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Caring While We Still Can

2010 September 2

Between July 30 and August 3 a reign of terror was released upon villages in the Congo’s Eastern mining districts. Some 200- 400 Rwandan and Congolese rebels raided villages in the North Kivu Province and gang-raped nearly 200 women and children. Women reported being raped in their homes in front of their husbands and children – often repeatedly raped by three to six men. Aid workers have also treated four young boys (ages 1 month, six months, one year, and 18 months) who were also raped. A UN Peacekeeping force of 25 attempted to do what they could, but when they would arrive in a village the rebels would flee into the forest and return as soon as the peacekeepers left. Survivors said the attackers were Congolese Mai-Mai rebels who had joined forces with the Rwandan rebel FDLR group (a group that includes perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who fled across the border to Congo in 1994).

Terror and rape as acts of control is common in the Congo, especially in the mining towns where the rebels have much to gain from controlling the mines that supply much of the world’s coltan and cassiterite (necessities in our ubiquitous modern electronics like cell phones and laptops). The locals, far from benefiting from supplying such minerals to the world, call the minerals a curse for bringing such terrorism to their homes. And these rebel groups stay in power as they continue to receive funds from all of us willing to pay them to just continue our supply of cheap cell phones no matter the cost to others. A cost that apparently includes the gang rape of one month of babies.

It is so disgusting and twisted that it is hard to put into words the rage it elicits. While America is in a dither about being offended by the presence of Muslims in our midst, this is what is happening in the world right now. We talk about fearing terrorism, but this is terrorism in the flesh. At some point we have to move beyond talk. We have to stop watching films like Hotel Rwanda just so we can seem caring and enlightened at our church “God at the Movies” night, and start working to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Hatred, power, and money are all still fueling atrocities – we have to get over our poor track record of only caring about such things in hindsight. Feeling bad about the Holocaust, or Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Japanese internment camps is trendy years later. What takes guts is standing up and doing something about such things as they happen. That is never popular, and will get you called some nasty names as you encourage society to change and care. But what does it say about the state of our souls if we don’t at least try?

To that end, I see three areas where we can start to take steps forward to deal with the larger issues at play here. And, yes, these are beyond the immediate care that is needed for these women and children and the instability of the moment. These try to get at the heart of the issues in society and culture, which is why they are hard and unpopular.

  1. We need to campaign for conflict-free cell phones (and other electronics). Companies that purchase minerals from these areas need to be held accountable at all levels of the process. Buying from middlemen who buy from the terrorists does not absolve a company of guilt. Putting out a product as cheaply as possible should never be an excuse for supporting terrorist groups that maintain control through mass gang rape. I want the companies I support to be transparent in who they deal with. The world needs to know what their money is actually funding when they buy a cell phone. While it is probably too much to ask that companies educate and inform us of what we are actually buying, they can at least work on abiding by US trade law and not import goods obtained through such acts of terror. Consumers can also demand conflict free items, letting the companies know that we are willing to pay what it costs to guarantee that we are not funding such rebel groups when we purchase a product. The consumer sets the demand, and it is up to us to demand a product that doesn’t support gang rape. But first we have to start caring more about the people being terrorized than we do about our latest model phone.
  2. We need to start treating peacekeepers with the same respect we do the military. Peace is a dirty word in our country, while our troops are sent care packages, given discounts, and revered as heroes. But soldiers trained to otherize everyone have a hard time waging peace. Train a soldier to eliminate empathy for the other so that they can kill enemies and it is hard to then expect them to switch into roles of protector, healer, and peacekeeper. We need more people strictly devoted to caring for and protecting others. 25 UN Peacekeepers to protect thousands from guerrilla fighters isn’t enough. Instead of just sending out troops to destroy (in the name of protection), we need armies of people devoted to caring for others. And for that to be a reality, that job needs to be just as attractive and honored as those trained to eliminate others. Peacekeepers need the free ride to college, they need that half price movie ticket, they need parades in their honor, and days set aside to honor the work they do. To give the world the help it desperately needs, we need to raise up armies of peacekeepers willing to empathize, care, and protect so that the evil powers of this world will terrorize no more. But first we have to stop demonizing the very idea of being a peacekeeper.
  3. Finally, we need to emphasize the full equality of women. Men who are raised to see women as inferior (in whatever way) are more apt to objectify us. When women are inferior objects for a man to use – as a subservient housewife, as a porn image, as a prostitute, or as a rape victim – we become less than human. Men seek to control us physically, sexually, emotionally, and mentally. Controlling something that is inferior or weaker for one’s own pleasure (be that sexual pleasure or the pleasure of power and money) is at the root of much injustice in this world. So often women bear the worst of any injustice because men were taught to see us simply as objects to be used in the power plays of life. All too often those that seek justice brush aside concerns regarding women’s equality as merely a distraction – something to be dealt with once the real justice issues are resolved. But as we see here, how women are viewed and treated is at the heart of the matter. Women are being gang raped as an act of control – their bodies are currency in the international games of commerce and trade. They should never be an afterthought. Caring for their wellbeing – of not just their broken bodies, but of their souls is as important as resolving the conflict over minerals. They should not be brushed aside as unfortunate victims of a larger issue; they deserve to be treated as equals worthy of intervention and advocacy. Men should not permit women to continue to suffer simply because our equality is considered too political, or liberal, or insignificant to bother with. Changing the way the cultures of the world (including our own) view women is at the core of ending these injustices. But first we must care about women enough to be their advocates even when it is unpopular.

