Darfur discussion

I wanted to add my thoughts to the ongoing conversation between Sierra Scott and Todd Ramsey regarding Sierra’s Darfur video.  First, I need to admit that I have not been to Darfur.  My thoughts come from my experiences in Russia, Central Asia, and regions of Africa.  I have taught judges throughout these regions and come to some conclusions about transparency, particularly with U.S. Americans.

From my perspective, I think it’s critical that any time we interact with other cultures, particularly in conflictual areas, we realize that our access is inherently limited. Those who invite us have agendas. We see what they wish us to see and even “open access” is suspect as we cannot know the threats those in authority have made to those with whom we are allowed contact. I saw this very strongly in my experiences in Zimbabwe. Two young female magistrates took me to a bazaar (an outdoor market) so that I could see how Zimbabweans really lived.  The whole afternoon I heard hissing wherever we went. The magistrates told me it was nothing. People were polite, solicitous, and friendly to me throughout the day. At the end of the day, the magistrates admitted that they were the target of the hissing, that because they were dressed in western clothes (jeans, t-shirts, baseball hats) the locals were letting them know of their displeasure. They told me that had I not been with them they would likely have been assaulted. I was shocked! My presence seemed a flimsy security. As I did further research when I returned home, I learned that women had been stripped, beaten, and chased through the streets in Harrare for wearing western dress.

So what is my point? Caution is critical in claiming “truth” in conflictual international situations. “This is my perspective”; “This was my experience” is simply a more prudent approach. I lived in Russia for a year and have visited many times. Never would I claim based on all the experiences I have had in that country or all the research that I have done to KNOW the truth of Russia.  There are too many complex reasons for people to tell me either what they think I want to hear, or what they want me to believe. A short fact-finding trip is simply not adequate to ascertain truth.

My final thought is that caution is necessary when one concludes that care about one region of the world negates concern for another region that is also experiencing atrocities. It is a straw-man argument to say “It’s worse over there, so why are you concerned about what is happening here”. Concern for one injustice does not negate or diminish another. To become a more humane world, we need voices speaking out about injustice and atrocities wherever they are found. I look forward to this continuing discussion.

I commend Sierra for her interest in returning to the areas of Darfur she was not able to visit the first time and for sharing her experiences.  I commend Todd and Hayley for their forthright questioning and willingness to indict truth claims with counterevidence.

4 responses to “Darfur discussion

  1. Thanks for weighing in, Deborah. I had the privilege of visiting Zimbabwe several years ago. It was a business trip and my colleague and I were never allowed to leave the compound we stayed in. Based on that experience, I could truthfully say that never once did I witness any starvation due to Robert Mugabe’s expropriation of white-owned farms, nor did I experience the crippling hyperinflation created by the trillions of dollars the government has printed. But I don’t say those things.

    I don’t just trust what I see with my own eyes, and I recognize that one experience does not constitute the sole truth.

  2. Pingback: An internet conversation

  3. Emily Christensen

    Hi Deborah. I think the crux of your post is this: “From my perspective, I think it’s critical that any time we interact with other cultures, particularly in conflictual areas, we realize that our access is inherently limited.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I also think Americans tend to underestimate what it takes to understand another class or culture.

    Thanks for your perspective.

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