DATE May 18, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and John
Prendergast of the International Crisis Group discuss the
continuing genocide crisis in Sudanese region of Darfur in Africa
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
I was going to start this interview which is about the genocide in Darfur by
saying that so far 200,000 people have died, but my two guests who have been
reporting on the situation say that estimate is probably low and it's
impossible to accurately count the dead. My guests therefore prefer to simply
say several hundred thousand people have died so far in the genocide.
Nicholas Kristof and John Prendergast are joining us today. Kristof is a
columnist for The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his,
quote, "graphic, deeply reported columns that at personal risk focused
attention on genocide in Darfur and gave voice to the voiceless in other parts
of the world," unquote. Kristof made his sixth trip to Darfur in March. John
Prendergast is a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group. He's been
working on conflict resolution in Africa for over 20 years. He worked in the
White House and the State Department in the Clinton administration and has
worked for a variety of NGOs and think tanks in Africa and the US.
Prendergast has made many trips to Sudan, three in the past two years.
This week the UN Security Council passed a resolution. John, what does this
resolution call for?
Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (International Crisis Group): Well, it speeds up--it
attempts to press forward the transition from the existing African Union
force, which is about 7,000 troops on the ground now to a United Nations force
which envisions perhaps two to three times as many troops on the ground. So
it just starts the planning process, moving it forward. It urges the
government of Sudan to accept an assessment team to come out on the ground in
Sudan to look at the needs the United Nations force would require to undertake
its mission effectively. And it is lodged in a Chapter 7 mandate which is an
interesting side debate as to whether or not at the end of the day if the
Sudan government doesn't accept this force, whether the force will be deployed
anyway without the consent of the government, which is highly unlikely, but
when a Chapter 7 authorization is used, that option is available. So it ups
the ante, ups the pressure a little bit on the Khartoum regime to accede to
the international community's desire to have a more effective force on the
ground in Darfur.
GROSS: But UN peacekeeping force would be there to enforce the peace
agreement, but what's really the status of the peace agreement now?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, the peace agreement, they're still negotiating. You
know, there's only one of the three factions of the various rebel movements
has signed this deal. The deal is a very imperfect one. It's got a lot of
problems with implementation and in the concessions that were wrung out of the
government being very inadequate. So I think that the two remaining factions
of the rebels are saying, `We need a lot more in the way of concessions and
guarantees before we're going to sign this thing.' So they have till the end
of the month to sign it. The mediators don't appear to be interested in
reopening the negotiations to actually change anything. But the rebels are
saying, the two factions are saying, `Well, you're going to have to because
otherwise we're not going to sign.'
GROSS: Nicholas Kristof, you recently in one of your columns called the UN a
wimp when it comes to Darfur. What are your thoughts on how effective UN
peacekeepers would be if they are in fact dispatched there?
Mr. NICHOLAS KRISTOF (Columnist, The New York Times): Well, they--I mean,
there would be problems, I'm sure, but they would be infinitely better than
nothing or than the African Union force. And the AU force is poorly equipped,
it's hopelessly outgunned by the Janjaweed. But even that tiny force, 7,000
people total and 5,000 with guns, has made a huge difference in the places
they go. And if you had a robust UN force with a decent mandate and well
armed and mobile, you know, that would make a difference both on the ground in
providing security and in sending a warning to the Sudanese government that it
needs to rein in the Janjaweed. But, you know, right now we have this
disconnect between the diplomacy where this is inch-by-inch progress and the
situation on the ground where things are actually, if anything, getting worse.
GROSS: Why did you call the UN a wimp?
Mr. KRISTOF: Because the UN has been very diplomatic in the way it has gone
about this. And so we have endless discussions in the Security Council and
endless expressions of concern by officials, and yet on the ground, we have a
genocide that just gets worse and worse and worse. And the UN hasn't, and UN
officials as well, haven't, I think, adequately stepped up to the plate and
acknowledged this to be what it is which is a huge affront to human
civilization. When you get a genocide under way, you get kids being grabbed
because of the color of their skin and the tribe they belong to and tossed
onto bonfires as a result of government policy, and I think it's incumbent on
the UN to kind of step out of its ordinary paradigm and show a little more
urgency. And that is what, three years into this, it has not done.
GROSS: John Prendergast, what are the odds, do you think that the government
of Sudan will accept UN peacekeepers?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Well, I think that they're fighting tooth and nail in order
to maximize the concessions that they'll get down the road. I think
eventually they will accede to the deployment of UN force. They want a few
things either in writing or understand in principle before that happens.
