Darfur activists need to put up or shut up

By Alec Brandon

The genocide in Darfur has certainly become a hip cause in the U.S. It has succeeded in uniting some of Hollywood’s most liberal with the South’s most conservative evangelical Christians. Lately students have been throwing in their hats, calling on campuses to divest and demanding that the genocide stop. Many public intellectuals have dedicated their time and energy to educating people on the horrors occurring in Sudan, most prominent of whom is New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who dedicates nearly every other column to an aspect of Darfur’s genocide.

Ironically, many of these activists use the media to blame the media’s lack of coverage of the genocide (one need only look at last week’s Viewpoints article, “Why the media refuses to talk about Darfur,” 5/9/06), yet countless amounts of ink and airtime have been rendered useless by the pleading of these activists.

Honestly, I have read countless words telling me why I should care about Sudan but next to none dealing with the next logical step: What should we call for to stop the Darfur genocide?

A quick survey of the largest activist groups on the genocide in Darfur only confirms this. Groups like the “Darfur Advocacy Fund” and “Save Darfur” go heavy on the rhetoric but lack any substance. This sentiment is echoed by activists here on campus and throughout the country. Marching on Washington or calling my Senator is not counterproductive, but it isn’t going to have any impact. The most effective policy ideas that Darfur activists seem capable of rallying around are that elite universities should divest and that there should be more diplomatic pressure or U.N. action. While these ideas are warm and fuzzy (and surely succeed in uniting disparate ideological groups), they do nothing for Darfuris.

The furthest the popular activist groups are willing to go is to demand that the president gather support for a stronger multi-national force to protect the civilians of Darfur. But what does the nature of any such force have to do with protecting the civilians of Darfur? I am pretty sure those in Darfur would be happy to see any type of force protect them from the militias that haunt their existence. That no activist group would be conscious of this fact is sickening.

Since when is a humanitarian crisis the time to start making stipulations on how the crisis is averted? Perhaps these activists misunderstood the moral imperative they were creating when they likened the genocide in Darfur to those in Rwanda and the Holocaust. The editors of the New Republic were spot-on when said that to “care about a problem without caring about its solution” is nothing but a “sophisticated form of indecency.” Essentially all that Sudan activists have achieved up until now is rallying people against genocide.


When Darfur activists aren’t trying to solve the genocide in an appropriately “international” manner, they are bitching and moaning about the fact that the public doesn’t share their passion for the topic. But it might be time for activists to reconsider that blame. Darfur activists have not gotten any traction because they spend all their time telling me why I should care about genocide, only occasionally throwing in a half-baked solution. It should come as no surprise that it is difficult to gather substantial public backing when your primary message is: “There is a genocide going on in Darfur, doesn’t that suck…. Let’s march.” No one wants to think about the murder of innocent Darfuris unless they are also told that they can do something to prevent it, aside from long-term solutions that do little to avert the death and destruction that the Darfurian genocide has created.

It is time for Darfur activists to either put up or shut up. If they think that there is a moral imperative, then they had better be willing to back that up with a demand for action. To fail to discuss the concept of unilateral American action in this context is to ignore the very nature of a moral imperative. The New Republic summed it up best: “The discussion of Darfur, even by many people whose outrage is sincere, has become a festival of bad faith. Everybody wants to do everything but what must be done. It is the season of heartless bleeding hearts.”

I’m willing to support military action, or at least the threat of it, to stop the genocide in Darfur. It is high time that a strategic debate of that sort overtook the silly and worthless discussion going on now. And the activists pointlessly dominating the present discussion ought to take note.