Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Who is Our Neighbor

Luke 10:25-29 (New Living Translation)

The Most Important Commandment

“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

I occasionally read The New Republic On-line. For the past few days I’ve been digesting their essays on Darfur. While I often disagree with TNR’s political and philosophical views, I find myself in lock step with them when it comes to the genocide being committed in Darfur while the world watches, debates, postures, and proposes.

As the debates and posturing continue with increasing ferocity, the genocide also continues. Oh, there has been a signing of a peace treaty of sorts, but I don’t believe it amounts to much. Musa Hilal and the murderers, thugs, and rapists who’ve been carrying out his order to “change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes,” like their forbearers in evil, are simply using the signed paper to buy themselves more time. Like the oft turned phrase of “blood for oil,” Hilal and the Janjawiid are simply exchanging blood for paper, international neglect, and inaction.

The latest estimate on the death toll in Darfur is 400,000. While the methodology of the genocide is, by modern standards, primitive, it’s also extremely efficient, terror-filled, and effective:

“The Janjawiid [sic] spread out across Darfur, attacking defenseless communities. Villagers were ... shot, stabbed, burned alive, and butchered. Bodies were mutilated and left in the open, there to be seen by anyone who might consider returning. In one village, sixty-six villagers were tortured in the local dispensary before being killed--some hanged by their feet, others decapitated. In another, schoolgirls were chained together and burned alive. ... Government and Janjawiid forces destroyed everything that made life possible.”

Other than the recent peace treaty, the only significant action from the international community came in the form of cuts in funding for relief to the millions in need. The U.S. has cut its funding for the effort from $113,000,000 in 2005 to $40,000,000 this year. Even more startling, the United Nations, which gave $53,000,000 to Darfur relief last year, has given a paltry $1,890,000 so far in 2006. The tragic end result is that the refugees of Darfur have had their food rations cut in half. (source) How humanitarian of us!

For close to a generation now the international community has responded to a series of epic crises with the mantra “never again.” The editors of TNR, seeing through the diplomatic and political charade, called it what it really is – Nonsense!

“Never again? What nonsense. Again and again is more like it. In Darfur, we are witnessing genocide again, and we are witnessing ourselves doing nothing to stop it. Even people who wish to know about the problem do not wish to know about the solution. They prefer the raising of consciousnesses to the raising of troops. Just as Rwanda made a bleak mockery of the lessons of Bosnia, Darfur is making a bleak mockery of the lessons of Rwanda. Some lessons, it seems, are gladly and regularly unlearned. Except, of course, by the perpetrators of this evil, who learn the only really enduring lessons about genocide in our time: that the Western response to it is late in coming, or is not coming at all.”

It seems to me that the editors of TNR are absolutely right. There are two central realities converging here. First, there is, as there always has been, the willingness of evil men to use the most despicable means – murder, rape, torture, terror, and extermination - to enforce their will. In the past twenty years it’s been men like Saddam in Iraq, the Hutu nationalists of Rwanda, Milosevic in the Balkans, and Musa Hilal and the Janjiwiid in Sudan who’ve vividly displayed this doctrine of terror for all the world to see. The other reality being played out over and over is the willingness of the world to talk, posture, and threaten, but not act in the face of genocide after genocide. Each side in this twisted diplomatic dance plays its role to the hilt. The purveyors of terror lead, ordering the terror for home consumption while advocating peaceful solutions to the problem on the international stage. The civilized world follows, threatening action, but never following through. When the music’s done, so is the killing. The despots’ blood lust has been satisfied temporarily. Body counts number in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Then, the cameras role and the recriminations begin. I remember well, for example, watching as the Clinton administration spent months floundering, trying to flesh out the definition of genocide. And, while the U.S. administration agonized over the definition of what they were seeing, the agony of Rwanda went on and on. When the carnage was complete, the time for apologies came. In 1998, Bill Clinton visited Rwanda and issued this weak statement:

“We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” in Rwanda.”

The United States did nothing, but only took responsibility for “not doing enough.” It was Bill Clinton at his very best.

Even worse, the United Nations said absolutely nothing in he aftermath the carnage. There weren’t even any recriminations. It was just international business as usual. It had a name – “Oil for Food.”

TNR’s editors advocate action in Darfur, even unilateral American action if necessary. I agree!

