- Why should people of your faith care about what is happening in Darfur?
- What concrete steps should they take to help end the violence in Sudan?
On April 30, 2006, the Save Darfur Coalition is rallying in Washington, D.C., to urge the U.S. government to take action to end the carnage in western Sudan, where millions of people live under threat of being slaughtered by government-backed militias. According to reports by the World Food Program, the United Nations, and the Coalition for International Justice, 3.5 million people are now hungry, 2.5 million have been displaced, and 400,000 people have died in Darfur since the conflict began in 2003
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder, American Society for Muslim Advancement
The genocide in Darfur, Sudan, is of world importance, and most important to Muslims, because our brothers and sisters are dying there. It is our obligation as Muslims to make sure genocide does not happen anywhere at any time. The Qur’an is quite explicit about how the life of an innocent may not be taken without justice, and that is what is going on in Darfur.
Genocide in general is a very horrible thing that must be eradicated. But this situation in Darfur should be even more important to us because these are Muslims killing other Muslims, which is something we need to raise our voices against loud and strong. So I urge the U.S. Muslim community, especially those in the Washington, D.C., area, to come out and participate in the march against genocide on April 30, 2006.
Muslims are being challenged on many fronts these days. We have many issues--the war in Iraq, racial profiling, taking Islam back from extremists, building coalitions with other faith groups--that our community is addressing. There’s a certain element of being overwhelmed by the variety of problems we are facing, a sort of activism-fatigue. But, though this is our reality, we cannot turn our backs on the Muslims of Darfur.
There are things we can do. First, we need to galvanize ourselves around the issue and bring it to the forefront of our consciousness. This can be done by speaking about the genocide in Darfur at Friday prayers and holding lectures about it at mosques and Islamic community centers across the country. Second, we need to build coalitions with individuals and institutions to build a critical mass of people supporting some sort of resolution to end the genocide.
And last--and this is nothing new--we need to write to our respective congressmen and senators to make our position clear. The U.S. government is of course against the genocide, but if we make ourselves heard as a strong, unified Muslim voice, then government policy can be driven by the sentiment of the people. It’s a grassroots effort, but it should be a key part of our efforts to make some sort of end to the unfortunate situation in Sudan. But the easiest thing of all that Muslims can do is just show up on April 30 in Washington, D.C. This is our community that is suffering. We must express ourselves.
Ruth Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service
The simplest answer is that everybody should care. There have been a number of genocides in the past 60 years since the Holocaust. We’ve lived through Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, South Sudan, and now Darfur, and I think the world is gradually waking up to the fact that genocide is a problem of immense evil for which there’s not full understanding or predictability. But if there’s going to be any meaning to the concept of "never again," it’s clear that people have got to organize politically, ideally to predict genocides and stop them before they start, but certainly to stop them once they’ve been initiated.
So, a big piece of this is simply a humanitarian or a human responsibility. The Jewish community has a particular interest in the phenomenon of genocide and knows not only what genocide means but, perhaps more strikingly, knows the danger of silence from the international community in the face of this kind of evil.
And I believe that it’s partly out of that experience that there’s been such a significant response from the Jewish community to the crisis in Darfur. And we at AJWS, both as a member of the Save Darfur Coalition, promoting its activities and, independently, have tried to do as much as possible to stimulate a full Jewish response.
What we’re looking for the Jewish community to do is to be present, both physically with their bodies at the rally in Washington on April 30, but also to share the story of what’s happening in Darfur broadly in their communities, to be involved in the Web-based electronic postcard, “Million Voices For Darfur” campaign, to continue to read up on the issue, and to arrange for themselves or other people to speak about this crisis in the various parts of the Jewish community, from congregations to organizations to schools.
The answer to the question of why Jews should care about Darfur is two-fold. In large part, the answer comes from the Jewish community's historical experience. Jews empathize with the victims of ethnic cleansing because we have been victims ourselves.
We work to aid the weak and desperate refugees because not so long ago, we were refugees and very few individuals helped us. While some did and we acknowledge them and we honor them, far too many others did not. And that historical memory stays with us.
From a religious perspective, there's a very clear mandate in our tradition to care about the weak and the vulnerable. Jewish tradition commands that you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
In our global village, we're all neighbors. And so, we can't be bystanders and stand by when children are targets of soldiers, when women and girls are raped as part of a military strategy. We can't stand idly by as villages are being destroyed or offer empty promises when people are being terrorized into leaving their homes. That's what happened to our community and we know better.
In the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, the Jewish community was front and center in efforts in those travesties. In the case of Africa, there are fewer groups with a lot of political clout and experience in organizing that would be natural leaders in this issue, in which case the—it's even more important that the faith community step up and bring its experience to the table and organize these coalitions on Sudan.
The first and most immediate step for Jews is to take part in the rally in Washington on April 30. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said when he marched in Selma, Alabama with the civil rights marchers in the 1960s, he felt as if his feet were praying. We should all be praying with our feet on Sunday, April 30, at the Rally to End Genocide in Washington, D.C.
For those who can't come to the rally, the Million Voices Campaign is an effort to garner a million signatures and postcards to deliver to elected officials to let them know that we want them to intercede on behalf of the victims in Sudan. We want them to take action in the international arena, to work with our partners at the United Nations, with NATO and wherever there is help to be had in supporting the African Union troops and relief efforts on behalf of the victims.
Second, find other ways to let your elected officials know that you care about what's happening in Darfur and that you want them to use their resources to help.
And third, educate yourself and others about what's going on. I think when people hear about genocide, they care.
One of the things that Elie Wiesel has said is that the real crime that took place in the Holocaust was the crime of indifference, that one was either a victim or a perpetrator or a bystander. And we can't let that happen again.
