I’ll get the obvious reason for my fondness for George Clooney out the way first. It’s nice to look at him. I also enjoy most of his movies. I have some favorites, such as “The Perfect Storm”, “Burn After Reading” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou”. Even more interesting than those, however, are the films that depict when Clooney is at his passionate best, when the subject matter has a political message He’s made a few films dealing with politics or policy issues, and you can see it in “Michael Clayton”, “Syriana”, “Ides of March”, and even “Up in the Air”.
The actor was in the news this week for some things that happened in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, March 14th, Clooney testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the genocide in Sudan. On Friday, he, along with his father, Nick Clooney, in a larger group of protestors, was arrested at the Sudanese Embassy. It is his steadfast commitment to the Sudanese which made me a diehard fan.
He is one of a small group of actors and performers who are really trying to make a difference. Clooney has made several trips to the Southern region of Sudan, into Darfur, often joined by Don Cheadle, Martin Luther King III and Angelina Jolie, on their own fact-finding missions, to see firsthand how the people there have been suffering for over twenty years. They are being murdered, raped, tortured, beaten and starved to death by their own government. They are helpless and, were it not for a very few determined and famous figures, their plight might never have gotten the attention it deserves and needs.
I started following the story more closely over a decade ago, when Vanity Fair featured a report about the atrocities in the Sudan. The author’s description of the atrocities was both heart breaking and stomach churning. I found myself wondering how, in the 21st century, the world could allow the same types of behaviors that had occurred during the Nazi regime and at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. I also couldn’t understand why no on was doing anything about it.
The self-appointed president of the Sudan, Omar al-Bashir is as murderous, and probably as crazy, as Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. He, and his army, make no secret of their ties to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda. He is a despot, guided by the same rules of leadership as Idi Amin, determined to crush those who challenge his mission, and he’s not stopping at his country’s borders. While the Sudanese try to flee to neighboring countries or find places to hide in caves in the mountains, al-Bashir and his forces are determined to make their way in Chad.
Clooney was in southern Sudan earlier this month and told Congress of the hundreds of people he saw, hiding in those caves, attempting to avoid their government’s bombing missions. This region, with the help of the United Nations, voted to secede from Sudan, and in July, 2011, became South Sudan. This did nothing to curb the assaults, and, actually, provoked more conflict. It would take a team of experts on such matters to sort out all of the warring factions, and myriad political and economic interests. There are forces, at odds over everything, in the form of rebels, tribes, religious extremists, and fractious militias. Not surprisingly, petroleum ranks as one of the Sudan’s main resources.
In the midst of all of this, however, are those that are merely trying to survive, and it’s becoming a nearly impossible undertaking. Humanitarian efforts have been thwarted at every turn, with medical and food supplies being confiscated long before they reach the neediest. The entire population of the Sudan is in the neighborhood of 30 million. The numbers of those who have been murdered, or died from other causes related to the conflicts, are anywhere from 400,000 to over 2 million. Don’t hold me to any of these figures, because no one really knows – they are guess-timates, at best. The Sudanese census is unreliable, driven by those in power, and no one has been able to really count the loss of life.
When the Clooneys and their fellow protestors were arrested, the Sudanese Ambassador released a statement saying that they were merely using their fame to gain attention. Clooney agreed with him, wholeheartedly. A number of celebrities have come before Congress to testify about things. Some are self-serving, and some, like this actor’s statements, actually have meaning. There are a few, like Brad Pitt and his dedication to the people of New Orleans, who really walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Clooney’s activism on behalf of the Sudanese is no small thing. They have no voice, no newspapers, no television, no twitter or Facebook. So if an incredibly handsome Oscar winner wants to provide all of this for them, I’ll be there with a bondsman the next time he wants to stage a protest.