Darfur and Bangladesh: "We Better All Pray That There's Really No Hell"
So what's the holdup?
Is some diabolically obscure and intransigent obstacle standing in the way of relief and rescue?
No. The problem is ancient, universally known, and quite simple:
The World's diplomats and politicians stall and block any decisive or effective response, while they trade endless accusations, countercharges, insults and complex procedural memoranda.
In Darfur: Sudanese officials demand months of further delay before they will allow relief teams into the areas of conflict. Western politicians accuse the Sudanese government of willful complicity in Genocide. Muslim World leaders accuse Western governments of anti-Muslim sensationalism.
In Bangladesh: Relief agencies make do with a pathetic fraction of what they need. Local potentates fixate on how this disaster will impact their interests and careers.
In the capitals of the Industrial World: Pundits and politicians crouch in their chosen lairs, scheming out how they can spin these tragedies to their best advantage.
Whose hands are clean? Whose reports can we trust? Which arguments matter, and which are irrelevant when we know a huge population is at risk?
Is the "image" of Christianity, or the "image" of Islam, or the "image" of Africa, of the West or the Middle East--is any of these "images" worth the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of desperate people to starvation and death?
How about political and diplomatic precedent? Shall we leave a desperate, imperilled population to suffer and die, in order to avoid setting a "bad diplomatic precedent" of intervention?
Why isn't every national leader, in every society on Earth, setting aside these kinds of considerations, and making immediate relief and rescue our sole priority?
Where are our leaders?
How about Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Jesse Jackson and Billy Graham leading a nonpartisan, non-denominational campaign to expedite immediate US disaster relief--now and in the future?
How about Don Imus, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Moyers launching a media juggernaut for World Disaster Relief--now and in the future?
How about every major auto manufacturer donating a massive stockpile of cargo trucks, water tankers, 4-wheel drives, ambulances and spare parts, and putting it at the disposal of the Red Cross/Red Crescent? No publicity allowed. No bean counting about who donated the most, or whose equipment performed best.
How about the World’s major oil corporations paying for all those vehicles, plus a huge supply of antibiotics?
How about a 10-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax at the pump, to fund global disaster relief?
The Rich, the Powerful, the Influential have no trouble deciding whom we should hate, fear, and kill, and finding us the wherewithal with which to do the killing.
But feeding, healing and rescuing people apparently present far more formidable obstacles and questions. Relief funds are never available. Conditions are always too complex and intractable.
An exercise in ethics and spirituality:Imagine that Jesus and Muhammad (pbut) were right here, staring us in the face. Would we continue to stall, and dissemble, and bicker as we have done up until now?
Would we waste more time explaining to the Holy Prophets our various positions about who is most to blame? ("And it's certainly not ME!")
Would we waste time griping about who is exploiting these disasters for propaganda or political advantage? ("And it's certainly not MY faction!)
Would we dare to waste ANY time blathering around such garbage, knowing that hundreds more people are starving and dying by the minute?
This is the standard of behavior we must demand of our leaders--political, religious and business leaders alike:
A Question for Everyone:I have a question for those debating how to respond to the present crises in Sudan and Bangladesh:
How do you suggest we excuse our inaction in the face of these simultaneous humanitarian catastrophes? To our children? To history? To God?
Shall we drag out the tired and discredited excuses we used in the aftermath of the Rwandan and Bosnian tragedies? The Congolese famine? Bangladesh’s last several floods and famines? The East Timor atrocities? The implosion of Haiti?
Can any person of conscience still mouth--or listen to--any of those excuses, without puking?
Which excuse is YOUR favorite?
David L. Hoffman is coordinator of Humanity Check, an interfaith peace and reconciliation project. Visit Humanitycheck's site for more information. Mr. Hoffman can be reached at email@example.com. Donations to Humanity Check may be sent to:
No. 357, 122 Calistoga Road,
Santa Rosa, CA 95409
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This story was published on August 6, 2004.