First, they like the African Union force there because it's an ineffectual
force because although as Nick said on the ground where they are deployed they
have made a difference, but generally because of the size of Darfur, that's
been too few places and too far between. So they want a force that's going to
continue to be ineffective because they still have an agenda that they're
undertaking which is to destroy any roots of the rebellion, to support the
changed demographic dynamic that has occurred as a result of the ethnic
cleansing in the context of the genocide. And so they don't want a very
effective UN mission, so they're going to fight every aspect of it so that it
is a limited mandate and the least number of troops with the least amount of
firepower. And I think that you're going to see that.
The second thing, which they'll never say publicly, but what they really are
aiming at when they oppose the UN so vociferously, is they simply don't want
the UN force to act as a Trojan horse to eventually execute any potential
indictments that the International Criminal Court might hand down in the
context of its investigation of the crimes against humanity that have been
committed principally by or at the orders, at the behest of and the orders of
senior government of Sudan officials. So they don't want a scenario where
there's 10 or 20,000 UN forces floating around Sudan. And, all of a sudden,
an indictment is issued for the defense minister or the head of intelligence
or even the vice president of the country, and then these forces are tasked by
the Security Council to capture this guy and bring him to justice. That's the
thing they're really afraid of.
GROSS: So you think they're going to try to negotiate some kind of deal where
they're immune from that kind of prosecution?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: I don't think they can get the immunity from prosecution,
what they probably could get is an understanding that the UN force that's
deployed specifically for Darfur and specifically for implementing the peace
deal in southern Sudan would not be tasked with any other mandates such as
apprehending suspects for the International Criminal Court.
GROSS: You know, we invited you both to be here on FRESH AIR, and I should
mention for anyone tuning in, my guests are John Prendergast, who's with the
International Crisis Group, which is a global conflict prevention
organization, and Nicholas Kristof who just won a Pulitzer Prize for his
columns in The New York Times, including his columns on the genocide in
Darfur. We invited you both here together because you seemed to be two of the
kind of keenest minds absorbed in communicating what this conflict is about to
the public. And I wonder if you talk to each other much about it. Are you in
touch with each other?
Mr. KRISTOF: We've been in touch on and off for a couple of years, and I've
certainly benefitted, you know, tremendously from John's wealth of background
both about Africa as a whole and Sudan in particular and also just his
knowledge of the policy apparatus, which is something that, you know, I'm
rather weaker on.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: And on my side, you know, as a guy toiling in obscurity in
the small network of activists and Africanists and advocates who work on these
kinds of issues of crimes against humanity and genocide and war crimes, Nick
Kristof is a name--I mean, he's a crusader, he's a journalist who's taken his
job to the next level in terms of advocacy on these kinds of issues. So when
he turned his attention to the situation unfolding in Darfur, it was like
manna from heaven because the columns that he wrote instantly tripled,
quadrupled, quintupled the size of the constituency of people who began to
learn about the situation in Darfur and began to care about it, and through
his columns, I think it has been the single most effective tool of educating
the broader American public about what is going on in Sudan. It's had so many
corollary impacts. So many people have gotten involved because they read a
Nick Kristof column. It's literally indispensable.
GROSS: Nick, do you think of your columns as having a goal?
Mr. KRISTOF: You know, I was wincing a moment ago when John was referring to
me as a crusader because I regard myself as a, you know, journalist. I was
flinching at that. And everybody keeps complimenting me and saying, `Oh,
you're a great crusader,' and, then, you know, I winced again.
You know, frankly, it seems strange to me as a journalist to go over and over
to the same little place of Darfur but you know, fundamentally, one of the
things that I can do with the column is to help shine a spotlight on issues.
Since I got the column at the end of 2001, I've been essentially kind of
disappointed with the persuasive power of columns. It seems to me that we
don't often change people's minds on issues that they've already thought
about. But on issues that they haven't really thought about, we can help put
those issues on the agenda, and an issue like Darfur where, you know, you just
see these incredible and awful things happening, then by bringing that onto
the agenda and shining a spotlight on it, you can indeed, you know, to some
degree, get people to care, and so that's why I've been going, you know, back
again and again and writing about this in the hopes that indeed people will
care and that it will make a difference on the ground.
GROSS: My guests are Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times,
and John Prendergast, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group.
We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: We're talking about the genocide in Darfur with New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof who's made six trips there and John Prendergast,
who's been working on conflict resolution in Africa for 20 years. He's with
the International Crisis Group.
One of the goals for each of you is to just like raise public awareness of
what's happening in Darfur, so, I mean, slowly recognition has been raised.
