It appears as though the word genocide doesn't hold as much water as it once did. At least not in a world far more mesmerized with perceived exotica such as tsunami and fantastic Hollywood-like images of monstrous water walls, coconut trees snapping like twigs, and vacationers running for their lives from white sand beaches. And while the tragedy of 2004 was nothing short of catastrophic, and the public outpouring of support, swift and heartfelt, when did the act of genocide become a shrug-of-the-shoulders occurrence?
It used to be that the very utterance held clout as perhaps one of a handful of words in universal vocabularies that brought to light the most heinous of war crimes and unimaginable horror at the cold indifference to human life. Why is a natural cataclysmic event more deserving of our action than one of manmade origins? When did we become numb, so detached from news of widespread massacre and suffering, that to turn away, whether in indifference or overwhelm, became acceptable? Is apathy something that we can justify as part of the human condition, a personality flaw perhaps, to simply explain away our neglect - in washing our hands of genocide? I don't believe so. Who then, other than those directly thrusting blades, aiming guns, burning villages, or vile hands violating innocent flesh, is responsible?
If we are cognizant of an ongoing and worsening situation, of mass slaughter, millions displaced, frightened, raped, homeless, sick, and we do nothing, are we not complicit? Is guilt the only way to get one's attention? And if so, how tragic a statement that only action borne of guilt would surpass the basic human emotion of compassion, or moral outrage leading to action. What on Earth will make governments and global citizens alike waken from a deepening somnolence and do something, anything, to stop the catastrophe in Darfur? If the graphic images and numbers from Darfur are not enough to make the world say "enough," then perhaps mankind has slipped into a bleak downward spiral of both conscience and spirit, for there can be nothing more horrific at this moment in history than what is now happening in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Aid workers in the war-torn region are under increasing attack; they too are being murdered. Many international aid groups have had to suspend their operations due to mounting violence. This means stockpiles of food, medicine, supplies, doctors, nurses, social workers, and peacekeepers of all sorts will be forced to scale back or leave the region altogether.
What this also means is that the millions of homeless, violated, sick, brutalized human beings already suffering unimaginable loss, will suffer yet more. They will be even hungrier, colder, weaker, even more vulnerable to attack, and they will die in numbers that will confound and shock not only humanitarians, but also those once indifferent. And yet, all of us saw it coming. The elderly and young will die a slow death by starvation. Disease riding on the broken shoulders of the malnourished will riddle thousands upon thousands of the hungry, all void of any creature comforts in which to enfold themselves as their energy and breath slips away.
On September 30, the African Union mission will expire and they will be forced to leave the bedlam of Darfur. The 7,000 strong AU was largely ineffectual in protecting the hundreds of thousands of victims from their attackers. There were simply too few for too many. The Sudanese President, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has denounced any United Nations peacekeeping force calling the UN's action to deploy some 20,000 peacekeepers to the region, as "a hidden agenda to recolonize his country." The proposed United Nations force would comprise up to 17,300 military personnel and 3,300 civilian police. Bashir has called this plan nothing short of a plot to exploit the Sudan's natural resources.
Antonio Gutteres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has described the situation in Sudan as "the largest and most complex humanitarian problem on the globe."
If we do not act swiftly, snap out of our global inertia, years from now the scene will look hauntingly familiar. We will be watching the film version, much like we watched, both dumbfounded and repulsed, the sickening scenes from true horror stories such as Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda. From our comfortable seats, we will shake our heads, and shed heartfelt tears over events that took place, not so long ago. We will witness the images and events of the genocide in Darfur unfold on screens everywhere. Millions of people will watch in abject horror as The Feature Film and Made-For-T.V.-Movie show the mass slaughter of innocent lives. Those very lives snuffed out on our watches, in our lifetime. But not until Hollywood releases the details in surround-sound/Technicolor faux reality, will we say, "we should have done something. Why didn't we do something?"
Today, write letters to government officials on both local and federal levels. Through op/eds, letters, phone calls to those in charge, demand that President Bush put Darfur on the top of his agenda, and appoint a Special Envoy. Insist on a massive United Nations peacekeeping effort as well as a strengthened African Union force. Stress the importance of the implementation of a Darfur Peace Agreement. Push for increased humanitarian aid, and ensured safety for all aid workers. Give what you can. Speak out. Teach what is happening in Darfur in your classrooms. Call your radio stations. Contact state government officials and request that they divest funds from Sudan.
Do not wait for the next Oscar nominated film about the genocide in Darfur to come to a theater near you.
Or if you are, then speak out now and make a difference, and in any way you can, to change the ending of the film. So, just before the screen fades to black, the words we see scrolling down in deafening silence are not, "And again, the world did nothing to stop it."