Wednesday, May 23, 2007

1-800-GENOCIDE

As promised earlier, I am now going to elaborate on the subject of Darfur:

1-800-GENOCIDE (436-6243) is a toll free hotline set up by High School students concerned about the genocide taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan. When you call the number, it will ask for your zip code, then route you to a tree with four options to press:

1. To contact the Governor's office of your home state
2. To contact the U.S. Representative of your district
3. To contact one of your U.S. Senators
4. To contact the White House

With each choice, information is provided about pending legislation to urge support or co-sponsorship for, or to enact policies to help stop the killing. File under: Why didn't I think of that? Easy to remember, hard to forget. Awareness of genocide requires repetition. 1-800-GENOCIDE: A child can remember it.

A lot has been written on the subject of Darfur, but for those who aren't aware, here it is in a nutshell:

The Sudanese government is funding a militia of paid mercenaries, called the Janjaweed, which is targeting non-Arabs in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Janjaweed are brutally gang raping women and girls, burning villages, throwing children into fires and dropping the dead bodies into wells to contaminate the water supplies of a very parched region, all in the name of "cracking down" on a rebellion. They've killed at least 400,000 people since this campaign began in 2003. There are complexities behind the origins of the conflict, but what the Sudanese government is doing can simply be called genocide. And even more simply: this cannot stand. Not on our watch!

This is the same thing that happened in Rwanda 13 years ago, but in a slower, more methodical way. And this is the same government that once provided refuge for Osama Bin Laden to plot things like the 9/11 attacks, among others. U.S. influence, working with other countries in the region forced the Sudanese government to kick Bin Laden out in 1996, and we can do the same to stop the killings in Darfur. As of now our actions have not backed up our official declaration of the situation in Darfur as genocide. Colin Powell called it genocide, Condi Rice said it, and so has President Bush. But little has been done beyond paying lip service at this point.

Sound familiar? Surf on over to the History channel, or if you're in D.C., pay a visit to the Holocaust Museum. The former? Let's just say I'm willing to bet there are more than a few who see footage of Auschwitz and assume this kind of thing could never happen again. The latter is actually fitting, because the Holocaust Museum is very much involved in trying to get people to notice and take action regarding the Darfur genocide now.

The late U.S. Senator Paul Simon surmised that if each Senator and Congressperson had received 100 letters from their constituents urging an American response when the Rwandan crisis first surfaced, U.S. policy would have been different. This is where placing a call to 1-800-GENOCIDE comes in for the current situation in Darfur.

Make no mistake: We are not calling for direct military action, but divestment from support for the Sudanese government in any way. This means sanctions, in short. A divestment strategy worked to end Apartheid in South Africa almost a generation ago, and it can work again now. Plans are in the works for both the Bush administration and for Congress, and 1-800-GENOCIDE addresses these in detail depending on where you're routing your call. As the saying goes: "Stand and be counted."

For those who say we can't do this, not now, because Sudan is our ally for the war on terror, think again. Does the word "double agent" come to mind? It sure does for me. Do you think a man like Salah Gosh should be considered an asset? I don't. Think for a moment about all of the things that have come back to bite us in the ass. For me, that picture of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983 comes to mind (trepidations with certain aspects of YouTube notwithstandng). Continued support of the regime in Sudan is one of those things. We know better. It's time to act. But how? 1-800-GENOCIDE.

There's a book credited to Don Cheadle (actor in the film "Hotel Rwanda" among others) and John Prendergast, called "Not On Our Watch." My good friend Heather Bourbeau was very heavily involved in both the writing and editing of this book. I highly recommend it. Hell, I'll buy you a copy if you'd like. It means that much to me.

Think this is a liberal, bleeding heart cause? Check out the introduction of "Not On Our Watch," co-written by Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Barack Obama (D-IL). This is a cause that conservatives and liberals can agree on. Here's a link to "Not On Our Watch":

http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm?book_number=1982

For those interested in further reading, the following organizations could sure use your support, or at least your time:

http://www.enoughproject.org
http://www.sudandivestment.org
http://www.genocideintervention.net
http://www.savedarfur.org

Yes, there's a lot of suffering and evil in the world. But when it's genocide, I consider it our moral obligation to do all we can to try and put a stop to it. Please help to spread the word. Call 1-800-GENOCIDE. Vote early and often, as they say. And consider placing a call to your local news station. At present, our major media outlets seem to think the color of Britney Spears' wig is more important.

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