Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As I sit here typing this commentary, the warmth of a summer day draining away, the squeals and giggles of children reverberate across the canyons. Freed from the shackles of their schoolrooms, groups of seven and ten year olds are making the most of every second of daylight, determined to make their game of tag last even in the face of a parental “voice of doom.”
A world away, children are in another time zone – physically and spiritually. Groups of eight, nine, and ten year olds (and others of all ages) are just beginning their day. This day for them, though, will be ruled not by laughter, but by deprivation and despair.
Many children in Darfur cannot even conceptualize attending school, let alone needing a break from their studies. They have never seen the inside of a classroom and likely never will.
Many of their parents would give anything to be able to offer them – this second – just one of the simple choices we will make this weekend:
- Hot dog or hamburger?
- Potato salad or cole slaw?
- Water or iced tea – or lemonade?
- Watermelon? Blueberries? Strawberry shortcake? With or without ice cream?
Instead, those parents will spend their days in an intense level of fear and worry, trying to protect themselves, their children, and others around them from being beaten, gang raped, executed, or otherwise “ethnically cleansed.”
Others who have been traumatized past the point of worry will dazedly pass another of the same mind numbing day after day after day chain that is the life of an IDP (internally displaced person).
But surely some sort of progress has been made, you say? The U.S. Congress officially declared on July 23, 2004 that the atrocities happening in Darfur were most definitely part of a concerted plan of genocide. Some progress must have happened. Haven’t we “turned the corner?”
Yes, progress has been made. South Sudan just recently celebrated its independence, freedom borne from 56 years of unspeakable pain, heartbreak, and dogged fighting as described in this blog by the Enough Project.
U.S. citizens can rightly feel some degree of hope and pride that we have made at least some difference of late. (Steven Colbert recently helped us all have a moment of levity and joy about the long struggle in Sudan when he interviewed John Prendergast, the head of Enough, about the birth of this newest of our global neighbors on his Comedy Central program.)
Many Sudanese have, it may please you to know, expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the people of America for the support we have shown and the hope we have offered. (Some have even gone so far to name their children after former President George Bush because, without that 2004 American declaration of the situation in Darfur as genocide, independence for South Sudan would likely have taken far longer.)
But there is a but.
More than 4 million people remain displaced across Sudan. In May alone, 113,000 people fled Abyei while another 73,000 were displaced in Southern Kordofan in June.
Additionally, key post-referendum details still have yet to be finalized – issues that, if not worked out between North and South Sudan, hold the terrible potential to reignite war. Critical decisions need to be made regarding the sharing of the region’s oil wealth, criteria for citizenship, and the delineation of borders between the two new countries (among other extremely sensitive “flashpoint” issues).
And if that were not troubling enough, violence and crimes against humanity are on the rise once again:
- The government of Sudan has actively blocked humanitarian aid to at least 180,000 men, women, and children;
- New eyewitness reports of mass graves in Sudan have been backed up by the Satellite Sentinel Project;
- Soldiers and others continue to use women and girls as weapons of war, gang raping them in front of their families and/or kidnapping them to be used as sex slaves before discarding them as nothing more than trash;
- Aerial bombardment of civilians boldly continues in a Khartoum government-sponsored nose-thumbing to the world; and
- Door-to-door executions are being summarily committed against those who just happen to be members of “the wrong tribe” or are “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Note: The definition of “the wrong place” ranges for the unfortunate ones from being required to walk great distances in search of whatever meager food or water one can find – to being one of a sea of bodies in a cramped tent in a refugee camp – to simply being at home minding one’s business when someone pops up on the scene or bursts through the door to rape or kill at the direction of a military commander or government official. (Imagine John Boehner or Dianne Feinstein directing a mall cop to take out your kids – or your grandparents. Then, try to imagine how your community would continue to function in this atmosphere. Would your kids be going to school? Would you be going to temple or church or your local mosque?)
While our elected officials in Washington debate whether or not they should be speaking and listening to each other, the world is watching and waiting. Will we choose to circle the drain in never ending pettiness and partisanship, or will we once again lift the lamp of liberty and carry on as our forefathers and foremothers did (occasionally succeeding, often times failing), but at least trying to make our nation and our one world better as they would expect us to do?
Even if you don’t “have two nickels to rub together,” you can still make a difference right now. This weekend, this Examiner will reveal more of what is happening in Sudan from interviews with the leadership of the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition (one of whom still has family in Sudan), and will also provide concrete, simple strategies for what you can do as a spiritual, caring member of your community, regardless of financial or other circumstances.