Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are we shining light on Darfur or merely passing the torch to others?

September 16th marked the fourth global Day for Darfur since September 2006. The message of thousands around the world urged "the international community to honour their responsibility to protect the people of Darfur". More simply put, "Don't look away now". On October 6th, there will be a rally in Philadelphia, one of many "Dream for Darfur: Olymic Torch Run's". It's designed to bring the Olympic dream of peace to Darfur by pressuring China (who will host the 2008 Olympics) to take action. China has a great amount of influence in the Sudan, yet they have no yet helped to end the genocide.

It's wonderful that people are willing to tirelessly fight for the rights and lives of the poor people in Darfur. But, is it helping? Are staged rally's such as carrying a torch too idealistic to work in today's world?

Even with major movements such as SaveDarfur and Globe for Darfur, there are many people that have no idea that genocide is occuring, that over 2.5 million have been killed so far, and thousands are attempting to escape each month. Last year, F&M's chapter of Amnesty International held a rally on campus to gain awareness about Darfur. Some people had never even heard of Darfur. Furthermore, some would not sign letters to the UN asking for action. Some even said, "it's not my problem". Hate is the worst evil, but apathy is not far behind. Not choosing a side, not choosing at all, is still making a choice. Why would someone not want to do what they can to help out others? Why do people shy away from doing good?

In our readings, we learn what can drive people to do evil things. We lament over the evil and terror in the world. But, what can drive people to do good things? Is it harder, does it take more effort? Is the average person willing to make this effort, even if the tragedies are not personal to him or her? And by holding events like rallies to promote awareness, are they working? Or is it an easy way out, a way to say, I tried. People just didn't listen hard enough.


MadMax said...

The other night I attempted to watch some TV, but instead I found myself bombarded by an assortment of commericals requesting aid for the suffering refugees in Darfur . Huge vast camps, lots of homeless people, death, disease, starving and pulling on the emotional heart strings from a collection of some 20 different charities all trying to suggest that we send money to assist them to help those who cannot help themselves.

They did point out in their article that the local thugs steal vehicles from the NGO's, but seemed to suggest that some of the money donated would be to provide the NGO's with transportation. Other amounts of the money provided would also no doubt be used to pay the thugs to allow the aid to get through.

Sending any money to support those in need would therefore provide the janjeweed with food, medical supplies and lots of nice new vehicles to replace their horses and camels. This would enable them to conduct more efficient application of the death and destruction. Until such time as you resolve the situation on the ground, any aid provided will go directly or indirectly to the wrong side.

This raises a problem. NATO will not send any troops to the area. Africa does not have any effective troops. Bush has our troops tied up with activities in other areas. It would be very interesting to send a couple of hundred regiments of the Chinese Army into the region, but it seems that they are already involved in assisting the other side.

We probably need to accept that quite a lot of people will be killed, displaced, made homeless and starve. Our government will no doubt put some form of effective spin on this to sugar coat things for us and we can all go back to ignoring what is happening in Africa.

The real situation is that someone found oil in a region that was occupied by tribal Africans. In order for commerce (and the Muslim government) to take advantage of this new found wealth, the local tribes needed to be dispossessed. The Chinese, who need other sources of oil, are assisting the government in the utilisation of their natural resources. We are unable to do anything about this. If it was possible to do anything about this, we would already have seen Bono in the region.

kathan said...

It’s overwhelming to think about a human rights abuse on a scale so large as what is happening in Darfur. 2.5 million dead is a statistic that is virtually incomprehensible to us. It’s hard to know what one person or one on-campus group can do or where even to start. How much change does one rally here on F&M’s campus really affect?

But to choose to do nothing is absolutely a choice. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan said in her address at the Veterans for Peace National Convention in September 2005, “The opposite of good is not evil, it’s apathy.” In the context of human rights abuses, apathy is unacceptable. More than other societies, I feel, Americans believe that an individual’s accomplishments are a direct result of his or her individual qualities and talents. Scholar of sociology Annette Lareau says in her book Unequal Childhoods that less than twenty percent of Americans believe that “ …‘race, gender, religion or class’ are very important for ‘getting ahead in life.’ ” This view that individuals are in some way responsible for the outcomes of their own lives feeds inequality. It feed the attitude that the suffering of others in the U.S. or abroad is in no way our personal responsibility. John Donne’s poem For Whom the Bell Tolls says, “…never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” No matter how close or how far we are from those for whom the bell tolls, or from those suffering a human rights abuse, it is always our responsibility to affect change because we are connected by the basic fact that we are all human beings.

Abby said...

The indifference of others is disappointing and frustrating. However, there is no point becoming indifferent to a problem simply because others are indifferent. This is similar to a violent reaction to a violent action. Why stoop to that level? When we encounter indifference we should see this as a motivation. Rather than becoming overwhelmed with hopelessness we should decide that it is up to us to make the difference. Holding rallies and signing petitions is not the “easy way out.” Nor do I believe it is our way of saying “we tried.” Rallies and petitions are what get the message out. It may seem small, but this is what influences the political process. We are sending out a message. We are creating awareness. We are telling politicians that this is what is important to voters, and if they want our support they better listen. Margaret Mead states, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Today students gathered on the green to protest the Jena 6. We signed petitions to be sent to Louisiana senators. We are a small group in a small college setting, but our commitment most definitely has a large impact.

Kat said...

Thank you, Abby. Very well put with the Margaret Mead quote. Comments like yours and Aditi's show that people do care and want to make a difference. It is many times frustrating and tiring putting in effort and seeing little results. But, I guess if each effort can touch one person, then it's helped made a difference, right?