So, if we've learned anything from our past, it's that we can't be bystanders. We have to speak up. We have to educate ourselves and others. And when we do that, people will not be bystanders. They will step up. They will rally. They will speak out. They will let their elected officials know that we care.
The Rev. Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs, the National Association of Evangelicals
The answer is rooted in the scriptures, which say that every person is important. The people of the world have rights that came from God himself. They are inheritors of the image of God, and because everyone is so valuable to God, it’s incumbent upon us, his stewards on this earth, to take the kinds of actions that would represent him. And the scope and the scale of what is occurring in Sudan and, particularly, Darfur—the wanton killing, the displacement of civilians—requires us to speak out and to act. It’s a simple biblical duty.
It is our responsibility as Christians to speak out. And it’s the responsibility of our public officials who are held accountable by God to do so. For example, we’ve just celebrated Easter, and one cannot go through the period of Lent and Easter without remembering the conversation that went on between Jesus and Pilate, in which Pilate says to Jesus, “Don’t you know that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” And Jesus humbly responds to Pilate, the highest political authority of his day, by saying, “You have no power except that be given you from above.” By that, Jesus meant that the political rulers—rulers of this kingdom, this age, of this time—they will be held accountable to God. And so, we’ve urged the President to do more to speak up. I think that our top officials, including the President, feel this deeply and the President has shown his commitment. But, he has to take further actions at this critical time.
The first thing that people of faith can do is pray. I really believe prayer is that important. Second, they can join coalitions. Churches can band together, and with synagogues and others speak out on such a day as Save Darfur Day. They can, very practically, go to the website, Savedarfur.org, and issue an e-mail postcard to the President. They can call their member of Congress and urge their own members of Congress to pass legislation.
It is essential for Christians to understand that the policy of the world to play down genocide and hope it will just go away is a bankrupt policy, not just practically, but morally. And for sure, there are no neat solutions to this problem, but ignoring this is not going to work, and we cannot turn our eyes away from it.
And so, the very first action, even before prayer, is to wake up and look out around us. There is a sin of omission as well as comission, and I think to ignore this brutality is a sin of omission. And it’s shameful not to notice when these terrified villagers have their own children, their own babies, grabbed out of their arms and shot and killed. This is not something we can turn our eyes away from. And it requires all of the aforementioned actions on our part.
Because Christians got involved and were concerned about south Sudan, the world’s attention has more easily shifted to see what’s going on in Darfur. Christian people have played an enormous role in this; they deserve credit and encouragement to go on to greater acts of love and charity in Christ’s name.
As people of faith, we are called by God to care for those who are being tortured, raped, killed. And all of us know that we were silent when more than a million people were killed in Rwanda in a 90-day period.
A few years ago, we learned of the genocide taking place in Darfur. And we were shocked to discover that no Western government had ever used the word "genocide" during a genocide or intervened effectively in a genocide. And so, the National Council of Churches and other religious leaders have done a good job of getting the President and the Secretary of State to at least name it a genocide.
And it's important for the faith community across the country to stand up and speak out, that this become more of an important issue and we stop the killing.
There are two scriptures that motivate my life. One is the Beatitudes where Jesus says, blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. And also, his words in Matthew's scripture where he says, blessed are those who care for the least of these, our brothers and sisters on planet earth.
I don't think you can read the Old or New Testament without a strong commitment for love of the poor and love of those who are oppressed. And no really faithful person can turn his or her eyes or mind or backs on people when they're being crushed in the way in which they're being crushed in Darfur.
Eighteen months ago, I took a bold step by getting arrested doing an act of non-violent civil disobedience at the Sudan Embassy to lift this issue higher in people's consciousness.
But ordinary citizens across the country can do three effective things. First, they can meet with their local House member, invite them to their church, ask them to come to speak on Darfur or go to their office and talk to them directly. Eye contact with elected officials is crucial.
Number two: Bring this issue to the attention of the community that worships on Saturday or Sunday in their local community. Stand up and speak about it. Pray about it. Work to educate the local community.
And third: Write letters to the editor asking newspapers and radio and television outlets why there isn't more information on what's happening in Darfur. Recently, The New York Times had an article reporting that the U.N. can't get an investigative team into Darfur because of the reluctance of the Khartoum government to provide visas. That's an outrage, and the international community needs to stand up and speak out. More people are dying every minute that action is not taken.
What is happening in Darfur affects our brothers and sisters, and Catholics should be concerned with what happens to members of the human family throughout the world. They're suffering egregiously, losing livelihood, losing family members, starving, oppressed. Responding to them is the responsibility of every Christian. It's the mandate of the Christian gospel, at the very core of our faith as Christians.
I certainly would think the passage from St. Matthew's gospel: "I was hungry and you gave me food, naked and you clothed me, away from home and you welcomed me in" is a mandate for every Christian to live up to. And it's fidelity to that gospel which propels us to become involved.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, in the example of Jesus himself, who reached out to everyone, especially the poor and the dispossessed, is another scriptural guide.
The first thing Catholics ought to do is keep the people of Darfur and Sudan in their prayers. Their prayers are very important. A prayer for peace, stability, and for an end to the suffering.
Second, Catholics should support The Catholic Relief Services, which is the official arm of the Catholic Church for international relief and development. Catholic Relief Services has been in Sudan for more than 30 years and is presently in Darfur with a very extensive program, providing food, shelter, clothing, and some defense for people in need of assistance.
And third, Catholics should become involved in public policy by contacting their representatives, their senators, and the White House. Catholics should feel obligated to speak to encourage the government to become far more involved in the peace process and in providing security assistance and aid to the people of Darfur.