Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Time to pay attention to Darfur

Posted on Wed, Oct. 05, 2005

Many of us donated time, talents and money to help Hurricane Katrina victims. That tragedy definitely hit close to home, although it was hundreds of miles away.

But should distance ever matter? Should we base how much we care, how willing we are to help, on miles?

With Katrina, we showed how our caring can stretch many miles. Why, then, haven't we reacted in the same way to a far more horrific tragedy an ocean away in North Africa?

An interfaith service on behalf of the people of Darfur will offer an opportunity to confront that question.

Priests, pastors and rabbis across the country will fast and pray for the Darfur region of Sudan. Ahavath Achim Hebrew Congregation and InterFaith Ministries are sponsoring the service here.

Drought, civil war and international indecision have collided to create what some have called the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. About 300,000 people have died. More than 2.5 million people have been displaced.

Government-backed militias have raided villages, targeted food and water supplies, tortured men, raped women and mutilated children.

The prayer service will ask President Bush, who has labeled events there genocide, to continue to speak out forcefully against the atrocities. It also will ask the president to press other nations to support action to end the crisis. "They must be reminded that short-term political and economic interests are less important than the preservation of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives," the groups said in a joint news release.

The success of the prayer service depends on its ability to make the horrors of Darfur intimate and proximal. Up close and personal.

We haven't seen continuous coverage of the horrors there. Plus, disaster fatigue has set in following Katrina and Rita.

The hurricane tragedy moved Americans in part because Americans care about other Americans. We shared in it through the images we saw, through higher gas prices, through friends and relatives.

It's not as if we don't care about the rest of the world. After disasters like the tsunami, Americans are among the world's most generous givers. But our attention span demands that we see it and feel it for several news cycles.

In Darfur, the length of the tragedy -- nearly two decades -- and the distance mean less intense media coverage. And less response from Americans.

Absent a reversal of the continental drift to bring the world's continents closer, the people of Darfur can't compete with our domestic matters.

That means our care, concern and yes, our hearts, will have to go out to people in trouble a dozen time zones away, even while we join hands in a temple here in Wichita and ask our government to help.



What: An interfaith prayer service against genocide

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Ahavath Achim Hebrew Congregation, 1850 N. Woodlawn

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