Category Archives: Darfur

Libya and the “Never Again” Doctrine

I’ve always believed that in the wake of the Holocaust, the popular Jewish imperative “Never Again” shouldn’t just apply exclusively to Jews, but to all peoples everywhere.  While it might come out of our particular experience, it must be considered a universal imperative. Since we Jews know first hand about such things, never again can we remain silent when any people’s existence is threatened by murderous regimes.

To be completely fair, however, it’s easy enough to determine to not stand idly by in the face of government-sponsored brutality – but it’s quite another to determine what in fact should be done.  Our current military operations in Libya provide the perfect case in point.

Among the many pieces I’ve read on these horrible developments, I was interested to learn that Ban Ki-Moon had in fact invoked “Never Again” while discussing Libya during a recent tour of the US Holocaust Museum. And it was extremely significant to me to learn that National Security Advisor Samantha Powers – an eloquent voice of conscience on the subject of genocide – was among those who urged Obama to support military action against the Kadaffi regime.

However, while I do indeed believe in “Never Again,” and while it has been increasingly agonizing to read the tragic reports coming out of Libya, I must reluctantly admit I do not support our military operations there.

First, and probably foremost, whatever is happening in Libya, it is not close to the scale of a genocide. If that sounds overly crass, it is worth asking why we are eager to engage militarily with Libya yet have chosen not to act on behalf of Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or any number of other countries whose governments are committing atrocities that are no less brutal than Kadaffi’s (and in some cases more so.)

On this point, Israeli journalist Yael Lavie comes to a fairly blunt conclusion:

Call me a cynic, call me a product of the Middle East or better yet a citizen of this region who witnessed the outcome of western intervention over the course of the last 20 years – but the war that has just begun is not just. It is not being waged to stop the Libyan people from being killed. If that were the case we can name many ongoing genocides around the world, such as the decade long holocaust in the Sudan, where no western UN resolution motivated military action has ever been taken and ask why now?

As it stands right now we may be facing another attempt by the west for enforcing regime change in the Middle East with the usual western personal agenda – the agenda of oil. There is one thing recent history has proven to us time and time again – Where there is no oil, there is no intervention.

Even if one doesn’t share Lavie’s level of cynicism, we’d do well to ask whether or not it’s our place to engage militarily with every oppressive regime around the world.  Especially given our recent history of military regime change with Muslim nations, our operations in Libya might at least give us cause for concern.

As for me, I believe it is profoundly ill-advised for our country to pursue yet another war against an Arab country. While it is true that the Arab League voted to back a no-fly zone, that support is already waning now that air strikes are killing Libyan civilians.  Make no mistake: we are now waging war in Libya.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, as usual, hit this point right on the head on the eve of the UN Security Council vote:

While the action is billed as protecting the civilians of Libya, a no-fly-zone begins with an attack on the air defenses of Libya and Qaddafi forces. It is an act of war. The president made statements which attempt to minimize U.S. action, but U.S. planes may drop U.S. bombs and U.S. missiles may be involved in striking another sovereign nation. War from the air is still war…

The last thing we need is to be embroiled in yet another intervention in another Muslim country. The American people have had enough. First it was Afghanistan, then Iraq. Then bombs began to fall in Pakistan, then Yemen, and soon it seems bombs could be falling in Libya. Our nation simply cannot afford another war, economically, diplomatically or spiritually.

None of this is meant to diminish the sacrosanct imperative of “Never Again.” But beyond the moral absolutes there are difficult and painful questions we must face when confronted with human rights abusing nations: when should we deem it necessary to authorize the use of military force? Why are we compelled to act in some cases but not others? To what extent are our decisions motivated less by need than by national self-interest?

I’ll give the final word to a recent Nation editorial:

(There) is a worrying dimension to this intervention, in that it reflects a mindset that associates US foreign policy, whether alone or as part of an allied force, with heroic crusades to bring down the bad guys. But it is exactly that mindset that has done so much damage in the Middle East over the years and that has saddled us with the costly burdens of two ongoing wars in Muslim lands. And Washington’s support for military action in Libya, on avowedly humanitarian grounds, should call into question ever more sharply the cynical American acquiescence in brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain.

The democratic awakening in the Arab world presents the United States with an opportunity to put that past behind us. It offers us a chance to align our interests with democratic change and economic progress. It would be a tragedy if we allowed the intervention in Libya to distract us from these difficult and important challenges. We need to deal with longstanding allies like Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia—which continue to resist democratic reforms—and to help the Egyptian people consolidate democracy and create jobs and economic opportunity. The most productive role for America in the Middle East today is diplomatic and economic, not military.

