*When I was younger, my father told me that there are two things that you don’t introduce into conversation–religion and politics. I am about to discuss both. You have been warned.
Last night, Sean and I did something that I haven’t done in a long time. We sat and watched 60 Minutes. They were doing a story about Darfur and the atrocities that are occurring there. It was both stunning and heartbreaking. At one point, Dr. Ashis Brahma, the lone doctor for a massive refugee camp, said:
This is bad. They go to the villages, and they burn one village after the other, then when the people come out they catch the women and gang bang, they rape them not one guy, no 10, 15 then they carve up the men and throw them in the drinking water to make sure that this place will never ever be used again. And you’re telling me the people in America don’t know this or don’t want to know this. Maybe its too much to know but that’s what’s happening right now and its happening all over again.
Sean looked at me and said, “Do you know what that reminds me of?” Of course I did. How could I not?
Near the end of the Book of Mormon, in what has to be the most difficult chapter for me to read, is the final accounts of the wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites (two groups of people making up what we would now consider the Native American people).
7 And now I write somewhat concerning the sufferings of this people. For according to the knowledge which I have received from Amoron, behold, the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah; and there were men, women, and children.
8 And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them.
9 And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—
10 And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery.
Moroni 9: 7-10
It has always been so difficult for me to imagine how an entire society of people could fall into such depravity. And then I see things like this story on Darfur, and am forced to face the fact that the same societal depravity exists in this day and age. Not just the lone serial killers that have always fascinated and appalled me, but whole societies.
What is even scarier to me, as the member of what many see as a “fringe” religion, is the fact that these atrocities are very frequently linked to religious disagreement. The religious majority wiping out the minority. That is the underlying problem in Darfur. The Sudanese are Muslim. The people of Darfur are not. And for that, they are being exterminated in much the same way as the Jews in Nazi Germany.
As I have thought about this, I recalled a conversation that I had with my grandmother several years ago. I asked her what she thought of the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews as it was happening (she was a young mother at that point). She told me that she really didn’t think of it–she didn’t know what was going on. I was a teen at that point and was having a hard time grasping how millions of people could be dying without her knowing that it was happening. Never mind the lack of CNN or Fox News–how could she miss something like that?
But here I sit, admitting to you that even with our 24/7 media, this youngish mother has gone for years recognizing the name “Darfur,” but not really having a clue of the extent of what has been happening over there. And now I know. And I’m disgusted and very, very sad.
And I relate to Mormon as he says to Moroni about his warring people:
15 Behold, my heart cries: Wo unto this people. Come out in judgment, O God, and hide their sins, and wickedness, and abominations from before thy face!
As a teen, I couldn’t understand why Americans didn’t stop Hitler–why they let things go on for so long. As a slightly more jaded and practical adult, I understand that our government can’t be the world’s police force. The interesting thing to me is that so many people want us to, but then complain when we do it. The Kurds are no longer the subjects of genocide, and how many people gripe and complain about our involvement in Iraq?
I suppose that it comes down to the individual. We have a responsibility to bear witness of the atrocities and correct them where we can. I was pleased to find that my church has been using members’ contributions to offer aid in Darfur since 2004. Other large organizations are doing tremendous work there, too. Help can be given. Who knows if it will ever be enough, but it will bless the lives of those who receive it.
Ultimately, I can’t look at this topic without being both grateful and fearful. I am grateful for the tremendous freedom that I experience as an American. I am grateful that I can practice my religion without persecution. But I know that that was not always the case for the people of my faith–even in this country. And I look at the Lamanites and Nephites in the end of the Book of Mormon. I see how depraved their actions were. And I read Mormon’s declaration that “only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people” (Moroni 9:12), and I know how quickly the tide could change–even in a civil society like ours.
And that scares me.