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Jewish World Review
July 31, 2006
/ 6 Menachem-Av, 5766
Darfur: Edge of the abyss
Every morning, checking the news from Darfur, I see the utter helplessness and hopelessness of the black African Muslims in that ravaged part of Sudan. While the world is otherwise occupied: "Darfur Violence Worsens After Peace Deal."
"(Darfur) Is Most Dangerous Place in the World for Children."
"Escalating Tribal Tensions (among rebels) Fuel New Darfur Attacks."
My own feeling of uselessness after writing so many columns about the mass murders and rapes by the Sudan government's enablers of genocide, the Janjaweed, brings me back to my childhood listening on the radio continually to CBS's William Shirer from Hitler's Berlin.
I was 13 when I first heard about Kristallnacht when, on Nov. 7, 1938, as Martin Gilbert tells in his new book with that title (HarperCollins): "Hitler youth rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods across Germany, leaving behind them a horrifying trail of terror and destruction."
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I was afraid for the Jews there; and in passing, for myself in then largely anti-Semitic Boston, where it was dangerous for Jewish kids to go out alone at night.
Then gradually, chillingly, came news of what came to be known as the Holocaust. Surely the world, I thought, would intervene. The elders in my neighborhood many of whom, like my father, had escaped from the pogroms in Russia were not so sure.
After they were proved right in their skepticism, years later, in Jerusalem, I was walking through the Yad Vashem Museum of the Holocaust. In one of the rooms, I saw in detail, a record of a post-Holocaust mass murder of Jews, about which I'd never heard adding to the 3 million killed by the Nazis in Poland. They had returned, after the war, to their former homes in Poland; and those who had taken their homes, along with other Jew-haters, decided to finish off these surviving intruders. Poland has since expressed deep, convincing repentance. But, when it happened, the world was silent.
Years after that, writing of the world's silence before and during the genocide in Rwanda with the considerable research help of the "Frontline" documentary "Ghosts of Rwanda" (April 1, 2004, on PBS) I found that Kofi Annan, then head of peacekeeping at the United Nations, had ordered Gen. Romeo Dallaire, U.N. Force Commander in Rwanda, not to intervene, although Dallaire had advance word of what was to happen and could have stopped it.
And from President Bill Clinton, at the time, came orders to the State Department not to use the word "genocide" in answer to reporters' questions about our refusal to intervene. Four years after the corpses had filled the rivers of Rwanda, Clinton speaking in Rwanda, said: "All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."
Then why was the State Department ordered by the White House to avoid the dread word "genocide," which might well have impelled many Americans, in 1994, to ask why we did not get involved.
Now, thinking of this doomsday chronicle of world leaders who have been silent during massive crimes against humanity on their watch, I am depressed and puzzled at why when knowledge of the genocide in Darfur cannot be escaped so many Americans are indifferent.
Yes, there have been rallies, and a persistent network of American human-rights activists. But, aside from them, among the millions fiercely opposing our involvement in Iraq, I see and hear no public, organized horror at the killings, in Darfur. And from those Americans who never miss an opportunity to attack the government of Israel, that fury does not encompass the Khartoum government of Sudan.
Among my own family, friends and acquaintances, the reaction when I speak of Darfur is mostly only polite attempts at showing concern. Often there is no reaction at all, as if I were an utterly boring Ancient Mariner with a tale of the suffering that befell his crew when he shot an albatross. (Today's Ancient Mariner is The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, who keeps bringing us the naked truth of these endless Kristallnachts in Darfur.)
For all I know, there are occasional sermons in our places of worship about Darfur; but there are no rising, insistent, horrified winds and gales of protest around this country to shake the timbers of Congress and the White House.
Is there nothing meaningful the world's most powerful nation can do? Well, with what's going on in the Mideast, and the coming midterm elections here, that question isn't being asked at all. Meanwhile, Jan Egeland, head of the U.N.'s humanitarian operations, says of Darfur: "I think we're headed toward total chaos. Our people in the field are increasingly desperate."
This fall, will any candidates of either party even mention Darfur in their campaign?
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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.
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