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10 Questions for Sondra Hale

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With this issue, UCLA Today launches a Q&A column featuring faculty and staff.

The conflict in Darfur has led Sudan expert Sondra Hale, professor of anthropology and women's studies, to ponder genocide. She talks to UCLA Today Staff Writer Ajay Singh about Darfur, the causes of genocide and what can be done to prevent it.

How would you define genocide?

In my research, I'm trying to broaden the definition of genocide beyond its very tight definition in the 1948 Geneva Convention, which does not allow us to categorize what's going on in Darfur as genocide unless intent by the state is proven beyond doubt. That's extremely difficult. I'm trying to correlate genocide, culture and sexual violence, which is partly the focus of my own essay in a book I'm co-editing, �Perspectives on Genocide in Sudan.�

What exactly is happening in Darfur?

Basically, the environment has become increasingly hostile to forms of subsistence, pitting herd-owning ethnic groups against farmers. It's like the United States range wars of another era. On top of that, the Islamist central government, which wants to impose an Arab hegemony over the entire country, has armed horse- and camel-riding militias.

How did you get interested in Darfur?

It's almost impossible for anyone working in Sudan studies, with any consciousness about social justice, not to pay attention to Darfur.

Why do you think Darfur has captured the public imagination?

The struggle in Darfur has been framed as one of Arabs victimizing Africans — and this is a 9/11 phenomenon; i.e., a chance to make an anti-Arab statement, at least as a subtext. I'm not saying we should not pay attention to Darfur. But I'd rather we did so for the right reasons. We are as intent on placing blame as we are about stopping the violence.

Personally, what do you see as the worst act of genocide in the 20th century?

Rwanda. Something about slicing lifelong neighbors to death is more horrifying to me than state-sponsored murder or even the �final solution� of the Nazis.

Are people who commit genocide sociopathic or psychopathic?

They're neither. Perpetrators of genocide are not monsters walking the face of the earth. They have somehow been derailed momentarily for some historical or economic or other reason.

Do you see genocide as part of the human condition?

If I believed that, I would crawl under my bed and stay there. I'm convinced that humans are basically good.

What can be done to prevent genocide?

So many people throughout the world are trained in mediation, negotiation, healing and psychotherapy. We could send in a force of these professionals to work with people when tensions are building up.

What got you interested in Africa?

I'm from a working-class family in Des Moines, Iowa. We lived in a black/white segregated neighborhood. My mother urged me to play with black kids, which resulted in my always feeling comfortable with African Americans and other people of color. It was hard not to transfer that affinity to an interest in Africa.

And specifically to Sudan.

Yes. My husband (Gerry Hale, a retired geography professor) took me there in the first year of our marriage. Anthropology brought me back. We have two adopted African kids who are now grown up. Sudan taught me about colonialism, different forms of racism, and I learned my feminism from Sudanese women, who are the strongest and most accomplished women I've ever met. Excuse the cliché, but Sudan totally changed me.

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