Sometimes when I am driving about town, I am amazed at the workings of our traffic lights. The trio of colors tells us when to go, when to slow, when to stop. I drive according to the lights without thought, fully trusting other drivers to obey the signals they see.
It’s not the system itself that boggles my mind, but rather that most people obey these signals, even when the threat of harm for disobeying is minimal. I am amazed that we’ve come up with a system here that people have bought into. We obey traffic signals. We pay taxes. We have orderly voting and changes in political power. We send our kids to school. We work. Why is it like that here?
In other places, there are no such societal norms or laws. Chaos is the only rule. The strongest and most intimidating groups use chaos to rule the people and serve themselves. Other places have no traffic signals—no electricity for that matter. Other countries have no orderly government, voting, political system, educational opportunities, or business practices. Why is it like that there?
And in places like Sudan and Uganda and Chad, chaos has darkened further into the violence of genocide, with unimaginable suffering and trauma. The trouble is, for someone like me, living here in the United States, I cannot begin to comprehend such tragedy.
That’s why I’m glad to be part of the Social Justice Challenge (SJC) this year. I am forcing myself out of my bubble by seeking out what I don’t know and can’t comprehend. I am learning about life and tragedy out there, where traffic signals make no sense to those ruling with guns and force. This month’s SJC topic is genocide, so I’ve been forcing myself to set my eyes to this very disturbing occurrence.
During some online reading and research on the topic, I discovered a Web site for the Genocide Prevention Project. An older page for this project led me to some stats that summarized1 past genocides:
- Armenian Genocide, 1915–1923: Atrocities committed against ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (1.5 million killed)
- Holocaust, 1933–1945: Mass extermination of European Jews by the Nazis (6 million Jews and 5 million Europeans killed)
- Cambodian Genocide, 1975–1979: Slaughter of Cambodians and other ethnic, social, and religious groups by the Khmer Rouge (1.7 million killed)
- Bosnia, 1991–1995: Ethnic cleansing and killing of Bosnian Muslims & ethnic Albanians in the former Yugoslavia (100,000–200,000 killed)
- Rwandan Genocide, 1994: Hutu rebels’ brutal 100-day slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu (800,000 killed)
- Genocide in Darfur, 2004–present: Atrocities committed by the government of Sudan and Janjaweed Arab militias against Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit people (estimates of 300,000 killed)
You can see that genocide is not isolated to a time or continent or people group. I also found a wealth of heart-wrenching information at these sites:
The facts and videos and news articles found there tore at my heart. Again, my thoughts turned to the differences between here and all the other “theres” currently filled with genocide and chaos. I am humbled that, for no merit of my own, I was born in a country where the rule of law made by the people for the people stands (for the most part). I live in relative security and ease. And I am convicted these blessings of freedom and means and security are not mine merely for my own comfort, but should be fully invested to help people who don’t get to live like I do.
One thing I do know: I don’t want to squander the blessing of living free or genocide by turning a blind eye. I want to take it in and let my heart break for the things that break the heart of God.
As with all these social justice causes, I feel overwhelmed by the need and inadequate to make any difference whatsoever. I was so glad to find a blog post for Genocide Prevention Month that provided a list of 30 simple ways to help. There is something on my heart I hope to pull together by month’s end (or summer’s end, at the very least). More on that to come.
Join the SJC! Let’s read, act, and change together in 2010. Visit SJC HQ for details.