Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's that saying about the road to hell again?

Al Jazeera English reports: "Representatives of Sudan's government and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), the most influential rebel group in the country's western Darfur region, have signed a joint declaration of good intentions."

Full story here.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Now What?

It’s been a few years now since we decided that it was a Good Idea to check out some camps for Darfur refugees to try to figure out what exactly was going on in that particular slow-motion apocalypse, so we begged for money, shopped for body armor, got an impressive array of immunizations, bought a bad-ass first aid kit, hit up anyone we could for advice and headed out to Darfur (or at least right next to Darfur) to make a movie and figure this whole thing out.

So, now that we’re back and we’ve finished our movie, it’s time to ask what the rest of the world has accomplished in Darfur in the meantime. As far as we can tell, it looks like just about everyone has decided to be Very Deeply Concerned about Darfur. In a surprisingly effective global effort, the international community has produced copious amounts of concern, circumspection and caring. So much, in fact, that roughly 14.8 metric tons of concern per day is being produced for each refugee camp, along with more than 140 liters of circumspection and 6.7 bushels of caring per annum for each and every refugee, war widow, internally displaced person, and so on.

Just kidding!!! The international community has produced nowhere near that amount of caring or concern and, in any case, even if the world were that concerned, it still wouldn’t matter a single bit.

Even with the avalanche of press attention, celebrity public-service announcements, diplomatic notes, Congressional junkets, international condemnation, well-intentioned and occasionally baffling protests, heady conferences, solemn books and magazine articles, and a bewildering array of conflict resolution efforts, negotiations, and peace talks, it doesn’t look like much of anything has actually been done to actually stop a murderous tinpot dictator with an inexplicable desire to acquire some exceedingly desolate real estate using a impressive collection of remarkably brutal genocidal tactics.

After so much intense effort to create more and more concern, circumspection and caring the average guy on the street has spent just about his entire supply of concern on Darfur already, and still there’s no real end to the genocide in sight. Unless, of course, we just let them finish the job. The malaise of the average guy is understandable. When a sitting President calls Darfur a genocide only to be rebuked by a former President for using the word genocide, it’s not hard understand why moral clarity and purpose can get lost underneath this big amorphous pile of concern, circumspection and caring that we seem so bound and determined to dump on Darfur.

Evidently, the only guy in this mess who really does seem to making any headway towards his goals is the aforementioned tinpot dictator: Sudan’s President Bashir. He has demonstrated an uncanny management of the rate of genocide in Darfur – enough killing to keep the camps full, the Janjaweed entertained, the Sudanese Air Force gainfully employed, the protesters marching, the activists outraged and the locals ground into the dust. Even so, Bashir hasn’t gotten so impatient that he’s caused the rest of the world to actually act, rather than just be concerned. Aside from Bashir’s skillful management of the genocide, international action has been made even less likely through an impressive set of evasions, dodges and excuses (like being unable to sign a peace accord because he didn’t have his favorite peace-accord-signing pen handy) that would make the most cynical of con men blush bright red with embarrassment at the sheer unmitigated gall of it all.

It’s because we like – no, scratch that – we love to be concerned. People feel good when they’re concerned, and feel even better when everyone else can see how very, very concerned they are. For most folks, being concerned means caring. For other folks, being concerned means nodding sagely and remarking about how complex the situation is, and explaining how our approach must be circumspect.

But how does all this concern, caring, love and action stand up against the actual genocide occurring in Darfur? Well, it turns out that President Bashir is quite aware that the international community is the undisputed heavyweight champion of concern. So Bashir decided that the best way to get around this big epic wave of concern was to be completely unconcerned about what anyone else thought.

Rather than worrying about concern, Sudan pursued a novel strategy of actually doing something, rather than just being concerned about something. Unfortunately, Bashir’s “something” is a low grade, beneath the radar, genocide with just enough feigned concern for international opinon to drag out agreements to a fruitless extreme and assure that China’s Security Council veto is still safely in his pocket. It turns out in fact, that doing “something” is such a novel, modern, innovative, high-tech, social networking strategy for committing genocide that all of the petitions, social networking tools, online video clips, print ads, marches, congressional junkets, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum, aren't always suited to confronting actual action.

Where does that leave us now? We are obviously very, very good at being concerned about stuff. We need appreciate that cynicism about action is not a substitute for truly caring and, anyway, truly caring doesn’t make a damn bit of difference if we don’t actually do something tangible. We need to decide if we are concerned enough to act, or if we are only concerned enough to enjoy our righteous indignation that no one else is acting either. If we are willing to recognize that wringing our hands might not be an effective tool for addressing genocide then we need to start being concerned about acting, rather than just acting concerned.

Since all this outcry about Darfur started we’ve gotten a new President, a new Secretary-General of the United Nations, a new Secretary of State, and a new just about everything else. We should take note of the fact that the Clinton Administration spent more time bombing Sudan before the uproar over Darfur than the Bush Administration did after all hell broke loose. It might be high time that the world started to worry less about being concerned, and more about acting. If we don’t then we best sit down and quit pestering everyone and their kid brother to show how concerned we are, and face the fact that “Never Again” means “Never Again, Except For Right Now, Or Except In Africa”.

We went over and made an honest try at moving the ball forward – in fact we’re going to be paying off the making of this film for years to come – but at the least, please do something. Start by watching our movie, making up your own minds, and if you see fit, support our efforts to figure out the situation and shift the debate from concern to action.