Alarm Bell for the Collective Conscience

As perfect a 21st century Jewish mission statement as you are going to find – here’s a taste from a recent Ha’aretz editorial on the plight of Darfurian refugees who are currently seeking asylum in Israel:

Too soon we have forgotten the suffering that is the lot of the persecuted. Perhaps we have grown accustomed to concern ourselves only with our own plight after absorbing Jewish refugees since the founding of the state. Today, when we are more prosperous, when the reservoir of Jewish refugees has dried up, there is fortunately no reason to scan the globe for people who could be considered Jewish and coax them to come here. And there is no reason to remain indifferent to the suffering of non-Jews who could contribute to the State of Israel as much as any Jew.

Darfur and its refugees are like an alarm bell for the collective conscience, and that bell is supposed to ring also when non-Jews are suffering.

Another great take (again in Ha’aretz) comes from the venerable Israeli Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer.

Dream – and Act – for Darfur

I wrote about Mia Farrow and “Dream for Darfur” almost a year ago – and since that time DFD has geared up big time to use the Beijing Summer Olympics to focus world attention on the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

Here’s DFD’s own description of their mission:

The 2008 Olympics are fast approaching.  Between now and August there is precious little time to use the leverage of the Beijing Games to press China to bring security to Darfur.

China holds unrivaled influence with the genocidal regime in Sudan.  China must immediately use that influence to persuade the Sudanese government to allow a full and robust civilian protection force into Darfur. 

If China does not act, in its role as Olympic host and world leader, Beijing will go down in history as the host of the “Genocide Olympics”: China will be sponsoring the Olympic Games at home and the genocide in Darfur – in which it is complicit – abroad.

DFD has a formidable laundry list of actions they’ve organized including an alternative torch relay and the promotion of a pledge for folks to engage in a mass “turn-off” of commercials by the Olympic sponsors when the games are televised (during which DFD will be offer alternative programming including Farrow’s interviews with Darfurian refugees). Olympic sponsors, by the way, include such big guns as Adidas, Anheuser-Busch, Atos Origin, BHP Billiton, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Lenovo, Manulife, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Panasonic, Samsung, Staples, Swatch, UPS, Visa and Volkswagen. (A full list of Olympic sponsors can be found here.)

Click above for a great video about their efforts. Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine also featured an excellent piece on DFD – click here to read.

The Genocide Olympics

darfur-banner-800.jpg

Mia Farrow’s incredible Wall Street Journal editorial last March – regarding Sudan, China and the 2008 Beijing Olympics – has given powerful new momentum to the Darfur activist movement. In the words of one NY Times writer, Farrow’s efforts “could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not.”

In the meantime, there’s been a great deal of worthwhile responses to her challenge throughout the blogosphere and in the print media. Among the best is this recent piece from Sports Illustrated by my all-time favorite sportswriter, Rick Reilly. This kind of advocacy from such a major publication is HUGE, quite frankly.

I have a feeling we’ll be reading much more about the “Genocide Olympics…”

Mia’s Olympic Mettle

Rick Reilly

Sports Illustrated, May 14, 2007

The first hero of the 2008 Beijing Olympics stands 5’4″ and weighs 108 pounds, including purse. She’s 62, runs the 100 meter dash in about a day and has 14 kids. She speaks in a weak voice, yet her words are shaking the world.

She’s Mia Farrow. Remember? Rosemary’s Baby? UNICEF goodwill ambassador?

On TV and in newspapers, Farrow has been pressuring China to face up to its role in the genocide being carried out by Arab militia groups in the Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 400,000 non-Arab Africans have been slaughtered and another two million have been made refugees. “These are the Genocide Olympics,” says Farrow, who has made two trips to Darfur and three to camps in neighboring countries. “China is funding the first genocide of the third millennium.”

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, China buys about two thirds of Sudan’s oil. The Sudanese government then uses the majority of its oil profits to buy weapons and aircraft, most of them made by China. The arms are turned over to a proxy militia, the Janjaweed, which burns, dismembers, rapes and kills Darfur’s villagers and destroys their land. China maintains that it doesn’t interfere with the internal politics of other nations, and using that policy it has blocked U.N. efforts to send a peacekeeping force into Darfur by insisting that Sudan first invite the troops in.

