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  Darfur and Bangladesh: "We Better All Pray That There's Really No Hell"


Darfur and Bangladesh: "We Better All Pray That There's Really No Hell"

by David L. Hoffman

Through Fragmentation and Inaction in the Face of Catastrophes We Are Sacrificing Innocents on the Altars of Nationalism, Politics and Advantage. Where are our leaders?
AUGUST 5, 2004--No one denies that hundreds of thousands of desperate people--our sisters and brothers in Humanity--are on the brink of immediate starvation and death in Darfur, Sudan, and on the flood-ravaged plains of Bangladesh. Those disasters are universally acknowledged.

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?

Too simplistic?

How about Don Imus, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Moyers launching a media juggernaut for World Disaster Relief--now and in the future?

Too sentimental?

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.

Too simplistic?

How about the World’s major oil corporations paying for all those vehicles, plus a huge supply of antibiotics?

Too simplistic?

How about a 10-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax at the pump, to fund global disaster relief?

Too simplistic?

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.

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:

  • Stop evading and posturing, and do something concrete.
  • Put aside your elaborate political and diplomatic schemes, and ideological debates. We can get back to them.
  • You can get back later to your endless dispute about why your religion is right, and someone else's religion is wrong. There will always be a market for that kind of rhetoric.
  • We can meet later to sort out the implications for "US diplomatic interests," for "the reputation of Arab governments," for "the military integrity of Northern Africa" and all the other concerns we have been putting ahead of the survival of these hundreds of thousands of imperiled, innocent human beings.
Don't worry: You'll still have office suites, limousines and State Receptions waiting for you after we clean up this mess. In fact, most of you real movers and shakers can attend banquets every night of the week, even while you do your jobs and (for once) earn some of your pay.

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 Donations to Humanity Check may be sent to:
No. 357, 122 Calistoga Road,
Santa Rosa, CA 95409

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Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on August 6, 2004.
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