So this may be my last post before we leave, I'm not sure. Tomorrow's our last full day here, and we leave early the next morning. It's been a good trip.
Bill Richardson is in town right now to work on resolving the Darfur situation, and the US Embassy hosted a dinner tonight with him that my dad just got back from. Which is cool, I guess, but it made me realize how little attention I've paid to the conflict while I've been here. It's something I've thought about, of course, but it's really surprising how remote it feels, even here. There are a few token propaganda posters around town, proclaiming that "We are all supporting the peace", but if you were dropped in this city without any outside knowledge, you would probably not realize that anything was amiss.
That's one of the most prominent violations of human rights happening today, only a few hundred miles from where I am right now, and I barely realize it's happening. Maybe I would know more if I could understand the Arabic radio news, and maybe people around me are talking about it and I just don't realize. Or maybe the government does a good job of managing the flow of information in Khartoum, I don't know. It's situations like these that make me wonder about myself, and how much I really know about what's going on in my own country. I think I have a pretty good, accurate handle on US foreign policy, but every so often I realize that I've forgotten what exactly it was that Jose Padilla was accused of doing, or what we know about the CIA's black prisons, or whatever happened to John Walker Lindh (remember him?), or who the Canadian guy was that we mistakenly sent overseas to be tortured, since he happened to have a similar name to someone on our terrorist watchlist. And it bothers me to think that I form fairly strong opinions on the state of the world with such frequently spotty knowledge.
Talking to people in the US about Darfur has brought to light some rather distressing latent racism, which bothers me. More than a number of people I've talked to have framed it as a conflict between Muslims and Christians, with the Muslim government slaughtering the Christian villagers. I don't know where this perception comes from; both sides in the conflict are predominantly Muslim. You could frame it as a conflict between Arabs and Blacks, if you wanted to fit it into some sort of pre-existing racist mold, but I think that even that model doesn't fit very well. Maybe people are confusing it with the earlier civil war, which was fought between a predominantly Muslim north and Christian (and animast) south. But I really don't think that's it; I think that a lot of people just assume that if killing is happening in an Arab country, it must be Muslims killing infidels.
Which makes me sad. The people I've talked to who've said things like that are genuinely well-meaning people, who certainly try to avoid stereotyping and wouldn't intentionally misconstrue the issues. Maybe it's just a scary example of the creeping influence that the Ann Coulters and the Rush Limbaughs and the Bill O'Reillys have on our discourse. Sure, we pay lipservice to the idea that not all Muslims are evil terrorists, but you hear enough people -- even people that you virulently disagree with -- say it and it starts to color your thoughts, whether you want it to or not. Or maybe I'm just scapegoating the popular liberal bogeymen because I can't think of a more reasonable explanation.
How egotistical. I wanted to spend this post talking about Darfur and what I think about it, but I ended up using it as an excuse to discuss Americans and their political and racial foibles. I don't think that I've really learned anything here to discuss, though, as sad as that is, and maybe that's all I really have to contribute.
One final note. A lot of Americans I know, including my parents and kori the tomorrow lady have a tendency to lie about their country of origin, either out of embarrassment or to avoid social reproach. I urge people not to do this. Ideologically, I think you shouldn't concern yourself with the opinions of those who would look down upon you solely for being an American, no more than you should with someone who would expect you to be stupid if you said you were Polish. And pragmatically, the tactic results in people perceiving all Americans they meet as boorish and unpleasant, because those of us who are more culturally sensitive and politically sane run around calling ourselves Canadian. And I think that's a bad thing.