He Ain't Heavy.
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
New York Times Op-Ed
October 20, 2004
SARAHA, Sudan — Allow me to introduce
Abdelrahim Khamis Ghani and his little brother, Muhammad.
The challenge we Americans face in Sudan
is this: Are we willing to save Abdelrahim and Muhammad, and two
million more like them?
I photographed Abdelrahim and Muhammad
in their mostly abandoned Darfur village, where the murderous
Janjaweed militia, backed by the Sudanese government, has already
killed seven members of their family. The boys have been hiding
for months here in a war zone, hungry and frightened and hunted
like wild beasts.
"We're afraid here," said the
boys' older sister, 17-year-old Asha. "We would go if we
could. But we have no transport, no camel."
This land stinks of fear and death, but
perhaps just as striking as the murder and rape are the moral
choices that families here are forced to make each day.
For Abdelrahim's family members, the choice
is whether to let adults and older siblings try to hike to safety
in Chad - it's a six-day walk. They could leave one adult behind
to try to keep Abdelrahim and Muhammad alive. Or should the whole
family stay, putting more people at risk but increasing the chance
that the boys can be saved?
The family has elected for now to stay
here together, surviving by gathering wild seeds to eat. Apart
from starvation, the danger is that the Janjaweed or Sudanese
troops will return to kill the men and rape and disfigure - and
sometimes kill - the women and girls.
I sneaked into Darfur in a pickup truck
from Chad, roaming a countryside speckled with burned and abandoned
villages. I don't know how many survivors in Darfur are still
hungry and hunted like these boys, but the number is in the hundreds
of thousands. Here, genocide unfurls in slow motion. (For the
sights and sounds of my trip to Darfur, click here.)
One morning I came across a 10-year-old
girl herding goats. She was frightened when she saw my truck,
fearing that I might be in the Janjaweed, which had already burned
down her home and killed 30 members of her extended family.
After it was clear that I was not a threat,
the girl's father, Hassan Nahar, emerged from behind a tree. He
explained that he had hidden the rest of his family in the hills,
but he uses his youngest daughter to keep the goats alive.
"I think it is a bit less likely that
the Janjaweed would kill a young girl like her," he said.
"They would kill the older children." He hid when he
saw my truck because there was no way he could protect his child
from men with guns, and there was not much point in being killed
in front of her.
Aid workers, who are doing heroic work
in Darfur, face another painful moral calculus. So far, war zones
like this part of Darfur have not gotten any help because it is
too dangerous. Relief groups must protect their own employees,
even if that means allowing Sudanese to die.
I did see three Save the Children vehicles
on an exploratory mission to see whether the area was safe. Then,
a couple of hours after I saw them, a Save the Children car in
the same area - I can't be sure if it was one of the same vehicles
- hit a mine, and two aid workers were killed. Now aid groups
will be even less willing to venture here.
I understand the painful ethical choices
of Abdelrahim's family, of Mr. Hassan and of the international
aid agencies. But what I can't fathom is our own moral choice,
our decision to acquiesce in genocide.
We in America could save kids like Abdelrahim
and Muhammad. This wouldn't require troops, just a bit of gumption
to declare a no-fly zone, to press our Western allies and nearby
Arab and African states, to impose an arms embargo and other targeted
sanctions, to push a meaningful U.N. resolution even at the risk
of a Chinese veto, and to insist upon the deployment of a larger
Instead, President Bush's policy is to
chide Sudan and send aid. That's much better than nothing and
has led Sudan to kill fewer children and to kill more humanely:
Sudan now mostly allows kids in Darfur like Abdelrahim to die
of starvation, instead of heaving them onto bonfires. But fundamentally,
U.S. policy seems to be to "manage" the genocide rather
than to act decisively to stop it.
The lackadaisical international response
has already permitted the deaths of about 100,000 people in Darfur,
and up to 10,000 more are dying each month. We should look Abdelrahim
and Muhammad in the eye and feel deeply ashamed.