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November 22, 2006

A Trendy Cause?

At the Washington Post yesterday, Anne Applebaum raises an interesting question as to why Darfur has captured the public's attention while, despite strong efforts by human-rights advocates, North Korea and Iran, for example, have not.

. . . it is not simple to explain why this particular grass-roots action has been so successful. After all, Darfur is not the only place in the world where there has been mass murder, even ethnic mass murder, on a large, historically familiar scale. The North Korean regime has for years run concentration camps, directly modeled on the camps of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. But though there is excellent documentation of Pyongyang's camps -- the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea even has satellite photographs on its Web site -- and though some religious and university groups have made an effort, the level of interest, and therefore perhaps of U.N. involvement, is much lower.

The same is true of arbitrary arrests in Iran, some of which have also targeted particular ethnic groups for intimidation or elimination. For that matter, Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons to murder tens of thousands of Kurds never caught the popular imagination, not before the war and not afterward.

She offers a possible explanation:

I can offer no scientific explanation as to why the tragedy of Darfur conjures up the specter of history's judgment and why other tragedies do not. But the answer must lie in the fact that this conflict has so few strategic or geopolitical implications. Because it seems to be in no one's "interest" to do so, a call for U.N. intervention in Darfur surely feels -- at least to Americans and Europeans who haven't followed China's involvement in Sudan's oil industry -- like an act of real charity, and not more evidence of the West pursuing its interests.

. . . Taking a stand against genocide in Sudan does not require anyone to take a parallel stand on communism, the war on terrorism or the war in Iraq. It does not imply that you are left-wing, right-wing, pro- or anti-Bush. Once the United Nations is there, this may change: The U.S. intervention in Somalia immediately politicized what had also appeared to be an apolitical conflict. But at the moment, it is still possible to think of Darfur as an appropriate target for neutral humanitarianism.

. . . But when future generations look back on this era, they will judge us not only for how we responded to the most primitive and the most apolitical of horrors. They will also judge us by the consistency with which Western and international institutions battled sophisticated totalitarianism in all its forms: That is, they will judge us by the United Nations' application of its own declarations on human rights, by America's ability to live up to the rhetoric of its leaders, by Europe's willingness to stand behind its stated values.

The creation of an international coalition to end genocide is a stunning achievement, but its goals are still not deep or broad enough.

Consistency is the word that stood out to me. While the reason for the phenomenon of trendy humanitarianism may be hard to pinpoint, it seems the solution is that clear. If we really believe in intervening for Darfur (and we should), we should also believe in advocating for the world's other oppressed groups and intervening for them. Now, I realize here we begin to be overwhelmed, thinking of all the world's tragedies happening as I type this post and as you read it. But we can all try to do what we can, where we can, for whomever we can. (And a reminder: Here's what you can do for North Korea's victims.)

A new Christian Science Monitor editorial offered some encouragement, quoting Desmond Tutu:

"[W]e are actually made for goodness," Desmond Tutu recently told the Dallas Morning News.

. . . "The media tend to inundate us with rather unpleasant news. We have the impression that evil is on the rampage, is about to take over the world," he says. "We need to keep being reminded that there is a great deal of good happening in the world."

Ultimately, he says, good does prevail. "[C]ontrary to all appearances, we are in fact made for harmony," he says. "We are made for togetherness. Ultimately, we are really family."

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John Hetman

I am not encouraged by Archbishop Tutu's rather banal observations, which are repeated numerous times by other progressive optimists usually at gatherings where cheer comes too easily. It seems rather like downplaying a burning house because the plumbing is still working.

Soccer World Cup 2010

God bless Desmond Tutu

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