We often hear the lament “never again” repeated, but sadly, it appears that what people actually mean is “never again in the West”.
Since genocide was defined in international law after the Second World War, there have been five genocidal campaigns of which I am aware: Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia and now Sudan. And in only one of those five, Bosnia, has the West made a concerted effort stop the horror. I do not want to believe that the lack of Western intervention in the other four tragedies is rooted in racism, but reluctantly I have to conclude that there must be some subconscious racism involved.
I do believe it is subconscious because in most corners of the Western world, institutionalized racism has been largely eradicated. Certainly racism lives in the smaller hearts and smallest minds which comprise Western Civilization, but for the most part we have grown past the point were bigotry is accepted as normal within the bounds of the broader society.
But when one takes a closer look at the mass behavior of the West, I cannot exclude racism as a factor in society’s moral reckoning. Each of the five instances of genocide over the last half century were unspeakably horrible. Each of these blood drenched catastrophes implicitly demanded action by the West, but the one time we intervened in a significant way was when the victim’s faces were similar to our own.
I hope I am wrong about this, but I fear that I am not. I fear it in part because I too must search my own soul because of my own failure to speak out or act.
In a weak attempt to right old transgressions, I have taken the time to write my elected representatives to encourage action on the genocide presently taking place in Darfur. I hope you will consider taking the time as well. I admit that this action on my part is out of sync with my general proposition that the elected representatives do not care what you or I actually think. I have not changed my mind on that point, but I feel that in the face of this much death and destruction, I must say something: this blog entry and my undoubtedly futile missives to elected Federal officials are that something.
The situation in Darfur does deserve your and my attention. I have consciously chosen not to write on this subject previously because I am keenly aware that it is improbable we will act and people get more than a little bit weary of reading impassioned pleas for humanitarian causes with little hope of resolution. My attitude changed last night while watching Charlie Rose interviewing the creators of a new movie on the decline of Hitler. The phrase “never again” has pinged my brain incessantly since. You and I know that we should not have let this happen, but we have failed again.
If you want some motivation, a great starting place is Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed entitled The Secret Genocide Archive. A slight warning is in order as there are pictures there that might be disturbing to some though certainly not extreme by the standards of what is happening in Sudan. The short version is that while it is impossible to know the death toll, a plausible number would be on the order of 200,000 and rising. Unlike the merciful Christmas Tsunami, these oppressors torture and rape their victims before killing them.
Tragically, we have not even taken simple steps such as freezing assets in order to put pressure on these evil people.
I hope the attention some are attempting to bring to what is happening in Darfur makes a difference. We will never know how many lives might have been spared had the Allies acted after Kristallnacht rather than shamefully turning its head and letting events take their course. In Rwanda, scarcely even a decade ago, 800,000 people died when we remained silent. I’d rather not find out how many more African Sudanese will loose their lives if we choose to look the other way this time.
It would be nice to believe that our reason for inaction thus far is something relatively benign like ignorance and sloth. But while we deny our racism at an institutional level, it is perhaps still a diffuse element of our national policy. Witness the reaction in my corner of the West, America, to people of Arab descent in the post 9-11 era. The hostility toward Arab Americans stunned even me because Muslim fundamentalism knows no ethnic boundaries. It is hard not to be reminded that during the Second World War, here in the Land of the Free we locked up Japanese-Americans, but not those of German descent.
Racism is often cast about glibly in our culture and I do not suggest it as a contributing cause cavalierly. After all, 200,000 Muslims were killed in Bosnia so acting on a catastrophe of that magnitude which is in relatively close proximity for Europeans is understandable. While making an unqualified accusation of racism is not justified, the facts are still hard to ignore: In Africa we have had far more death and suffering, yet we do nothing.
If anyone wants to make the case for inaction, I’d love to have it explained to me.