A World on its Knees

Conflict, genocide, and crimes against humanity

Tag: racism

Isn’t That Over Already?

Back in 2004, when I was in graduate school, Washington, DC was peppered with signs reading, “Save Darfur.*”  The Secretary of State talked about it.  It was the Kony 2012 of 2004.

Well, the LRA is still operating around Central Africa, and Darfur remains unsaved.  It is far from over.  In fact, in recent days and weeks, mass atrocities have been gathering steam in Darfur (and the Nuba, and anywhere else Omar al-Bashir has decided to terrorize in “his” country).

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  International energy and attention has waned for Darfur in part because the international community refuses to address underlying problems that fuel crimes against humanity and genocide.  There are many, many reasons for this.  Here are just a few.

  • Those who benefit from impunity are those who are in power.

There is no impunity for ordinary people.  A man who goes on a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan is arrested almost immediately.  Black boys who play in parks and Black men who sell cigarettes are summarily executed, apparently for existing in public, and those who kill them are almost never imprisoned.  But world leaders are reluctant to put other world leaders in prison or take any other measures against them, in part from fear that such measures could be used against them as well and in part from a misguided concern for sovereignty.  Ultimately, world leaders know that criminal justice is not just (whatever they may say in public) and take measures to avoid any possibility of being called to account.

  • There is a lack of empathy for, and thus a lack of political will to help, people who differ visibly from oneself.

Should the US bar all Muslims from entering, as Donald Trump suggests?  The idea has certainly caught on, just like the idea of building (another) wall between the US and Mexico has.  Humans often look at people who differ from themselves as potential risks, rather than thinking of the real human suffering behind the movement of children out of Central America (the US Government is now giving the Mexican Government money to stop them before they reach American shores) or of large numbers of refugees out of Syria into Europe.  People feel insecure about their own lives and are happy not to have to deal with another person’s suffering.  It’s much easier not to.  It’s much easier to vilify political leaders when they show empathy than to sacrifice tax dollars or other resources to help.

That goes triple for a mainly Muslim Black African population.

  • Strategies to end mass atrocities can also destabilize regions.

Omar al-Bashir is everyone’s favourite kind of villain: an absolute dictator who has been in power for almost 30 years.  Because he has been in power so long, arresting him will necessarily cause a power vacuum in Sudan.  Sudan has had violent conflict more or less constantly from the time of its independence in 1956.  Dislodging al-Bashir would bring an escalation in the conflict and also further destabilize South Sudan, Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Central African Republic, and possibly Uganda.  It would disrupt trade and development in these areas at a bare minimum.  However, Chad is already dealing with Sudanese refugees.  South Sudan is in a state of civil war, and Egypt is not terribly far from it.  Ethiopia and Eritrea continue to struggle with each other and Ethiopia faces internal unrest.  The main effect is likely to be on the power elites within Sudan itself.  War is terrible and destructive, but is targeting civilian populations truly a lesser evil?  Something is wrong with a calculation that says that we must continue to tolerate systematic atrocities because what follows may be open war and political uncertainty.


Omar al-Bashir is an indicted criminal.  It is long past time for him to come to justice.  The US gives more than any other country to humanitarian aid toward Darfur.  It is not enough.  We must be willing to demand that Sudan be suspended from the WTO, the UN, and other intergovernmental organizations until al-Bashir is arrested.  He must not be allowed to travel internationally.

Most importantly, on a human level, we must work to foster empathy in ourselves and to fight the impulse to push others to the margins of humanity.

*Save Darfur website here.


Take Action Right Now

Are you on Facebook?

Below is a community that uses Nazi symbolism, speech, and rhetoric.   Several people I know have reported the group and its posts to Facebook today and all have gotten the response that nothing here rises to the level of hate speech or symbols.  (Seriously, swastikas don’t qualify?)

Please help make a small part of the internet slightly cleaner.  Report this group and as many posts as you can bear to.  Tell your friends.  Facebook’s response is likely automated, but it’s also disgusting.  It should scandalize us.


Bad News from Bloomington

Bigotry is usually subtle.  It creeps up on us (on all of us), and sometimes we’re not even aware it’s in there until something brings it out.

