In April 2005, a striking celebration occurred in Washington to mark the signing of a peace accord between rebel groups of southern Sudan and the Islamist regime in Khartoum, ending Africa's longest and bloodiest civil war. In a packed room in the Longworth House Office Building, Sudanese exiles mingled with the American officials and religious leaders whose efforts helped halt Sudan's two-decade genocidal war against its non-Muslim population.
The event marked a triumph for both the Bush administration and the faith-based human-rights movement that has burst on the American foreign-policy scene in recent years. But the triumph was muted, for the Sudanese government in Khartoum has now turned its attention from the southern part of the country to the western, undertaking massive ethnic cleansing in the region known as Darfur. And so far, neither America's religious community nor its government has acted with the same vigor in addressing the crisis.
Indeed, the administration's mixed signals, alternately condemning and lauding the regime, have done little to rein in the Janjaweed marauders who keep the Darfur people from leaving fetid camps to plant crops and rebuild their shattered villages. And one reason the administration has not acted more forcefully is that the potent Christian groups involved in foreign affairs—those who anchored the religious coalition that compelled results in southern Sudan with unity and toughness—have been fragmented in their response to Darfur. This fact tarnishes the achievement in the south, and the stain will fall most heavily on the evangelical world. Born-again Christians in America, it will be said, care more about the deaths of their fellow believers in the south than about the deaths of Muslims in the west.
Given its special access to the White House and its grassroots muscle, the evangelical community remains uniquely situated to mobilize against what President Bush himself has described as “genocide in Darfur.” As one insider explained, “If evangelicals are not prioritizing it, then the administration will not prioritize it.” But the nation's evangelicals should prioritize it. Even without sending American troops to the region, forceful and moral options remain. The administration can stop sending mixed messages, mount a determined effort to expand and empower African Union forces, add U.S. logistical support, secure more aid, and massively increase diplomatic and economic pressure.
And to make all this happen—to halt the rape and murder of Darfur—the vital element is action from the American religious community.
Initially animated by concern for the persecution of Christians around the world, American religious activism blossomed into a wider quest to promote human rights through the machinery of American foreign policy. From the mid-1990s on, this faith-based movement of unlikely allies—from liberal Jewish groups to conservative evangelical churches—successfully pressed a succession of congressional initiatives, pouring new energy into a cause often trumped by economic and strategic calculations.
This activism was rooted in the tectonic shift of the world's Christian population to the developing world, where it often exists in poverty, violence, exploitation, and persecution. Through the expansion of global communication and booming religious networks, American Christians, especially evangelicals, filled a huge void in human-rights advocacy, raising issues previously slighted by secular groups, the mainstream press, and the foreign-policy establishment.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the campaign to end the civil war in southern Sudan. In a certain way, it was natural for American Christians to identify with the African people of Sudan, where Christianity traces its roots from the first centuries of the early Church. The northern part of the country, which contains the capital of Khartoum, is home to an Arabic-speaking Muslim population. The south and the Nuba mountains are populated by various African peoples, mostly a mix of Christians and traditional animist practitioners. The western province of Darfur represents another tradition, that of African tribes who adhere to the distinctive Sufi version of Islam.
The country has seen more than its share of bloody conflicts, but the worst in recent years arose from Islamist militancy, brought to Sudan by students in the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s. Represented by the National Islamic Front, the movement was never popular with the majority of Sudanese Muslims, but it gained influence through tight organization, intimidation, and violence. Despotic but vulnerable regimes found it convenient to accede to militant demands for the implementation of strict shari'a as a way to buy support.
In the wake of the Iranian revolution, such demands intensified, leading the Khartoum government to promulgate a radical series of shari'a laws in 1983. Non-Muslims in the south rebelled, coalescing in several groups, the most prominent being the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). Hopes for settlement were raised in 1989 when a newly elected government was scheduled to grant greater autonomy to the south. Those hopes were dashed when General Umar al-Bashir seized power in a coup, forging an alliance with the National Islamic Front to unite the country under the Islamist banner.
