
This is the contorted moralism of the despot, the self-serving rant of the conspiracy theorist. The real tragedy is that such creatures have found willing dupes in the democratic West. Let's start with Harold Hongju Koh, the Yale Law School dean nominated by the Obama administration to serve as the State Department's legal counsel. A partisan critic of the Bush White House, Koh has written that the United States, North Korea, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq constitute an "axis of disobedience" on the world stage. Yes, American democracy gets lumped together with a totalitarian hellhole and a paranoid police state.
Likewise, left-wing human rights groups such as Amnesty International see no difference between Guantanamo Bay--what it calls "the gulag of our times"--and the prison camps of North Korea. Liberal religious organizations like the National Council of Churches denounce the Iraq war as a "clever deception" and a "humiliation" to the Iraqi people and call for a boycott of Israel. Anglican bishops compare American foreign policy to the brutalities and degradations of imperial Rome. International opinion surveys by the Pew Research Center, confirming America's allegedly debased moral standing in the world, have fed this rhetoric of self-loathing. Andrew Kohut, the Center's director, prides himself as the "foremost chronicler of the rise of anti-Americanism," but it may be better to characterize him as one of its leading enablers.
All of this helps to sustain a perverse logic in the Arab world: an ideology that cannot make moral distinctions between flawed democracies and genocidal regimes. Protestant thinker Reinhold Niebuhr, often invoked churlishly by liberal intellectuals, constantly emphasized that we never face the choice between tyranny and perfect democracy; we must choose between tyranny and relative democracy. In the "moralistic illusions" of liberalism "there is little understanding of the depth to which human malevolence may sink and the heights to which malignant power may rise," Niebuhr wrote in Christianity and Power Politics. "Some easy and vapid escape is sought from the terrors and woes of a tragic era."
No democracy, including the United States and Israel, can claim moral purity with regards to its foreign policy. America betrays its ideals when it ignores human rights abuses in pursuit of national security, as it did with its early embrace of Saddam Hussein. Some defenders of Israel seem indifferent to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Israel's fight against terrorism in Gaza, or oblivious to the destructive effects of its occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians. "The Arab people are fed up with their dictators, including President al-Bashir," says Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. "However, they are all very dismayed by the double standards exhibited by the International Criminal Court."
Arab dismay, where it is genuine, nevertheless seems misplaced. A religious culture that cannot condemn ethnic cleansing and genocide within its own ranks is not merely a problem for the international community. It is an ongoing scandal for the Muslim world--a spiritual crisis of its own making. Egyptian columnist Kamal Ghobrial predicted earlier this year that Arab leaders, citing the Palestinians and claiming a global conspiracy against Muslims, would embrace al-Bashir if he ventured to the Arab summit. The crimes of the Sudanese leader "outraged everyone--except, of course, the Arabs, who are outraged only in specific circumstances," Ghobrial complained, as reported by the Middle East Media Research Institute. "It turns out that the Arab reaction to atrocities depends upon who the perpetrator is."
The specifically religious obscenity that the Sudanese president represents should not be ignored: a Muslim who brandishes the Koran as he justifies the rape, torture, and murder of other Muslims. While al-Bashir was being hailed by his Arab "brothers," the new U.S. envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, was in the country trying to get relief agencies back into Darfur to help keep alive thousands of ordinary villagers who have suffered under his reign. For his part, Omar al-Bashir was apparently in a worshipful mood during his foreign trip. He performed a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, where he visited the holy city of Mecca. One can only wonder at the content of his prayers, and at the deity who would welcome them.
Joseph Loconte is a senior research fellow at The King's College in New York City and a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.