Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Darfur: silence is consent

Darfur: silence is consent By Gil Troy
Canadian Jewish News, April 26, 2007

Darfur haunts me. In July 2004, I wrote an article protesting the Arab Janjaweed militias’ brutality against farmers in the Sudan’s northwestern region. The Janjaweed had murdered 30,000 people and displaced 1.2 million more. “How dare we sit, drinking our morning coffee,” I wrote, “tut-tutting over evil without trying to fight it?”

Nearly three years later, more than 300,000 have been murdered, and we are still tut-tutting. True, there is enough Darfur awareness that people who want to telegraph their humanitarian bona fides invoke Darfur to position themselves as successors to Mother Teresa. And the Jewish community has responded far more effectively than most. But I remain haunted by Darfur, embarrassed by our silence, humiliated by our impotence, humbled by my own failure to help.

I used to criticize America and Canada for not doing enough during the Holocaust to save European Jewry. While both countries should have welcomed more refugees, I am more cautious in my condemnation. I watched the Rwanda genocide unfold. Former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan and former U.S. president Bill Clinton, the dithering duo, did nothing. My friends and I did nothing that inconvenienced us. Now, we are equally numb regarding Darfur.

Fortunately, some of my students still believe they can change the world, or at least stop the slaughter. One, Evan Malach, organized “The Amazing Benefit Concert for Darfur” on the McGill campus, last November. A former student, Josh Scheinert, now studying at Osgoode Hall Law School, succeeded in getting the National Post to publish a series of articles by politicians and community activists this spring.

These initiatives are lovely, creative, inspiring, but will they help? Three years from now, will Evan, Josh and their allies look back as I do on my essay, with an overwhelming sense of failure drowning out what little pride they can muster because they, at least, tried? The answer lies not with them but with the rest of us.

We are overdue for a massive mobilization. We should write letters, make phone calls, contributing our time, efforts, creativity however we can. We should pressure western governments to sanction the Sudanese dictatorship, which facilitates the Darfur slaughter. We should donate money generously but vigilantly, making sure our charity goes to the needy, not the jackals who exploit western guilt and African misery. We need to learn other pressure points, such as boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympics unless the Chinese stop supporting Sudan. We must demand that the United Nations prove it can stop Third World abuses not just nitpick at Israel.

We also should help single-issue advocacy organizations connect the dots between their concerns and Darfur. Feminists should mobilize because women and girls are frequently raped, then branded, making the emotional trauma permanent. Environmentalists should galvanize because the murderers sometimes throw corpses into local waters to poison the water supply. Islamic leaders should respond because most of the criminals in this conflict – and the victims – are Muslim. African-Americans should react to the conflict’s racist dimension, with the Arab Janjaweed militias targeting black tribal farmers in a push for Arab supremacy. And human rights groups should rally more vociferously, because this conflict’s brutality demeans us all as fellow human beings.

The ’60s cliché applies: silence is consent. True, Darfur is thousands of miles away. True, most of us have no real stake in the outcome. True, most of us are lucky enough to lead such comfortable lives we cannot imagine this catastrophe’s dimensions. And true, we crowd our schedules with so many work, relationship and leisure time commitments we cannot carve out time for serious activism. That is why we must as a society stand up for Darfur. We need to act heroically, not only for the hundreds of thousands of good people in anguish, but for our own souls. Who are we as individuals, who are we as a people, if we stand idly by? And imagine what we can become as individuals, and as a nation, if we start learning how to be a strike force for justice. We must understand that even when we do not seem to have a stake in the battle for good – we do, and that when we try to save strangers, we are also saving our own souls.

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