Noticing a tragedy before it happens
Years ago, when Yugoslavia was still a single country, a veteran religious-affairs correspondent in Europe warned me to keep an eye on Kosovo. At the time I had never heard of the province, but I did a bit of research, and became acquainted with the long history of religious conflict in that disputed province. What I learned then helped me to understand developments later, when Kosovo became a flashpoint in the ugly religious conflict in the Balkans, and suddenly the name of that province was in the daily headlines.
Similarly, I learned about the years of bloodshed in East Timor, and the appeals of a (mostly Catholic) population for independence from (mostly Muslim) Indonesia, from writers who cover religious affairs.
Darfur is another province whose name was familiar only to African specialists and geography buffs until a few years ago. Once again religion writers, covering the humanitarian efforts in that region, sounded the alarm.
Secular news agencies have their own patterns of reporting, with correspondents ready to respond promptly whenever a story arises in one of the world's main media centers. But when the most noteworthy developments occur in places that aren't already on a reporter's beat, often the stories are unearthed first by specialists-- in many cases, by people whose main focus is humanitarian and religious affairs.
Why do I mention all this? Because another crisis is brewing in Africa: in the Congo, on the border with Rwanda. Church officials are calling urgently for help. Humanitarian agencies are warning of a human tragedy in the making. Thus far the world's biggest media outlets have barely noticed the conflict; they are busy with stories about the Obama inauguration, the financial-market meltdown, and perhaps the war in Iraq. But my experience tells me that if we pay attention now, we may be spared some shocking realizations later.
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