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Posted September 10, 2007 in Sudanese genocide
Alex Beam, "Can the Glitterati Save Darfur?" Boston Globe, September 10, 2007

There was yet another outbreak of Darfur Chic at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Friday night. The traveling photography exhibit Darfur/Darfur was in town, and the ICA packed an auditorium with well-fed local glitterati to hear chin music about the four-year-old humanitarian crisis, as well as some real music from cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

I'm glad I took in Darfur/Darfur, because I narrowly missed last month's "Rip the Runway for Darfur" gala in New York, sponsored by Level Vodka. I see the Designers for Darfur are showing off their fall collection. Marvy. Oh, look - here's an invitation from Ambassador Swanee Hunt, to join her and Liz Walker at another top-drawer Darfur event next month.

If the ongoing conflict in the Sudan isn't the most pressing international crisis, it is certainly the most precious. Earlier this year, the Sundance festival was atwitter with tales of the Darfur documentary, "The Devil Came on Horseback." The movement has the obligatory "I Care" wristband, this one green, with the words "Not on Our Watch." The Save Darfur campaign sells car ribbon magnets and of course those lawn signs you see in better communities everywhere.

Who hasn't been to Darfur? United Nations ambassador Angelina Jolie has visited the region several times and has even penned stirring op-ed columns, op. cit.: "It has become clear to me that there will be no enduring peace without justice," whatever that means. Ambassador Mia Farrow co-authored her own stirring op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, calling out director Steven Spielberg, who has been working on the Beijing Olympics.

"Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur's genocide?" Farrow asked. Well, he is now. Spielberg hastily drafted a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao, urging him to rethink his Sudan policy.

What effect have all the fashion shows, wristband sales, and celebrity drop-ins - did someone mention George Clooney? - had on the millions of displaced persons in Darfur? None whatsoever. At the ICA event, Harvard's Samantha Power noted that 2,000 African Union peacekeepers are patrolling an area the size of France, an effort she called "arguably better than nothing." "Arguably," as you know, is a synonym for "not," e.g. "Curt Schilling is arguably the best pitcher in baseball."

You read a lot about Darfur in the newspapers; you might think something had actually changed there. You would be wrong. The Sudanese government signed a Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2006. According to Save Darfur's official website, "the violence got worse." In August of that year, the United Nations Security Council called for the expansion of a Darfur protective force. "Once again," the website reports, "the violence got worse."

Just last week, the United Nations scheduled a new round of peace talks to begin in late October. To say that expectations are low would be an understatement.

Bill Clinton said that the greatest regret of his presidency was his failure to mobilize support for intervening in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. (I assume he meant his greatest policy regret.) But what could he have done? The memory of Somali thugs dragging American servicemen's bodies through the streets of Mogadishu was still fresh. Ever since, no one has wanted to thrust American lives into the midst of a tribal conflict in Africa.

The various save Darfur movements - there is the divestment campaign, the Olympic boycott campaign, the "consciousness raising" campaign, and so on - trade heavily on an implied equivalency between the slaughter in the Sudan and Hitler's war against European Jewry. The campaigns often use the slogan "Never Again," and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has designated Darfur a "genocide emergency."

It is certainly true that collective ignorance - willful on the part of some - in countries like the United States, Britain, and France, helped seal the fate of Hitler's victims. But it is also true that millions of Russian boys, and tens of thousands of American boys, lost their lives wiping the Third Reich off the face of the earth.

So which nation wants to sacrifice the lives of its young people to overthrow the al-Bashir government in the Sudan? None, of course. Until then, we'll make do with wristbands and fashion shows.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is

Category: Sudanese genocide