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Darfur

darfur_conflictDarfur, as we now know, is the size of France. It is in Sudan in the west. War broke out there in 2003 and since then 300,000 have died and ten times that number have fled. Towns are burned to the ground, men killed and women raped. In 2007 it is still going on. The war has now spread to Chad and the Central African Republic. It threatens to overturn their governments.

America calls it genocide, like what Hitler did to the Jews – destruction of a people. The United Nations stops short of that.

Both sides are Muslim, so it is not a religious war.

It seems like a land war: Darfur is at a growing edge of the Sahara where good land is becoming scarcer. Arab herders are pushing black farmers off their land.

But it is in fact a race war – genocide: because only people from three tribes are being killed: the Fur (whom Darfur is named after), Massaleet and Zagawa tribes. All of them are black Africans. Their villages are destroyed while nearby Arab villages are untouched.

Darfur has become a fashionable cause in the West, but it does little beyond send aid workers (who, yes, are badly needed) and threaten to cut off trade (an empty threat). The Arab world is indifferent while China needs Sudan’s oil and Russia sells it arms. So united action at the United Nations seems unlikely. Talk of sending UN forces remains just that, talk.

What commonly happens in Darfur: the government bombs a town from the air, then irregular forces of the Arab janjaweed move in and kill the men of fighting age, rape the women and burn down the town. Then comes the regular army.

Most people flee, many of them to Chad. Having been forced off their land, they have no way to feed themselves. They become completely dependent on aid workers for food.

If they go back home, the same thing happens all over again. The janjaweed attack not just the people of Darfur, but also Western aid workers and towns in Chad as well.

To be fair, Darfur started the war. It took up arms against the government in 2003. The government had to punish Darfur to preserve the unity of the country. But instead of merely restoring order, it is wiping out people wholesale, men, women and children.

Peace was made in May 2006, but it quickly fell apart. The war is now pulling in Chad and the Central African Republic. It is only getting worse.

In 2009 Sudan is due to hold countrywide elections. They could change the political facts enough to make peace possible.

In 2011 the south of Sudan will vote on whether to become an independent country. Since most of the country’s oil is in the south, it is hard to believe the north would let the south go quietly. It might make peace in Darfur to make war on the south.

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Written: 2003
Read: April 2006

I just finished reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. It is a real page turner. Just when you think you have it figured out, Brown throws you yet another surprise. You find yourself saying, “What!!???” every ten or twenty pages. I did not like the ending, the last page or two, but the rest of the book was marvellous.

It comes out as a movie next month starring Tom Hanks. It should be excellent: it is a good book and Hanks is a good actor. But I doubt I will see it: very few films are any good after you have read the book. Too much is left out and you know how it ends. That is why I have never seen the Lord of the Ring films, as great as they seem to be.

The book is about the search for the Holy Grail. Most suppose that the Holy Grail is the cup that Jesus drank out of at the Last Supper, but in this book it is not something that ordinary. It is a secret that has been buried for two thousand years and that, if it came to light, would destroy the Church.

It is hard to read this book and not wonder how much of it is true?

I know next to nothing about the Templars, the Priory of Sion or French kings, but where I do have some knowledge – like about the fourth century – I can see that Brown is making things up or, at best, twisting the facts of history to fit his fiction.

Key to his story is the idea that in the fourth century Constantine and the Church, in a play for power, made up the story that Jesus was divine. Before then Jesus was regarded simply as a great prophet, not God. But this is easy to disprove.

Paul’s letters and the gospel of John, which everyone agrees were written before 150, are very clear on Christ’s divinity. There are many other writings from before the fourth century that make the same point.

Regardless of whether Jesus was really God, it is clear that many believed it long before Constantine. And if you do not trust ancient writings, you can trust the martyrs, who certainly were not eaten by lions for the Historical Jesus.

Brown is right that in the fourth century there was a dispute about Christ’s divinity that Constantine helped to settle: The Catholics said Christ was both God and man, the Arians that he was something between God and man. But even the Arians – and the Gnostics! – did not regard him as a mere prophet.

Part of the attraction of the Code is the idea of a secret history that the Church is covering up. More on that anon.

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