No Thanksgiving in Darfur

Posted: Nov 23, 2006 12:01 AM
No Thanksgiving in Darfur

Thanksgiving is our most satisfying holiday. It's still untouched by the dead hand of commercial exploitation, and remains the Proustian feast for adults of all ages. The day recalls the aromas of a plump turkey stuffed with egg bread dressing browning in a grandmother's oven, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and the best pie crusts in the world overflowing with pumpkins, apples or pecans. Cousins fill the house with the noise of happy play, and everyone makes over newcomers to the family crawling to the lullabies streaming from tiny music boxes.

So excuse me for being the spoilsport this year. In the midst of abundance, this is the right time to call to the attention of those who sup at American feasts the plight of others who suffer pain unimaginable. Evil men have exiled innocents to death camps, raping, castrating, torturing and killing in wholesale numbers men, women and children who have been forced from their homes in Chad and the Sudan and driven to shacks and hovels to survive without food, water or medicine.

Darfur/Darfur, words that in another time and place might be set to music, is an organization that monitors a tragedy. Theirs is a mournful dirge. D/D has joined with the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington in a haunting project for this week of Thanksgiving to bring attention to genocide. For seven nights the museum's outside walls reflect moving photographs of black men, women and children whose sunken eyes stare out on the Mall with pain, despair and hopelessness. They're the lucky ones. They have survived, but at a price. The face of a 3-year-old bashed beyond recognition by the butt of a gun, and men, women and children with bodies shattered by bullets are too grisly for public display. We see young women gathering firewood, the desperation of reaching for the bare essentials of life written across their beautiful faces.

The Holocaust Museum takes its mission seriously. It not only memorializes the inhumanity of a genocide past but strives to make the public aware of new atrocities in the human family. In July 2004, the Museum's Committee on Conscience declared a "Genocide Emergency for Darfur." The digitally projected slide show will travel to other cities, to ask spectators a simple question: "Darfur: Who Will Survive Today?" It's a question the most powerful nations in the world have been unable to answer. The United Nation's Human Rights Council is too busy condemning Israel to agree even on a resolution to condemn brutality in Darfur.

A small African Union peacekeeping force of 7,000 is woefully inadequate and too incompetent -- or worse -- to stop the slaughter. Last week in Ethiopia, African, Arab, European and U.N. leaders agreed to send a force of 20,000 more men to try again, but there is no timetable, and the Sudanese government has "questions" and "reservations," buying more time for the slaughter.

The rebels targeted for extinction by the Sudanese are fighting both the armed forces of the Sudanese government and Janjaweed ("devil on horseback") militias allied with the government. The rebels sometimes defend themselves with bows, arrows, swords and spears against the modern technology of war. Occasionally the rebels steal heavy weapons from the enemy, but they're radically outnumbered and torn by tribal conflicts within their own ranks. Sudanese air attacks annihilate whole villages. Estimates of the dead run between 200,000 and 400,000, innocents caught in a crossfire. Disease and hunger raise the daily death toll. More than 2 million civilians have been displaced to live in the desert with no protection from devils on horseback.

Earlier this year, Americans from all over the United States marched on Washington to plead for an end to the killing. Eli Wiesel, who knows the reality of genocide, spoke movingly of the need to act at once, with more than sterile debate and meaningless resolutions adopted by well-fed bureaucrats. Polls show that large majorities of Americans know something must be done. President Bush signed the Darfur Peace Accountability Act last month. The bill freezes the foreign financial assets of anyone found to be complicit in the genocide and denies them the right to travel here.

"The tools available within this bill, several of which were immediately enacted by the president, will bring us closer to the only true measure of success in responding to this genocide: protecting the people of Darfur from further attack," says David Rubenstein, coordinator of the Save Darfur Coalition. "Achieving that goal will take a sustained effort by the president, and by heads of state around the world."

The rest of us can start by talking about Darfur loud enough to make the politicians listen, beginning today at the dining room table. Happy Thanksgiving.