Apr 30, 2007

Nicholas Kristof brings us the story of Darfur

Tonight I met a man who had been shot in the throat and left for dead in a pile of bodies.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof introduced me and a packed lecture hall to the man by way of a slide show of his trips to Africa during his keynote address, the closing event of the University of Oregon’s weekend-long symposium on the crisis in Darfur called, “Witnessing Genocide: Representation and Responsibility.”

From the picture, we could see his twisted arms and scarred neck. The day he was shot, his village had been burned and his family murdered by janjaweed, the tribe the Sudanese government claims not to support. What Kristof has witnessed, however, shows the opposite. One side has bows and arrows. The other has AK-47s.

“There’s no question of the level of Sudanese government’s support,” Kristof said.

The situation in Darfur began as a rebellion against the government. The government responded by systematically terrorizing and killing three African tribes, he explained. “These are rational pragmatic people who saw a problem and thought the simplest way to solve it was to slaughter a lot of people.”

The death count of the past four years is unknown, but estimates run as high as 500,000.

The man Kristof told us about who lay bleeding from the neck in a pile of bodies that included his mother and father maybe one of the dead. But he didn’t die that day.

His brother had been shot in the foot but was able to run, escaping the janjaweed’s pillaging. When the brother returned to bury his family, he discovered his still-breathing brother. The man carried his brother for the next 49 days, traveling only by night, fleeing the country along with 30,000 others.

That was back in 2004. The situation has grown much worse. And the stories Kristof has gathered in his many trips since are even more brutal. The janjaweed have begun using bayonets to gouge out eyes and mass rape is common. Listening to story after story, I kept thinking, “Why don’t I remember hearing anything about this?” How come Darfur has only recently become a part of the national conscious? (Is it a part of the national conscious?)

Maybe it’s because the Darfur genocide has only recently been covered by the corporate media, (and usually with some connection to Angelina Jolie). I wasn’t terribly surprised when Kristof told us that during all of 2004 the TV news network CBS devoted just three minutes of coverage to the situation in Darfur. In 2005 they cut that to two minutes.

“If you look at the historical significance … you feel embarrassed as a journalist,” Kristof said. I too felt embarrassed, not just for my profession’s obsession with the sensational, but more because I felt just as guilty by not taking time before today to educate myself on the story of Darfur.

It took looking into the bludgeoned face of a man from Darfur projected larger-than-life on the wall before me for me to really see and care.

Thank you Nicholas Kristof for bringing the story of Darfur to us.

NY Times video on the Darfur crisis

Nicholas Kristof's blog

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Hello Katie --

I am teaching at class at Lewis and Clark College titled Bearing Witness. Could I use your blog entry to prompt discussion and writing during the class? I would need to make three copies of the blog entry. If it is not okay, I understand.

Jeff Coleman

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