National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
?Signup Here For  Weekly E-mail

 1 Archives  | 

 Joan Chittister:  From Where I Stand

August 26, 2004
   Vol. 2, No. 19

*Send This Page to a Friend    3Printer Friendly Version

"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is what makes us important to the people around us."

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and well-known international lecturer.  She is founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in the Church and society.  She is an active member of the International Peace Council.

* The Web link to Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, is provided as a service to our readers.

Beware what you're not aware of,
it measures your humanity

By Joan Chittister,OSB

August 25 has been designated by the Save Dafur Coalition (see related story) as a Sudanese awareness day or "Sudan: Day of Conscience." Right. It raises serious conscience questions for us all:

  • The first important question, I suppose, is how many people are even aware of the awareness day?
  • The second question is what is the Sudanese situation about anyway?
  • And the third question is what does any of it have to do with us?

The first two answers, tragic as they may be, are at least obvious.

The third one, basic as it may be to our own future, to our own humanity, is not.

The first answer is undeniable. I'm not sure how many people are aware of the Day of Conscience, but I know how many should be: Everyone of us who call ourselves human should be. Everyone of us who call ourselves moral should be. All of us should be.

A tragedy of massive import is going on in the human family, and we don't even know it. We're too involved in a tragedy of our own making in Iraq -- trying to minimize it, trying to justify it, trying to forget it. The tragedy in Sudan hardly makes our papers. In fact, Iraq hardly makes our papers anymore. We don't know how many Iraqis are dead; we don't know how many of our own soldiers are wounded. The last thing in the world we want to do is to burden our psyches with one more ounce of proof that violence only begets violence.

But we can't ignore this great inhuman dimension of our humanity much longer. The truth is that it has as much to do with who we are as a people as with who they are as a people.

The United Nations calls the situation in Sudan "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" and says the Janjaweed militia is waging "ethnic cleansing" there. The genocide of the entire black population is, in fact, now at stake.

World Watch Institute tells us that over 200,000 black Sudanese have been murdered by this government-supported militia, thugs who have government approval to do what the government does not want to be seen doing.

Another 1.2 million people have fled their villages to save their lives. They are either wandering and homeless or are homeless and living in refugee camps without water, without sanitation, without food.

Most of the men in the villages were murdered, most of the women were brutally raped there and go on being raped by the very guards "guarding" them even in the refugee camps. Women's bodies, like nuclear bombs, are men's newest weapons of mass destruction.

To do nothing now about this when one of the major reasons we give for invading Iraq is because of what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds more than 10 years ago seems almost ludicrous. We must be missing something here. But what could it be?

The answer to the second question is clear, too: The war is about about racism, about religion, about oil - all the usual excuses we give when what we really want is dominance.

War has been raging in the Sudan since 1983. The government, dominated by Arabs from the country's north, has wanted to impose sharia law on the Christian and animist populations of the south and subjugate the black African Muslims of the west. On the side, of course, the government also wants control of the land and water of the west and the oil in the south.

All these things are real and all these things are stoppable if the world really set out to stop them. But we don't. And that question is why?

The answer to the third question, what does any of this have to do with us, is the hardest question of all to answer -- not because we don't know the answer, certainly, but because we don't want to face it in ourselves, perhaps.

The answer to the third question is that we love warriors. And wars will never end until the world stops adoring its warriors.

All these things are real and all these things are stoppable if the world really set out to stop them. But we don't. And that question is why?
We are waging a presidential election in this country at this very moment, the major issue of which seems to be who of these two men is the greatest warrior? The one who didn't go to war at all but started his own or the one who went to war only to come back to tell us that going to that war was wrong?

But why are we asking ourselves which one of them is strong enough to fight and not asking ourselves which one of them is strong enough not to fight? Why aren't we asking ourselves which one of them is strong enough to find another way to settle conflicts, strong enough to stop playing the politics of fear, strong enough to cease and desist from spending our lives, and the lives of our children, on power and destruction?

After all, most of the people of the world don't even have the option of fighting. They don't have the weapons, they don't have the resources, they don't have the population, and they don't have the means to blow up the world while we spend most of our national wealth assuring ourselves that we can.

From where I stand, it seems that we badly need a Day of Conscience, a Day of Awareness in our lives.

We need a moment when we stand at a great distance from human inhumanity at its ultimate and ask ourselves what it is in us that makes us more interested in choosing a warrior president than we are in electing a president who will make the country strong in health care, strong in education, strong in civil rights, strong in international relations, strongly involved in an international military police force that would stop the killing, stop the raping, stop the burning of the villages, stop the massacres and stop the forcible depopulation of an entire strain of people everywhere tomorrow -- in Darfur, Sudan, today.

By all means, be aware, have conscience. What you see may tell you as much about ourselves and our future as it tells us about the Sudan.

Comments or questions about this column may be sent to:
Top of Page   | Home 
Copyright © 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280