Have there been any kind of payoff that you can see in terms of changes in
policy or funding or, you know, public statements by elected officials?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: That's a great question because I've been thinking over the
last few months that I'm hard-pressed to remember during the 20 or so years
I've been working on these kinds of issues where we've had such a enormous
gulf between the solemn rhetoric one invokes with the term genocide and the
feeble action that results on the other side of the use of that term in terms
of actual American and international response, confrontation of this genocide.
And I think only in the last few months have we seen an uptick in the real,
serious debate about policy options. And I think that comes directly as a
result of growing public citizen pressure on their representatives in
different parts of the country and those representatives in Congress and going
to President Bush and saying, `You're not doing enough.' It's just not enough
to support indirectly this small African Union deployment of forces. It's not
enough to say that it's a genocide but then not hold people accountable. It's
not enough to sort of support a very small and very feeble effort to make a
peace deal between. So I think a very visible manifestation of how citizen
pressure affects policy and is affecting policy now is that rally that
occurred a couple of weeks ago in Washington DC on the mall. You know, it
was, whatever, 40, 50,000 people which the numbers certainly are dwarfed by
some of the larger rallies that have occurred in that very spot, but it was
the people who were on the stage. I mean, it was a collection of religious
leaders from all faiths and secular leaders. The people who have an influence
with this administration, and they sat up and said, `Well, we'd better pay
attention to this.' And you saw within a few days President Bush dispatched
Condoleezza Rice's deputy Bob Zelleck to Nigeria to negotiate with the
Africans a peace deal, and they got at least the beginning of a deal. They
got a deal at least one faction signed. We got to now sustain that. But it
was a very direct response to citizen action that the president himself then
GROSS: Well, John, one of the things you point out is that one of the things
the Bush administration is up against is that they want Sudan as an ally in
the war on terror, so by taking action against the genocide, they risk
alienating that same government. What are we getting in terms of intelligence
from Sudan, and how is that complicating our action?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: We have a fairly rich counterterrorism relationship with
the government of Sudan, given that it was a sponsor and a host for Osama bin
Laden for six years during the 1990s, given that senior people in the
intelligence apparatus in the Sudan government now were very directly linked
with al-Qaeda and helped facilitate the training camps and movements of
terrorist groups and individuals throughout the 1990s, so they have a lot of
information. When we round up a suspect in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or
somewhere else, make a call or we have our station chief go in to meet with
Salah Abdallah Gosh who's the head of the security and intelligence in
Khartoum, and more often than not, we're going to get a little information
about the person that we picked up. So that's a valuable source of
The big question is: Is the only way to get that information to
constructively engage and incentivize the path to greater cooperation and thus
diminish our advocacy and our robustness with respect to how we confront the
genocide or if we pressured this government to give up that information
instead of just begging and asking for it, if we pressured the government to
give it up, would they do it anyways? And the history of US relations with
the Sudan since this regime came to power in the military coup in '89 is that
when we do pressure them, especially multilaterally, they do come through and
particularly in the 1990s when Security Council sanctions were imposed on
Khartoum for their role in international terrorism, they changed their
behavior. They're very direct links between harder pressure and cooperation.
So I'm simply saying that it doesn't necessarily have to be the only way that
we'll get this information. It is to dumb down and reduce our advocacy with
respect to confronting genocide.
Mr. KRISTOF: I would just add something there, if I can. I agree that I
think that that concern about counterterrorism, cooperation is one reason why
we haven't been more active, but I think there are a couple of others that
have also played a role. I think one has been concern that if we lean on
Sudan too hard, then they will stop cooperating on the separate north-south
peace deal which the Bush administration rightly regards as one of their
important achievements. And I think frankly the other is that, you know, it's
a long way away, the administration doesn't really know kind of exactly what
to do, and on any given day, it's kind of just easier just to look the other
way and not, you know--because there is no neat, clean policy option just to
do nothing. And I think that that is frankly also why other people have been
way too quiet.
Bill Clinton has a lot of contacts, a lot of international weight, and he
could really have been helpful if he had made a big deal of Darfur. And he, I
think, has been, you know, way too quiet on this issue as well. I think, you
know, part of the reason, you know, all across the board has been this sense
of it's just easier to, you know, if you don't know exactly what to do, then
just do nothing at all.
GROSS: You know, getting back to the danger of alienating the government in
Sudan because the government of Sudan, you know, gives us certain
counterterrorist information. In bin Laden's latest tape, he accused the US
of plotting to send crusader troops to occupy Darfur and steal its oil wealth.
