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Darfur, a Modern Holocaust Experienced First Hand
Tears of the Desert, a story from Darfur
What does Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Nyala and Deriga all have in common? Unfortunately, each of these locations are home to great atrocities against humanity. The difference, the atrocities in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen finished almost a half century ago. In Nyala and Deriga they continue to take place today. If you have not heard of these places, they are cities in Darfur Sudan, home of a modern genocide that is going on right before our eyes.
One college educated local doctor was caught in the middle of this holocaust and tells of her experiences, this is her story.
A Simpler Life
Halima Bashir was born in a small village of the proud tribe of Zaghawa. While to some they might seem backward, they led a simpler life and found happiness in that life. They farm enough food for themselves and maybe enough to trade at the local market. They purchase, but usually make their own clothing and live in huts without running water or electricity. While they might have a radio, it is always powered off a car battery or similar device. And they welcome every stranger with open arms as their religion of Islam tells them is their responsibility, to honor hospitality of travelers.
Halima was born into this tribe and lived with her mother, father, grandmother and siblings. She had what would be considered a typical childhood in the tribe, playing several physical contact games, helping her family around the village and discovering the sheltered world around her. She only saw a plane once as a child, which caused such excitement that the children danced and sang a song watching it pass overhead. It was not until she was late in her teenage years she even saw a Caucasian person. Yet Halima was extremely happy to be in her tribe with its close connections and traditions. Some of those traditions were truly of a different generation which include the horrible practice of female circumcision. This was done to Halima when she was preparing to go to school outside the tribe to 'protect her' from men in the city. This is truly a horrifying tradition of cutting out the most sensitive areas of a female's sex without anesthesia with usually nothing more than a kitchen knife. They are then stitched together and watched hoping they will live, for many do not. This is still a practice followed in many parts of Africa although slowly it seems to be followed less often. But, part of the reason for this procedure to be done on her was Halima's father wanted her to go to school. Not just village school but the far better schools in the city, he knew she was bound for better things.
Can Education Lift All Barriers?
Halima went to the city school where she first found the differences between black Africans like herself and the Arabs. While Africans outnumbered Arabs by huge numbers, when Western powers left Africa they 'gave' the country over to the Arabs. These Arabs lorded over the Africans their superior power in all ranks and ages. Even in school Arab students mocked Halima, but more horrifying was beaten by teachers whenever she did not speak Arabic (as compared to her tribal dialect with other students). When she stood up for herself when picked on by Arab students she was severely punished by teachers and the principal even though she was not at fault. This was her introduction to modern prejudices, even though they lived in the same country and practiced the same religion. Yet Halima overcame all obstacles and became one of the highest achieving students in the school and was actually in the top ten scoring students for the entire country, virtually guaranteeing her a place at the university. With a heavy heart, knowing she would be quite a distance from her family or any member of her family at college, she went and got her medical degree. For the first time her tribe has sent a member to not only college, but received the much-revered medical degree.
Yet events were taking place throughout the country that would change the course of her life forever. Ruling Arabs were looking for volunteers to help fight the 'rebels' in the south of the country offering not only religious awards but 'free' certifications and grades for fighting, even if they don't attend a day of school. While this upset Halima's sense of fair play after she worked so hard, she was able to get past it. It did not take long before she could not ignore the upheaval when the authorities closed down the school permanently and reassigned the students to help support the war against 'rebels'. Halima was assigned to a hospital where she not only treated Arabs but dared to treat what was clearly those fighting against the government who had been injured in fighting. She spoke their language and took care of them as she thought her job, as a doctor, was to do. Alas the secret police did not see it that way and banished her not long after an extremely intimidating kidnapping/grilling session. She was sent to a tiny village in Southern Sudan, this was when her life would change forever.
Poem from the Holacaust on what happens when people don't speak up
First they came for the communists, I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist
Then they came for the trade unionists, I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews, I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew
Then they came for me, there was no left to speak
Face-to-Face with Hell!
The native tribes in Southern Sudan have an ingrained sense of hospitality and even though she was sent to a distant tribe, they took her in and found her a home. Working in a rural clinic is very different than working in a large hospital, you are treating your neighbors and your friends whom you see each day both inside and outside of work. You have to rely on yourself as the tribe is relying on you to know everything and help with any condition. Rebels started to come to the clinic to get treated, which Halima dutifully did, as was her oath as a doctor. Unfortunately, the ever-watchful secret police found out and began their campaign of intimidation, which at this point was only mental. This involved kidnapping her and taking her to a secret interrogation location where they attempted to scare her from ever helping Black Africans who might be tempted to stand up to the Arab government.
