It’s time to pay attention to the genocide in the Sudan |

It’s time to pay attention to the genocide in the Sudan

Rich Mayfield

The terrible term genocide comes from combining the Greek work “genos” (race) with the Latin word “cide” (killing) but by any name it is horrific. Its practice in the 20th century serves as a disturbing warning against its practice today. A quick look at the history books reveals sobering details and scandalous inaction.From 1915-1918, 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkey were murdered in a systematic genocidal purge. A purge, it should be noted, that was highly successful and disturbingly ignored by the rest of the world. Indeed, so effective was this campaign of genocide that it inspired Adolf Hitler as he prepared to invade Poland. In 1939, Hitler told his generals to follow the Turkish model: “Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my ‘Death’s Head Units’ with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?” The genocide of Hitler is well-documented but no less horrifying. There is abundant evidence that America knew more about the murders than most Americans wished to admit.

Reluctance to muddle in European affairs became the excuse as we turned our collective backs on our Jewish sisters and brothers. I was in Tanzania, about 100 miles from the Rwandan border in 1994. I remember asking several locals about the fighting going on across the border. Time and again, I was reassured that it was not a big problem. “It’s a tribal thing,” people told me as if that somehow diminished the terror that innocent Tutsi and Hutu men, women and children were experiencing a couple of hours drive away. One day, in the midst of the genocide, I picked up a Kenyan paper at a newsstand in Arusha. The front page reported nothing on the war in Rwanda. Instead, the blaring headline dealt with the trial of O.J. Simpson. Although most of the world knew something terrible was going on, most of us seemed reluctant to want to know more. Both our government and the U.N. carefully avoided the use of the term genocide because it would have demanded some immediate response. Some believe this was the greatest failure of the entire Clinton tenure.

Time and again, we have shown ourselves to be hesitant in the face of horrifying news of genocide. Anyone reading these words can certainly remember the news out of the former Yugoslavia. Whole villages being wiped out. Two hundred thousand Muslims were killed and 2 million left homeless. Again, the evidence was abundant. In Srebrenica, 8,000 men and boys between the ages of 12 and 60 were taken out of their homes and senselessly slaughtered. Why was our response so muted? It was, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, “the greatest failure of the West since the 1930s.”Today we face another example. Daily reports out of the Darfur region of Sudan and now Chad indicate with nauseating details the genocidal actions of the Sudanese government against some of their own citizenry. Bands of Arab militia, known as the “Janjaweed, “are engaged in terrorist action against black Sudanese, murdering men and boys, raping women and girls, wiping out entire villages as they force innocent people into exile.This is not a new problem. The genocide in the Sudan has been going on for years, but it is becoming more and more difficult to ignore, both for governments and for you and me. Since 2003, 400,000 people have been killed and 2 million have become unwilling refugees.

In recent months, pressure has been placed on President Bush from some of his closest allies, Evangelical Christians, to exert moral leadership against this terrible injustice. Brave politicians are following brave religious leaders into the Sudan and returning with their hearts, minds and lives changed. If ever there was a time to write your congressman or congresswoman, Senator or President, it is now. Urge them to support action against the continuing genocide. History will be our judge in the future, but the dying innocents of Darfur are our accusers today. Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. Visit his website at

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