Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We Think We Got Tsurus

The more I read about the Middle East, the more depressed I become. Woe unto us. What is going to happen? How does life take such a turn for the worse so quickly? It is going to be a difficult century.

When I look at the greater world, I realize that there are many horrors much worse than anything that has happened in the Middle East, even if we include Iraq. I have read in various newspapers there was an inconclusive election in the Congo which was applauded as a promising move forward. Though the Congolese civil war was supposed to have ended four years ago, the newspapers say the fighting and the chaos continue to kill about 1200 people each day, mostly from hunger and disease. In all, nearly 4 million people have died as a result in the conflict since 1996, almost half of them children under the age of five. Though the Congolese war ended officially in 2002, its legacy of violence will kill twice as many people this year as have died in the entire Darfur conflict which began in 2003. The conflict has been the deadliest for children in the past sixty years. In no other conflict have children borne such a disproportionate degree of the burden. About 30,000 children have been forced into militias while untold thousands of girls have been raped. One in four children in the Congo dies before the age of five because of hunger and disease.

Unlike Darfur, the world has just forgotten this place. The mayhem is a result of a free for all between many different combatants with different acronyms, yet no one has uttered the word genocide. The last time the word genocide was uttered in the context of the Congo was when the 800,000 Tutsis were murdered by their fellow countrymen the Hutus in neighboring Rwanda in the spring of 1994. When the Hutus who carried out the genocide fled to the Congo, the world did not intervene when Rwanda invaded the Congo in pursuit of these Hutus, and with the help of Uganda formed an alliance of pillage and mayhem.

I read the newspaper everyday. I must say that while these four million people were dying, it was not even once on the front page of the newspapers. There was hardly any coverage. I don’t believe the major newspapers and wire services even have a correspondent in the Congo. The Economist and Le Monde occasionally carry a piece from a stringer. The NY Times should stop calling itself ‘the newspaper of record’ and rename itself ‘the newspaper after the fact’. Why are they so cheap? Why are they so cowardly? Now that the horrible war in Northern Uganda is coming to an end, there was yesterday a non- informative story on the front page. Again, after the fact.

Many of the genocides and mass murders of the last century were done when the world was not paying attention. Who knew of Pol Pot and the Cambodian Communists? Who knew Mao was slaughtering millions of people? The same for the Rwanda massacre and now in the Congo. There was a reason Hitler and the Nazis did not publicize their decision to exterminate the Jews. Even in cases where intervention is not feasible, it is criminal to allow these horrible crimes to go unreported as they are happening.

I think there is something to be said for a Wilsonian foreign policy that allocates attention, foreign aid, and if necessary intervention in accordance with the number of people that are dying. If more people are dying in the Congo then in Darfur, we ought to be paying more attention to the Congo. The neo-Conservatives have incorporated elements of high-minded Wilsonian foreign policy, but their criterion for intervention has not been particularly humanitarian. I would think saving millions of lives is more important than promoting democracy. If the Reform Jewish idealist believers in tikkun haolam would form an alliance with the Evangelicals the policy of idealist intervention would have some more political heft. The difficulty is that Evangelicals favor non-governmental small projects; they are reluctant to sponsor government interventions. The tikkun haolam crowd has difficulty focusing on one project; they are so busy telling the world how to solve any and every problem. For an example of engaging in too many tikunim see the vidui, confession of sins in this months Tikkun magazine. I didn’t know so many sins were humanly possible.

Postscript: There is an eye opening article on the Congo in the summer edition of Z, a magazine of the far left. The authors claim that 10 million people have died in the Congo since 1988. If correct we have all lived through a period where far more people died than in the Holocaust, and the world was totally silent. So much for the slogan Never Again. The article has no footnotes, though it does provide names of American corporations that benefited from the looting of the Congo. In principle the claims are verifiable. The article understands the almost universal silence about the Congo as a consequence of the business interests American corporations and others have in exploiting/stealing the mineral wealth. A similar thesis is presented in John Le Carre’s new novel The Mission Song.

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