Monday, March 05, 2007

Is Never Again a Hollow Promise?

(An Editorial on Darfur by Father John Walsh and myself)

Never Again. This promise, uttered by many in the in the aftermath of the Holocaust, is smugly repeated, over and over again. Unfortunately, the world has never kept this promise. In the latter part of the 20th century, there have been genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda. In the last four years, 450,000 have died in Darfur, countless women have been raped, and up to 2.5 million people have been driven from their homes and nobody seems to care.

The Government of Sudan, along with the Janjaweed militias, continue to act with impunity, and massacre black tribes in the region. A mere 60 years after Holocaust, the genocide in Darfur is ignored by the international community.

The world’s reaction to this situation is shocking. The bizarre wrangling about whether to define the atrocities in Darfur as a genocide is morally repugnant. Yes, every so often some initiative seems to contain sparks of hope; yet they never seem to ignite a fire under the complacency of the U.N. Occasionally, the horrendous stories about what is happening in Darfur are reported on, only to be immediately shuffled off in silence. The genocide continues and the world does nothing, and the United Nations continues to fail humanity. “Never Again” is happening all over again.

Genocide can only occur when there is international indifference. At a conference in Evian in 1938, and at a later conference in Bermuda in 1943, the entire world community refused to help Jewish refugees fleeing from the Holocaust, and the United States refused numerous requests to bomb Auschwitz. (At the same time, the Canadian government’s response to Jewish refugees was “none is too many”). In Rwanda, Romeo Dallaire begged the U.N. Security council for a few thousand soldiers, but was turned down. The tragic result of this international indifference was the slaughter of one million people in one hundred days. Genocides amply demonstrate, as we are reminded by the powerful words of Edmund Burke: “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." And for God’s sake, right now the world is doing next to nothing for Darfur.

The media bears particular blame. Media studies show that in June, 2005, TV news spent 50 times more coverage on the Michael Jackson molestation trial than it did on the Darfur tragedy, and it devoted 12 times the coverage to the tomfoolery of Tom Cruise than it did to Sudanese oppression. Obviously, contemporary media values news about celebrities a lot more than mass murder. If the media actually reported about Darfur responsibly, there would inevitably be a true outcry from every decent human being about this genocide.

Today, we demand change. The United Nations must follow the noble aspirations in its charter and make Darfur its number one priority. The Canadian government must take a leading role in pushing the U.N. on this urgent issue. The media must put Darfur front and center; not just once or twice, but rather day after day, forcefully and graphically. And to make all of this happen, Canadians must take to the streets; not just a few hundred students, but rather tens of thousands of people, both bourgeois and bohemian.

On July 10th 2004, the two of us stood together with an interfaith group of clergy in the memorial room of the Montreal Memorial Holocaust Center. We stood within reach of an urn of ashes, an urn of ashes brought to Montreal from Auschwitz, ashes of the victims of the Holocaust. On that day, we came to protest the genocide in Darfur, to loudly repeat the promise of never again. Our call, in the first year of Darfur genocide, was ignored. The world remained silent, and is still silent today.

In the past, voices uttered never again… and the world remained silent …. and then there was Rwanda … and the world stood silent … and now there is Darfur … and the silence is deafening. Today, we once again invite every rabbi, priest, minister and imam to join us in preaching the universal religious truth that the Darfur genocide must end today. Tomorrow will be too late.

The Bible reminds us that “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour”. Darfur is not someone else’s problem: it is everyone’s responsibility, the responsibility of each person reading this column (yes, we’re talking about you). Only you can give the answer to the following question:

Is never again a hollow promise?

Father John Walsh, pastor
Saint John Brebeuf Parish
LaSalle, Quebec.

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz,
Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem,
Cote St. Luc, Quebec

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