The Art of Flight

I watched a fascinating film last night called The Art of Flight on Google Video. It’s a guerilla documentary shot illegally in Egypt and the Sudan by David Anders Hutchins. Go watch it. It’s a little over an hour long, and well worth your time. A bit maudlin at times, to be sure, but that should be overlooked in the interest of the content.

Sudan, as I hope all my readers know, is in the grip of a horrific civil war. Sudan is run by an Islamic dictatorship, with a power base in the north. In the south, Christian rebels are warring for independence. But don’t be fooled. Both sides are corrupt, both sides slaughter ruthlessly, and both have turned against native populations within Sudan. Children are impressed into the Sudanese military while large portions of the population lack access to food, water, education, and basic medical services. It is estimated that at least 4 million people have been displaced by the civil war in the largely Christian south alone.

There is an uneasy peace in place between north and south now, but interethnic tensions have erupted in Darfur, causing global outcry. What is happening in Darfur now is genocide, and it is wrong. But don’t just sit here reading about it–thanks to the Genocide Intervention Unit, you can do something about it. Darfur is Rwanda all over again–and it is a great shame we can’t learn from our history. Numerous humanitarian organizations have identified the situation in Darfur as genocide, yet the world has chosen to stand by and do nothing. A limited number of African Union troops are working in Darfur, and despite an American motion within the United Nations to send troops, it is unclear whether UN peacekeeping forces will be distributed to Sudan.

The film is a stunning indictment of the way in which Sudanese refugees are treated in Egypt. It also has some chilling words for the way in which UNHCR and USAID handle and assist refugees. (Did you know that Egypt is the second largest benefactor of USAID after, you guessed it, Israel?) Historically, the United States has supported Egypt–because Egypt has bowed to our will. But maybe we shouldn’t be supporting a country which persecutes Sudanese refugees, detaining and torturing them in mass roundups. Maybe we should be questioning the UNHCR, which turns down large numbers of applications for refugee status, often recommending deportation back to Sudan. UNHCR closes files and abandons refugees to whatever fate might await them–even if it’s death.

Free speech is not a reality in Egypt–Hutchins risked imprisonment to film there. Speaking out in the Middle East is a dangerous thing–it’s up to those of us with more liberties to say something about the wrongness we see. Otherwise we may be forced to live the rest of our lives regretting our personal failures.

Maybe we should be doing something, as a government, to stop the genocide in Sudan…but maybe we won’t, because there is nothing of interest in Sudan for us, or the rest of the first world. Perhaps this is a case where action is being left to the people.

[The Art of Flight]