This list is a start. It isn’t the solution – there are too many factors at play here for that. These are simply three action steps that we can start with. It is easy to be paralyzed with rage at these atrocities and feel like there is nothing we can do. But we can start pushing for change – even if that means starting with ourselves and how we view consumption, or the role of peacekeepers, or the equality of women. Choosing to care and make a difference while there is still time is difficult. Maybe it would be different if it was our family – our mothers or sisters or babies – who were being raped. We would turn the world upside down for their sakes. Is it too much to ask that we start with a few small changes for the sake of these mothers and sisters and babies?

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. September 2, 2010

    Hi Julie,

    I’ll be at BTX. My profession of engineering is complicit in various resource wars, including Congo. We want the money/minerals/oil and don’t care if it results in genocide, mass rape, kleptocracy, etc. Christian engineers take no exception to it, out of fear/greed for their economic/professional standing and Christian religious professionals take no exception to the lack of exception by Christian engineers, also out of fear/greed for their economic/professional standing.

    It’s the manufacturing companies that block legislation about conflict minerals – you know, the employers of engineers. Now if the engineering societies were to take a stand in support of such legislation, it would happen. But that will not happen unless/until Christian engineers decide to risk some economic/professional disadvantage by prodding the profession to actually apply its code of ethics when inconvenient to someone’s economic interests. That will not happen until Christian religious professionals prod Christian engineers in their congregations to stop boycotting their profession so as to have time to be sunday school teachers (a key reason Christian religious professionals do not encourage Christian engineers to be active in their profession is because they need sunday school teachers, etc and if Christian engineers are active in their profession, they will have less time to donate to running church programs.)

    But I appreciate you are not being constrained by “being nice” about confronting this evil, cause “suffering for righteousness’ sake” is just part of moral fabric of universe, a necessary part of controlling, reducing, eliminating such institutional evil, and “being nice” is, well, nice, but not effective against such evil.

  2. September 3, 2010

    Thank you for passing on this information. Our apathy, here in the West, with violent action in general is quite alarming.
    I was not aware of the role our purchasing power in electronics played. I appreciate the information.
    My family and I have been involved in anti-genocide work for Darfur, Sudan for over 7 years.
    Please..keep plugging away in awareness raising and reminders of our need for peace.
    God’s Peace.

  3. Mick Bradley permalink
    September 3, 2010

    Okay. You have now helped God get me past my smartphone envy. Smartphone envy gone.

  4. Marjie permalink
    September 3, 2010

    Thanks so much for posting this. I just sent off letters to both senators, and emails and facebook notices to get the word out to urge our representatives to support the proposed legislation that addresses this: H.R. 4128 [Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009] and S.891 [the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009]

  5. Mick Bradley permalink
    September 3, 2010

    Wow Marjie – thanks for pointing out that there are actual bills we can urge our reps to support. Good info.

  6. Bill Odell permalink
    September 10, 2010

    Julie — I was deeply moved by your article and particularly taken by #2. I brought it to the attention of my JustFaith group when we met last night. Is the idea being developed in any serious way? I have often been frustrated about how to address the big issues and have always accepted, Mother Teresa style, addressing justice issues one person at a time, wherever I am, in whatever time I’m in. But systemic issues keep coming back. Your suggestion is the first one I’ve read that has the potential of making the Peace Movement more than an anti-war movement. Until we build it into our social, economic, and political structures, I fear peace will always be an ideal that we simply pray for. Pray, we should, but God may be constrainted by our timidity.
    If there is someone seriously working on this concept, I would like to know and perhaps be a part of the movement.
    Thank you.
    Bill Odell

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