Though the world hardly noticed, this regime joined Iran and later Afghanistan as the only countries to rule by the Islamist vision. As Arab human-rights activist Hamouda Fathelrahman Bella notes, this coup “brought a regime unparalleled in modern Sudanese history,” a harsh and “reactionary religious state in a multireligious, multiracial, and multilingual country.” Public floggings and amputations came to Khartoum's stadium; women's freedom was severely curtailed; independent sectors of society were crushed; and thousands of people suspected of insufficient loyalty were detained, many tortured or executed.
The regime's attempt to Islamicize an unwilling people was especially brutal. Viewing the southerners as infidels, the regime issued a fatwa in 1993 declaring a jihad against non-Muslims and justifying mass killing or enslavement as means of bringing the region into the dar al-Islam (the “realm of Islam”). As Bella reports, the fatwa also classified Muslims who doubted the “Islamic justification of jihad” as hypocrites and apostates, which later rationalized the regime's onslaught in Darfur.
By employing scorched-earth policies that manufactured famine and then denying United Nations relief access, the regime decimated the southern population. Over its twenty-year span, the conflict claimed perhaps two million African lives—more fatalities than the conflicts in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Rwanda put together—and displaced some four million people. Beyond targeting animists and Muslims in the south who resisted its fundamentalism, the regime literally attempted to wipe out Christianity. For a long while this genocidal dimension was scarcely noted by the press, but it was picked up in western religious circles, especially among Christian solidarity activists who mounted a campaign like the anti-apartheid struggle, complete with grassroots mobilization, protests, arrests, divestment pressure, and legislative sanctions.
That such a domestic movement could shape the destiny of a people far from home illustrates the remarkable clout of aroused religious constituencies and suggests their potential impact on Darfur. The plight of the southern Sudanese would have remained in the backwater of American concern had not the faith-based movement and its allies picked up the cause. Consider the case of John Eibner, an American leader of the Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International. Invited in 1992 by the New Sudan Council of Churches to investigate atrocities and slave raids in the region, he began redemption efforts in 1995. Raising money in the West and operating through local contacts, Eibner traveled frequently to Sudan, enduring harsh war-zone conditions. He redeemed thousands of Sudanese slaves, and evocative photographs of these transactions circulated widely. Charles Jacobs, head of the American Anti-Slavery Group, says that Eibner makes him think of the Jewish legend of a few “undiscovered holy men who hold up the world.”
Jacobs, who is Jewish, came to the movement out of outrage that other human-rights organizations were ignoring slavery in North Africa. By sponsoring ex-slaves to tell their stories, Jacobs helped personalize the Sudan cause, providing the pictures and creating new activists. The slave issue also drew the African-American community into coalition with conservative evangelicals. Black preachers with huge congregations and broadcast ministries, such as T.D. Jakes and Chuck Singleton, mobilized their followers and prodded others, such as the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, to join the cause.
While the slave issue acted as a magnet for African-Americans, the specter of genocide resonated in Jewish circles. Spurred by reports from Sudan, the Holocaust Memorial Museum issued an unprecedented “genocide warning” for Sudan early in 2001. Jerry Fowler, director of the Committee of Conscience for the Museum, followed up by developing a powerful exhibition of the atrocities committed by the regime. This meshed with other initiatives, such as the distribution by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations of a message about Sudan to synagogues throughout America for use in Passover Seders. When President Bush met with Jewish leaders in April 2001, he was admonished to do something about Sudan's crimes against humanity. A month later, before the American Jewish Committee, he chose to address Sudan in a hard-hitting speech, in which he accused Sudan of “crimes so monstrous that the American conscience had to assert itself.”
But evangelical Christians remained the central grassroots force in the movement. Catholic and Anglican bishops from Sudan found their most attentive audiences through evangelical church networks. And because the UN relief program often failed to deliver aid to areas of greatest need, Christian groups such as Samaritan's Purse moved with considerable daring to meet the challenge, violating Sudanese airspace and avoiding military patrols to bring tangible help to suffering people in southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains. For a growing number of evangelical activists, traveling into war-torn areas of Sudan became a crucial sign of discipleship. They witnessed attacks, viewed scorched villages and mutilated bodies, and dodged enemy fire as they delivered relief supplies in unsecured areas. Their example prompted Congress to appropriate more money for American relief to be delivered outside of Khartoum's control. In turn, President Bush's relief team worked to ensure that more aid was actually delivered to people in the war zone.
