Friday, November 4, 2011

The Tail Wagging the Dog?

This semester, I have two Political Science classes in which the same topics are often being covered at the same time. It's not intentional on the part of the professors, but it does make the conversations much more interesting. This past week, the focus has been on human rights and humanitarian aid.

The picture on the left is of a village in Darfur being burned by a group called the janjaweed - armed men whom many believe have been actively recruited by the Sudanese army to destroy the homes and lives of the people of Darfur. In one of my classes, we watched a movie called "The Devil Came on Horseback," about an American photojournalist who witnessed and documented the unspeakable atrocities committed against the Darfur people. To say the film is disturbing is an understatement.

Despite the overwhelming evidence presented by this man, and our own President's declaration that what was happening in Darfur was in fact genocide, nothing was done. We knew what was happening and let it happen.

When the movie was over, we talked, as a class, about the reasons why the U.S. didn't intervene - and has a history of non-intervention with regards to human rights. There are a lot of theoretical reasons why the U.S. doesn't do more. Most people in power believe (or claim to believe) that the U.S. shouldn't infringe on another country's sovereignty. What they do to their citizens is their business, not ours. Kind of like saying you'll try to break up a fight that happens in the street but you won't call the police if you hear a fight taking place in the house next door.

As I sat listening to all the intellectual reasons, I got angrier and angrier. Theoretical perspectives were develop to offer guidance, but they are not law. Yet so many people in class talked about these theories as though they "tie the hands" of the United States. Rather than using theory as an excuse for non-intervention, shouldn't we stop to consider that the theory is meant to serve the people - not vice versa?

At what point do we stop acting like diplomats, theorists, politicians and intellectuals and just start acting like human beings? At what point do our leaders gain the courage to say "yeah, I know this is the theory behind our non-intervention policy but people are dying and we're gonna do something about it." ?

And how do we, as citizens, facilitate that shift?

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