For the longest time I couldn't get a fix on what the problem in Darfur was all about. I saw the full-page Save Darfur ads in the New York Times. Had some dim sense of mass atrocities taking place. I am embarrassed to say I was one of the millions who weren't paying attention.
What woke me up was the great novel What is the What? by Dave Eggers. It's the story of a survivor of the 20 year civil war in southern Sudan, but it paints a vivid picture of the Janjaweed, the militias that are now wreaking the same murderous havoc in western Sudan, Darfur. This is a "read it and cry" kind of a book, but extremely good.
Half way through it I decided it was time to know about what's happening now, in Darfur. Luck had it that my synagogue had an opening for someone to run a Darfur project it has sponsored since 2005. You can find out about it here. Since then I've been working hard at understanding the whole thing.
The new documentary The Devil Came on Horseback has added immensely to my understanding. If you have any kind of trust in human nature, which I do tend to have, it's hard to get a grip on extreme atrocities. In fact, the book Not on Our Watch (Cheadle and Prendergast) identifies the feeling that people don't do stuff like that! as one reason why people turn the other way. You have to believe terrible things really are going on before you'll do anything to prevent them. The Devil Came on Horseback will make you a believer.
This is the kind of movie people tend to feel they should see, but gee...won't it be just too depressing? Doesn't the kitchen floor really need a good wash? Yesterday I trudged off to the movie theater, leaving behind a husband and two children who were watching the old Beatles movie Help! I felt more duty-bound than enthusiastic.
But it turned out I was wrong. This is a disturbing movie, but also energizing and uplifting. The directors made a brilliant choice when they decided to focus on the personal story of Brian Steidle, the former marine captain who took the disturbing still pictures that are the core of the film. He starts off as a regular military careerist and what he sees in Darfur transforms him into a passionate and committed activist. It is a moving and literally wonderful story.
One addendum--while googling for an image to go with this post, I came upon an interesting website: We are Mothers Fighting for Others. Parents can focus on their own little marevelous wonders to the exclusion of everything else. (I know about that...from personal experience.) It's cool these folks have a different agenda.