There are few words that possess both the magnitude and the ugliness of genocide. Similar to its paler cousin, terrorism, it is not a word to be uttered lightly or recklessly. And, when perchance it is spoken, it ought demand attention and action. Strangely, though, such is not always the case, as evidenced by the fairly limited international response to the ongoing atrocities occurring in the Sudanese region of Darfur, whereâ€”by many estimatesâ€”more than 400,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced. It is a tragedy of almost unimaginable scope and horror, a tragedy to which we cannot remain disinterested bystanders. As Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Darfur, said in an op-ed piece last November entitled A Tolerable Genocide, â€œthe essential starting point is outrage: a recognition that countering genocide must be a global priority.â€? He went on to say:
â€œIt’s true that a few hundred thousand deaths in Darfurâ€”a good guess of the toll so farâ€”might not amount to much in a world where two million a year die of malaria. But there is something special about genocide. When humans deliberately wipe out others because of their tribe or skin color, when babies succumb not to diarrhea but to bayonets and bonfires, that is not just one more tragedy. It is a monstrosity that demands a response from other humans. We demean our own humanity, and that of the victims, when we avert our eyes.â€?
Consider the photograph above, taken by Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine who served as a member of the African Union team monitoring the conflict in Darfur. The man in the photoâ€”or perhaps he is just a boyâ€”was killed in a helicopter gunship attack. Many would naturally wish to avert their eyes from this horrific image. Consider other images, as seen through Steidleâ€™s eyes: â€œmen castrated and left to bleed to death, huts set on fire with people locked inside, children with their faces smashed in, men with their ears cut off and eyes plucked out, and the corpses of people who had been executed with gunshots to the head.â€? Imagine, if you dare, hundreds of thousand of such images.
However strong may be the desire to avert oneâ€™s eyes, the need to avert genocide and other such atrocities must be stronger. On April 30, in Washington, DC, there will be a Rally To Stop Genocide sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition, which describes itself as â€œan alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations.â€? (Click here for more information on the rally.) If you cannot attend, MoveOn is recruiting â€œvirtual marchersâ€? who are willing to declare their support for the cause. (Click here to do so.) Similarly, you can visit the website, Million Voices For Darfur, and sign an e-postcard that will be forwarded to President Bush. Please consider taking action in any way that you can. I also encourage you to check out some of the links below (and above) which may further enlighten you on the crisis in Darfur. Thank you.
On Our Watch – A Documentary About Genocide In Darfur. A 10 minute video produced by Refugees International.