And he called on Muslims to go to Sudan and stockpile land mines and other
weapons in preparation for a long-term war against UN peacekeepers and other
infidels. So what are the odds that if UN peacekeepers go into Darfur that
Sudan will become like another front for the jihad.
Mr. KRISTOF: I think it would depend to some degree on what country those
troops were from. I mean, I don't think it's going to unfold as Osama thinks,
and it's not going to be another Iraq and indeed it's pretty incredible that
Osama bin Laden is in fact endorsing a genocide in which Muslims are the
victims. But it is perhaps true that if the troops that went in were
Americans, were Western Europeans, and if the whole UN force, you know, was
perceived as Western Christian force, then I think that among Sudanese Arabs,
that would be perceived, especially in the aftermath of Iraq, as, you know,
Westerners kind of invading the Arab motherland, and I think that is something
we should try to avoid, and I think it's one good reason to have a large
component of Muslim troops, whether they be Turks or Moroccans or
Bangladeshis, in that UN force.
GROSS: Well, you mention that Muslims are victims in the war in Darfur. Are
most of the victims Muslim?
Mr. KRISTOF: Essentially all of them. Darfur is essentially all Muslim, and
people, you know, think that because the war between north and south is more
familiar to a lot of people and there the victims were Christians and
animists, and there really was a religious element so they think Darfur isn't
part of that religion, and it's not. It's about various things, including the
Arab/non-Arab distinction, but it's not about religion.
GROSS: Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. John
Prendergast is a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group. They'll be
back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
Here's a track from the CD "Ceasefire," by the Sudanese rapper Emanuel Jal.
(Soundbite from CD "Ceasefire")
Mr. EMANUEL JAL: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)
GROSS: Coming up, more about the genocide in Darfur with Nicholas Kristof and
John Prendergast. And now that the Spanish version of the national anthem has
become so controversial, our linguist Geoff Nunberg comments on various
translations of "The Star Spangled Banner."
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our interview about the genocide in Darfur. I have two
guests. Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. He won a
Pulitzer Prize this year for his columns that focused attention on the
genocide and gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world. He's
made six trips to Darfur. John Prendergast has been working on conflict
resolution in Africa for over 20 years. He's with the International Crisis
Nick Kristof, how do you describe what the genocide and the fighting is really
about in Darfur to people who haven't been following it?
Mr. KRISTOF: I think there are a few kind of cleavages among the people in
Darfur, the two sides. The most basic one is Arabs vs. non-Arabs. And even
that is kind of muddy. I mean, essentially what makes somebody in Arab is
that their mother tongue is Arabic, and it's nothing more profound than that.
But secondarily in the case of Darfur, Arabs tend to be nomadic herdsmen and
the non-Arabs tend to be settled farmers, and so you have as well some of that
historic kind of a tension between herdsmen and farmers. And there's also a
skin color difference that in general the Arabs are more likely to be somewhat
lighter skinned and the non-Arab African tribes tend to be darker skinned, and
so often when the Janjaweed are going around killing people, they're saying
things like, you know, `Blacks have no right to live in this land,' `You're
blacks so we can kill you,' this kind of thing.
So you have those, you know, those kinds of layers. But it's a tension over
land and resources, and you had this interaction that began and the government
decided that the easiest way to resolve it was to slaughter people living in
rural parts of Darfur. I think they made a very practical decision. This
wasn't, you know, some kind of ideological, you know, notion. This was just
sort of a simple decision. `Well, you know, in the south when we had an
insurrection, we sent in surrogate militias and slaughtered people, and it
worked to some degree. Let's do the same in Darfur.'
GROSS: Do you think that the government has been manipulating divisions among
the people and exploiting them in order to get some of the people to slaughter
Mr. KRISTOF: Oh, absolutely, but I wouldn't also--I mean that question
almost implies that there is much distinction between the government and those
doing the killing, and I don't think there is much of a gap there. I mean,
the government hired the Janjaweed, it gave them uniforms, it has paid them
salaries, it opened up the prisons so that prisoners could be recruited into
the Janjaweed. On a trip in November, when I was in Darfur, I was driving
back from a massacre site on a army road where there were army checkpoints. I
saw some Janjaweed, just like those who had been busy slaughtering people in
this village I'd just gone to, and they went right through the checkpoint.
The soldiers at the checkpoint didn't bother them at all. And, you know, in
contrast, when I go to a checkpoint, then, of course, I'm stopped and indeed
at one checkpoint the authorities tried to arrest my interpreter. So the
Janjaweed are very much a government creation.
GROSS: What were the grounds for trying to arrest your interpreter?
Mr. KRISTOF: That he was helping me.
