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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

The right to ignore

They don’t talk like us. They don’t dress like us. They live in a jungle more than 8,000 miles away. Why should we care that they’re dying?

It is an argument that is often too easy to make. Even the internal pressure from those with Save Tibet bumper stickers and the occasional political commentary from George Clooney is not enough to break through the deafening squeal of America’s ideological battles and political sideshows.

It takes a lot to get us to step outside of ourselves, especially when the return is meager. Nowhere is this more evident than the eastern Congo.

The fighting that continues there has been raging for more than a decade and has been stacking bodies like no conflict since World War II. So how is it that Americans can stand behind an invasion of Iraq, citing the need to spread peace and democracy, while turning a blind eye to genocide that has claimed more lives than the Holocaust?

That is their problem, we say, not ours.

There is no mushroom cloud within the Congo, and since the Cold War ended, our government has had no need to maintain the area as an African stronghold against the spread of communism. So we let them die.

Half a dozen groups are fighting in a war that is rooted in 19th century struggles for the country’s mineral wealth. Corruption reigns supreme and opposing forces are joining ranks as new enemies surface.

To outsiders, the Congolese conflict can be convoluted, and maybe that makes it harder for us to get involved. But that alone should not downplay the importance of this crisis.

At home, our society has no patience for rapists, but no one seems to bat an eye when it is reported that mass rape is being carried out as a genocidal act within the Congo.

The number of rapes is difficult to determine, but it is estimated that during the height of the conflict there were 40 incidents a day in some villages. In June of 2009, about 10 percent of the victims were men. Thirty percent of all victims are at risk of contracting AIDS and half become syphilitic.

As we fail to voice our disdain, western powers fund the war by purchasing diamonds, gold, cobalt, copper and coltan — a metallic ore used in cell phone and computer circuitry — from the region. In 2002, the United Nations reported that criminal groups were making upwards of $20 million a month from the sale of coltan alone.

Who knew? Or maybe the more appropriate question is, who cares?

It seems that, as Americans, we often fail to identify with the world’s troubles. We remain isolated, disinterested and preoccupied, only stepping up en masse when the potential for profit is great or the outcry is overwhelming. This habit stems from a sense of righteousness that is present among those who have never had to live through the horrors of the eastern Congo.

It is easy for those of us who have become immune to accounts of raped mothers and murdered fathers to believe that these problems take place in a separate world, one that we long since opted out of. But how often do we recognize just how lucky we were, that out of the 6.5 billion people in the world, we ended up here?

We seem to think that being born into this country is a right. We think we are Americans because we did something to earn the distinction. We pride ourselves on the idea that hard work pays off. It may help to remember that the biggest payoff is one we never had to work for.

Where does that place us in the broad scheme of things? Had we been a little less lucky and ended up in one of those corrugated-steel shacks in the soaking wet Congo jungle, would we be able to turn a blind eye? I would hope that the world could not.

— Stephen Miller is a recent graduate of the UA.

 

Editor’s note: The article was edited on June 21, 2010. What read, “”Corruption reigns supreme and the only common ground between opposing forces is unity as new enemies surface,”” was changed to “”Corruption reigns supreme and opposing forces are joining ranks as new enemies surface.””

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