In an interview with The Guardian, Gordon Brown muses on why the internet means the end of genocide:
“The changes throughout the world, whether you talk about the environment, or the nature of jobs, are dramatic. For centuries, individuals have been learning how to live with their neighbours. Now, uniquely, we’re having to learn to live with people who we don’t know. People have now got the ability to speak to each other across continents, to join with communities that are based not on territory, but on networks; and you’ve got the possibility of people building alliances right across the world. That flow of information means that foreign policy can never be the same again. You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly and public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken. Foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites.“
It’s a nice thought, but as Darfur activists would point out we’re not short of information on what happened there and very little of the action which Brown talks about has taken place. [Let’s leave aside for now the issue of whether it’s a genocide or not]
Here’s the problem. There is no direct correlation between us knowing about a tragedy and us doing something about it. Make Poverty History was one of the most popular grassroots campaigns in Europe since the anti-apartheid movement, but that hasn’t stopped countries backsliding on their commitments. [Again, let’s leave for another time the debate on whether the aid actually works]
Journalists often try to convince people to talk by telling them it will help their cause. If you talk to me about how your village was razed to the ground by the Janjiweed or the FDLR or the Ethiopian army then the world will know and someone will do something to stop it. I’ve never felt comfortable giving that line because it’s just not true.