From the late 1990s onward such evangelical luminaries as Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote and spoke often about the crisis in Sudan. The Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the regime in Khartoum for its genocide and calling for direct aid to the victims. Christianity Today and World magazines featured frequent Sudanese stories. Evangelical musicians produced benefit albums and concerts with Sudanese themes. A testament to the power of evangelical networks was a 2002 national survey of evangelical elites that found some 70 percent had absorbed a great deal of information about Sudan, with 40 percent contributing to an organization working there. Members of Congress reported striking interest in Sudan among their constituents.
One center of mobilization on southern Sudan was Midland, Texas, hometown of George W. and Laura Bush. Spearheading the effort there was Deborah Fikes, leader of the Midland Ministerial Alliance. An ardent evangelical, she worked with her husband to create an organization to support the ministry of sister churches in Sudan. As friends of the president, Fikes and her associates understood their special leverage, which they exercised judiciously. When Bush officials offered conciliatory messages about Sudan's cooperation in the war on terror after the attacks of September 11, the alliance sent a strong letter to the president. Stating that they would have to “stand with our brothers and sisters in Sudan, however God leads us,” the group conveyed to White House officials that, at some point, the president's Midland friends might be compelled to take actions that could embarrass him.
Through billions of dollars of international investment, Sudan's oil reserves, most located in the south, began generating revenue in the late 1990s. This enabled Khartoum to buy advanced weaponry and led to ethnic cleansing in areas surrounding oil fields. Faced with the prospect that oil was “fueling genocide,” activists mounted a divestment campaign against oil companies doing business in Sudan, particularly the Canadian oil company Talisman. Letters to fund managers went out from the movement's amalgam of Christian solidarity groups, Jewish leaders, and black pastors. The campaign was devastating as it “ran the tables” on major fund managers from Canada and the United States, resulting in a plummeting of Talisman value.
Activists also learned that China National Petroleum Company planned to raise some $10 billion from Wall Street, much of it for oil investment in Sudan. Articles blossomed in evangelical publications and advocacy outlets about the threat of this massive infusion of capital, letters went out to large investors, and sympathetic political leaders weighed in with charges that this stock offering would be “blood money” for Sudan's attempt to eradicate a people. The Chinese company raised only $3 billion of its $10 billion goal, a “$7 billion haircut” that sent shock waves through the investment community and must have sobered the Khartoum regime.
Simultaneously other activists pressed for congressional legislation. Michael Horowitz, an ex-Reagan official and catalyst for anti-persecution legislation, took from the statute books the apartheid bill Congress passed to deal with South Africa and got it inserted in House legislation on religious persecution. Though that provision was stricken from the final legislation, it represented the first iteration of what later became the Sudan Peace Act, sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback and Congressmen Frank Wolf and Chris Smith.
The House version of the Sudan Peace Act, passed in the summer of 2001, suggested the boldness of the interfaith movement. Based on the idea that the way to get Khartoum's attention was to curtail its oil revenues, the bill would have denied access to U.S. capital markets for companies doing business in Sudan. This caused apoplexy in the investment community and suggested the extent to which religious conservatives were willing to break with the business wing of the Republican party. Though the outright ban seemed to go too far, the coalition did secure compromise language that provided $30
0 million in aid for southern Sudan and authorized the president to deny oil revenue to the regime if it failed to negotiate for peace in a timely manner.
The passage of the Sudan Peace Act represented a major triumph of the movement, producing a Hollywood-like bill-signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on October 21, 2002. Though scantily reported by the press, word of the signing went forth from the religious presses and advocacy e-mail, buoying confidence for the inevitable battles to come.
Following the bill signing, activists continued to pounce whenever they felt that administration officials were soft-peddling Khartoum's human-rights record. The relentless pressure brought by the Sudan coalition on the Bush Administration and Khartoum eventually produced a stunning result: the peace treaty granting power-sharing with the rebels, autonomy for the south, and a new constitution. This remarkable achievement by “idealistic” religionists effectively checked the regime's goal of spreading its radical version of Islam deeper into Africa, which better served America's national security than the hands-off approach backed by the nation's foreign-policy realists.
