The Silence of Bystanders
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
ALONG THE CHAD-SUDAN BORDER
I saw a lot of heartbreak on my latest visit to the fringes of Darfur: two orphan boys living under a tree after their family was murdered, a 13-year-old girl shot in the chest and a 6-year-old boy trying desperately not to cry as doctors treated shrapnel wounds to his leg.
But the face of genocide I found most searing belonged to Idris Ismael, a 32-year-old Chadian. Mr. Idris said that a Sudan-sponsored janjaweed militia had attacked his village, Damri, that very morning. He had managed to run away. But his wife, Halima, eight months pregnant, could only hobble. And so she was still in the village, along with their four children, ages 3 to 12.
"The village is surrounded by janjaweed, with civilians inside," Mr. Idris said. "There's no way for people to escape. The janjaweed will kill all the men, women and children, take all our blankets and other property, and then burn our homes. They will kill every last person."
"The janjaweed will rape and kill my family," Mr. Idris added. "And there's nothing I can do."
Elie Wiesel once said, referring to victims of genocide: "Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander." And it's our own silence that I find inexplicable.
In Darfur, we have even less excuse than in past genocides. We have known about this for more than two years, we have photos and eyewitnesses, our president has even described it as genocide, and yet we're still paralyzed. Part of the problem is that President Bush hasn't made it a top priority, but at least he is now showing signs of stirring — and in fact he's done more than most other world leaders, and more than many Democrats. Our failure in Darfur is utterly bipartisan.
Mr. Bush met recently at the White House with Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, an authentic Sudanese hero, to get advice on Darfur, and he seems engaged — though still not ready to leap into the issue publicly by making a major speech on Darfur, or by welcoming refugees for a photo op at the White House. Alas, Mr. Bush is far more timid than the American people.
A new poll by Zogby International that surveyed 1,000 Americans a few days ago asked about Darfur. Sixty-two percent said that "the United States has a responsibility to help stop the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan"; only 24 percent disagreed.
In response to another question, only 24 percent said that "the U.S. has done enough diplomatically to help end the crisis." In contrast, 59 percent said that more could be done.
One measure we could take would be to enforce a no-fly zone from the air base in Abéché, Chad. The president of Chad says he would be happy to have Americans do this, and it would be easy: instead of keeping airplanes in the air, we would simply wait until a Sudanese plane bombed a village, then strafe that plane on the ground afterward. (The first time, we would just damage the plane; we would destroy any after that.)
Asked about such a no-fly zone in the Zogby poll, 70 percent said they supported the idea, and only 13 percent opposed it.
So Americans are, I think, better than our national policy. How do we align our government with our hearts? The only way is to push our leaders, whether by calling the White House or members of Congress, or by attending the rally in Washington on April 30 planned by the Save Darfur Coalition (www.savedarfur.org).
Darfur is not hopeless. We need a new peace initiative, focused on the sheiks of the region. We need a well-equipped U.N. peacekeeping force and a no-fly zone. We need a public pledge by France to use its military forces in Chad to stop any invasion from Sudan. And we need Arab leaders to speak up for the Muslim victims of Darfur: where are you, Hosni Mubarak? With those measures, Darfur might again be a place where children play, rather than one in which they are thrown into bonfires.
Among the few heroes in this genocide are the ordinary Chadian villagers. They are desperately poor, but when 200,000 Darfuris escaped into Chad, these villagers shared water, forage and food with them.
Now these same Chadians are themselves becoming victims of an ever-expanding Sudanese genocide. In the town of Borota, I talked to Fatima Adam, 15, who described being gang-raped and beaten by six janjaweed a few days earlier. As often happens, the men had used racial slurs against blacks to justify the attack.
"The same things they were doing in Darfur," Fatima said, "now they are doing to us."
Photo credit: In the Abeche, Chad, hospital, Khalid, a six-year-old boy, was treated for wounds in both his legs. (Naka Nathaniel/NYTimes.com)
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