GROSS: Right. Because that's all you need, huh?
Mr. KRISTOF: I mean, it was incredibly scary. Because, you know, frankly
with white skin and a blue passport, you feel--I mean, you're scared, but you
feel a little bit of protection there that you hope that some really
low-ranking person is going to decide, you know, above his pay grade whether
or not to kill a foreigner. But killing a local kid, and my interpreter was a
member of the Fur tribe which is one of those--in the village we just visited,
the people who'd been killed had all been Fur. And, you know, killing him
would have been just, you know, they could have done that, tossed him into the
bush, and that would have been it. And they dragged him out of the vehicle
and told me to `drive on, nothing to do with you,' and he was petrified, I was
petrified. You know, eventually, we sorted it out, and...
GROSS: Well, how? I mean, did part of you think `I'd better go and protect
myself?' Or did you just think, `There's no way I'm going to allow this to
happen to my interpreter'?
Mr. KRISTOF: There's no way you can allow this. I mean, any English speaker
in Darfur has essentially been snapped up by the aid organizations. It was
hard to find an interpreter. Finally, I found this kid. He was--I think he
was 19. He was a student. And I felt a real responsibility for him, and it
was clear that if I drove on, you know, five minutes later, he was going to
have a bullet in his head. That was going to be it. And so I tried to be as
friendly as I could to these thugs and said, `Oh, you know, I couldn't go
without him.' I sent my driver off to buy a bunch of fruit at the nearby
market to bring back to give to these guys, and I sat down with them and was,
you know, trying to be as friendly as possible, but, the bottom line, when
they realized that I was not going to drive off, then they detained me as well
and then called in their commander, and he arrived. He drove up in his own
truck after about half an hour and then plied him with more fruit and tried to
be charming. And, you know, then he eventually let us all go. But it was,
you know, it was scary and to see the Janjaweed go right through these same
checkpoints just makes you so frustrated. It's clear that if the Sudanese
government just applied the rules that it uses to constrain foreign
journalists, to apply those same rules to the Janjaweed, you know, this
genocide would be over in a moment.
GROSS: What are some of the precautions you have to take when you're going to
a place in which there is a genocide under way? You have to go there in order
to report on what's going on there. How do you protect your own life when
there's a genocide going on around? What are some of the precautions you have
Mr. KRISTOF: I find that Darfur is a harder place to be safe than some
others, because, you know, there's some basic rules when you go to a nasty
place, and one is that you stop at every village and ask people what the
situation is like between this village and the next village, and are there
going to be any hostile people around. The problem in Darfur is that, you
know, these villages have been burned and abandoned. There's often nobody
left to ask. And you stick out if you're in a vehicle. And there's nobody
for, you know, for zillions of miles around who's going to be friendly. There
also is a lot of banditry. I mean, the incentive to kill you isn't just
because they don't like foreigners but also because they can steal your
vehicle, steal your satellite phone, this kind of thing.
And, you know, obviously you only drive in daylight. Whenever you find
people, you ask them, you ask locally, but, you know, on my last trip, I went
through this scary, depopulated area where there was, you know, nobody around,
and my vehicle then got stuck. And trying to push it out, it was scary, and
finally along comes some Janjaweed kids, and they were very friendly and
helped me push out my vehicle. And I was terrified that mom and dad were
going to--not mom, but anyway dad and, you know, all his buddies were going to
show up as well, but they didn't. And these Janjaweed kids were the most
polite young people you can imagine.
GROSS: That must have been a very bizarre experience because these are the
kids whose fathers are out theoretically killing people in the genocide and
here are the kids, you know, helping you out and being very polite.
Mr. KRISTOF: Yeah, but, actually in general--I mean, fortunately the
Janjaweed and local Sudanese government officials--I mean, they don't read The
New York Times. They don't read my column, and, you know, it's actually kind
of amazing that if you go up to people and you are friendly to them and you
speak a little bit of Arabic and you're respectful and you ask their point of
view, then people, you know, you hope that their instinct may be, you know,
not to shoot you but to give you an interview. And that's why often the
people that you're most scared about aren't, you know, aren't you or another
American photographer but rather it's like your local interpreter because just
the impulse when they see somebody like that is, `Ah, you know, he's a Fur,
he's a Zaghawa, he's worth nothing. May as well just shoot him.'