Unfortunately, the very triumph in the south sparked the rebellion in the west. Thus the crisis of Darfur provides vivid evidence of the assertion of Muslim scholar Bassam Tibi that, whenever militant Islamists cannot achieve their goals or govern effectively, they always spread disorder. The Africans in Darfur, though Muslim, had long chafed under the neglect or discrimination by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, and they competed with nomadic Arabs of the region for land and water. As Sufis, they were also viewed as apostates by the National Islamic Front, and because they resisted its extreme interpretation of shari'a, they represented a threat to the regime.
This common resistance tied together the conflicts in southern Sudan and Darfur. When the southern peace process showed signs of providing the south with real autonomy by the spring of 2003, Darfur's rebels seized the opportunity to achieve a similar result and attacked garrisons of the government. Khartoum responded by pursuing yet another genocidal policy.
The calculated savagery of Khartoum's campaign has been stunning. As Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported in February, a document seized by the African Union from a Janjaweed official outlined in chilling detail official government policy. Demanding “execution of all directives from the president of the Republic,” it called upon commanders to “change the demography of Darfur and make it devoid of African tribes.” Dated August 2004, the document encouraged “killing, burning villages and farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur.”
Terribly effective, this strategy resulted in near-total ethnic cleansing in the areas in which it occurred, leaving over two and a half million people bereft of sustenance and vulnerable to continuing attacks, with the lives of even more at risk. The only reason violence has abated recently, as noted by Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, is that “there are not many villages left to burn down and destroy.”
The systematic nature of this campaign has been confirmed by eyewitness accounts. Brian Seidle, a former U.S. Marine captain working with the African Union, documented the onslaught from September 2004 until February 2005. Before an attack, the authorities would shut down cell-phone systems to prevent villages from warning each other. Next, aircraft would fly reconnaissance as helicopter gunships fired anti-personnel rockets. Then would come the proxy militias, the Janjaweed, killing, raping, burning, poisoning wells, and looting. As Seidle said in his testimony to Congress, “Every day we saw villages of up to 20,000 inhabitants burned to the ground with nothing left but ash frames. . . . We witnessed scores of dead bodies providing evidence of torture—arms bound, ears cut off, eyes plucked, males castrated and left to bleed to death, children beaten to a pulp, people locked in their huts before being burned alive, and apparent executions.”
The actual number of the dead is impossible to calculate because so many of the internally displaced people forage the countryside or huddle in remote camps inside Sudan, where they die of disease, exposure, and malnutrition. Some estimates put the rising death toll as high as four hundred thousand as of the summer of 2005. Lack of security has kept farmers from returning to their fields, and that, combined with wider disruptions of the war and drought, contributes to an ongoing food crisis. Meanwhile, Janjaweed militias continue marauding and obstructing relief efforts. To terrorize people in the squatters' camps and remind them they do not belong in Darfur, the Janjaweed employ systematic rape, preying on women when they venture out to forage for food or firewood. Though the government of Sudan disavows involvement in atrocities, it has taken no action against the militias. Musa Hilal, one of the most ruthless Janjaweed commanders, parades himself regularly in Khartoum.
The initial international response to these “crimes against humanity” was anemic, and later action dilatory. From the beginning of the crisis onward, the United Nations failed at critical junctures to act against the regime, while the Chinese poured in oil investment, the Russians provided weapons, the European countries expanded trade, the Arab League offered solidarity, and African nations even helped elect Sudan to the UN Human Rights Commission.
Though belatedly, the United States has done the most to respond to the catastrophe, providing the lion's share of humanitarian aid, securing corridors, declaring the atrocities genocidal, and pressing (though mostly unsuccessfully) for tough UN action against the regime. But the Bush Administration has also lauded Sudan's cooperation in the war on terror and allowed the CIA to fly Sudan's intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, an architect of the Darfur atrocity, to Washington for consultation. Concerned that further sanctions on Sudan might upset the southern peace process, it also got the House to scotch tough “Darfur accountability” legislation passed by the Senate in April. To date the administration has not mounted a broad strategy to protect civilians and enable them to reconstruct their villages.
