Googling suggests that it is the SAU which is Mr Howard's natural habitat. So what's the pay-off for the Guardian?
The place where anti-Arab prejudice and oil make the difference is Darfur. Howard's thesis is that a simplistic racist narrative of the conflict there is being invoked to serve at least three purposes: firstly to justify an intervention in Darfur actually motivated by western economic interests; secondly to give indirect reinforcement to the racist scapegoating of Arabs for the Israel-Palestine conflict; and thirdly to provide a diversion from the disastrous outcome of the invasion of Iraq. He seeks to prove the point that professed concern over Darfur is hypocritical and self-serving by drawing a comparison between western attitudes to two African conflict zones: Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In a nutshell, in the latter the killing is on a much larger scale, and yet it is almost totally ignored by western media and public opinion. Why? No oil to grab, no Arabs to blame.
There are some fairly obvious problems with this comparison. Crucially, Howard's rigged the evidence by homing in on Darfur rather than looking at the Sudanese regime's record in relation to the country as a whole. Once you add the 1.5 million dead in the 20-year conflict in the South to the 200,000 in Darfur, the contrast with the 3-4 million killed in the DRC isn't so very glaring any more. These are two human rights catastrophes on a massive scale, and using the numbers to play one off against the other is a less than appropriate response - both should be at the top of the international community's agenda.
One might also note that the DRC does actually have rich mineral resources, and that there has in fact been a limited intervention there: a UN peacekeeping force helped enable the holding of a presidential election last year which was successful to the extent that the loser accepted that he had been fairly beaten (there are, of course, no presidential elections in Sudan). Sad to say, the fighting continues regardless.
None of which makes it any less true that the DRC conflict is shamefully ignored. It's hard to disagree with Howard when he explains this by characterizing it as a conflict in which 'black Africans are killing other black Africans in a way that is difficult for outsiders to identify with'. Crudely, one might say that the Right isn't interested because the victims are Africans and the Left isn't interested because the killers are Africans. And it's plainly true that we would hear a lot more if there were any significant great power interests at stake. The typical vicious circle operates where media coverage is concerned. Reporting from the combat zones would be immensely arduous and dangerous. Who wants to take that on just so as to file copy that gets spiked before it has time to settle on the editor's desk, because the DRC is a far away country of which we know little? And the less we are told the less we demand to know more.
Howard's call for this to change would be laudable - if that were what he was saying. But that's not the point at all. In fact the DRC per se doesn't seem to interest Howard very much. He certainly has nothing whatsoever to offer in the way of positive suggestions as to what the rest of the world could do. As per the title of his book, he doesn't believe in 'liberal interventionism', and what is the use of demanding that more attention be paid to a situation we can do nothing to change?
Really the DRC seems only to serve only a rhetorical function in the article. The comparison is drawn not in order to draw attention to the DRC but to draw it away from Darfur. Having served its turn the DRC can be re-consigned to oblivion, as Howard directs our gaze to... wait for it... that most scandalously neglected region of the globe, the Middle East!
Here's the passage in which he makes the switch:-
'In Darfur the fighting is portrayed as a war between black Africans, rightly or wrongly regarded as the victims, and "Arabs", widely regarded as the perpetrators of the killings. In practice these neat racial categories are highly indistinct, but it is through such a prism that the conflict is generally viewed.
'It is not hard to imagine why some in the west have found this perception so alluring, for there are numerous people who want to portray "the Arabs" in these terms. In the United States and elsewhere those who have spearheaded the case for foreign intervention in Darfur are largely the people who regard the Arabs as the root cause of the Israel-Palestine dispute. From this viewpoint, the events in Darfur form just one part of a much wider picture of Arab malice and cruelty.
'Nor is it any coincidence that the moral frenzy about intervention in Sudan has coincided with the growing military debacle in Iraq - for as allied casualties in Iraq have mounted, so has indignation about the situation in Darfur. It is always easier for a losing side to demonise an enemy than to blame itself for a glaring military defeat, and the Darfur situation therefore offers some people a certain sense of catharsis.'
I want to draw attention to some things that are not said here.
Firstly, setting up and implicitly knocking down a straw man of racial prejudice gives Howard a neat way to evade the question whether the particular as-it-happens Arabs who rule Sudan are guilty of malice and cruelty bordering on genocide, and whether the particular as-it-happens Arabs who deliberate in the Arab League are guilty of disgraceful collusion with malice and cruelty through their uncritical support for the Sudanese regime. No, if Darfur bothers you, you must hate Arabs, if it doesn't you're OK. It's a rather extraordinary piece of moral inversion.
Secondly, there's the way Howard has suddenly stopped playing the numbers game. 200,000 civilians dead in Darfur? Chickenfeed compared with the millions in the DRC! So when he turns to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with between 4,000 and 5,000 Palestinians (civilians and combattants) dead since the second intifada began in 2000, he will naturally want to make the point that in comparative terms this hardly registers on the radar at all, and to ask why so much of the world is so obsessed with it, won't he? Strangely, though perhaps not altogether surprisingly, the answer is No. Apparently the rules of the numbers game state that it may be played for the benefit of the Sudanese regime and Arabs generally, but not for the benefit of Israel or the Jews.
Thirdly, consider this:-
'In Israel and Palestine the fighting is portrayed as a war between Arab Palestinians, rightly or wrongly regarded as the victims, and "Jews", widely regarded as the perpetrators of the killings. In practice these neat racial categories are highly indistinct, but it is through such a prism that the conflict is generally viewed.
'It is not hard to imagine why some in the Muslim world have found this perception so alluring, for there are numerous people who want to portray "the Jews" in these terms [...] who regard the Jews as the root cause of the Israel-Palestine dispute. From this viewpoint, the events in Palestine form just one part of a much wider picture of Jewish malice and cruelty.'
Sound familiar? With fiendish cunning, I've changed the names in part of the passage I've just quoted from Howard, which in its pristine form refers to Darfur. The point here is that there are two competing narratives of racial blame and demonization available as explanations of the 'root cause' of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Howard rightly rejects one of them; he could have done so in terms that rejected such racist discourse on principle, affirming instead that this conflict is no less complex and confused than that in Darfur. But he doesn't, and by this omission he leaves open the possibility that a picture of Jewish malice and cruelty provides the correct diagnosis of the conflict's root causes.
I'm not saying he positively endorses this view - he doesn't. But he doesn't explicitly reject it either, although he must of course know that many, many people do indeed think this way, and also that nowadays one cannot assume that such people do not read the Guardian.
So, three significant omissions. They bother me, but apparently not the folk at the Guardian. And if he'd filled in the blanks, would they still have printed his article? These days narratives of racial blame have their uses, even for the Left.