Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Refugee Crisis Crosses the Borders of Sudan

American Jewish World Service is sponsoring an event on September 17, 2006, 2:00 P.M. in Central Park, New York City, East Meadow (enter from 5th Avenue at 90th Street) to help with this human crisis. I will be there. Hope you can join us.

Lydia Polgreen, "Refugee Crisis Grows as Darfur War Crosses a Border: 20,000 in Chad Are Uprooted by Attacks," The New York Times, February 28, 2006, at p. A1.

More than 200, 000 civilians have been killed in Sudan, in a seemingly endless civil war, producing casualties and refugees, starvation and diseases, affecting the lives of millions of people, most of them women and children.

Arab gunmen have spread from Sudan into Chad, "conscripting" young males into their "armies," doing worse to young females, burning crops because all that they know is to destroy and kill anyone who resists. Some of these gunmen are between twelve and fourteen years-old and have never attended schools, yet they wield automatic weapons and know how to use them. Their crimes are the responsibility of an apathetic global community.

As a result of this continuing horror, we are witnessing what can only be described as a Holocaust, which is greeted with the bored indifference that was also the most popular response to the Nazi atrocities in the thirties from the most comfortable people, residing in the richest societies of the world.

"Who cares?" This is a response to the crisis found in Internet chatrooms frequented by college students in the United States. It is probably what many "busy" Americans and Europeans think, though they are too polite to say it.

How do persons reach such a level of inhumanity?

These horrors will affect all of us. In an increasingly interdependent world, you can count on diseases and festering hostilities spreading accross borders, soon reaching Europe and America. This is to say nothing of economic consequences and the climate of resentment in which many of those young men will become available to organizations such as Al-Quaida, organizations offering the best chance for survival and employment in many regions of the world.

Much the same is true of the drug trade in our inner cities. Drugs and crime often provide the only chance for economic survival for young men in the inner cities, or the one chance for that much celebrated "upward mobility" that Americans are taught to want more than anything else. Nobody bothers to define "upward" until it is too late.

Those of us who understand the experiences of refugees, of children fleeing war-torn regions, separated from parents and loved-ones; those who are capable of appreciating the upheavals and loss affecting these hundreds of thousands of people, cannot be indifferent or apathetic to this nightmare.

Maybe we can not do much, as individuals, to remedy this crisis, but we can at least try to contact United Nations Human Rights organizations. We can provide some financial contributions, hoping that they reach their intended beneficiaries, while dramatizing and publicizing these events as much as possible.

These are our brothers and sisters -- our children -- who are suffering, so that we must be concerned to do what we can. If you are bored by this story or find it "dull," because the suffering of Africans does not concern you ("there are always starving people in Africa," I was told), then I ask you to take a moment to imagine that those hundreds of thousands of people look like you.

Imagine your friends and family members walking for miles, hungry, sick, or frightened. Now picture a comfortable and overfed population, sitting before their television sets and yawning -- possibly because their skin color is different from yours -- offering, as a response to your plight, a single idiotic question: "Who cares?" We must care.

One woman, Zahara Isaac Mahamat, described how Arab men on camels and horses had raided her village in Chad, stealing everything they could find and slaughtering all who resisted.

The dead included her husband, Ismail Ibrahim, who tried to prevent the raiders from burning roghum and millet fields. Like so many others in this desolate expanse of dust-choked earth, she fled west with her three children, much as people in Darfur have been forced to do in recent years.

If there is an image that fits the events of the last century in history, then it must be the sight of widows with children fleeing warfare after the murder of husbands, knowing that those children's lives will be blighted and deformed by events over which they have no control -- events resulting in denials of education, medical care, even basic decencies and respect, first and worst of all, to powerless women and children.

For the price of one t.v. commercial during the "Superbowl" most of these children can be fed and provided with health care. They can be relocated to safe environments with remaining family members and provided with the semblance of an opportunity for something better in life.

For the cost of what the United States is spending in Iraq every day it may well be possible to end this crisis, bringing lasting peace to this area.

If you have read this comment, then please "care" about this situation. Even if you cannot do much to help, take the time to understand what is happening and to feel for these people, respecting their suffering and terrible loss, recognizing their humanity, and do them the kindness of thinking of them for part of the day, at least today. I am revising this essay as my computer and I are under attack because these thoughts are dangerous. Does this message of compassion threaten America's (or New Jersey's) security? I do not think so. I hope you won't either.

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