This record led observers such as Nicholas Kristof to charge the Bush administration with doing “shamefully little” to end the Darfur crisis. Though perhaps unfair, this judgment reflects the fact that a fragmented religious response has failed to push the administration.
To be sure, some religious activism has taken up the cause of Darfur. A left-right “Sudan Campaign,” led by Keith Roderick of Christian Solidarity International and with support from such activists as Nina Shea of Freedom House and Faith McDonnell of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, staged a 2004 summer of civil disobedience and arrests at the Sudanese embassy. It continues to mount a divestment effort against Sudan's oil industry. The Catholic bishops' conference has remonstrated with political leaders for action and appealed to parishes for relief support. Jewish groups anchor the “Save Darfur” organization, and black churches, which came only slowly to the campaign for the south, are beginning to generate serious grassroots activity for Darfur.
Evangelical leaders have also taken a number of independent initiatives. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals orchestrated a hard-hitting letter to the Bush Administration in the spring of 2004 and joined this July with Jewish leaders for a prayer vigil on Darfur. Richard Land has personally pressed administration officials, while Charles Colson referred to Darfur in one of his Breakpoint radio commentaries. Leaders of such organizations as World Vision provide expertise on conditions in refugee camps and tough policy recommendations.
But these initiatives remain disparate, uncoordinated, and often unsustained. And some voices that championed southern Sudan have not spoken of Darfur with the same urgency. As one insider reported, during a high-level religious coalition meeting in Washington last year, activists were setting their human-rights agenda for the coming months and “nobody assigned Darfur, nobody put it on the agenda.”
Ironically, the lack of unified vigor on Darfur may derive from the very process that secured the peace deal in the south. American Christians made a heavy emotional and tangible investment in the south. Because the southern peace process occurred just as the onslaught spread in Darfur, some religious leaders have been loath to protest against the regime out of concern for upsetting the pact between the government of Sudan and southern forces—and Khartoum cunningly stretched out the process while consolidating gains in the west.
Insiders also admit that there are tensions between long-standing religious advocates for southern Sudan and Darfur's activist newcomers. There is suspicion that some criticism of the Bush administration on Darfur is disingenuous, coming as it does from the likes of the National Council of Churches and the very leftist owners of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream—and that if Bush acted militarily, he would be condemned for over-action just as he is now for under-action.
Then there is the poignant fact that attention to Darfur might divert resources desperately needed to shore up the peace in the south. Roger Winter, who directed all U.S. relief for the region and now serves as State Department Special Representative on Sudan, points to the inherently fungible nature of international money for Sudan. To a certain extent aid used for Darfur relief is not available for southern reconstruction and vice versa—a problem exacerbated as other countries renege on their pledges to both regions.
Another reason religious leaders have given for not challenging Sudan more fervently is the view that the best hope for Darfur is peace in the south—because that will lead to a transformation of the regime. New constitutional provisions, which went into effect on July 9, call for Sudan to be a “multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and, multi-religious society” in which “freedom of religion, belief and worship shall be guaranteed” and no one “coerced to embrace any faith or religion.” For a radical Islamist government to make such concessions suggests, to some, the ascendancy of progressive new forces that should be welcomed.
This is the view of the Midland group, which hosted the Sudanese ambassador and his wife this past spring. Critics see this as a “troubling relationship,” a manipulation of naive Christians by a skilled and charming diplomat. Aware of this criticism and acknowledging the potential value of other strategies, Fikes argues that nurturing this relationship enables them to exercise distinct leverage with the government and to hold it accountable for keeping religious freedom guarantees.
A related argument, advanced by Michael Horowitz, is that too much pressure on the Sudanese government during this delicate transition period may be counterproductive. There are “good guys” in Khartoum whom we should not undermine, and if “you are not going to have regime change,” then “morally satisfying” gestures of condemnation do nothing. Moreover, in sensitive negotiations you do not say to your interlocutors “we'll put you in front of war-crimes tribunals.” A related assessment is that Khartoum may not fully control elements of the military in Darfur, who are furious about the peace in the south. The recent death of SPLM leader John Garang, who was to have become vice president of a new unity government, makes the situation even more complex and delicate.
