Squabbling over the Fire

Squabbling over the Fire

6/26/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

Genocide is not personal. Indeed, nothing is more impersonal than the attempt to murder a group based on their race and culture, and nothing else. Unfortunately, those who have the most power to stop genocide have the fatal tendency to distort their relief efforts into a private feud—or, worse yet, a political bargaining chip.

One would think that the word’s political leaders would be able to swallow their pride at the outbreak of humanitarian atrocities and focus on preventing further murders. The cause of world peace demands nothing less. Somehow, though, the presidents, premiers, prime ministers, sheiks and dictators of this world always manage to skew mass killings into political ammunition, directed at whatever enemies they may have. One tragic example is the ongoing genocide in Darfur, an atrocity that might have been quelled earlier had it not been for the “us first” attitude of two world leaders.

The United States and the People’s Republic of China could not be much further away from Darfur—if one measures lengthwise, that is. In reality, both are quite close to the conflict due to their respective ties with the government there. American corporations have a sail’s worth of ties to Sudan, as does the Chinese government and its oil-forged relationship with Omar Al-Bashir.

Both of these powerful nations are more than aware of the genocide; in those respects, at least, they share common ground. The unfortunate twist in the anti-genocide push, however, is that both countries are at odds with each other as well. China and the USA are the two most powerful entities on Earth; in their stooping to help the people of Darfur, they inevitably rubbed elbows and bruised shoulders.

Suddenly, the genocide became personal. Bush chastised Hu Jintao for his oil ties to Sudan, as did numerous relief groups. China retaliated by pointing fingers at America’s human rights violations—gross misdeeds, no doubt, but paling in contrast to the Janjaweed’s butchery. Distracted by the crosstalk that went back and forth between them, both leaders—both countries—let 400,000 lives slip between their fingers and millions of homes burn to the ground.

One of humankind’s worst traits is our tendency to squabble over who financed something, who perpetrated something or who allowed something while forgetting that “something” altogether. The governments of China and the U.S.A. acted like two firefighters who, with hoses in hand, squabble over who lit the flames as the house burns down.

In any humanitarian crisis, we must put the victims’ wishes before our own. Though I’m blessed not to count myself among the ranks of those endangered by the Darfur genocide, I can imagine the wishes of the people quite well. They don’t care about the feud between China and the U.S; they aren’t interested in the cockfighting between Bush and Hu Jintao. What they want more than anything else is safety, shelter, infrastructure, food and drink; their lives, really. Once the world’s two greatest nations can provide for that, they’re free to bicker for as long as they want.

Unless the world can put the people of Darfur before their own interests, the dreams of the Sudanese will wither away in the harsh African desert, never to return.

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