Saturday, February 12, 2005

Congo - move on, nothing to see here 

Note: Due to a Blogger malfunction, I haven't been able to post anything for the past 24 hours, which meant that you only had the title of the post to work with - but it didn't stop many of you from commenting anyway. Here's the body of the post as it should have appeared:

(and by the way, I was amused by how many of you thought that this post was even more poignant and symbolic when it consisted only of the above title. In the future, I promise to restrict my blogging just to headlines that say it all.

OK, maybe not.)

Reports ABC (hat tip: Instapundit):
"Widespread allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of Congolese women, boys and girls have been made against U.N. personnel who were sent to help and protect them — despite a so-called zero tolerance policy touted by the United Nations toward such behavior.

"The range of sexual abuse includes reported rapes of young Congolese girls by U.N. troops; an Internet pedophile ring run from Congo by Didier Bourguet, a senior U.N. official from France; a colonel from South Africa accused of molesting his teenage male translators; and estimates of hundreds of underage girls having babies fathered by U.N. soldiers who have been able to simply leave their children and their crimes behind."
One particular lowlight: the harddrive of a computer belonging to Didier Bourguet, a French U.N. official, containing "thousands of photos of him having sex with hundreds of young Congolese girls."

As the former US ambassador William Swing, who is now in charge of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, says, "A few people have managed to basically cause disgrace for the mission and for the U.N., and that's why we're determined to conquer it. I have sent a dozen home." Swing points out that only a small percentage of the 11,000 U.N. personnel in Congo were involved in various abuses.

That may or may not turn out to be true (depends what your definition of "small" is), but equally, only a small percentage of American troops in Iraq were ever involved in torture, abuse and any other improprieties (mind you, I doubt whether any American soldier or civilian in Iraq has managed to accumulate hundreds of sexual "conquests" a la Bourguet; so far the sex scandals from Iraq consist of pyramids of naked prisoners and two servicewomen flashing their breasts and mudwrestling).

I'm a realist enough not to expect that groups of young men away from their families and familiar environment will always behave like angels. The fact that most of them do for most of the time, particularly when compared to even a few decades ago, never mind the olden days, is a triumph of civilization. So I won't be too harsh on the United Nations and their personnel.

But one thing is for certain: the sleazy UN goings-on in Congo (or the Balkans for that matter) will not elicit the same sort of salivating fascination from our Western media as reports of military misdeeds in Iraq. The reason is simple: the perpetrators are not American, and the victims are African. The former is arguably more important a factor than the latter; if the Marines were raping Rwandan women we wouldn't be able to turn on the news without another live report from the dark heart of Africa.

As it is in Congo, the locals are being abused multilaterally with no oil wells in sight; so, no story. Pity the Congalese, because if anything, the plight of their country deserves far more attention than it's currently getting. Since 1998, some 3.3 million people have died (that's 33 times the unreal leftoid figure of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians) and 2.25 million have been displaced as a result of the conflict, a savage struggle over political influence and the prodigious bounty of mineral resources and precious stones. Foreign corporations are profiting out of the scramble, but there's no Halliburton in sight and far too many of the companies are European (only 8 out of 85 implicated in illegal exploitation of Congalese resources are American firms).

The media yawns and the world nods off. A combination of four widely-held beliefs will conspire to keep the fate of Congo and many other places from generating sufficient levels of international outrage: American misdeeds are the worst in the world; there are worse misdeeds in the world, but that's to be expected of others, so who cares? now back to American misdeeds; American misdeeds are the most offensive because America holds itself to the higher moral standard than others; American misdeeds deserves the most attention because by publicizing them within the Western world you actually have the greatest chance of affecting change (this is a sort of backhand, and often unintended, compliment to the strength of the American political system).

Whichever way you look at it, it would have been better for the Congalese had their country been invaded by the US: for a right-winger this would hold a promise of bringing peace and stability there; for a left-winger it would provide a spur into action to expose and publicize the Congolese disaster. From either point of view, the people of Congo would be now better off.


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