But, that isn’t going to happen. First, it won’t happen because the United Nations has shown an alarming unwillingness to act in accord with the principles of its charter. Unlike Bill Clinton and his administration, the U.N. bureaucrats didn’t have the problem of defining genocide to wrestle with. They’d already done that in 1948 when they declared:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, such as (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Further, in a 2001 commission report prepared for Y.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan, the following guideline for military intervention in cases of genocide was outlined:

“4.13 Yet there are exceptional circumstances in which the very interest that all states have in maintaining a stable international order requires them to react when all order within a state has broken down or when civil conflict and repression are so violent that civilians are threatened with massacre, genocide or ethnic cleansing on a large scale. The Commission found in its consultations that even in states where there was the strongest opposition to infringements on sovereignty, there was general acceptance that there must be limited exceptions to the non-intervention rule for certain kinds of emergencies. Generally expressed, the view was that these exceptional circumstances must be cases of violence which so genuinely “shock the conscience of mankind,” or which present such a clear and present danger to international security, that they require coercive military intervention.

Apparently, the plight of the Shia, Kurds, and Marsh Arabs of Iraq weren’t enough to shock the conscience of the United Nations. Nor was the plight of the Croats in the Balkans or the Tutsis in Rwanda. Nor, is the plight of Black Africans in Darfur today.

The crisis screams out for forceful intervention, but one thing is certain. The United Nations will not be the one to act.

The United States? We could, and we should, but I doubt we will. The Bush administration, weakened by its conduct of the war in Iraq and the subsequent troubles with nation building there, has little or no appetite for foreign entanglements right now. There is, I believe, a moral imperative to act, in the same way there was a moral imperative in the Balkans, Rwanda, and even Iraq, but political reality will overshadow that imperative. Political opponents would make political hay of Darfur in the same way they did when Republicans castigated Bill Clinton for finally intervening unilaterally in the Balkans. The refugees of Darfur would become political capital for power hungry Democrats in the same way post Saddam Iraq has become their pathway to seats in Congress and the Senate. Further, while the political left would support intervention today, that support would sour in the face the inevitable casualties. Remember Mogadishu?

Action is needed in Darfur, not words. And, the United States is the only nation on earth with the power to act. We Americans may not like that reality, but we cannot change history as it is. The rest of the world community isn’t going to act; that much is clear. It’s up to us.

On my morning walk yesterday I took a bit of a detour. As I got to the corner of 10th and Elm an elderly woman opened her front door and asked me, “Is the electricity out here in town?” “No, ma’am,” I said. The lights are on over at my place and they were at the school a couple of blocks from here.”
“I can’t get any help,” she pleaded. “Will you help me?”
What could I say? “I’ve got better things to do.” “I don’t know anything about electricity.” Of course not. I had to help her. It turned out to be nothing more than a couple of problem breakers on the electrical panel in back of her house. It was easy enough to fix. A minute or so after I’d agreed to help I was on my way. A couple of blocks later I wondered what I might have done if that same woman was being robbed. I didn’t have my cell phone with me, so I wouldn’t have been able to call the police. Maybe I could have just waited until someone else responded. Maybe I could have shown up in the aftermath, hoping that she would still be alive. Or, I could have acted to help her, in the same way I had with the faulty breaker switch. I submit to you there was only one difference between the help I provided with her electricity and the hypothetical situation I thought of afterward. It was just a difference in the level of risk. One was safe and the other might have cost me something, including my life. The moral imperative to act in each case was the same. Something had to be done and I was there. That was the moral mathematics of the situation.
I believe the same moral imperative holds true for Darfur!

The United Nations is powerless to act in Darfur. The United States is, tragically, unwilling. The refugees, who should be the center of the world’s attention, are being ignored. Why? As TNR observed:

“Their plight interferes with the anti-imperialist integrity of liberals in the only country in the world with the power and the authority (yes, still) to help them. The Democrats in Washington are now clamoring for the appointment of a special envoy to Sudan. (No mention so far of Brent Scowcroft.) That is to say, they are searching for reasons to deflect the responsibility of refusing to let crimes against humanity stand.”

As with any moral dilemma, there are different courses we can take. We can act or we can ignore the genocide in Darfur. I believe it’s time for America to act, even if it means acting unilaterally. It’s time to put the politics of electoral advantage aside and act. That’s the moral course I’m convinced Divine Providence has placed in our national path. If we fail to act, there will be consequences. The blood of Darfur’s refugees will be as much on our hands as it is on the hands of Musa Hilal and the Janjawiid.

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CyberCelt said...

I do not understand why we allow this to happen, again and again. Is it because the victims are black? Or women? Or children? Or uneducated villagers? Is there no political coinage that someone can use to do something.

We will stand in history and before God to answer for this.

CyberCelt said...

Please join me in calling for immediate attention to Darfur and more robust action on behalf of the U.S. to support security efforts in the region.

Visit to send your postcard today! It took me 5 minutes and may save thousands of lives.