In the summer of 2004, I wrote an article calling attention to the tragic plight of black African Muslim women in the Sudan. But my article led to no feminist, African-American, or Islamic-American campaign on their behalf. Nor did it prompt liberal Jewish groups to take immediate action to aid Darfur's refugees. So one hopes that a powerful new film about Sudan, The Devil Came on Horseback, will succeed where I did not.
The film documents former American Marine Captain Brian Steidle’s dogged crusade to document this ongoing atrocity. In 2004 and 2005, Steidle volunteered for six months to serve as part of the African Union military-monitoring body in the Sudan. He had unparalleled access to smoldering sites, charred corpses, and weeping women. As the genocide raged, the African Union did nothing other than “monitor.”
And that’s where Steidle came in. He hoped that if enough good people saw his photos, they would understand that the Khartoum government had sanctioned and financed the Janjaweed (men on horseback) to systematically loot, then burn whole villages as well as refugee centers; to castrate, mutilate, hack innocent civilians to death; to chain them together and burn them alive; to shoot small children in the back; and to gang-rape the women and female children. Then, he thought, Americans would persuade our Congressmen and Senators to order military intervention.
So Steidle went to work. He turned his haunting photos over to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who printed them and continued to turn out remarkable columns on the subject. Steidle also testified before Congress, appeared in the media, testified in the International Court of Criminal Justice in the Hague, and agreed to have a documentary film team follow him as he spoke on campus, at political rallies, even to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
As yet, his efforts have not led to military intervention to stop the genocide. The United Nation has done nothing. It has maintained its almost perfect record of non-interventionism achieved most recently in Rwanda and in Bosnia (which required American military intervention). The African Union finally sent monitors or peacekeepers who also failed to intervene. Steidle now understands that he was “naïve” in thinking that he could compel more dramatic measures to arrest the violence.
So why has the “international community” been so ineffective on Darfur? Here's why. The perpetrators are ethnic Arab Muslims and the majority of their victims are black African Muslims. As one displaced African comments in The Devil Came on Horseback, what hurts him the most as a Muslim is that it is Muslims who are committing the violence -- and it is mainly Americans who are sending food, medicine, and humanitarian workers. No Muslim or Arab country is doing so. This man, betrayed, weeps off camera. He thanks Americans and hopes and prays they will come and liberate his people from the genocide.
The lack of meaningful action can also be explained by the fact that the "international community" and the West's chattering classes only care about Muslim deaths when Israelis or Americans can be blamed--but not otherwise. Interestingly, many Darfuris have escaped to Israel, which they have been allowed to enter. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates has in the past expelled Darfuri refugees. And only last week, Egypt shot to death four such refugees as they crossed the Sinai on their way to Israel. Yet many Western intellectuals seem incapable of reconsidering their belief that all Muslims are innocent victims while America and Israel are their victimizers.
Political correctness also plays a part. The West absolutely refuses to believe that Arab Muslims are lethally racist and have a long history of persecuting Christians, Jews, non-Muslim infidels, and blacks. The West's "politically correct" denial that Arabs and Muslims have always practiced slavery--and still do--is yet another reason for the ineffectiveness. The situation in Darfur challenges their most sacred assumptions.
Millions of movie-goers lined up this past weekend for the latest escape films. But the Greenwich Village theater in which I watched The Devil Came on Horseback drew a mere 25 people for the weekday evening performance. Captain Steidle is heroically resolved to continue to bear witness until we the people do something. I fear he will have a long wait. So does he.
Nonetheless, I commend him and the filmmakers for their clarity and moral courage in making this powerful documentary.