I went this past Sunday to the Darfur anti-genocide rally in Washington. It wasn't something I wanted to do. I had zero desire to spend ten hours on a bus going to DC and back again. I had no desire to stand out in the hot sun for hours while wading through a mass of people. This is not my idea of fun.
But I don't want to seem like some pompous superior moralizing pundit. To be honest, the situation in Darfur never had a very high profile for issues that I think about. I mean, I was familiar with some of the basics that were going on, and of course I am against the killing of innocents, but it was happening so far away, to a people who I was unfamiliar with, for a reason that I had never looked up. It may be my failing for not giving the issue enough priority in my mind, but the reason I went was not because I felt bad or sympathetic for the people being raped and slaughtered. That doesn't mean that I didn't feel bad or sympathetic, but that simply was not among my true reasons for going to the rally.
I don't know much about African politics and history. Maybe this is why the goings-on in Darfur bleep low on my radar. Maybe I don't identify with the people of Sudan as I do the my fellow Jews around the world or my fellow Americans or even my fellow citizens living in the free world. There are times when I fight back tears when I read about a terrorist action in Israel, but even today I only sense the genocide in Darfur intellectually. Of course it is terrible and of course the torture and murder of innocents is horrible, but for whatever reason, I don't *feel* their pain as I do when I think about the victims of atrocites like the Holocaust.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that the images of these other atrocities have been seared into my memory while the like-conceptions for the Darfur genocide are absent. I cry for the Holocaust because I can imagine myself there walking through a concentration camp or being berated or beaten by a Nazi thug. I can imagine myself on a bus in Jerusalem the second before the suicide bomber pushes his button. I can imagine myself as a passenger on a plane hijacked by suicidal terrorists. The tears come, not because I fear death or because I am sad for the loss, but because I can vividly sense the anguish of the victims. I am sad, of course, for the loss of life. I am sad for many things. But they are not why I cry.
I do not see myself living in an African village and being suddenly felled upon by a genocidal force. I try to imagine what it would be like, but it doesn't seem real to me. It's like I'm making up most of the details - which I am - because I am too unfamiliar with the tactics and methods of the perpetrators or what the scene would look, sound, and smell like. Again, this may be my failure for not becoming familiar with the details.
I went to Washington, not because I felt bad for the people of Darfur, but because I felt morally obligated to be there and be counted as one who stands against genocide. As a Jew I feel a unique responsibility to stand up for issues like these where human rights are violated and where human life is being taken on such a grand scale without accountability. We have a unique position, our people, being the survivors of an utterly inhuman attempt to destroy us all. In our collective memories we know all too well what it is like to be targeted for extermination. To bring good out of that evil would be to use it as inspiration to ensure that it never happens again.
We ask the world, "Where were you? Why didn't you stop them when you had the power to do so? Why didn't you make a fuss? How could the slaughter of millions go unremarked and unchecked for so long?" It is well known that the Allies were familiar with the Death Camps. They had flown over them and over the railroad lines that transported people to their deaths. Yet they did nothing. They flew right over them.
How can we feel outraged when we are ourselves are so complacent to the genocide going on in Sudan? I can imagine the question being posed to me, "What did you do when genocide was going on in Darfur?" At least now I'll have an answer.