Friday, March 11, 2005

Darfur, Sudan

David Brancaccio of NOW interviewed Samantha Power tonight about the situation in Darfur. (I'll link to the transcript of the interview when it's posted online in about one week. Update 3/23/05: Transcript now available here. Scroll down.) Power spoke about the current situation of people in "refugee" camps. When the women go out to gather wood to cook the humanitarian aid food (which is otherwise inedible) they are being attacked and raped by the roving Janjaweed militia.

Power also stated that since former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that was was happening in Darfur was genocide, the debate has focused on whether it truly is genocide rather than the most effective response, or people have acted as though they've done their part by labelling the conflict "genocide."

Power also explored why what's happening in Darfur has not elicited the same kind of response as the tsunami has. Once reason is that people cannot imagine themselves undergoing what's happening in Darfur, whereas they can understand natural disasters or being on the beach.

There is currently a Senate bill introduced March 2, 2005, that has been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, S. 495, the Darfur Accountability Act of 2005 "To impose sanctions against perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Darfur, Sudan, and for other purposes". One thing U.S. citizens can do is urge their Senators to support this resolution. As of 3/19/05, there are 19 cosponsors of the bill in the Senate. There was also just introduced a concurrent resolution S.CON.RES 17 regarding a no-fly zone over Darfur. The text hasn't been published yet.

My friend gave me permission to post the full text of the op-ed piece she co-authored and from which I posted excerpts earlier.
‘Hotel Rwanda’ Tackles Moral Issue That Implicates Us All
By the Rev. Tiffney Marley and Tammy Williams

Nearly a year ago “The Passion of the Christ” opened to national audiences. The film, which premiered on Ash Wednesday, has been viewed by many as “the most influential Christian-themed movie ever to come out of Hollywood.” Many Christian viewers who reflected upon Christ’s suffering on behalf of others were transformed by the experience.

This Lenten season, we hope that the critically acclaimed film, “Hotel Rwanda,” nominated for three Academy Awards, will attract a large audience. Some viewers who saw “The Passion of the Christ” might choose to bypass “Hotel Rwanda” because it lacks explicit Christian themes. This would be regrettable, for the film has much to teach us about suffering, redemption and transformation.

“Hotel Rwanda” recounts, through the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the events that culminate in the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremists within the Hutu-dominated ruling party. As the manager of a luxury hotel, Rusesabagina saves the lives of more than 1,200 people by housing them in the hotel and paying off the military not to harm them.

Many viewers are likely to tag the picture as a “political” film about “the atrocities of war,” or as a “biopic” about “an African Oskar Schindler” whose courage surpasses their own. Yet to convey the film in these narrow terms evades what is most important about the film’s depiction of recent history -- namely, that genocide is a moral issue that implicates us all. Preventing and ending it is our task as moral agents, a task that cannot be outsourced to diplomats or saints.

To place genocide in the moral realm acknowledges that it results from the intents, decisions and choices of people. While a variety of choices culminated in the 1994 genocide, the Clinton administration, when confronted by the facts, chose not to stop the bloodletting. Indeed, according to author Samantha Power, the Clinton administration resisted the use of the term “genocide,” for fear that its use would obligate it to take action.

“Hotel Rwanda” also can inform our actions in the present. In fact, Rwanda has much to teach us with regard to the current massacre in the Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 70,000 Darfurians have died and another 1.8 million have been internally displaced by government-sponsored militia. Rusesabagina himself recently spoke of the need to apply the lessons learned from Rwanda’s past to violent conflicts in the present: “This movie is a message to the world. Watch out. Wake up. What was happening in Rwanda is now happening elsewhere. Since you didn’t do anything in Rwanda, what can you do now?”

This last question is what confronts us with respect to genocide. A critical first step is educating ourselves on the issue. We hope that clergy will encourage their congregations to see the film and facilitate discussion afterwards. Wrestling with matters of life and death in community can help us discern how to confront the crisis in Darfur.

Second, preventing and ending genocide involves confronting our policymakers. Power notes that the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon surmised that if each senator and congressperson had received 100 letters from their constituents urging an American response when the Rwandan crisis first surfaced, U.S. policy would have been different. In light of this history, contacting elected officials is vital.

Third, confronting genocide abroad is often more successful when we challenge violence at home. When we can recognize the myriad forms that violence assumes in our society, then we are less likely to write-off political massacres abroad as something that “those people do to each other.”

As active Christians in the church community, we especially urge churches to prioritize genocide as a “pro-life” issue. It is ironic that some congregations in our own Black Church tradition who observe Black History Month have neglected to address black-history-in-the-making in contemporary Africa. Just as many black churches discerned that the anti-apartheid campaign of 1980s and 1990s was a moral issue, so, too, should these churches be in the vanguard to voice their outrage regarding the senseless loss of African lives.

For all who seek to cultivate a “culture of life,” ending genocide must be included among the list of “moral values” that many Americans profess to uphold. To this end, “Hotel Rwanda,” which obligates us to confront unjust suffering, may be our best hope for redemption and moral transformation.

The Rev. Tiffney Marley is director of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School. Tammy Williams is a lecturing fellow in Theology and Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity.

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