Saturday, September 16, 2006

An Essay: They're Just Africans Anyway, Right?

You don’t know when it was that you first heard there was trouble in Darfur. You like to be aware of the news. You read blogs. And one day you are reading about trouble in Darfur. Suddenly you are learning new words like “janjaweed” and “Khartoum”. And then there is the not new word: "genocide". You read a summary about the bad things happening in Darfur. And one of these bad things you read about involves live babies being thrown into fires. And you let that knock around in your head. Babies thrown into fires.

You remember you read about the same thing in an intense college class that covered the Holocaust. Babies thrown into fires. But that was history. That was a time when you did not exist. Babies thrown into fires. Now. Babies being thrown into fires today. You try, but you can’t wrap your mind around these babies half a world away being thrown into fires. So you make it real to you. You think of some babies you know. American babies. And you think of these babies being ripped from these mothers you know and then being thrown into fires and it makes you want to vomit. It makes you want to scream. And now you understand that this trouble in Darfur is not far away at all.

This trouble in Darfur is right here. Right here. And you want to help. And you find a website named and that is just what you want to do. Darfur is in trouble and you want to save it. At the same time you are reading articles by Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times. And these articles say things that are just as horrible as babies being thrown into fires. And you read about these women who go to get the firewood and end up being raped. You wonder why the men don’t go instead and then you read that these women go because the men are killed, but the women are just raped. Just raped. Just.

By this time you have been emailing your representatives because you want to save Darfur. And they are emailing back about the important legislation they are passing to help. And you are hopeful. You think maybe this will help. Maybe.

Time goes on and one day you read about a congressional resolution for Darfur. A unanimously passed resolution. And you are so happy. And you think maybe this will help. Maybe. But then you hear the Bush Administration is attempting to block this unanimously passed resolution. This is when you learn that the government of Khartoum is a secret ally in The War On Terror. And suddenly you are mad. You are so mad you throw something across the room. You never get that mad.

Your life moves on and there are more emails and more legislation. And you try not to think about the babies being thrown into fires. On the television you might even hear Darfur mentioned in between the Michael Jacksons and Natalee Holloways. And you hear Nicholas Kristof say he is writing the same story over and over. And you see he is right.

You learn the Bush Administration has been taking the world lead on the conflict. Finally. Barely. But you see no results. Then one day you learn that Congress has cut the $50 million of funding needed for African Union forces. You know these forces are the only thing preventing many more babies from being thrown into fires. You think of how $50 million dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the money spent on Iraq and you wonder how people could be so immoral.

Suddenly you are focused on this money. You find out there is a chance to add this money to another bill and you lobby hardcore. You send emails and make phone calls. It takes you less than 10 minutes. You think of all the worthless things people spend 10 minutes doing everyday. You even email the State Department and find that Secretary Rice is also interested in getting this money. This makes you hopeful and again you think maybe. Maybe.

But the bill comes and goes with no money to stop the babies being thrown into fires. You are not even outraged anymore. You continue to read of the raping and death and starvation. This is Darfur in 2003. This is Darfur in 2004. This is Darfur in 2005. This is Darfur in 2006. This is Darfur slowly being bled dry. A realization begins to form in the back of your mind.

You don’t give up though. You still pay attention and you learn there will be a big rally in Washington D.C. You watch it on CSPAN and wish you were there. George Clooney speaks. He and his father actually went to the region and now they are a mission. You watch him go on news shows to talk about Darfur and you are filled with admiration. But you don’t think maybe anymore. You are still hopeful, but maybe is gone.

And that realization in the back of your mind has finally broken it’s way to the front in the form of song lyrics from Devotchka: And you already know/Yet you already know/
How this will end/. And you pray you are wrong. And you pray you are wrong. And you pray you are wrong.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anderson has a strong interest in Africa and he was supposed to go to the Congo at some point, I don't know when that'll happen. But it's good to see someone talking about Darfur.

4:56 AM  
Anonymous Bev said...

Eliza this writing about Darfur is the most MOVING I have ever read. You have me in tears and you are so right, we actually try to put it to the back of our minds and say there's nothing we can do. George Clooney says there is and we should definately immediatley see what that is. Remember the last day Darfur has ANY protection at all is September 30!!

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is unbelievable that the horrific crimes of humanity are being allowed to continue in Darfur. The point about Khartoum's connection to the "war on terror" is well taken and completely disheartening. I don't want to give up hope that something will be done to end the suffering of the people of Darfur and I'm glad Clooney and others are trying to draw attention to what's taking place there.

3:22 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

Thanks so much for your comments guys. To my understanding, Anderson had to cancel his Congo trip to cover the Israel/Lebanon war, so hopefully it's just a timing thing and he will go at some point. I was looking forward to that coverage. And yes, God bless George Clooney for using his celebrity to bring awareness to this very important cause.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Bev said...

Eliza I think you should send your article on Darfur somewhere to get it published, it really gives it a more human touch than what any celebrity could say.