Farrow has also tried to get at China by taking on Steven Spielberg. The King Kong of directors is one of the Beijing Games’ “artistic advisers,” helping to orchestrate the opening and closing ceremonies. But how can a man who decried one holocaust in his finest film Schindler’s List be in bed with a country that is helping to bankroll another?

Spielberg could “go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games,” Farrow wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in late March, referring to the German woman whose film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics is viewed as Nazi propaganda.

Spielberg’s face must’ve fallen like E.T.’s when he read that. He immediately wrote a letter to China’s president, Hu Jintao, asking him to intercede in Darfur. China sent a high-ranking official to Khartoum to try to persuade the Sudanese government to allow in the 20,000 peacekeeping troops who stand ready to enter Darfur under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1706. That envoy returned to pronounce the situation “improving.”

“That visit meant nothing,” says Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor who is a leading Darfur activist. “He toured the camps with the most food and the most control. This was airbrushed genocide.”

Spielberg declined to comment to SI, but his spokesman, Marvin Levy, said, “This is a step-by-step process. We think there was some movement. We’ll see.”

“At what cost?” asks Farrow. “Ten thousand a month are dying, minimum.” Forget Private Ryan, Mr. Spielberg. Save Darfur!

Before the world arrives, Beijing has instituted a campaign to get residents to stop spitting and rushing into buses and trains without waiting for people to get off. But if the Chinese have to clean up for company, why shouldn’t their government?

The last thing anybody wants, including Farrow, is an Olympic boycott. It would make China a sympathetic victim, and innocent athletes would suffer. But China’s feet must be held to the fire, even if that fire is an Olympic torch. And activists are lighting the flame any way they can by:

Organizing an alternative torch relay, which will go from Darfur to Hong Kong, linking the bloodshed to its biggest banker (www.dreamfordarfur.org).

Insisting Olympic sponsors (go to www.miafarrow.org for a list) lean on China to pressure Sudan to let the peacekeepers in.

Writing protest letters to the Chinese government, such as the one just signed by 12 Cleveland Cavaliers.

Convincing athletes, if nothing changes by 2008, to compete in Beijing wearing Dream for Darfur’s Chinese-character tattoo (translation: China, please) on the inside of their wrists, a reminder of the way Germany’s holocaust victims were tattooed.

“I wish I could take China’s president to Darfur, take Mr. Spielberg there, every Olympic official,” Farrow says. “Because once you’ve seen it, you can’t turn away.”

Do you remember Tiananmen Square, 1989? The guy who stood all alone, in front of a column of tanks? Today, that lone figure is tiny Mia Farrow.

Who will line up behind her?

Collective Guilt, Collective Atonement

060420_armenian_hmed_12phmedium.jpg“This shall be to you a law for all time: to make expiation for the Israelites for all their sins once a year.” — Leviticus 16:34

The concept of collective guilt is central to this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. The parasha powerfully teaches that communities, just like individuals, are able to bear guilt. And just as with individuals, this guilt cannot be allowed to remain in the collective soul – it must be faced honestly by the nation if it is to be successfully expiated.

The issue of collective guilt was on the front pages this past Tuesday as the world observed Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Those who attended the official observance here in the US might have noticed that there was a careful avoidance of the use of the word “genocide.” As a recent Chicago Tribune article explained:

US officials have avoided the word because Turkey, a key ally, strongly opposes the characterization to describe the early 20th Century deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

In the past, members of the House and Senate have proposed resolutions calling on the president to utter the phrase “Armenian genocide,” but the efforts have run aground in the face of political concerns voiced by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

A JTA article noted that the Jewish community has become increasingly “caught in the middle” of this high profile controversy:

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a Jewish congressman with a substantial Armenian constituency, has tried multiple times to pass such a resolution. This time he has garnered nearly 200 co-sponsors for his non-binding resolution, and believes he has the backing of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi has met with U.S. Armenian leaders.

The lobbying has had some effect. Four groups – B’nai B’rith International, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs – are set to convey a letter from Turkish Jews who oppose the resolution to U.S. congressional leaders.

The ADL and JINSA have added their own statements opposing the bill.

“I don’t think congressional action will help reconcile the issue,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “The resolution takes a position; it comes to a judgment.

“The Turks and Armenians need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn’t be the arbiter of that history, nor should the U.S. Congress.”

It is surprising and, quite frankly, shocking that a prominent American Jewish leader (and Holocaust survivor) such as Foxman would counsel that Jews and Americans should not mix in on this issue. Jews should not hold countries accountable for committing genocide? If not us, who?

