NEWS ANALYSIS: Violence Begets Violence in Darfur

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c. 2005 Religion News Service

NYALA, Sudan _ War is not hard to find in Darfur.

You hear it behind gated compounds as bands of security forces roam the streets and fire off their guns.

You feel it as a plane flies over a hamlet, and fearful villagers grimly look overhead, wondering if it is a military craft.

You see it as rebel soldiers _ none older than 25 and many much, much younger _ man checkpoints and wave through buses or humanitarian vehicles on dusty, ramshackle roads.

Indeed, one mark of the absurdity _ the sheer weirdness _ of war in Darfur is that less than an hour’s drive from Nyala, a major city firmly in control of local authorities, anti-government rebels have controlled the roads and whatever infrastructure is left in areas blighted by more than a year of violence.

It is this violence that has drawn moral concern from religious groups, humanitarian organizations and human rights activists, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

Normalcy in such situations is short-lived: a village seemingly at peace one moment can be gone in the next, as a group of visitors learned when they heard that a small hamlet they recently visited had been destroyed in an anti-rebel military incursion.

While such news should not, by normal standards, be shocking _ the hamlet was, after all, located in an effective war zone, as is all of Darfur _ it still came as an unwelcome, stunning jolt.

Just weeks before, this was a place where the almost-melodic rhythms of cattle roaming by day and resting by night evoked a gentle cycle of life, however fragile or threatened by war.

It was also a place where villagers and visitors alike could, at night, marvel at a star-lit sky so large and expansive _ there are few trees or mountains or electrical lights to block or obscure the view in Darfur _ that when the moon rose over the horizon, it was almost as bright as a sunrise.

That place is no more.

What happened to its residents is hard to know _ though there are sketchy reports that a few people are now returning to the area.

Many of those who fled were children, most were women, and many had been uprooted and displaced before. Some may have been killed; others, most likely, got up and fled to new ground.

This now-common experience of movement _ always movement, constant and exhausting movement _ exacts a severe physical and mental toll.

Not far from this village is an expanse of open land where, one afternoon several weeks before the attack, a 20-year-old woman and her six young children took their rest.

The woman’s name was Radija and she and her family had already been displaced twice, most recently in an earlier attack on another nearby community.

Her children were suffering from the effects of diarrhea and Radija was doing her best to comfort them; all that protected the family was a small piece of plastic sheeting to shield against Darfur’s unforgiving mid-day heat and sun.

Radija’s husband had gone to fetch the family water, she said, and it would be some hours before he returned.

Radija was not overly eager to speak to visitors, some of whom were assessing conditions for a possible humanitarian operation in the area. With the far-away look of someone who had experienced real trauma, Radija spoke of the family’s displacement, of the need for a bit of food and for hay to feed a donkey that was carrying the family’s belongings.

“We have so many problems,” she said quietly.

The Sudanese government and rebels, known as the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), have argued about who is ultimately to blame for Darfur’s problems and those arguments will continue, perhaps to be resolved one day, perhaps not.

But the concrete result of what has happened in Darfur is easily evinced, and proves what the anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom has said about the central truth of today’s wars in Africa and much of the world.

“Contrary to popular assumptions, war is not primarily about adult male soldiers doing battle,” she wrote in a 1997 study of contemporary war. “Children and adults, women and men, fight and die, some in uniforms and some as civilians in wars they neither started nor support.”

There are more than a million people like Radija _ women and children, mostly _ who did not seek war and did not want to spend their days roaming Darfur’s harsh desert in search of shelter or succor.

Unfortunately, they know all too well that war is not hard to find in Darfur.


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