Americans Rally to Save Darfur

"It is in the realm of domestic politics that the battle to stop genocide is lost," Harvard University's Samantha Power wrote in her Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of why the post-Holocaust pledge of "Never Again" is so rarely kept. "American political leaders interpret society-wide silence as an indicator of public indifference. They reason that they will incur no costs if the United States remains uninvolved but will face steep risks if they engage." It is therefore of great significance that "public outrage, sporadic before, is growing over the continuing bloodshed in Darfur," as the New York Times reports today. This Sunday, tens of thousands of Americans -- including actor George Clooney, U.S. Olympic gold medal winner Joey Cheek, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) -- will join rallies around the country urging the Bush administration to step up its efforts to end the genocidal violence in Darfur. (Watch an excellent new short video on Darfur featuring Pelosi and others.)

The rallies are backed by an "unusually broad coalition of 164 humanitarian and religious groups, including Amnesty International and the National Association of Evangelicals," and its message is clear: "What we cannot do is turn our heads and look away and hope that this will somehow disappear," as Clooney put it yesterday. "It's the first genocide of the 21st century." Take a moment to sign up with and the Genocide Intervention Network, and attend a rally in your area.

Not just symbolism

"What we do about Darfur says a lot about us and the conscience of our generation. We don't have that excuse anymore, saying we didn't know about it, there's nothing we can do," says Adam Zuckerman, 18, a senior at Deering High School in Portland, Maine, who "raised $6,000 to bring a busload of Reform Jews and Sudanese immigrants from Maine" to one of the rallies on Sunday. High school and college students have been among the most active in organizing grassroots efforts around Darfur. Universities nationwide are waging a successful effort to divest their financial holdings in oil firms and other corporations doing business with Sudan's government. (Sudan gets 43 percent of its revenue from oil-related sales and pours 60 percent of all oil revenue into military expenditures.)

The campaign "also aims at states and municipalities. Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon have approved divestment, and legislation is pending in several other states." And there are signs that the efforts are working. "Seeking to counter the divestment campaign," the New York Times reports, "Sudan's ambassador to the United States issued a statement on April 5, calling on American companies and universities to increase investments in Sudan."

Violence getting worse

By now, the scope of the atrocities in Darfur is well known; in this "slow motion genocide," which the United Nation calls the "world's greatest humanitarian crisis," 2.5 million have been driven from their homes and up to 400,000 have died. But after a relative downtick in violence in 2005, the situation has drastically deteriorated. "I don't think the world has understood how bad it has become of late," U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said last week, claiming the violence is "as bad as ever." He warned that many U.N. humanitarian operations are "in danger of collapsing within the next few weeks or months." Already, U.N. officials say the international community is "keeping people alive with our humanitarian assistance until they are massacred." Just yesterday, analysts warned of a "new military offensive by the Sudanese government" -- one that included the use of "an Antonov plane and two helicopter gunships" -- that has put "the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk."

President Bush must show leadership

In her book, Power writes, "No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on." Under pressure from religious and student groups, Bush has at least been prodded to speak publicly about the issue on occasion. Unfortunately, his words have not been followed by decisive action, which fuels a dangerous dynamic: the Sudanese government believes that there is no price to pay for inaction, that there is "no connection between the U.S. bark and its bite." Even the U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed this week on four Sudanese individuals show the inconsistency of U.S. policy.

On the one hand, the United States pushed harder for the sanctions than any other country. On the other hand, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton successfully managed "to keep top Sudanese commanders" from being targeted. Thanks to Bolton, the sanction list was whittled down to four from eight, only one of whom "is a Sudanese government official, and a mid-level official at that."

A real security threat

Increasingly, Darfur is having a direct impact on U.S. national interests. An executive order signed by Bush just this week states that the "persistence of violence in Sudan's Darfur region" poses "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." Sudan is the "single most unstable country in the entire world" according to Foreign Policy magazine's latest Failed States Index.

The ongoing violence there is not only fueling regional instability in states like Chad and the Central African Republic, but creating "exactly the kind of place al-Qaeda has successfully exploited in the past and might again," according to experts. Helping curb the violence would also demonstrate to the Arab and Muslim worlds that U.S. foreign policy does not have the anti-Muslim bent that Osama bin Laden and others claim, since "nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim." With strong action on Darfur, the U.S. could improve its own security, "literally save tens of thousands of lives and…enable, over time, literally two and a half million people to go home again." But urgent action is needed now.

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