The Duke Sudan Coalition faces an interesting dilemma. Students who disagree with DSC’s political lobbying hesitate to take up the same banner of human rights, against the genocide that has claimed nearly 300,000 lives in Darfur. Others, who may not disagree on policy, fail to back the initiative for a slew of reasons: disinterest, apathy or lack of information and time.
Sophomore Carly Knight, one of DSC’s organizers, has been frustrated by the curious development. “There ended up being a huge debate from some people who felt it would be impossible to work together,” she said. “I just want to ward off any possibility of politics breaking things apart.”
Their challenge, while daunting, is all but uncommon. It is a perennial problem, not only at Duke but throughout the world. There are thousands of causes, and thousands of ways to contribute to each. A fair and appropriate question: Why should I sacrifice my limited resources for THIS cause, when there are so many who need, hunger and die each day?
Perhaps the most salient argument against intervention in Sudan is national sovereignty, notes Michael Munger, chair of Duke’s political science department. “The U.S. was criticized for invading Iraq. Those opposed to the invasion of Iraq cannot now say, ‘But, we should invade Sudan, for their own good.’ If you think that the U.S. president has the obligation to intervene when repressive regimes are killing their people, unilaterally, then you have to give George Bush the power to use his own discretion. You can’t have it both ways,” Munger wrote in an e-mail.
However, mass murder should concern policymakers. Political disagreement on Sudan or any other issue is unavoidable, as long as compulsory brainwashing eludes us. But we must not kid ourselves: We either tacitly accept a foreign policy that values some lives over others, or we acknowledge its hypocrisy.
We disagree because different life experiences derive different conclusions about society and human nature. While liberals consistently hark back to structural or environmental inequality, conservatives exalt the power of individuals to overcome. The left sees only injustice; the right, strictly responsibility. Yet both suffer from a myopic understanding of fundamental human needs.
As usual, the best way to find common ground is to search for higher ground. The vast majority of Americans identify as Christian. Christians believe that we human beings form one body in Christ. Thus, all human beings—regardless of their stead in life, regardless of their culture or their creed—are integral members of one global family. On this point there can be little quibbling.
But, if Christianity is our common guiding philosophy, why do we disagree so much when members of our family are dying?
Frankly, we have become complacent. Our leaders have become complacent in their lives of excess. And—contrary to the teachings of Christ—we have become complacent with moral hypocrisy, in order to fuel our voracious, insular lifestyles. We tolerate poverty, violence and rape against our fellow brothers and sisters. We hoard wealth for our immediate families and keep others at distance, ignoring the larger family beyond.
And then we wonder why the world hates us. We reap what we sow.
The Darfur Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., on March 2, is a means toward ending that complacency. You can e-mail your senators to support the bill, and your representatives to introduce a House version, at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov.
However, ending our collective complacency must start from within American hearts. It will mean treating beggars, criminals, or outsiders as you would your own blood. As you can imagine, this will not be easy.
In the movie Hotel Rwanda, during the first weeks of the genocide, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) expresses the hope that international peacekeepers will save his country. Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) promptly rebukes him: “We think you’re dirt,” he says. “You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”
After the tragedy in Rwanda, the late Sen. Paul Simon, D-I.L., reflected: “If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, then I think the response would have been different.”
We must live up to the ideals of our faith by treating the world as family, not dirt. And hopefully, this time, we will act before it’s too late.
Philip Kurian is a Trinity senior. His column appears Mondays.
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