This all changed one day when the Janjaweed, the Arab Militia, came to her town and forced themselves into the village school. They proceeded to then repeatedly rape and beat every female in the school for over 6 hours, including children as small as 6. When the parents found out what was going on, for they could hear the screaming of the children, they were blocked from the school by the Sudanese military who surrounded the school allowing the Janjaweed to continue. Hour after hour the raping continued, until at long last they left. Many of the children were brought to Halima to treat. Blood streaming from between their legs, yet eyes completely dead as they seem to have retreated into some safe place away from what happened. Some just could not stop screaming every time they woke up. A couple of days later some UN investigators came to talk to the village to confirm reports of this atrocity. Asking for anonymity, Hashima talked about what she saw first hand with the patients and even allowed the investigators to talk to some of the children who were still in the hospital. Only a few days later the secret police came and arrested Hashima. Accusing her of making up stories, they proceeded to take her to an army base, lock her in a cell and over the course of days brutally rape and beat her. Finally when they felt she understood what rape really was they let her go. Barely able to walk, Hashima was smuggled back to her home village.
Should Western countries intervene in Darfur?
It Only Gets Worse
For a time Hashima was able to heal slowly, residing in her old village with her family. Although physically and mentally scarred, she was protected once again by her father. Sadly the fighting and atrocities could not stay away. Without warning one day several helicopters came over the trees and hovered over the village, then on command they opened fire with guns and rockets blowing up houses and mowing people down with machine guns. As the villagers attempted to flee to the woods the Janjaweed came riding in on horses shooting everyone they encountered. The men stayed behind to hopefully buy time for the women and children to flee. This was the last time Hashima was to ever to see her father alive again. Most of the men were killed while most of the tribe was destroyed. Trying to rebuild and keep living was not possible, as not long later the secret police came looking for Hashima. Her mother and siblings fled without Hashima, who was out of the village at the time, leaving word that she should try to flee the country as well. That was the last time Hashima has ever heard from her family.
See it first hand!!
A Long Journey into Exile
Hashima began the long solo journey through Sudan to try to find an escape out of the country. Meeting friendly black Africans who helped her, she managed to meet a smuggler who for all of her money was able to smuggle her on a plane to England where she dropped off into a cab and told to walk up to any police officer and say the word 'Amnesty'. What should have been the happy end to a horrifying story just continues. Because of politics in the rest of the world, Darfur was NOT considered an unsafe country where atrocities like these happen and thus even after the stories of her rape and beatings came out, and even with her advanced medical degrees the British denied her application for Amnesty several times. Only with the help of some amnesty groups, generous lawyers, her coming out publicly with her story and a series of other factors was she finally granted amnesty status in England.
Her story is one of the only first hand experiences of the terrible atrocities in Darfur to make it to the west. While she has been invited to speak to numerous groups, including President Bush when he was in office, unfortunately the killing continues in Sudan with no end in sight between the Arabs and the native Africans.
What we can learn from this story.
There is an old Jewish saying to forgive but never forget. To never forget past experiences allows us to learn from them and hopefully prevent a repetition of the past. Sadly, the world has been slow to intercede, if at all. There continues to be proof of genocide much of it caused by modern weapons supplied by China who is the principle purchaser of Sudanese oil and desires to keep the same China friendly government.
Thus, there are a few things we can all do. First, stay informed. As a person you have a voice, either by voting for leaders or through the causes you support, you have power. To wield that power, one needs to be informed of the world around you. Read the newspaper, watch the news, learn what is going on in the world.
Second, get involved in organization for those causes you believe in. If it is preventing genocide there are numerous organizations including Amnesty International that will help you get involved. It might be as simple as joining a facebook group where you can learn about what is going on and learn what ballot measures are taking place to help exert your power as a person.
Finally, and this is probably the most important. Do not succumb to the pressure of the immediate world around you and say "It's not in my back yard, it doesn't affect me, so I don't have time to worry about it". Apathy is the greatest support for evil. We all have a voice, and one person came make all the difference. There is a poem used to remember the holocaust.