At one of the kickoff events for New York City’s PEN World Voices festival,actress Mia Farrow, critic Bernard-Henri Levy and novelist Dinaw Mengestu met tonight at the Alliance Francais to discuss the ongoing genocidal situation in Darfur, which has gotten no better after five years of worldwide apathy. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in squalid, barren refugee camps after their villages were bombed and destroyed by the Sudanese government (the conflict — no big surprise — originated in ethnic battles over Sudan’s oil wealth).
Brushing aside the literary nature of the event’s setting, both Farrow and Levy spoke plainly and forcefully about the need for immediate action to change this situation. Levy spoke first, pointing out that he has seen several genocides in his life, and always called for action (to little effect), but that he has never before seen people wiped out so facelessly, erased from existence, “without even a number”. Levy is a powerful speaker with a classic French accent, bringing the best out of words like “passive” and “invisible”.
Farrow’s presentation was much more pointed and polished than Levy’s, and she hammered the point home with one heartbreaking photo after another. We saw an aerial shot of a peaceful Darfur village, with winding fences, farm animals, huts and gardens. Then we saw the same village after it was destroyed by aerial bombardment — the Sudan Air Force bombing its own citizens. Farrow urged a variety of prescriptions: economic pressure, diplomatic pressure and, most importantly, pressure on China (Sudan’s primary trading partner) to force change in Sudan. China, Mia Farrow explained, has vast influence with the Sudanese government, and if China urged a peaceful settlement with the displaced people of Darfur, the situation could significantly improve and, as Farrow put it, the healing could begin. Throughout the talk, both Farrow and Levy urged hopeful, positive-minded approaches to peacemaking in this obviously difficult conflict.
They also urged the United States and French governments to threaten a boycott of China’s Olympic ceremonies over this issue, and urged both countries as well to intervene forcefully in the situation immediately. More information about how anyone can participate in the actions to help Darfur can be found at Mia Farrow’s website.
PEN World Voices is where global politics meets the artistic mind, but Tuesday night’s kickoff event was all politics, and not much art. That seemed to be exactly the message Mia Farrow and Bernard-Henri Levy were trying to send, and the crowd’s appreciative applause showed that the message was received.