Here is the historical record: between 1915 and 1918, the Ottoman Turkish government subjected the Armenian people to widespread deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre, and starvation. The Armenian population was forcibly removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where the vast majority was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. In addition, significant numbers of Armenians – including many women and children – were methodically massacred throughout the Ottoman Empire.

In 1915 (thirty-three years before the UN Genocide Convention was adopted) Turkey’s treatment of Armenians was condemned by the international community as a crime against humanity. Indeed, the very word “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a human rights lawyer and activist (and Holocaust survivor) who viewed these Turkish atrocities as a clear precedent to the Nazi genocide.

Even in the face of compelling historical evidence and comprehensive eyewitness testimony, Turkey has resolutely refused to recognize its collective guilt. Using arguments that have the same alarming resonance as Holocaust denial, Turkey has claimed that the number of Armenians killed is vastly exaggerated, that those targeted were enemies of the state, and that most died from disease and starvation during their “relocations.”

Why are many American politicians and Jewish leaders hesitant to hold Turkey accountable? The answer has nothing to do with history and everything to do with politics. Turkey is, of course, a crucial NATO ally and offers the US open access to their Incirlik air base, an important transit point for nearly three-quarters of all military cargo headed for Iraq. Turkey is also a critical Western transit-point for Western oil interests. US companies have a significant stake in the continuing construction of an oil pipeline running from Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. (Indeed, Turkey is not above politically retaliating against those countries that raise the Armenian genocide issue. In 2000, the House of Representatives withdrew a resolution on the Armenian Genocide after Turkey threatened to close its airbases to US planes on fly-over missions in Iraq.)

Notwithstanding Abe Foxman’s politically motivated remarks, Jews and Americans have a critically important voice to add in “arbiting” the resolution of this issue. Though Turkey may be a political ally of Israel, there is a deeper, countervailing value that is demanded of the Jewish people here. As Jews, we have experienced the collective trauma of genocide first-hand, and as such we have an added responsibility to shine the brightest light possible on all those who would perpetrate similar crimes against humanity. We, of all people, cannot ignore the Hitler’s tragically prophetic statement: “Who now remembers the Armenians?”

As Americans and citizens of what some people choose to call the “world’s only superpower,” we have a unique responsibility as well. Samantha Powers’ important book “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” has documented a our nation’s shameful inaction when confronted with the moral challenge of genocide. In the first chapter, she chronicles America’s nonresponse to growing reports of Turkish atrocities. Powers poignantly presents the pleas of Henry Morgenthau Sr., then the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, as he helplessly witnessed the plight of the Armenian people (“It is difficult for me to restrain myself from doing something to stop this attempt to exterminate a race…”) Powers then goes on to demonstrate America’s repeated choice of political “strategic” expediency over moral leadership:

America’s nonresponse to the Turkish horrors established patterns that would repeated. Time and time again the US government would be reluctant to cast aside its neutrality and formally denounce a fellow state for its atrocities. Time and time again though US officials would learn that huge numbers of civilians were being slaughtered, the impact of this knowledge would be blunted by their uncertainty about the facts and their rationalizations that a firmer US stand would make no difference.

It’s time for us to break the pattern of nonresponse. Click here for more information about how you can urge your senators and representatives to call for swift passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (SR 106, HR 106) and take concrete steps to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

Poetry of Genocide

In honor of Yom Hashoah (“Holocaust Remembrance Day”), here are two poems by survivors of genocide: one by the great Jewish/Italian writer Primo Levi (who died twenty years ago this month) and the other by Emtithal Mahmoud, a 13-year-old Darfur native who now lives in Philadelphia.

Please participate in the upcoming Global Days For Darfur – you can find information at SaveDarfur.org. I also encourage you to check out “Crisis In Darfur,” the remarkable and important new project by Google Earth and The United States Holocaust Museum. “Crisis” is the first project of the Museum’s “Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative” that will include information on potential genocides allowing citizens, governments, and institutions to access information on atrocities in their nascent stages and respond.

May the memory of the lost be for a blessing.

holocaust2.jpgShema

by Primo Levi

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Translated by Ruth Feldman And Brian Swann

internally_displaced_persons_in_darfur.jpgWhat Would You Do?

by Emtithal Mahmoud

What would you do if
your town was bombed

And everything near it was gone?

What would you do if
you were cold and alone,

And cast to the streets without a home?

What would you do if
someone killed your mom and dad?

And you had lost everything you had?

What would you do if
you were shattered and broken

Because you have witnessed
the unspoken?

If you run, where would you go?

If you died, would anyone know?

I myself would pray
And hope for a better day.