10:04 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

Thanks Bev, but any suggestions where? Editors aren't exactly scrambling for pieces on Darfur.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Bev said...

Why not try I-Exchange at CNN, I'm sure you could send it there with a bunch of reccomendations from US with the heading Darfur. I'm sure I'm not the only one that would find it touching and real and at at time like this that its such an important subject it would have a better chance of being seen. It could even be a blog entry for 360.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Bev said...

I just can't let this go Eliza, I've seen entrys on Oprah Winfreys blog about this subject which she is VERY passionate about, and this is STILL the best I've ever read. Do you have ANY connections? I'll stop bugging you

8:49 AM  
Blogger eliza said...

Connections? You mean besides the one to my computer? I am so connectionless it's not even funny. Maybe when I have some time I'll post it as a diary on

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG...what a moving essay on needless suffering in Darfur. I cried all night. And then I cried the next morning. I'm throwing darts at a picture of Bush right now. What a heartless, cruel, cruel bastard. There is so much suffering in the world I feel like jumping off a cliff...or crashing my car into a tree. is there anyone else who can help? what about the UN? can they help?

5:25 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Hayden said...

Beautiful. Rage on. It is persistence against the outrage you feel that will save lives. It is never fast enough, but some will live. Keep your spirit and grace moving towards what's right and to those who won't listen, remember their names.

Protecting lives is a non-partisan pursuit with its only bias against the indifference of assholes.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Assaf said...

Dear Eliza,

Thank you for this moving diary. I have also been following Darfur, and sending emails etc. (though perhaps less than you), for a couple of years now, and wondering what the heck is going on that prevents it from being stopped. How come the world's superpower declares it a genocide, some of the most powerful American lobbies put (supposedly) their weight behind this campaign, and still nothing happens.

My conclusion from this and other catastrophes is that they are determined by geopolitics and by the real value systems of the main actors.

America wasted its army in Iraq and also made a joke of international cooperation and the UN both in Iraq and Palestine, in turn making itself vulnerable both to contempt and to offers for 'help on the war against terror'. Other Western nations who went along with the US, then had to pick up the slack in Afghanistan and now in Lebanon, and pay to keep Palestinians from completely starving. Darfur has nothing left except empty words.

At this point, it is really hard for Americans to take any sort of moral high ground on Darfur, as long as we continue to engender near-genocidal realities in Iraq and Palestine. Same goes for the rest of the West which is complicit if not accomplice.
And so the Sudanese government calls out the Western bluff and plays hardball. After all, every single talking point used by apologists for Israel's Occupation (which are still riding high in the US), can be used also by the Sudanese to justify their policies.

At a deeper level, it all comes down to whose lives count. 65 years ago, Jewish lives such as my paternal great-grandparents didn't count.
Now, it's African and Arab lives that don't count.

I suggest for those really interested in stopping this, not to allow the moral posturing, political point-scoring and deliberately meaningless steps and rallies by politicians and lobbies, and instead demand concrete action. The US could pressure Sudan effectively today, if it wanted to. Jewish organizations could pressure the White House effectively today if they wanted to. But their real priorities lie elsewhere. So they make a show of 'leading this campaign' in circles.
Right now, even though there are so many ordinary people with clean motives, for the main US actors this Darfur game is just for show.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Leishalynn said...

Eliza and assaf have got it right. Bottom line: The global imbalance of power and resources coupled with torture and death (as opposed to our "terror alert system") are clearly based upon race and religion, but people would rather not talk about that--it's not polite, and someone might be insulted by it.

The trouble with George Clooney and other celebrities taking up the cause is that oft-heard criticism: What makes a celebrity more wise about politics or social issues than the rest of us? Of course, the answer is that celebrities may use their fame to help others; us nobodies can rant all we like and no one turns the camera on us.

It's not true that the United States has no moral high ground from which to attempt to protect the Muslims of Nubian descent who are being murdered in Darfur. Regardless of the sins we have perpetrated or continue to perpetrate in the world, we are not consigned to sinning only, or to evil alone. Any good action that we take, any right or moral stance we assume is a move in the right direction, and no other change in our policy is required for us to begin that movement across the moral line and into good territory--that is, the place where human rights are more valuable than profit.

Torture, rape, murder, genocide. I wonder: How can George Bush allow babies to be thrown into the flames and then take offense when Chavez calls him the devil? Isn't he doing exactly what the devil does? Torture people endlessly in the fiery pit of hell and laugh at their despair?

He has got to go.

Finally, though, I must say, assaf, that if you don't believe the Jews are doing anything about Darfur, you are wrong. Visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Listen to their podcast, Voices on Genocide, and you will hear from many people, Jews included, who are working very hard to stop this genocide.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your diary was mentioned at the Daily Kos Sanctuary

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Assaf said...

Dear Leishalynn,

Thanks for your detailed reply. Apologies, Eliza, for having this dialogue on your turf… I hope you’ll join. Apologies also for the following long post – seems like I need to explain more clearly what I meant in the previous post.

