City of Roses
|Inspired by Keith Olbermann, I have composed my first Special Comment for the KBOO Evening Newscast, which unlike Olbermann doesn't resort to real name-calling, but still speaks bluntly and emotionally about issues that especially touch my heart, as I believe our mainstream media very much needs more of that DIY approach.
Here it is! Audio will be available later today!
And now as promised, a Special Comment on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and the more urgent need than ever for our press to actively draw attention to this moral issue.
This holiday season, while we think of those who have fewer, they’re often taken for granted all the same. In the Bible, Job 29:12 reads: "I rescued the poor who cried for help". We must awaken more to the cries of the poor not just as a nation, but as a global community. Each day I take my magnaminity mission to heart, and it is not just a physical routine I abide by, it is my spiritual experience, my religious experience. In Proverbs 19:17, it reads, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” And that is why the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is the issue that I devote the greatest attention to in my time, that I believe wholeheartedly in the notion of speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute, in defending the rights of the poor and needy, in which these simple acts of kindness bring out the holiday cheer not only to others, but in ourselves.
American classicist and educator Edith Hamilton wrote in her 1949 publication, Witness to the Truth, "Faith is not belief. Belief is passive. Faith is active." And now as a global community, we find ourselves pitted between two worldly mindsets; one of which is motivated by passive belief, the other which is motivated by active faith, as millions worldwide sit transfixed by the grim and inconsolable images of hundreds of thousands of impoverished, crestfallen men, women and children, all of which are victims of one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, which continues to escalate in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France that’s home to 8 million people, 50% of which are children, and dozens of diverse ethnic groups, most of whom are black and Muslim, located in the western part of Sudan and populated mainly by subsistence farmers.
As you may already be well aware, the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan began in 2003, when government-backed militia groups called the Janjaweed stepped up raids and attacks against the region's farming communities. The Sudanese government allegedly began arming and recruiting the Janjaweed from local Arab tribes when African rebel groups in Darfur, organized in response to a widespread perception of the Sudanese government's neglect of the region, began attacking government forces.
To this day, the Sudanese government has repeatedly denied having any relationship with the Janjaweed, but first-hand accounts suggest otherwise. Aside from other crucial social and political factors that attribute to this conflict that has raged as ardently as a brushfire on a savannah plain during an Indian summer, such as the distribution of land and resources in a nation where less than 7% of the land is arable, it is of course the civilian populations that have suffered most from the crisis in Darfur. Although the victims of the conflict are mainly black Africans from the Fur, Massalit, and Daju ethnic groups, millions of people, both Arab and non-Arab, have been forced to flee their homes and face starvation.
Also widely documented are a seemingly limitless list of human rights abuses employed by the Janjaweed and others, sparking outrage among communities worldwide. One of the most atrocious examples is the sexual assault among tens of thousands of women there, where just yesterday, Dr. Kirsten Johnson of Physicians for Human Rights said rape has become a major weapon of war there, and 40 percent of women in Darfur have been raped or subjected to another form of sexual assault, with devastating consequences. In just one of many documented incidents, an eighteen-year-old woman was assaulted by Janjaweed who inserted a knife in her vagina, saying, "You get this because you are black."
And while the physical violence is beyond unspeakable, starvation is actually the leading cause of death in the Darfur conflict. According to the Human Rights Watch, the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed have have implemented a "scorched earth" policy in Darfur, intentionally displacing millions of people in Darfur by destroying water sources, burning crops, stealing livestock. In a region where arable land and water are scarce, the destruction of property has been, for many, tantamount to a death sentence.
In result, since the conflict began in 2003, an estimated 400,000 Darfurians have died, with ongoing assessments by independent organizations such as Doctors without Borders suggesting that their estimate may be conservative, and should aid become denied or unavailable, as many as a million people could perish. In addition, over 1.8 million have been displaced by the Janjaweed and widespread famine, sparking mass concerns that move beyond Darfur’s border, including neighboring Chad, where insecurity concerns there even prompted Chad’s President Idriss Derby to threaten to expel all Sudanese refugees from Chad when Western governments witheld payment for the country's oil funds over concern the money was being spent improperly. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum recently issued its first ever genocide emergency, where John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group warned, "We have not yet hit the apex of the crisis." Add all the numbers, and it cannot be doubted this is the illustration of a genocide in slow-motion.
Of course, as Edith Hamilton also once said, “When faith is supported by facts or by logic it ceases to be faith.” Simply by looking at aerial photographs of destroyed villages and the desolate landscape of Darfur using Google Earth, they are not merely worth a thousand words, they may very well bleed a thousand emotions as well. Millions worldwide have felt the taproot of their grief and sorrow, and have taken faith to heart in hope that we can re-assuredly proclaim “Never again!” following previous pleadings of “Never again!” after the genocides in Burundi, in Cambodia, in East Timor, in Bosnia, and in Rwanda.