GROSS: John, when you're traveling as a representative of the International
Crisis Group, which is a conflict prevention group, is there respect for your
work among the people in Darfur on either side?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: I had the unfortunate experience of being declared an enemy
of state back in 2003, which is the last time I got a visa to actually go
legally into Sudan, so since then, every trip I've taken, both into southern
Sudan and the west in Darfur, has been across international borders going into
rebel-held zones. So I'm largely traveling in rebel-held areas. I'm going to
meet people mostly who have been displaced by the violence and not in formal
camps that the government has access to because they're either in areas
protected by the rebels or they're areas that the government just hasn't
expanded its control over. So there's largely very sympathetic and very,
almost desperate outreach from people in these circumstances to anyone who
comes along like Nick or I to meet with them and to hear their stories and to
talk with them about the circumstances that they're in now and what would be
required to actually allow them to go home. And so you find almost universal
desire for more. You know, we hear so much, of course, in this day and age
about--in context of the Iraq invasion and about how the US is unwelcome in so
many places. You go wander around Darfur and you might get a different view
of America's role in the world because people there are like `When are the
Americans coming? You guys called it a genocide now two years ago. When is
this intervention forthcoming to save us, to rescue us, to allow us to go
home, to protect us from the horrors that we've been experiencing in the
context of this genocide.'
GROSS: My guests are John Prendergast, a senior adviser at the International
Crisis Group, and Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times. We'll
talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: We're talking about the genocide in Darfur with New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof, who's made six trips there, and John Prendergast.
He's been working on conflict resolution in Africa for 20 years. He's with
the International Crisis Group.
Well, Nick, for your last trip, you had to sneak into Sudan from across the
Chad border and then the president of Sudan told you that if you ever did that
again, he would arrest you.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Actually, it wasn't the president of Sudan, it was the
GROSS: Oh, the Chadian official.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: No, not--the Chadian official--yeah, I mean, they have
pretty good intelligence. They realize that I'd sneaked over the border and
so he read me the riot act and warned me, you know, never to do that again or
he'd imprison me.
GROSS: How's that going to affect your future travel?
Mr. PRENDERGAST: At this point, frankly, the Chadians have gotten angrier
about Sudan and are no longer trying to cultivate any favors with Sudan. So I
think that would not bother them these days, but the problem is that the
whole, you know, Sudan/Chad border area is getting wilder and wilder, and the
rebel groups, the rebel factions are shooting each other as well. Banditry is
growing. So you have, you know, a real nightmare there in terms of security.
And one thing we haven't talked about but is worth adding that, you know,
we've been so focused on Darfur, but Chad is on the brink of collapse because
of Sudan's efforts to undermine it, or in part because of Sudan's efforts to
undermine it. And even if Darfur works out and the peace agreement holds,
which I think is a really long shot, but even if that happens, then you could
still have Chad falling apart in the next couple of months. I give it maybe a
50-50 chance of collapsing before the end of the year, and if that happens,
then you will have just a nightmare. It will be Darfur, but on a much bigger
GROSS: Nick, your latest trip to Sudan was along the Sudan-Chad borer, so you
got a glimpse of some of what you're describing firsthand, and one of the
stops that you made was to a town that was certain it was targeted for--a
village, I guess you'd say--that was certain it was targeted for slaughter.
What made them so sure that they were going to be attacked?
Mr. KRISTOF: The Janjaweed had been approaching from the east and had gone
kind of village to village and, you know, and in every case, there were
several hundred Janjaweed, who then surrounded the village and started wiping
people out and burning it. And by the time I got to village of Koloy, the
Janjaweed were in the very next village. They'd attacked I think five village
the previous day, maybe three that morning. And they had supposedly spread
word that they were to go after Koloy next. The Chadian army had come to
defend Koloy the previous evening, but then had realized how many Janjaweed
there were and had then fled. At the moment that I arrived in Koloy, the
police were fleeing and a lot of people had fled, but, you know, there were a
lot of families that had somebody who was old, who couldn't go. There were
people with gunshot wounds in the hospital who couldn't move. And so people
there were just kind of resigned to be raped and slaughtered and, you know, it
was an unbelievable thing to see in the 21st century, to see these people
resigned to being slaughtered because of their skin color and tribe.
GROSS: What was it like for you to be driving around this territory in the
middle of an active part of the genocide? You know that the town you're in is
probably, like, the next town to be attacked. So...
Mr. KRISTOF: You just feel incredibly helpless. And, you know, you see
these people and, you know, we're all kind of nurtured on notions of never
again, and how awful genocide is and how, you know, we've learned the lessons
from the Holocaust and so on, and then you go through these places, and, you
know, you go through burned villages and why were they burned? Well, because,
you know, the people who were living there belonged to such-and-such a tribe,
because they have black skin. And then you go to the other villages, one
village I got to had just been attacked overnight and then next village, while
I was talking with some villagers, they heard gunshots from a nearby hill, and
they just had spears, and I said, `What are you going to do?' And they said,
`Well, we'll wait here hiding and then in a few hours when we think the
Janjaweed may have left, we'll go there and, you know, try to find whatever
bodies there are.'