Horowitz also argues that the context is different with Darfur. American religious groups had leverage with Christian rebels in the south in a way they do not with Sufi rebels in the west. A letter from the Midland Ministerial Alliance to John Garang—cautioning him against making unrealistic demands—was crucial in ensuring that rebels took the remarkable deal offered by Khartoum. Because American Christians have no influence on the other side in Darfur, the argument goes, massive unilateral action against Khartoum may only embolden the rebels to step up attacks that provide the government with excuses for retaliation.
This sense that options are limited on Darfur has led some in the religious coalition to devote their energies to other issues they deem ripe for religious impact, particularly North Korea and sex trafficking. Other activists, however, see the potential for maintaining pressure on Khartoum to halt its atrocities in Darfur. Arguing that pressing on Darfur is “more likely to facilitate the peace process than inhibit it,” Richard Land characterizes the regime as “a gangster cabal masquerading as a government” that respects only “force and the spine to use it.”
Similarly, John Eibner sees the north-south deal as merely a tactical suspension of Khartoum's ambition to Islamize and Arabize Sudan. Thus a policy without threats, such as an oil or arms embargo, is unlikely to halt the genocide. About fears of upsetting the southern peace, “one cannot do a trade-off between genocide in Darfur and peace in southern Sudan.” Roger Winter agrees, arguing that demanding accountability for those most responsible for the Darfur atrocities serves the cause of moderates in Khartoum. Similarly, there is no reason why the United States cannot simultaneously shore up the southern peace and pursue a tough policy on Darfur. As to the supposed inability of Khartoum authorities to rein in the Janjaweed, Eibner has heard the same argument about slaving in the south. Yet, as he notes, slave raids stopped abruptly when the government of Sudan became serious about peace negotiations.
These different assessments keep the religious community from presenting a unified front on Darfur, but they also encourage administrative inertia. “Timid people” at the State Department, Richard Land insists, “get vapors” at the “first mention of force.” The only counterweight to “business as usual at Foggy Bottom,” he contends, is constituency pressure. This assessment is confirmed by Samantha Power in her book on responses to genocides, A Problem from Hell. Explaining why America did not act against the Rwanda genocide, Clinton national security advisor Anthony Lake explained that “the phones weren't ringing on Rwanda.”
Evangelical leaders bear a special responsibility to get the phones ringing on Darfur, because of their capacity to reach millions and their unique access to the president. Some in the mainstream press charge that because victims in Darfur are Muslims and not Christians, evangelicals have not responded with the same vigor. For certain sectarian groups, such as Voice of the Martyrs, there is probably some truth to this. Mailings from the organization continue to refer to the “jihad on the Christians of Southern Sudan,” suggesting the difficulty of shifting attention to a Muslim population under siege.
A better explanation is the decentralized and entrepreneurial nature of the evangelical world, which makes coordination hard. Still, the uncoordinated effort on Darfur contrasts dramatically with what caught the attention of Congress and the administration on southern Sudan. And when appeals result in perfunctory responses, evangelicals have not demanded more.
Another influence is the recrudescence of the culture war. Gay marriage and the related issue of judicial appointments exploded onto the agenda, diverting attention from Darfur. Indeed, one prominent born-again leader admitted to me that “the timing” was not convenient for a full press on the international front. A related factor pertains to pietistic habits of the evangelical mind, as identified by Mark Noll, that result in an episodic and reactive public engagement. Certain prominent evangelical figures, such as Gary Bauer and James Dobson, who put their formidable networks in service of the cause in southern Sudan, are now largely silent on Darfur.
The challenge for the religious community and the U.S. government is to respond in a way commensurate with the crisis. To be sure, the situation in Darfur is complex and one cannot gainsay the possibility of unintended consequences. That said, the contours of possible American action to ameliorate the crisis are clear: We must provide more relief to save lives, get forces on the ground to provide security, and elevate the diplomatic stakes against Khartoum's depredations. All are within reach if the United States makes Darfur a command focus. The religious community has the capacity, and therefore the obligation, to help make that happen.