Unfortunately, the mass media remains notably silent in coverage regarding the conflict, ranking tenth in an annual vote by the Associated Press yesterday deciding the top story of 2006, while coverage of the content of John Mark Karr’s stomach, of Paris Hilton’s hankering for an In ‘N Out burger, and Kevin Federline’s altercations with professional wrestlers squeeze the headlines, at least until wardrobe malfunction 2.0 is unleashed.
Even while the silence is bad enough toward one of history’s worst humanitarian disasters, it gets worse still. Yesterday morning on CNN's noontime International News program, anchor Jim Clancy featured an interview with George Clooney and Don Cheadle, designed to talk about their efforts for Darfur, including travels to Egypt and China to advocate for Darfur, who should be ashamed of himself tonight for addressing a most offensive question to his guests, asking seven minutes into the interview, "Gentlemen: Is there a movie in this?" Pause and shock followed Mr. Clancy’s question, with Clooney finally responding in a subdued voice, "Let's just hope it isn't a Hotel Rwanda."
A brief reminder, Mr. Clancy; all the atrocities that are happening as we speak in Darfur are not being done so on cardboard figures. All the fire and gunpowder and dust storms there are ubiquitous sights and sounds that are not being generated from studio equipment. The refugees are not actors being coordinated by dolly shots. And no movie can ever fully make justice and touch upon the extreme emotions and bleeding pangs of strife endured by the millions of innocent lives in Burundi, in Cambodia, in East Timor, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and now, deep in Darfur.
Yet, despite the brownout in our corporate media regarding this evolving and aggrandizing humanitarian disaster, there is great reason to remain optimistic. It hasn't stopped an alliance of over 100 faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations named Save Darfur to come together and air a powerful recent television and press ads campaign and mobilize hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to pressure national and international governments to take a stand. It hasn't stopped Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals to unite with other faith leaders and evangelical groups and form “Evangelicals For Darfur”, pressuring President Bush to take the lead in sending a multinational peacekeeping force to Sudan. It hasn’t stopped students from elementary school to college worldwide from making stands both as individuals and as groups, from children drawing heartfelt finger paintings expressing their feelings toward the conflict that can make the most generally hardened heart cry, to high school students like Kate Koreto earlier this week at Suffern High School in New York promoting the idea “Dress Up For Darfur”, and encouraging many fellow students to donate $512 to help buy tents and other supplies for the civilians in Darfur. And it hasn’t stopped some of our own representatives from drawing thoughtful attention to the issue, including Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas, Barack Obama of Illinois and Richard Durbin of Illinois, who have received top marks for co-sponsoring legislation and leading efforts to help establish a UN peacekeeping operation in the region, and even co-authoring a newspaper column for the Washington Post titled “Policy Adrift on Darfur”.
All of these gestures epitomize faith in action; attempting to rescue the poor who cry for help, speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, speaking for the rights of all who are destitute, in defending the rights of the poor and needy. And as we prepare to enter this new year, the necessity for volume is more urgent than ever. We must demand the deployment of the already authorized UN peacekeeping force, and strengthen the understaffed African Union force already there before they pull out this December 31st. We must enforce a No-Fly Zone in Darfur already established by the United Nations. We must increase humanitarian aid and ensure access for delivery. We must urge President Bush to back the strength of his words and work with other world leaders to ensure that the United Nations has the leadership and the tools it needs to do the job he is asking it to do. We must urge Congress to provide both the oversight and the funding necessary to ensure that the will of the American people to help end the genocide in Darfur is being carried out effectively. And we must urge the United Nations and all of its member states to put the real needs of the Sudanese people in Darfur ahead of the false concerns of the Sudanese government in Khartoum by placing already agreed upon targeted sanctions on regime officials, enforcing the already approved no-fly zone, and providing troops for and deploying the already authorized UN peacekeeping force to Darfur.
Finally, Nicholas Kristof wrote in a July 26, 2005 New York Times opinion column titled "All Ears for Tom Cruise, All Eyes on Brad Pitt" (which I still have tacked to my bedroom wall):
"To sustain the idealism in journalism—and to rebut the widespread perception that journalists are just irresponsible gossips—we need to show more interest in the first genocide of the 21st century than in the `runaway bride.'"
We must urge our mainstream media to sustain the idealism of journalism, focusing on these issues that truly affect our global community rather than vicariously awaiting Wardrobe Malfunction 2.0. We MUST encourage our media not to believe, but to have faith, not to be passive toward the conflict, but active.
This holiday season and beyond, may we become the miracle, and become active with faith, as it's truly the ebullient faith bubbling in the hearts of millions that can let the healing begin, to be active......and to have faith.
I’m Noah Eaton, happy holidays, and stay cool!
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other"