The Pope and Hypocrisy

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF – The New York Times

President Bush and other world leaders are honoring John Paul II in a way that completely misunderstands his message. We pay him no tribute if we lower our flags to half-staff and send a grand presidential delegation to his funeral, when at the same time we avert our eyes as villagers are slaughtered and mutilated in the genocide unfolding in Darfur.
The message of the pope’s ministry was about standing up to evil, not about holding grand funerals.
“Throughout the West, John Paul’s witness reminded us of our obligation to build a culture of life in which the strong protect the weak,” Mr. Bush said. Well, what about that reminder? What kind of a “culture of life” is it that allows us to shrug as Sudanese soldiers heave children onto bonfires?
The latest estimates, from the British government and others, are that 300,000 or more have perished so far in Darfur. Mr. Bush has forthrightly called this slaughter “genocide,” but he has used that label not to spur action, but to substitute for it.
These days the Sudanese authorities are adding a new twist to their crimes against humanity: they are arresting girls and women who have become pregnant because of the mass rapes by Sudanese soldiers and militia members. If the victims are not yet married, or if their husbands have been killed, then they are imprisoned for adultery.
Doctors Without Borders issued a report last month about Darfur that quoted one 16-year-old girl as saying:
“I was collecting firewood for my family when three armed men on camels came and surrounded me. They held me down, tied my hands and raped me, one after the other. When I arrived home, I told my family what had happened.
“They threw me out of home, and I had to build my own hut away from them. I was engaged to a man, and I was so much looking forward to getting married. After I got raped, he did not want to marry me and broke off the engagement because he said I was now disgraced and spoilt. …
“When I was eight months pregnant from the rape, the police came to my hut and forced me with their guns to go to the police station. They asked me questions, so I told them that I had been raped. They told me that as I was not married, I will deliver this baby illegally.
“They beat me with a whip on the chest and back and put me in jail.”
The report quoted another girl, 17, who was gang-raped and then locked inside her hut, which was set on fire. She escaped through the wall of the hut but suffered extensive burns.
John Paul wanted world leaders to show compassion for suffering people like these girls, not for dead popes. Mr. Bush and other world leaders flocking to Rome could truly honor the pope by meeting there to establish a protection force in Darfur.
In the meantime, these attacks are continuing daily. And what are we doing about it? When girls are mutilated after their rapes, we provide free Band-Aids.
Mr. Bush has supported a humanitarian relief effort. But even the aid agencies emphasize that what is needed most is a security force to stop the slaughter.
“We’re proud of what we do,” said Kenny Gluck, the operations director based in the Netherlands for Doctors Without Borders. “But people’s villages have been burned, their crops have been destroyed, their wells spiked, their family members raped, tortured and killed – and they come to us, and we give them 2,100 kilocalories a day.” In effect, Mr. Gluck said, the aid effort is sustaining victims so they can be killed with a full belly.
I’m not proposing that we send American ground troops. But an expanded United Nations and African force, with logistical support from the U.S., is urgently needed. And Condoleezza Rice should immediately visit Darfur to show that it is a U.S. priority.
Mr. Bush should promptly back the Darfur Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill that would pressure Sudan to stop the killing (so far, the White House hasn’t even taken a position on the act). Ordinary citizens can also urge their members of Congress to pass the act.
If there is a lesson from the papacy of John Paul II, it is the power of moral force. The pope didn’t command troops, but he deployed principles. And it’s hypocritical of us to pretend to honor him by lowering our flags while simultaneously displaying an amoral indifference to genocide.

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