Last fall the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened a new exhibit that has received too little attention. The exhibit documents the 17-year war of ethnic cleansing in Sudan. The events of this ongoing struggle between the forces of Islamization and Arabization against the native Christian and animist peoples of Sudan's south have been highlighted in a number of important media during the past few years. (See, for example, CT's cover story of Aug. 9, 1999, on slave redemption in Sudan, or the Sudan resources compiled at

But this exhibit stands out because it is the museum's first ever devoted to contemporary genocide outside Western Europe. And it is the first example of something that was envisioned from the founding of the museum. When President Jimmy Carter's Commission on the Holocaust recommended the founding of the museum, it also recommended creating a Committee of Conscience to "alert the national conscience. … and work to halt acts of genocide."

These first steps in the committee's efforts to carry out this mandate are welcome, though the survivors of ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia might well wonder at the committee's slow pace and its failure to act earlier and speak out more broadly. These efforts may serve as a model for the maturing of victimhood.

Jews are not the only people with a story of victimization. African Americans can tell their own story. As can Russians. And Armenians. And Native Americans. And Tibetans, too. Such groups are faced with the tasks of carefully documenting their history, a history of cultures erased, a history of heroes and villains, a history of liberation and reclaimed heritages.

These historical tasks are both for their own benefit and for the larger society: they build esteem for the rich particularity of their cultural identity, but also warn against the repetition of great evils. This historical work is demanding: groups are often unable to gain the widespread recognition of past tragedies. There has, unfortunately, been no art with the imaginative or aesthetic punch of Roots, The Gulag Archipelago, or Schindler's List to grasp the world's imagination for the ethnic cleansing of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Turkish nationalists. But when groups have their story well-told and widely accepted, they have a responsibility to mature.

Victimhood is not a good word. It connotes a preoccupation with the past that undercuts initiative in facing the problems of today. It tempts people to blame both historical forces and whoever is in power for the sorry state of affairs, while it fails to motivate people to overcome obstacles. It can blind people to the problems of other groups. It also provides fertile ground for demagoguery.

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The grandstanding of leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would not be possible without the mentality of victimhood. That is why responsible leaders, like Palestinian human-rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, have talked about the importance of moving people from a culture of victimhood to a culture of citizenship.

But can victimhood mature? Can people continue to cultivate a consciousness of the great historical evils done to their ancestors without dwelling in self-pity? Can they instead use that consciousness to fight the great evils of today?

When African-American pastor Chuck Singleton works to counter slavery in Sudan, he is doing precisely that. And this first effort of the Holocaust Museum's Committee on Conscience is also a very good sign.

Related Elsewhere

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site has more information about the museum, but also an area about the Sudan genocide. The Sudan area includes a video of the opening of the exhibit and more resources.

The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page also discussed the problems of victimhood in a recent column.

Abolitionist Chuck Singleton was profiled in Christianity Today's "100 Things the Church Is Doing Right!" issue.

Yahoo's full coverage and offer regular updates and resources on the Sudan genocide.

Recent news articles on the Sudan genocide include:

Christians' plight in Sudan tests a Bush stance | Evangelicals urge intervention (The Washington Post)

Key Republican urges U.S. action on Sudan | "We need to do whatever is necessary to stop this carnage that's going on," says House Whip Tom DeLay (Reuters)

Free the people from Sudan slavers | As South Africa was to the '80s, the loathsome nation of Sudan is rapidly becoming to the '00s: an international pariah with whom no decent government or corporation does business. (Rod Dreher, New York Post)

Help with end of Sudan war sought | U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom calls African country "the world's most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief." (Associated Press)

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's recent report and USCIRF press release: press release on Sudan are available

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Our earlier coverage of the Sudan genocide includes:

Slave Redemption | Americans are becoming instant abolitionists. But is the movement backfiring? (Aug. 9, 1999)

Sudan Loses Election for U.N. Security Council Seat | Sanctions continue to plague the African nation's bid for international acceptance. (Oct. 12, 2000)

Southern Sudan Bombed Despite Cease-fire Promise | Details sketchy from town of Yei, near Democratic Republic of the Congo. (May 8, 2000)

Editorial: Confronting Sudan's Evils | Western Christians and governments should press Khartoum on multiple fronts. (Apr. 12, 2000)

Sudan Relief Operations Endangered | Rebel demands cause agencies to curtail efforts. (April 3, 2000)

Bombs Continue to Fall on Ministry Hospitals in Sudan | Samaritan's Purse hit for fourth time, two killed in Voice of the Martyrs bombing. (March 24, 2000)

Mixing Oil and Blood | Sudan's 'slaughter of the innocents' toughens religious freedom coalition. (Mar. 15, 2000)

Protest Begins as White House Rethinks Policy on Sudan Regime | Religious leaders urge Clinton administration to act against oppression. (Feb. 10, 2000)

Christian Solidarity Loses U.N. Status | Slave-freeing organization's rebel spokesman violated U.N. rules (Dec. 14, 1999)

Sudan Releases Jailed Catholic Priests | President Resolves Impasse in Contrived Bombing Trial (Dec. 13, 1999)

Jailed Sudanese Priests Reject Presidential Amnesty | Clerics waiting for 'total acquittal' by courts. (Dec. 6, 1999)

Oil Exports Draw Protests | Christians urge divestment from Canadian company (Nov. 15, 1999)

Starvation Puts 150,000 at Risk (Sept. 6,1999)

The Price of a Slave | "I was taken by a slave master [who] beat me and shamed me, telling me that I was like a dog." (Feb. 8, 1999)

Sudanese Christians Bloody, but Unbowed (Aug. 10, 1998)

How Apin Akot Redeemed His Daughter (Mar. 2, 1998)

Muslim-Christian Conflicts May Destabilize East Africa | Christians raped, forced into slavery, and killed. (Apr. 29, 1996)

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