You know, to go through these areas and talk to people like that and talk to,
you know, the stories that sort of spill out. You know, one man I talked to,
his baby had been grabbed from his wife's arms and the Janjaweed, they checked
whether it was a boy or a girl, and because it was a boy, it was a
six-month-old, you know, infant, they threw it on the ground and shot it. And
to just go through these, you know, village after village after village and
try to juxtapose that with the sense of kind of moral order that you get in
the textbooks in history about never again, is just so dispiriting and leaves
you feeling so helpless.
GROSS: This is another one of those wars in which rape is a kind of standard
part of the war. And Nick Kristof, you've described gang rapes, that that's
become a kind of standard procedure when Janjaweed find a woman.
Mr. KRISTOF: Yeah. This is not rape as a byproduct of chaos or war. This
is rape as a government policy to terrorize populations. And it's effective
as a government policy partly because there is such a stigma about it and also
because women are terrified and so they don't talk about it. And so they
manage to terrorize populations to drive them out to depopulate these areas
without generating the kind of, you know, bad publicity and body counts that
they do when they just massacre everybody. And, you know, so it's been
incredibly effective, and it just goes on and off. And to add to the
terrorization, they not only gang rape these people but they then mutilate
them afterward to mark them as rape victims. And you come across these same
people, you know, in vastly different areas of Darfur.
And I must say that, you know, when I see government officials in this country
or at the UN who don't bother to speak up about Darfur, about what they're
seeing, and then I talk to these rape victims who have the incredible courage
to describe what has happened to them, to brave that stigma and to risk arrest
by the Sudanese for speaking to a reporter about it, you know, I just wish
that we could emulate one little fraction of the courage those women show and
speak out as well about that kind of injustice.
GROSS: Well, I thank you both for talking with us. Nicholas Kristoff, John
Prendergast, thank you very much.
Mr. PRENDERGAST: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. John
Prendergast is a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group.
Coming up, our linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the controversy over the
Spanish version of the national anthem. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: University of California linguist Geoff Nunberg discusses
the uproar over the new Spanish language version of "The Star
TERRY GROSS, host:
The release last month of a Spanish language version of "The Star Spangled
Banner" became a lightning rod for both sides of the immigration debate. Our
linguist Geoff Nunberg points out that it's not the first time the anthem has
been translated into another language. What's really different is the
reaction to this version.
Mr. GEOFF NUNBERG: On May 8th, 1905, the German-American community of New
York commemorated the centenary of the death of the poet Friedrich Schiller.
Twenty-five brass bands and 6,000 marchers carrying torches and banners
paraded up Fifth Avenue, after which more than 1,000 celebrants repaired to a
Kommers or beer parties where they sang "The Star Spangled Banner" in German.
As best I can tell from the press stories, nobody was offended by that
rendition. Nor did anybody discern a threat to American unity when the German
version was sung at events at Baltimore, Sheboygan or Indianapolis, or when
other immigrants sang the anthem in Italian and Czech. In 1901, a former
Spanish consul from Chicago personally presented President McKinley with a
Spanish translation for use in the newly acquired dependencies of Puerto Rico
and the Philippines.
Immigrants were enthusiastic champions of "The Star Spangled Banner" at a time
when it was still vying with other songs to be named the nation's official
anthem. The Germans disliked "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which was the other
front runner, because its tune was lifted from "God Save the Queen." And
Catholic immigrants objected to the bit about "the land of the Pilgrims'
pride," which they saw as an allusion to the country's Protestant roots. The
Germans' zest for singing "The Star Spangled Banner" in their own language
wasn't squelched until the First World War, when the patriotic fervor led
states to pass laws aimed at restricting the use of German. By 1917, nativist
groups like the American Rights Committee were denouncing the performance of
the anthem in the language of a nation with whom the US was at war. But even
then, people continued to sing the song in other languages. When an Italian
version was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1919, The New York Times reported
that it brought the audience to its feet. But a lot of modern Americans
seemed less appreciative of the tribute when a Spanish language version of
"The Star Spangled Banner" called "Nuestro Himno" was released last month.