Most immediately we should address the humanitarian crisis. The UN World Food Program estimates that up to 3.5 million people face famine in Darfur this fall, yet donations have fallen far short of needs. Starvation is also occurring in parts of the south, because the international community has failed to deliver the assistance previously committed. Religious leaders, Eibner suggests, “should be urging the entire international community without delay” to get needed money for both regions. Churches can also support the work by designating special Sunday collections, as the U.S. Catholic Conference did last year. Especially effective might be a public effort by the evangelical elite to mobilize their formidable networks to avert famine throughout Sudan.
There is a massive need to rebuild the southern region's infrastructure and civil society. Though some organizations have moved in to do this, Eibner observes that the response has been paltry so far. Indeed, he notes not only the physical devastation of the region, but the spiritual hunger of people who wish to build institutions of a Christian culture but lack minimal tools. A strengthened southern society would be a leavening bulwark against renewed militant Islamist advances and provide hope for the protection of human rights. The president can play a pivotal role here, personally summoning the nation's charitable impulse on behalf of the victims in Sudan and averting painful tradeoffs between Darfur and the south by providing more robust aid and pressing other countries to ante up.
With respect to security, one argument for our inability to influence events in Darfur is that everyone—including the government in Khartoum—knows that America, while in Iraq, will not put another “Christian army” in the heart of another Muslim country, even for humanitarian intervention. But a consensus is emerging on what will provide a modicum of security: a dramatically expanded African Union force with U.S. logistical support and a mandate sufficient to deter attacks on civilians.
Up to now, deployment of African Union forces has been agonizingly slow, and there are no plans for expansion to the levels needed. From a force level of three thousand, the African Union contingent is slated to expand to some seven thousand this fall, but shortage of funds may prevent that. The International Crisis Group estimates a need of twelve to fifteen thousand troops.
In addition to more boots on the ground, the crisis group calls for an expanded mandate that allows African Union forces to take offensive measures against threats to civilians and humanitarian operations—together with enforcement of a ban on military flights and dramatically enhanced U.S. and NATO logistical support. These recommendations were echoed by a congressional work group looking at UN reform, co-chaired by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell. As evidence of the effectiveness of even small numbers of African Union forces, Brian Steidle offered a dramatic example in testimony before Congress. After a devastating attack on a town of twenty thousand, a Sudanese general confided that his goal was “to continue clearing the route all the way to Khartoum.” Remarkably, the union placed thirty-five soldiers in the next town, which was enough to deter government forces from attacking it. The union then deployed seventy soldiers in the previous town, which enabled some three thousand people to return to rebuild.
Achieving an adequate force level would require the president to bring huge diplomatic pressure on the African Union and our NATO allies, along with exercising leadership to obtain sufficient funding. But the president can do more. He can elevate the stakes for Khartoum by using the bully pulpit, inviting Darfur representatives to the White House and spelling out the steps his administration will take to end the tragedy. He can seriously upgrade the position of Roger Winter, a longstanding advocate for Sudan's vulnerable, by providing him the high-level White House access enjoyed by John Danforth, the previous special envoy, and ensuring full administration backing of his initiatives. The president can put together an international coalition of conscience to block arms and threaten Sudan's oil industry unless it provides lasting security guarantees to the Darfur people. He can ensure all agencies of the U.S. government send clear, tough messages to Khartoum—and one way to do that is by backing legislation for accountability in Darfur.
The religious community must do its part by keeping the tragedy foremost on the political agenda, as it did for the southern war. Though the Bush Administration did not always follow the specific wishes of activists on southern Sudan, it placed a priority on peace because the issue had politically mobilized a critical mass of the American Christian community. A kind of stewardship obligation, especially for evangelicals, involves doing the same on Darfur. Fulfilling that obligation can transform a potential stain of neglect into another human-rights triumph for people of faith.
Allen D. Hertzke, professor of political science and director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, is author of Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights, from which portions of this article were adapted.