Monday, January 16, 2012

South Sudan: Bad Moon Rising

"Good God! Don't jump!"
A boy sat on the ledge.
An old man who had fainted was revived.
And everyone agreed it would be a miracle indeed
If the boy survived....

- Paul Simon, Save the Life of My Child, 1967


I read today in the New York Times a story.... Page A1.... news to make one tremble, if you really think about it.

It's about a horror that happened last week in a country you probably never even heard of. But it presages a horror that will be on all the front pages in only weeks.

The place is called South Sudan, a newly independent republic made up of the non-Islamic tribes of former Sudan, which was split into two nations just a few months ago. This new country was formed in order to stop a near genocide of the Christian and Animist South Sudanese by the Islamist government at Khartoum.

Now, instead of Islamists preying on the southerners, the southerners are preying on one another.

In the central part of the country, one people--or tribe if you prefer--called the Nuer, have publicly announced that they intend to wipe out their neighbors, the Murle, with whom they have had an ongoing cattle-raid rivalry since time immemorial. Shortly after the new year, forces of the Nuer carried out a widespread attack which wiped out hundreds of villages--and villagers--without mercy and without respect to age or sex.

Formerly the two peoples have been raiding each other's cattle since time immemorial.

Now, however, they're not raiding cattle but destroying each other.

Cattle raids between tribes are an ancient phenomenon. One remembers the Irish, in a similar state of primitive tribalism, created one of the earliest epic poems, Táin Cúailnge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, in remembrance of a similar raid.

But only similar to a certain degree. For thousands of years cattle raids were carried out with spears, bows, arrows, and swords.

These days, Kalashnikovs are freely available. And even paid for by Americans.

One member of the Nuer tribe here in the United States--one who has raised money for the 'relief' of his people--released a statement at the time of the attacks: “We have decided to invade Murleland and wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth".

Think about that.
The attack was presaged by a fund-raising drive for the Nuer militia in the United States — a troubling sign that behind the raiders toting Kalashnikovs and singing war songs was an active back office half a world away. Gai Bol Thong, a Nuer refugee in Seattle who helped write the militia’s statement, said he had led an effort to cobble together about $45,000 from South Sudanese living abroad for the warriors’ food and medicine.

“We mean what we say,” he said in an interview. “We kill everybody. We are tired of them.” (He later scaled back and said he meant they would kill Murle warriors, not civilians.)

We've seen this movie before. And we didn't like how it ended the last time we saw it.

The last time, the cast was European, not African.

And it started with words of warning: genocide is coming and we're going to wipe you out!

The words were those of Radovan Karadžić speaking on the floor of the former Yugoslav Bosnian parliament, on the night of 14–15 October 1991, the very last day it met:
"You want to take Bosnia and Herzegovina down the same highway to hell and suffering that Slovenia and Croatia are travelling. Do not think that you will not lead Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and do not think that you will not perhaps lead the Muslim people into annihilation, because the Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is war – How will you prevent everyone from being killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina?"

For know that genocide never just happens. It always starts with someone actually saying that they're going to do it.

In Germany, it started with a crazed anti-semitic corporal ranting in a beer bar in Munich. In Bosnia, a psychotic psychiatrist ranting on the floor of Parliament. And here, some fundraiser with a big mouth.

Already we are seeing parallels: in South Sudan, there was a series of ethnic massacres by Nuer "militia" against the Murle.

The Times reported that hundreds died, including many women, children, and elderly.

And what did the UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan do?

Nothing. Not a damned thing. From the Times:
The United Nations, which has 3,000 combat-ready peacekeepers in South Sudan, tracked the advancing fighters from helicopters for days before the massacre and rushed in about 400 soldiers. But the peacekeepers did not fire a single shot, saying they were greatly outnumbered and could have easily been massacred themselves.

We've seen this movie before as well. At Srebrenica, in 1995, a group of cowardly onlookers pretending to be soldiers called DUTCHBAT ("Dutch Battallion") sat on their duffs and let the Bosnian Serb V Army massacre eight thousand unarmed men and to ethnically cleanse 25,000 women and children.

Now, certain comments on the Times story make clear the contempt of many for the worthlessness of "Peacekeepers." And history has shown they *are* worthless--if they are United Nations peacekeepers. In Bosnia, when *real* Peacekeepers showed up--the NATO commanded force known as IFOR and, later, SFOR--peace came and was kept.

There are those who probably wonder why I keep beating on the Srebrenica drum.

It's simple: Srebrenica proved to the world that Auschwitz was not just some one-off event, a mere historical abberation. It was, and remains, a possible model for the future. Srebrenica showed us that genocide is not a horror, but a viable policy choice.

Srebrenica proved to the world that when it said Never Again, it didn't mean it!

But what next?

If the tribes of South Sudan start committing full scale genocide against one another, how long before we, the United States, get sent there to babysit? Or do we get to watch genocide on our TV sets again?

And again?

And again?

"Hello Darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk to you again...." - Paul Simon, The Sounds of Silence, 1967

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