Some took the translation as a sign that immigrants were refusing to learn
English. President Bush said, `I think that people who want to be a citizen
of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the
national anthem in English.' The conservative commentator Michelle Malkin
asked indignantly, `Who is assimilating whom?' Even some supporters of the
immigrant group saw the song as a declaration of linguistic independence. The
Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman wrote defiantly that the song signaled that
America is on its way to becoming a bilingual nation which will soon be
articulating its identity in two languages.
What's the Spanish for poppycock? The fact is that the vast majority of
Hispanics in America already speak English and the rest are learning it much
faster than the Germans, Italians or those Norwegian bachelor farmers did a
century ago. Back then, after all, the economic incentive for learning
English were nowhere near as great as they are now. Most immigrants lived in
isolated, rural areas or urban ethnic enclaves and a lot of cities had
separate public school systems for immigrants, not like today's transitional
bilingual program but schools where all the instruction was carried out in
German or other languages. According to demographers, the average immigrant
family in 1900 took more than three generations to make the complete
transition to English dominance. Now it takes just over two. By the third or
fourth generation, in fact, most Hispanics are depressingly monolingual in
English as any other American group. But, in the meantime, Americans are
uneasy with the idea that you can serve two linguistic masters. And the
anxiety is amplified by a consumer culture that makes multilingualism much
more visible nationally than it used to be even if foreign language speakers
are actually a smaller proportion of the population than they were in Teddy
It isn't just all the media flack surrounding the anthem. People feel a swell
of indignation when they encounter other languages on billboards or ATMs or as
they're spinning their radio dial. Once you let these immigrants have their
way on Burger King menus, how far could it be to ethnic separatism and civil
war? Those were the specters that Senator Lamar Alexander invoked when he
introduced a Senate resolution earlier this month that affirms that the anthem
should be sung only in English. `Jerusalem is diverse,' he said. `The
Balkans are diverse, Iraq is diverse.' Well, and so's my neighborhood of San
Francisco, but we don't have any car bombs going off just yet. I wonder if
Alexander would have been reassured by a recent LA Times article by Ann Powers
that pointed out that the real anthem of the immigrant movement isn't "Nuestro
Himno," or Ricardo Arjona's haunting song "Mojado" or "Wetback," it's Neil
Diamond's gloriously hokey, "They're Coming to America," which the singer
originally wrote as a tribute to his own immigrant grandparents. Latinos
picked up on the song 20 years ago, when Cheech Marin used it in his movie
"Born in East LA." And it's been played at immigrants rights rallies from Los
Angeles to Kansas City to Milwaukee. Now there's an image that Lou Dobbs
could keep people up at night with: Millions of brown-skinned illegals
pouring over our borders, and they're singing Neil Diamond songs.
(Soundbite of "They're Coming to America")
Mr. NEIL DIAMOND: (Singing) "Everywhere around the world, they're coming to
America. Every time that flag's unfurled, they're coming to America. Got a
dream to take them there...
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at the University of California at
Berkeley. He's the author of a forthcoming book on language and politics
called "Talking Right."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
We'll close with a song from the original cast recording of "Guys and Dolls."
That show, as well as "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,"
"Can-Can" and "Silk Stalkings" were co-produced by Cy Feuer. He died
yesterday at the age of 95.
(Soundbite of "Fugue for Tinhorns")
Unidentified Man #1: (As Nicely) (Singing) I got the horse right here. The
name is Paul Revere. And here's a guy that says that the weather's clear.
Can do, can do, this guy says the horse can do. If he says the horse can do,
can do, can do.
Unidentified Man #2: (As Benny) (Singing) I'm picking Valentine 'cause on the
Man #1: (As Nicely) (Singing) Can do, can do, this guy says the horse can do.
Man #2: (As Benny) (Singing) A guy has got him figured at five to nine.
Man #1: (As Nicely) (Singing) If he says the horse can do, can do, can do.
Unidentified Man #3: (As Rusty Charlie) (Singing) But look at Epitaph, he
wins it by a half.
Man #1: (As Nicely) (Singing) If he says the horse can do, can do, can do.
Man #2: (As Benny) (Singing) Has chance, has chance, this guys says the horse
Man #3: (As Rusty Charlie) (Singing) According to this here in the Telegraph.
Man #1: (As Nicely) (Singing) For Paul Revere I'll bite, I hear his foot's
Man #2: (As Benny) (Singing) If he says the horse has chance, has chance, has
Man #3: (As Rusty Charlie) (Singing) "Big Threat," "Big Threat." This guy
calls the horse "Big Threat."
Man #1: (As Nicely) (Singing) Of course, it all depends if it rained last
Man #2: (As Benny) (Singing) I know it's Valentine, the morning work looks
(End of soundbite)
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