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March 25, 2004
"If we have food, we will share it with them. We can't leave them like that."

The man who spoke is from Chad. They are poor there, too, but not as utterly without resources as the Sudanese who pour into their country over the border between Chad and Sudan.

Let's hope we -- who are not poor -- can say the same. We have an unlovely secret where persecuted Africans are concerned -- we have not been as quick to care about ethnic cleansing in Africa as we have in Europe, say. In Bosnia, or in Kosovo. A complex set of factors relating to our own security? No doubt. Let oil be discovered under one of these countries and things would change in a hurry.

But there is something else.

The victims are people of color.

Kill somebody here in the United States, in a state that uses the death penalty. What's the biggest factor determining whether or not you will be executed? Your race? Your lawyer's skill?

Nope. It's the race of your victim. 80% of those executed were killed for murdering a white person, even though only half of all murder victims in the United States are white. Black people's lives aren't worth as much as white peoples' lives. Loss of them isn't as great a loss.

The Sudanese government is Arab, and the people in the southern part of the country are black. Hundreds of thousands have been murdered. In Rwanda, it was the same, only the players were different. You could tell who was Tutsi and who was Hutu by the shape of their noses. The wrong nose in the wrong place could get a person killed.

Barbaric, we sniff. Incredible. It's their primitive culture, we think. They need civilizing. Those people are just not ready for independence. They need education. Modern people would not do such a thing, people like us.

Oh, I don't know -- Germany in the 1940s was pretty modern. Rather like us. They were pretty well-educated people.

Maybe we will do things differently in Sudan. We scared ourselves in Somalia, turned away from our televisions in anguish when we saw the body of one of our young soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. That image could keep us out of Africa for a generation.

But it mustn't. The world cannot afford to ignore genocide anywhere -- it is too small. Killing starts too easily everywhere, even in places where one would not expect it. Educated places. Modern places.

But first we have to care whether people live or die. Look inside ourselves to see whether or not our compassion extends only to people who resemble us. Look at the evidence. We have the chance to save lives in Sudan, and we will do it.

If we think they're worth saving.
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