Monday, March 31, 2008

Darfur and the Good America

I just finished reading another great book. If you read my blog, you probably wonder how I have time to raise 5 children, home school them and read so many books. It's really quite easy. I just don't clean my house. No one seems to care anyway, and I would rather read than clean. I also blame my husband because he brings me books every day, and I figure that if he really wanted a clean kitchen floor, he'd stop bringing home so many books.

Anyway, this book is called The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur. As you can also probably tell from my blog, I'm not really into light reading. Sometimes I am, but mostly I'm into reading stuff that's exciting, controversial or at least unusual. The author of this book Daoud Hari, is a Zhaghawa tribesman from the Darfur Region of Sudan. Although he's from a small village in the desert, he was able to obtain an education and speaks several languages, thus has worked as a translator for the reporters wanting to enter Darfur and retrieve the truth about what's happening there.

Incidentally, for people who don't know what's happening there, it's a genocide. There are two groups of people in Sudan: indigenous Africans and a ruling Arab minority (placed in charge of Sudan when Britain pulled out back in the 1950s). General Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir is the president of the Sudanese government. He has overseen the expansion of sharia law, and closed the mouths of all opposition. He also has established friendly ties with Osama bin Laden and other fundamentalist terrorists (of the muslim variety, not Jerry Falwell), allowing them to open training camps in Sudan. Yet, our military is caught up in a war in Iraq! Go Figure.

Without going into what is probably necessary detail, Bashir armed traveling bands of Arabs, called Janjaweed, to wipe out the indigenous population of Darfur. The death toll estimates range from an unlikely 100,000 to the more-than-likely 400,000, with about 200,000 refugees fleeing to the neighboring country of Chad since the year 2003.

While Hari tells the horrifying story of his country, I'm impressed with his faith in the sovereignty of God (while he and I would differ on exactly who God is -- he's Muslim). Many times through out the book, Hari takes courageous steps to sneak reporters into Darfur, and continues down incredibly dangerous roads believing he is doing what God requires of him. The other aspect about him personally that comes through in the book is his sense of humor, with chapter titles such as "Our Bad Situation Gets Worse" (He, a driver and reporter, had been captured and beaten in the previous chapter -- getting worse was days of imprisonment and torture), and also in his whimsical one-liners that were interspersed throughout the story. Not enough to laugh out loud, but enough to see not only his humanity but the humanity of the people that are being slaughtered.

There were also interesting parts in regard to the USA. After he, an American reporter and their driver were captured, beaten and then transferred to a government detainment center, he wrote about how bleak their future looked. A cruel military leader, believing that they were spies, had just informed them that they were going to be tortured until they revealed all their information.

"Torture was the popular new thing," writes Hari "because Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were everywhere in the news at that time, and crazy men like this were now getting permission to be crazy."

Just a little sentence, written by someone who now lives safely in America, that should just send shock waves of guilt down every American's spine. Guantanamo, while revealing just how "christian" our nation really is, has brought a totally different American influence to the world than most Americans would hope. What an incredible shame. What an incredible evil.

But then, the other side....

After weeks of prison and daily torture, the prisoners were moved again, and this time, finally taken to a court. When they walked into the courtroom, there awaited a surprise:

"What was extraordinary was that standing in the back of the courtroom were four U.S. soldiers in their uniforms: a Marine, two U.S. Army Officers, and a U.S. Air Force officer. I had some idea that some wheels were turning to do something for us. But look at these guys, My God, you have no idea what they looked like to us. They came up to us, and Paul [American Reporter] was very moved to see them. This made the officers very emotional and everyone was wiping their eyes.

"Depending on your situation in the world, U.S. soldiers may not always be what you want to see, but for the first moment in all this time, I thought that I would probably not die today. I did not think the danger was over....but certainly not today -- not with those guys in the back of the room smiling and winking at us. The good America was in the room." (italics mine!)

The Good America! Wouldn't it be great if we were always the "good America"? I felt really proud to be American when I read that. Am I part of the "good America"? I hope so! I've seen the good America when I saw the line of hopeful immigrants waiting to try for an immigrant visa at the Warsaw embassy in Poland. I saw the good America in my daughters' orphanages when most of the children there were wearing clothing donated by Americans. I also saw it when I was told by many people in those countries that they knew that Americans would come to adopt the girls -- no one else would be willing. Even in this book the author points out that many communities in both the US and Europe have taken in thousands of Sudanese refugee boys and helped them start new lives. It just stinks that when we're not good, we're really bad.

I won't ruin the rest of the story by telling you how it ends, although you'd have to guess that Hari doesn't die since he wrote the book. However, I will lead you to an interesting thought.

There is a really easy way that you can influence the tide of events in Darfur!

All wars have to be financed in someway. Certainly, as an American currently financing a war, you're aware of that! The genocide in Sudan is being financed by the selling of Sudan's oil and natural resources. The biggest offender is China (who also politically supports the government of Sudan), but unfortunately, a number of large American investiment firms invest in the companies that are buying that oil! Over 70% of the profit from selling that oil goes into the genocide, and without the money, the genocide would have to stop. This idea is called "divestment", and has been used to peacefully bring about change in other international violent situations.

By clicking on this link you can go to the Divest for Darfur website and sign a petition to urge the big offenders to withdraw their support and invest elsewhere. It only takes a few seconds to do, and, especially if you have money invested with these banks, it's something you really should do.

To quote Hari, "The leaders of the world can solve this problem, and the people of Darfur can go home,if the leaders see that people everywhere care deeply enough to talk to the about this... For it has no meaning to take risks for news stories unless the people who read them will act."

Well, you've read it, so now it's time to act. Be Good America. Be Christ.


Dennis Burke said...

An amazing essay. I am moved to tears--sincerely. I was long ago moved to action.

Deb said...


Thanks. I hope people who read it will,too, be moved to action...