The Devil Came On Horseback
Former Marine captain Brian Steidle certainly did his part to expose a global crisis that many mainstream media outlets seem content to sweep under the carpet. Returning home to the United States after numerous tours of duty in Iraq, Steidle was looking for an opportunity to make a genuine difference in the world. After responding to an ad on the Internet, he found himself in Sudan as an unarmed military monitor for the African Union, bearing witness to a brutal civil conflict that has thus far left more than 400,000 people dead and displaced over 2.5 million people.
This documentary film’s title refers to the horseback-riding Arab militias known as the Janjaweed. Sponsored by the Arab government of Sudan, the janjaweed have been waging a devastating war of violence against the largely black inhabitants of Darfur for years now. Deprived of his weapon, Steidle instead used his camera lens to document the terrifying tragedy as it unfolded, capturing thousands of images of rape, torture, mutilation and murder in stomach-churning detail. After working there for six months beginning in the fall of 2004, the young American returned home to America, haunted by the ghastly images to which he had borne witness. He began to share his graphic photographs and other documentation with anyone who would listen, resulting in a major New York Times story titled “The American Witness” in March of 2005.
Three years later– despite a high-profile $5.5 million relief effort led by actors George Clooney and Don Cheadle, despite a letter in 2007 from 15 House Republicans urging President Bush to take action, despite myriad news items on the crisis in Sudan– the situation in Darfur remains virtually unchanged. Which is precisely why this heart-wrenching film, which shines a harsh and unflinching light on a gruesome situation most Americans know far too little about, should be required viewing for any citizen concerned with how our tax dollars are put to use.
Some critics have complained that directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s use of flashy edits and unattributed news sources undermines the film’s powerful message, but ultimately the devastating impact of Brian Steidle’s images speaks for itself. The Devil Came On Horseback is an emotionally volatile call to arms that pulls no punches in exposing the atrocities of what is essentially a racially motivated war, and arguably the most horrific genocide the world has seen since Rwanda. If, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad,” but also, “by the vitiating inaction of those who are good,” then the Western world’s continued ambivalence towards the crisis in Sudan may be the most inhumane act of all.
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