The Most Wretched Place on EarthJ. FRASER FIELD
The facts of the matter are not in dispute.
The facts of the matter are not in dispute. The Sudanese regime, centered in the North, has — over the past 17 years — conducted a bloody and genocidal civil war in order to impose Islam on the largely Christian South. An estimated two million Christians and animists have been killed — 90% of them civilian. Five million more have been driven from their homes, and thousands of children have been sold into slavery.
Horowitz' reaction to all of this has been deeply personal. He writes, "The mounting persecution of Christians eerily parallels the persecution of Jews, my people, during much of Europe's history. The silence and indifference of Western elites to the beatings, looting, torture, jailing, enslavement, murder, and even crucifixion of increasingly vulnerable Christian communities engages my every bone and instinct as a Jew."
Horowitz, Elie Weisel, and 150 major religious and national leaders, joined with Congress in urging President Clinton to demonstrate leadership against what a House resolution explicitly described as the deliberate policies of genocide committed by the Khartoum regime against its Christian and animist populations. These requests were made all the more pressing by last week's call by the president of Sudan, Omar Bashir, for an escalated jihad (holy war) against those very populations.
A few months prior to Bashir's statement, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared the human rights situation in Sudan to be "not marketable to the American people." The U.S. has since lifted all restrictions on gum arabic imports from Sudan ($40 million a year) and is now considering whether to resume all trade and diplomatic relations.
That's why Michael Horowitz went to jail.
Sudan is arguably the greatest humanitarian crisis of the last half-century. More people have been killed in Sudan than in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya, and Somalia combined and yet, unbelievably, the situation in Sudan somehow hasn't qualified for strident moral outrage on the part of the U.S. Administration.
Horowitz has his theories.
Government and media elites — twentieth-century products of an Age of Politics — are conditioned to dismiss allegations of widespread anti-Christian persecution. To them, the notion of Christians as victims simply doesn't compute. Armed with knowledge of sins committed in the name of Christianity and horridly unaware of Christianity's affirmative role in Western history, modern-day elites are conditioned to think of Christian believers as the ones who do the persecuting, not its victims. An elite culture that speaks caringly about Buddhists in Tibet, Jews in the former Soviet Union, and Muslims in Bosnia finds it easy to dismiss the thought of Christians as equivalent victims.
But before we get overly smug about American hypocrisy in Sudan, Canadians better look to their own.
Talisman Energy, Inc. (Calgary), Canada's largest international oil and energy concern, has emerged as the most important corporate partner with the Sudanese government in the development of oil fields in South Sudan.
An article by Eric Reeves (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 30) describes the company’s involvement. "Talisman has, along with its investment partners, China and Malaysia, agreed to send [40%] of its revenues to Khartoum. This is extraordinarily significant income for the cash-strapped Khartoum regime, which spends about $1-million (US) per day on the war; much of this money has been borrowed against anticipated oil revenues."
Yesterday, the U.S. Treasury applied sanctions on Talisman’s consortium. Americans caught doing business with Talisman or other consortium members could be subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, as well as imprisonment for up to 10 years.
The Canadian government, on the other hand has so far refused to apply sanctions, despite a report, released Monday, finding that "the evidence we have gathered, including the testimony of those directly involved, directs us to conclude that oil is exacerbating conflict in Sudan." This report, prepared by John Harker, recommended Talisman stay in Sudan and "work for peace."
Translation: Canada has backed down on its threat to impose sanctions.
Meanwhile, as politicians in Ottawa leisurely discuss whether sanctions should have been applied — to Talisman, the Sudan, or both — the shrapnel and cluster bombing hasn't stopped for a minute.
Reuters News service reported February 11 that the Upper Kaouda Holy Cross School sustained an air attack killing 14 children in a hail of shrapnel"Most of the victims were first grade students sitting through an English lesson under a tree. Sudanese government officials defended the bombing, saying the school was a legitimate target in the country’s long-running civil war."
The government of Sudan is determined to "depopulate" the Nuba mountain region — an area the size of Scotland — of the black Christian Nuba people, to make way for Muslim tribes. The government's hope is that terror bombing, which often targets hospitals and schools, will eventually force the Nubas off their land into so called "peace camps."
If the bombing is successful, and the Christian Sudanese enter the camps, they know what to expect — a choice: conversion to Islam in exchange for food or starvation and death.
The wonder, and perhaps the miracle of it all, is that Christians in the South are still flocking to church, and still flocking to have their children baptized into the faith of their fathers.
J. Fraser Field. "The Most Wretched Place on Earth." The National Post (February 17, 2000)
J. Fraser Field is Managing Editor of the Catholic Education Resource Center and active with the Catholic Civil Rights League in Canada.
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