The Pure Intention of Activism

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2 comments posted
Darfur is such a difficult

Darfur is such a difficult question; I’ve been wrestling with this, grilling my friends, etc., and have not been able to find an answer that is in any way satisfying. I’m not sure there is one. I certainly don’t know enough about the specifics of the situation to feel qualified to say much, but…

First things first: the violence, the genocide, is epic and nightmarish and must end. No question about that. But how?

My reservations come in because I don’t know who or what is capable of stopping it without making things worse. I’ve been an activist and a student of history for about eight years now, and what I keep finding, over and over and over again, is that US intervention makes things worse. The US does not intervene in a humanitarian crisis unless it has a financially or politically profitable motive for doing so (which is why we did not intervene in Rwanda, and why the US dragged its feet when it came to rescuing Jews right up until the end of World War II). The Sudan does have oil, so a US invasion is not inconceivable, but we need only witness the civilian situations in Iraq and Afghanistan (including the continued subjugation of Afghan women) to realize that oil, rather than human need, takes precedence. We’ve managed to bungle things so badly in Iraq that many anti-Saddam Iraqis are now nostalgic for the old days. In addition, the ongoing wars have stretched the US military to its breaking point—another adventure in Iran or an intervention in the Sudan would require a draft, at enormous political cost, and potentially kindle the spark of dissent that has already appeared in the US military. This leads me to believe that the current powers that be, of both political parties, will continue to ignore the suffering.

I would love to see a US military that does what the politicians tell us it does, that goes around the world protecting the weak, chastising dictators and spreading democracy. Unfortunately, that has never been the case, and as long as we live in a society where profit rules, I find it difficult to believe that it ever will be the case. As Rumsfeld likes to say, you go to war with the army you have, not with the army you’d like, and I fear that the army we have would only pour fuel on the fire burning in the Sudan. Perhaps a UN peacekeeping force could do better, but the UN is not, after all, an army, and it seems that a great deal of manpower would be required to begin any sort of serious change in the region. I’d like to see a pan-African force, funded by richer countries, acting on this, but I don’t know enough about African politics to begin to guess how that might be managed.

As an activist in the US, I feel that, given these rock-and-a-hard-place choices, the only thing I can realistically do is to pressure my government to (a) cancel Third World debt, suspend drug patents, fund aid, and take other necessary steps to eliminate the poverty and desperation that give rise to these situations; (b) stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring the troops home, and stop the military adventurism in the Middle East so that we have soldiers available both for genuine humanitarian relief abroad and for disaster relief at home; and (c) keep fighting a system that places oil profits before stopping genocide.

So I’m not going to DC this weekend. This is partly for personal reasons (my friend is getting married), but it’s also because, as an activist who lives and operates in the US, I’ve been concentrating my efforts on aiding the growing immigrant rights movement here, an arena in which I feel I can have much more impact. A nationwide immigrants’ strike has been called for Monday, May 1, and I would urge everyone who opposes “ethnic cleansing” and racism to support the fight for human rights for immigrants—no human being is illegal!

I would love to know how others feel about this, and I apologize for the length of my comment. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m not convinced that a US intervention is likely, possible or even likely to stop the genocide.

Posted by Sarah on April 28, 2006 3:30 PM
Dear Shai, Your photos are

Dear Shai,
Your photos are beautiful, your message about the rally powerful. Thank you for sending them out. I imagine you're there now. Power to you and to all those with you in sending the message that many who would be there with you if you could want to convey, count on you to sound in volume...

Posted by arielle on May 2, 2006 10:25 AM