Can Hollywood Save Darfur?
SSRC Blog Roundup
New and Noteworthy in SSRC blogs
By Mary-Lea Cox
Participants in SSRC's blogs discuss Steven Spielberg's decision to pull out of his involvement in the Beijing Olympics and prolong their debate on headscarves in Turkey. SSRC President Craig Calhoun offers a second podcast episode on American politics, this time turning his attention to the role religion plays.
Can Hollywood Save Darfur?: Contributors to Alex de Waal's blog, Making Sense of Darfur, considered the effectiveness of Steven Spielberg's gesture on behalf of Darfur when he resigned his post as artistic director of this summer's Beijing Olympics, a decision announced this week.
For actress and activist Mia Farrow, who with her son Ronan was instrumental in starting the "Genocide Olympics" campaign, Spielberg's decision is no less than a "defining moment." The Farrows calls on the corporate sponsors of this summer's games to step up to the plate: "McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Visa and Microsoft should ... publicly express concern, and do their utmost to persuade Beijing to actively seek security for the people of Darfur."
The social scientists are less confident, however, that Spielberg's action
will produce the intended effect. Chris Alden of the London
School of Economics, who has written an incisive study on China-Africa
relations called China in Africa, says that before we can
assess the effectiveness of Spielberg's gesture, we must answer these two
1) Are Spielberg and other like-mind activists right in thinking something can be achieved by China pressuring the Sudanese government?
2) Does Hollywood truly want to resolve Darfur, or is Darfur the "pretext for mobilizing action against the Beijing Olympics based on a wider critique of the Chinese state"?
Alden further notes that Beijing should not be too taken aback by Spielberg's dramatic announcement: "The hosting of the Olympics is fundamentally about image and profile, so that it is not unexpected that the criticism being experienced takes on a Hollywood-esque quality…"
Daniel Large, another UK-based scholar who specializes in China-Sudan relations, finds it ironic that China is considered to be, at one and the same time, the Great Hope and the Great Demon: "It is supposedly the route to peace in Darfur but is also responsible for ‘empowering evil' in Sudan. ... Beijing now finds itself squeezed between the supportive words from international officials about its Darfur diplomacy and concerted activism fronted by Hollywood." Moreover, the view that Beijing is the key to peace in Darfur strikes him as being an oversimplification: ""[It] fails to properly situate Chinese involvement in Sudan within the thick, messy and brutal politics of the centre in Sudan…" Large also worries about what comes after the Olympic Games: "Conflict in the Darfur-Chad region looks set to continue for years. Any political settlement will involve a difficult middle-long distrance process, not a sprint; and in this, effective engagement with China, as well as condemnation, will be required."
Alex de Waal agrees with Farrow that a defining moment has occurred—at least for China: "For the first time, an international activist movement has compelled the Chinese government to recognize that it has global human rights responsibilities." Like Alden and Large, however, he questions whether it will be a defining moment for Darfur: "That is still in the balance." He urges those with activist urges to "attend to the quieter ways that Beijing pushes Khartoum" and to be "more realistic in what can actually be achieved in the middle of Darfur's nasty and newly resurgent war..."
Women Beware Women: The Immanent Frame has a new posting continuing last week's debate on the controversy in Turkey over whether women should be allowed to wear headscarves on college campuses. Nilüfer Göle, a professor of sociology at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris and a prominent Turkish scholar, observes that in the past, women who were proponents of headscarves would distance themselves from the secular realm, whereas now some of them want to wear headscarves and go to university: "They are searching for ways to become Muslim and modern at the same time, transforming both." Göle is particularly concerned with the battle that is taking place among Turkish women themselves. She urges the "daughters of Ataturk," who are "worried for the freedom of their own daughters," to overcome their "politics of fear and suspicion" and welcome the chance to debate concepts of pluralism and diversity—questions that are essential for building a healthy democracy.
God Bless American Politics: SSRC president Craig Calhoun devotes his second podcast episode for Societas to a discussion of Mike Huckabee's brand of religion—is it truly cosmopolitan as suggested by D. Michael Lindsay in The Immanent Frame? He touches upon the political realignments taking place more widely within America's evangelical communities and goes on to provide an historical account of why religion has come to assume such a prominent place in America's public sphere as compared to Europe's.