Remembering Darfur


I risk of sounding like a broken record. But it’s a hot August day, and Darfur is on my mind.

Last spring, public/political interest in Darfur (in the US and abroad) finally seemed to be building. Three years after the killings began. However, in the last two months, news coverage of this — the first genocide of the 21st century – has ground to a screeching halt. I know that in our big world, a complex formula of politics, personal connection, and geography helps determine what catches our attention.

According to the Tyndall Report, which monitors TV evening news, the crisis in Lebanon has received more minutes of coverage per week than Darfur has received sum total in three and a half years. Just as I sat down to write this, I read Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times. If you have one minute to spare for each year of this massacre, take two minutes to read the article, thirty seconds to click on savedarfur.org and send a note to Washington (or just educate yourself) — and thirty more seconds to pray for children in Darfur, Haifa, Beirut, and Bagdhad.

(I don’t know how God does it – how they can bear perfect sight and perfect understanding — without being ground to dust by the weight of it all. That, to me, is the mystery of godliness).

Shrugs for the Dead

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: August 8, 2006
New York Times

Three weeks ago, with President Bush supplying the weaponry and moral support, Israel began bombarding Lebanon. The war has killed hundreds of people, galvanized international attention and may lead to an international force of perhaps 20,000 peacekeepers.

Three years ago, Sudan began a genocide against African tribes in its Darfur region. That war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and it is now spreading. There is talk of U.N. peacekeepers someday, but none are anywhere in sight.

The moral of the story? Never, ever be born to a tribe that is victim to genocide in Africa.

Arabs have often argued that Americans have a double standard in the Middle East: We are more solicitous of casualties in Israel than in Gaza or Lebanon. I think they’re right, for a variety of reasons. (One is that terror attacks are particularly newsworthy; another is that journalists are more likely to live in Jerusalem than Gaza.)

But if we have double standards, so do Arabs. I sympathize with their horror at what is happening in Lebanon, but I wish they were just as outraged when Muslims slaughter Muslims in Darfur.

Even the world as a whole has double standards. The U.S. and European countries are working frenetically on a U.N. solution in Lebanon, and there is talk of rapidly sending European peacekeepers to stop the bloodshed. In Darfur, there is nothing like as much interest in what is often considered the ultimate human crime: genocide.

The Tyndall Report, which monitors television network evening news programs, says that since the bombardment of Lebanon began, the crisis there has received more minutes of coverage on average each week than the Darfur genocide has received in total since it began in 2003.

Meanwhile, Darfur continues to drift toward chaos, and the contagion is spreading into Chad and Central African Republic. We may remember Darfur as only the beginning of a much broader calamity in all three countries that ended up claiming millions of lives.

There is, of course, no direct connection between the events in Lebanon and those in Darfur. But indirectly there is: the Arab president of Sudan is manipulating the anti-American feeling sweeping the Arab world to bolster his own authority and defy peacekeeping efforts. In this crazy world of ours, the bombardment of Lebanon has become one more reason to kill African villagers.

So what do we do with these two messes?

In the case of the Middle East, it’s time to use the crisis to push for a major settlement between Israel and Lebanon, even if that means Israel gives up Shebaa Farms and the U.S. engages in direct talks with Syria. Also, President Bush should put much more energy and initiative into he Israeli-Palestinian peace effort.

Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser, says that when he was flying by helicopter to the Israeli-Palestinian talks at Camp David in 2000, President Clinton turned to him and said, “We’re either going to succeed or get caught trying.” In other words, even if the effort to achieve a Middle East peace failed, there would still be a payoff for the U.S. in the court of global public opinion.

“We used to get criticized all the time for being too tough on the Palestinians, on the Arabs,” said Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy for both President Clinton and the first President Bush. “But nobody ever accused us of not being passionate about trying to resolve the conflict. We got enormous credit for that, because we showed we weren’t indifferent to a core grievance in the region. It’s been an enormous mistake in the last few years to send a message of indifference.”

In the case of Darfur, what we need is precisely the attention that the Lebanon conflict has been getting in the last few weeks; a high-level U.S. envoy would be a start. And while we’re working to get U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur itself, we need to send an international force to the Chad side of the Sudan-Chad border, to stop the genocidal marauders who are invading Chad and destabilizing that country. Chad wants such a force — and it just might keep the catastrophe from spreading across the region.

Both of these cataclysms demand our attention. The killing of children is a tragedy even when they lack geopolitical significance, even when they are simply part of a knotty African genocide that doesn’t make the television news.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. jana says:

    Thanks for this reminder, again, Deborah. I’m teaching a class discussion tomorrow about Africa’s colonial history, and I’m working on a way to fit Darfur into it… 🙂

    BTW, do you happen to know of any good movies/documentaries about Africa & the complexities of the post-colonial regime changes during the 20th century?

  2. Deborah says:

    I know a couple of really *bad* movies . . .

    “Cry Freetown” (documentary about Sierra Leone) is supposed to be great. I haven’t had a chance to see it.

    The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya is a fascinating case study of insurgency against colonialists and the difficult road to post-colonial stability. (When I was in high school, I spent hours in the bowels of the BYU library reading the original U.S. press coverage of the revolt [do people even use microfilm anymore?]. It was my first conscious encounter with press bias – one of those fabulous growing-up moments that I’m sure has shaped my response to the situation in Darfur.)

  3. Dennis says:

    The reason this gets no press is that you cannot blame the US government for it. The liberal press has no interest in a story of massive death if it cant be tied somehow to a republican.

  4. Caroline says:

    Deborah, thanks for posting it. The amount of coverage of the Isreal/Lebanon crisis does seem ludicrously out of balance when compared with the coverage of Darfur.

    Why do people just not care about this genocide very much…? I’ve heard that part of it could just come down to racism. That the Western world has just thrown its collective hands up and shrugged its shoulders and said “that’s just the way it is in Africa.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems like a possibility.

  5. AmyB says:

    Thanks for posting this, Deborah. My heart is breaking for the people in the Sudan. I wish there were something significant I could do.

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