At least we don’t have to debate the Bush Administration’s role. Now, once again their Darfur rhetoric is reaching new heights – is it a coincidence that another general election is just around the corner? Guess I’m just too cynical. What’s maddening is that we’ve all become so accustomed to giving them a free pass. When the US Secretary of State for a he-man President declares, for the first time in history – that a Genocide is happening – we should have expected US boots on the ground within DAYS, not even weeks, and we should have cried foul immediately when that did not happen. Jews, of course, more than anyone else, for prostituting the grave terminology coined after our tragedy.

By the way, I was not saying that the lack of moral high ground should prevent Bush from action. But the nature of action should be different when you do not have this position. Sermonizing and moralizing – of questionable use anyway, when coming from people in power – should be completely avoided by the Administration. It should concentrate solely on practical outcomes. So far we are seeing the opposite, of course.

On to American Jews. I probably wasn’t clear enough in my first post. I certainly did NOT say Jews were doing nothing about this issue. Obviously, Jewish individuals are at the forefront of this struggle. I was making a distinction, though, between the rank-and-file people of Jewish descent who feel a moral obligation to do something about Darfur, and the political organizations of American Jewry, who are playing an ugly double game with this. They are basically colluding with the Administration to create a false spectacle of significant progress and US commitment. Since both the Jewish political organizations and many right-wing Christian organizations involved in the Darfur campaign are Bush allies on foreign policy, the whole campaign is hopelessly compromised.

For example: on September 13 I received a call for action from the Washington State Darfur coalition. Here’s the request, probably coming down from national headquarters:

“Join Darfur activists from around the country and call President Bush today or tomorrow at 202-456-1111.
Ask him to:
* Make Darfur a top priority during his meetings with world leaders and in his speech to the UN General Assembly;
* Immediately appoint a Special Envoy; and
* Do whatever is necessary to deploy a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.”

Surprise surprise: Bush indeed made Darfur a priority in his speech, and he did appoint a Special Envoy.
Excuse me, but who needs a Special Envoy now?
And why on Earth would the grassroots, genuine Save Darfur campaign, ask Bush for exactly what he ended up doing? The coincidence is too suspicious. It is not the first time I noticed them provide softball requests that serve to make the Administration look good while it does nothing.

Regarding the third item requested – getting boots on the ground - we can probably keep waiting. Right now, there is neither manpower, nor funding, nor international will, to enforce either the peace agreement (however flawed it is, it’s better than the current reality) or the Security Council resolution, which the Sudan government openly flouts. But Condi can pound the podium in D.C. and perhaps sway a few undecided voters.

Of course, if the US starts withrdrawing from Iraq while handing it over to the UN; if it pressures Israel to seriously negotiate with Syria (freeing up the UN forces along its borders with Syria and Lebanon) and with the Palestinians; all this would change dramatically and Darfur can receive much more goodwill and resources. Moreover, saving of Darfuri lives could be a perfect excuse for Bush to leave Iraq without admitting failure. But hairs will grow on my palms before I hear the Save Darfur Coalition call upon the US to change Middle East policies in order to save Darfur, or (God forbid) suggest that the atrocities are very much enabled by the geopolitical terrain that the US has created in the region since 2003.

LeishaLynn: a grassroots campaign has no chance when its “leaders” collude with the same forces that are part of the problem.

You may think Darfur is too tough a challenge for these groups. Wrong. As a tiny example, earlier this year when Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Jewish lobbies wasted no time in pressuring Congress and passing a law that starves the Palestinians out unless they reverse the election results. The law is so draconian, that many NGO’s suspended their live-saving operations in Palestinian areas, for fear their members would be prosecuted in the US for aiding terrorism.
I give this example not to point out the moral duplicity (which is glaring, of course), but to show you that when the big guns in American Jewish politics really prioritize something, they can very quickly bring about steps with immense effect on ground across the ocean.

The Jewish political hierarchy is playing here middleman in a three way ‘wink-wink’ affair. The winks to Bushco. are described above. To the Jewish constituency, especially the progressive-minded younger members, this middleman winks: “so you care about human rights? Forget Israel/Palestine, where you are just a bunch of confused youngsters who can’t tell good guys from bad guys. Here, take Darfur – a State-Department-approved official Genocide – and chew on it. Until you fix Darfur, we don’t want to hear you whining about poor Arabs again, understand?” Then they take the grassroots awareness on Darfur, and parade it around in order to reclaim the moral high ground on the Middle East – at the same time that their stand on the region is more anti-human than ever. It just makes me sick.

Bottom line: if the US Save Darfur campaign wants to save Darfur before it bleeds dry (to quote Eliza), it needs to release itself from the death-grip of domestic Jewish and Christian Right politics, formulate the real Darfur priorities, recognize what needs to be done to achieve them and work exclusively by this.

3:27 PM  

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