"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?" -- Rabbi Hillel, from the section of the Talmud called Pirkei Avot (1:14) ["Ethics of the Ancestors"]
The Face of Genocide
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
GOZ BEIDA, Chad
A woman named Marguerite H. wrote to me recently to complain about my columns on Darfur. “While the situation there is dreadful, we have plenty of needs to be filled at home,” she wrote. “You would be better off putting your energy into making a difference here at home.”
So, Marguerite, meet Halima Abdelkarim. Her life is partly in your hands. Watch her story [See Video Below], and see if you still think we should put off helping her until we have solved our own problems.
(Trouble viewing this video? Click here or here.)
Halima, 20, belongs to the Dajo tribe, one of the black African tribes being slaughtered by Sudanese-sponsored Arab militias called the janjaweed. The attacks began three years ago, but the world largely shared your view, Marguerite, that Darfur was a tragedy but not of strategic significance. And so we have fussed a bit but allowed the genocide to spread.
This March, Darfur’s slaughter crossed the border and reached Halima’s hometown in Chad. The janjaweed killed many men and seized 10 women and girls, including Halima and her little sister, Sadia.
Halima says that the janjaweed, many of them wearing Sudanese military uniforms, mocked the women with racial epithets against blacks, beat them with sticks, and gang-raped them all. Halima, who was then four months pregnant, says she was raped by three men and saw two rape Sadia — who was just 10 years old.
After two days of torment, the janjaweed released them. “But Sadia refused to give up her donkey, and so they shot her,” Halima recalled. “I was with her. She died right away.”
The survivors trekked to a shantytown outside Goz Beida. At first they were safe, and Halima gave birth to a baby daughter. But a couple of months ago the janjaweed began to attack them when they left the camp to get firewood.
Still, the world shared your attitude, Marguerite: It’s sad but a long way off, and anyway we have our own problems.
So last month, the janjaweed caught Halima again — in effect, we allowed the janjaweed to capture her again.
Halima was gathering firewood with a large group of women, who were hoping for safety in numbers. But raiders with guns suddenly appeared and caught seven of them.
The men asked what tribe they belonged to, and upon learning that they were Dajo who had already fled their villages, said, “We’re looking for you.” Halima was carrying her infant girl, Noorelayn, and she says the janjaweed threw the baby to the ground.
“You blacks are not human,” she quoted them as yelling. “We can do anything we want to you. You cannot live here.”
Finally, she says, three men raped her, beat her and stole her clothes. Another of the seven who were caught, Aziza Yakub, 17, confirmed Halima’s story, and added that the janjaweed told her while raping her: “You blacks are like monkeys. You are not human.”
The only way for these women to survive is to gather firewood to sell or exchange for food. Only women collect firewood, because, as they themselves say: “The men are killed; the women are ‘only’ raped.”
Halima’s husband doesn’t know about the latest attack. She didn’t tell him about the first one, but he figured out what must have happened during the two days she disappeared. Although he didn’t blame her, he left her for a few months partly to work out his anger at the janjaweed, and partly to cultivate crops to feed his family. The area he went to was attacked this month, with the janjaweed killing many men or occasionally gouging out their eyes with bayonets. There has been no word from him.
So, Marguerite, Halima’s future is up to us. In the last few days, Sudan has bowed to outside pressure and reluctantly agreed in principle to accept some U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur. That’s a reminder that pressure can work, but we haven’t applied nearly enough. For the peacekeepers to save lives and the killings to stop, much greater effort will be essential. If you didn’t find yourself too preoccupied, Marguerite, maybe you could make a phone call to the White House or write a letter to your member of Congress.
You have other priorities, I know, and so do we all. But our indifference has already allowed Halima to be gang-raped twice and her sister murdered in the first genocide of the 21st century. So, Marguerite, look Halima in the eye, and decide if you’re willing to turn away as she is slaughtered, or how many more times you’re willing to allow her to be raped.
you missed them, here are my earlier video reports from my trip to Chad.
Photo Credit: Halima Abdelkarim. (Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times)