If you believe in something, fight for it.
The crime of genocide is one of the most horrible one can imagine. It is also one that has affected my way of thinking from a young age. One of my best friends is from Iraqi Kurdistan, which by the time this is published will have voted on whether or not to declare independence from the rest of Iraq. He will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life because Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people during the al-Anfal genocide of the ’80s. As the prospect of another war looms depending on the outcome of the vote, I sit on pins and needles wondering how the rest of the world will respond if and when the Kurds need our help.
Another friend of mine is Armenian, and his grandmother used to tell him stories of the genocide she escaped in Turkey. My wife and I recently took DNA tests, and were surprised to discover that each of us, though coming from different countries and otherwise different backgrounds both have trace amounts of Armenian blood. Our children will share a connection to that ancient land and people.
I remember when I was in college marching and rallying for American involvement in Darfur when genocide was taking place in Sudan. I remember further a time when I was vacationing with a couple of friends at Ocean Shores, and for whatever reason, we started talking about politics. One of my friends is very conservative, the other very liberal. They rarely agree on things. The topic of former President Bill Clinton came up, and I suggested that the one source of contention I had with his administration was the belief that the United States should have done more to help the victims of genocide in Rwanda. For the first time in as long as I could remember, both of my friends, coming from completely different ideological backgrounds agreed on something— that I was wrong. They believed we as a country were justified in not doing more.
I have written letters to members of Congress as well as President Donald Trump on behalf of the Rohingya people, the victims of an ongoing genocide in Myanmar. I signed an online petition a week or so ago which I was informed made it all the way to the United Nations. A few days after this, I was informed by the same group behind the petition that the UN had now openly condemned the genocide. Whether or not the petition was an influence, I don’t know, but the prospect was empowering.
After bearing witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, the people of the world got together and announced that they would “never again” allow genocide to rear its ugly head. In many instances we have fallen short of that promise. Worse, we sometimes seem almost indifferent to it. We veil that indifference in what we convince ourselves is pacifism, or in the political beliefs that we “shouldn’t be the world police” or that “we need to take care of our own first.” I understand these perspectives, but they don’t change the reality of what happens to others when good people do nothing in the face of great evil.
I wonder if each generation doesn’t imagine themselves somehow more civilized than the last; more educated, advanced. Perhaps in some ways this is true, yet if the underlying fickleness towards helping our fellow man remains unchanged, then have we truly moved forward in any meaningful way, or are we just finding new and improved ways to isolate ourselves from the “other,” and to stick up our noses at the less fortunate?
Something else which troubles me is that the more I emotionally attach myself to causes like the Rohingya, the more helpless I feel towards affecting real change, even in the face of small victories. Indifference I suppose might be a defense mechanism against problems that seem so unworldly that we wouldn’t know where to begin trying to address them. But we cannot give up hope. Even if we try and fail, we can at least look back and know we tried. Even if we ourselves may not achieve the goals we reach for, if we can inspire others, and at least get the ball rolling, we can feel proud. As I write this, I am scrolling through my news feed. One of the top stories announced that the U.S. State Department has just committed to sending $32 million in aid to help the Rohingya. Did my letters reach the right people? My petition? Maybe; but either way, I like to think it made a difference, and I’m going to keep trying to help, no matter who hears my voice.