Film director Steven Spielberg has won wide praise for his decision to withdraw as artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympics in protest at China’s role in the Darfur conflict.
Lord Malloch-Brown, Labour’s minister for Africa, said Spielberg had forced China’s leaders to “sit up and take notice”. Gordon Brown is too busy doing trade deals with China to make such a statement, but he probably admires the sentiment.
There is no doubt that appalling suffering continues to take place in Darfur, and no doubt that China has given support to the Sudanese government at crucial moments.
But it is thoroughly simplistic to focus solely on the role of China. Both the US and China covet influence in Sudan as part of the new “scramble for Africa” which is taking place over natural resources, political influence and strategic territory.
Both imperial powers are far more interested in such factors than in the plight of Darfur’s people. Yet Spielberg does not even begin to question the US’s role in Africa.
He does not denounce the emergency in Somalia, where the US-backed Ethiopian invasion has led to hundreds of thousands of people being driven from their homes.
He does not talk of the death toll in the Democratic Republic of Congo where perhaps five million have perished as a result of a war fuelled by Western powers.
Nor does Spielberg seem to find any contradiction between his support for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, and her husband’s very direct intervention in Sudan.
In 1998 US president Bill Clinton launched 13 Cruise missiles against Sudan, destroying a factory on the spurious pretext that it was producing nerve gas.
The obliteration of the factory – which produced half of Sudan’s medicines and all of its chloroquine, a malaria medicine – led to many deaths.
Above all, Spielberg is at best mute over Iraq. In 2002, when questioned over the coming war, he said, “If Bush, as I believe, has reliable information on the fact that Saddam is making weapons of mass destruction, I cannot not support the policies of his government.” He later claimed, without much credibility, that this was not an endorsement of the Iraq war.
Spielberg is a talented film maker, but his actions assist those who want the suffering in Darfur to be used to bolster Western influence in Africa, and to obliterate the US’s crimes in Iraq.