But there are times when bigotry is not subtle.  There are times when it is extreme.  This week, we in the Orthodox Christian community in the United States got word that a young man who was chrismated (that is, initiated into Orthodoxy from another branch of Christianity) in Bloomington, Indiana on the Saturday before Easter/Pascha had proudly posted a photograph of himself to facebook apparently beating a gay man with a Russian cross.  This man has been vocal about his views, calls himself a neo-Nazi, has been on Nightline discussing his ideas, and has been blessed by David Duke as Duke’s natural successor.

Orthodoxy on the internet has responded, hugely, and, I am glad to say, largely negatively.

The priest who chrismated this young man claims that he had no idea of his full views.  One may or may not find this credible.  I think it’s mostly a form of PR; given that the priest has access to the young man’s facebook page, the priest could not have been totally unconscious unless he was trying very, very hard not to notice certain things.  At this point, the parish is working on damage control, and most people are not that good at damage control.

Most of what there is to say about this has already been said better than I ever could by Maria McDowell, Inga Leonova, and others (follow the links; these are well worth the read).  As an Orthodox Christian, it’s important for me to be upfront about the darkness that hides (and has always hidden) in our parishes.  I also think it’s important for everyone to acknowledge that the more violent and virulent, less everyday forms of bigotry are always among us, and that it is always dangerous to dismiss it as merely the work of a few crackpots.  We have a moral obligation to speak.  We have seen it over and over, in every country, among every people: our silence is dangerous.  Our silence can be deadly.

What’s Good about Bigotry?

I am going to answer this question (and yes, it does have a real answer).  It is essential to any real thought about genocide.  First, though, two things that appeared on Twitter this week:

the ability to “Not see color” while for many POC, ignoring such a thing could end in death.” – Elon James White

“I am not a racist. I don’t even see race, not even my own. People tell me I’m white, and I believe them because I just devoted six minutes to explaining how I am not a racist.” – Stephen Colbert

This has been an interesting week for me.  I’ve gotten into three separate discussions with people who truly believed that they (or theirs) have absolutely, positively, zero bigotry.  This is an attitude that comes close to terrifying me.  It is the best possible setup for huge conflicts.  It’s a soup of self-justification that is very, very easy for people to fall into.  But friends, woe betide us if we do.

Woe betide us, because what we deny, we become blind to.

Woe betide us, because if we’re unwilling to admit the possibility that we could be wrong, we will be unwilling to admit that others are hurt by what we do and say.

Woe betide us, because when we pretend to stop seeing difference, we stop seeing others as unique human beings.

We all have prejudice.  We all have bigotry.  It is valuable to us in several ways.  The latest science shows that infants develop preferences for certain people before they are a year old.  They prefer people that are familiar to them.  This is a shortcut for an infant; they learn who to ask for food, and who will actually help them get their needs met.

Another positive value of bigotry is that it is a shortcut to other people’s intentions.  You may not wish to be biased against people with severe psychosis.  After all, illness is terrible.  You’ll still avoid the guy talking gibberish to himself on the street, though, and teach your children to do the same.  You have learned that people who do that are unpredictable, and unpredictability is dangerous to humans.  You may be judging that person wrongly, but the mechanism to make a snap judgement is there to protect you.

Finally, there is a deep value to admitting to having bigotry.  It enables you to listen when people tell you that the things that you are doing are harmful to them.  It enables you to see your reactions to others for what they are.  It enables you to do the work of figuring out which bigotry is useful and which is not useful.  It enables you to be engaged with yourself and the world on a deeper level.  To me, that is the greatest gift of bigotry: when it is conscious, it gives you the power to understand yourself and others better.

You don’t have to fight all the bigotry in the world.  The best work you do is in learning about and fighting it in your own attitudes, your own ideas, and your own life.  This should not bring you shame.  It should be freeing.

On a final note, I would encourage you, if you live in Los Angeles, New York, or Jerusalem (or are visiting those cities) to seek out the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  They have many, many resources exploring different types of bigotry and how they have played out in world affairs.