On Tuesday I will fly to Uganda to spend the fall semester studying and traveling. This new beginning also marks the end of my brief stint as a Lilith Blogger. Throughout the summer, I have tried to expose the genocide in Darfur in two ways: by describing the actual crisis and by highlighting the international community’s response. Overwhelmingly the situation “on the ground” is dire, while the anti-genocide movement is thriving. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the tireless efforts of countless students, adults, celebrities and (some) politicians, and the continued suffering of the Darfurians. Does this mean that the activists should give up? Absolutely not. The anti-genocide activists’ work is valuable even if the immediate goal of stability in Darfur has not been reached yet. Here’s why:
1. The anti-genocide movement that has erupted over the past few years (over 600 STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition chapters and hundreds of Save Darfur groups) is possibly the first time in history in which ordinary individuals are working together to demand more of their international institutions. From high school students writing letters to the Secretary General of the UN, to average citizens directly funding the African Union peacekeepers, people are expecting more of the multinational organizations that were intended to prevent catastrophes such as genocide from occurring. Our interest in international affairs and global governance signifies that we are being better watchdogs. It is a shame that millions of Darfurians had to suffer for us to open our eyes, but now that they are open who knows what future calamities might be avoided due to our increased vigilence and pressure on international institutions.
2. Never underestimate the importance of the individual. As Robert Winters, the former director of the US Committee for Refugees, said: “People die one at a time, not in millions. We must never forget that. Nor let anyone else. Otherwise, there is the danger of becoming numb to it.” Even if one Darfurian’s life was saved due to our letters and phone calls then our work is not in vain. Additionally, the anti-genocide movement is about human beings reaching out to other human beings, not about “saving” a certain allotment of people. Genocide can only persist when perpetrators cease to view human beings as individuals, and instead see them as part of a larger ethnic, racial or religious order. The attitude that recognizes the importance of the individual challenges the generalizations that allow for discrimination.
3. Rabbi Hillel taught us that when we are faced with inhumanity, our duty is to be humane. We do not have to remedy every tragedy, but we must preserve our compassion and empathy that make us so distinctly human. Even if our efforts are not drastically changing the day-to-day life of Darfurians (the UN-AU force might not hit the ground for months, the Janjawid and Sudanese government continue to terrorize Darfurians), it is essential that we stay tuned and stay involved, lest we concede our personal integrity.
4. In the highly complex 21st century world, we do not yet know how to create lasting social change. The anti-genocide movement is about pulling as many levers as possible, including internet activism, targeted divestment, public rallies, art, music and more. Today’s anti-genocide activists are still learning what works in globalized economies and cross-cultural societies; this knowledge will provide valuable information for other humanitarians, environmentalists, progressives etc.
I enumerated these “silver-linings” to encourage anti-genocide activists to stay committed and not to give in to frustration or compassion fatigue. Yet it is equally important not to be deluded into thinking that we have “succeeded” based on these tangential victories. It is the realities of the Darfurians that count and until we ensure their stability and peace we still have a long way to go.
I appreciate all the comments you have left me and wish you all a sweet and peaceful new year. L’ shana tova.