"Save Darfur": Evangelicals and Establishment Jews
by Yoshie Furuhashi
It's embarrassing that America -- and the world -- will be witnessing
a PRO-WAR rally in Washington, D.C. on April 30 (a project of
SaveDarfur.org) that is far more highly publicized than an anti-war
one (that appears to be poorly organized) in New York City on April
29, even while Washington is still soldiering on in Afghanistan and
Iraq and gunning for sanctions or war on Iran.
Really, the LAST THING we need in America is ONE MORE WAR to get
involved in -- the least of all in an oil state like Sudan (amidst
loud complaints of higher gas prices, no less).
Who is behind this astonishing pro-war rally in war-weary America
(war-weary as far as the Iraq War is concerned, that is)? A rag-tag
coalition of evangelicals and establishment Jews (those whom the
corporate media designate as official leaders of Jewish communities):
Keeping the peace within the diverse Save Darfur Coalition has not
been easy. Tensions have arisen, in particular, between evangelical
Christians and immigrants from Darfur, whose population is almost
entirely Muslim and deeply suspicious of missionary activity.
Organizers rushed this week to invite two Darfurians to address the
rally after Sudanese immigrants objected that the original list of
speakers included eight Western Christians, seven Jews, four
politicians and assorted celebrities -- but no Muslims and no one from
Some Darfur activists also have complained about the involvement in
the rally of a Kansas-based evangelical group, Sudan Sunrise.
Last week, after an inquiry from The Washington Post, Sudan Sunrise
changed its Web site to eliminate references to efforts to convert the
people of Darfur. Previously, it said it was engaged in "one on one,
lifestyle evangelism to Darfurian Muslims living in refugee camps in
eastern Chad" and appealed for money to "bring the kingdom of God to
an area of Sudan where the light of Jesus rarely shines."
Although it is not formally part of the Save Darfur Coalition, Sudan
Sunrise helped arrange buses and speakers, and it is co-hosting a
dinner for 600 people on the rally's eve. (Alan Cooperman, "Groups
Plan Rally on Mall To Protest Darfur Violence: Bush Administration Is
Urged to Intervene in Sudan," Washington Post, 27 April 2006: A21)
For this effort, the coalition has recruited major celebrities like
George Clooney and Elie Wiesel to speak to those assembled. Though
recent reports have indicated that the turnout might be lower than
expected, organizers, while refusing to give a concrete number,
believe it will be in "the tens of thousands."
Little known, however, is that the coalition, which has presented
itself as "an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian,
and human rights organization" was actually begun exclusively as an
initiative of the American Jewish community.
And even now, days before the rally, that coalition is heavily
weighted with a politically and religiously diverse collection of
local and national Jewish groups.
A collection of local Jewish bodies, including the Jewish Community
Center in Manhattan, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation of New
York and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, sponsored the largest
and most expensive ad for the rally, a full-page in The New York Times
on April 15.
Though there are other major religious organizations, like the United
States Conference on Catholic Bishops and the National Association of
Evangelicals, both of which have giant constituencies that number in
the millions, these groups have not done the kind of extensive
grassroots outreach that will produce numbers.
Instead, the Jewish Community Relations Council, a national
organization with local branches that coordinate communal activity all
over America, has put on a massive effort to bus people to Washington
on Sunday. Dozens of buses will be coming from Philadelphia and
Cleveland. Yeshiva University alone, in upper Manhattan, has chartered
Besides the Jewish origins and character of the rally -- a fact the
organizers consistently played down in conversations with The
Jerusalem Post - the other striking aspect of the coalition is the
noted absence of major African-American groups like the NAACP or the
larger Africa lobby groups like Africa Action. When asked to comment,
representatives of both groups insisted they were publicizing the
rally but had not become part of the coalition or signed the Unity
Statement declaring Save Darfur's objectives.
The coalition's roots go back to the spring of 2004 following a
genocide alert, the first ever of its kind, issued by the United
States Holocaust Museum. An emergency meeting was coordinated by the
American Jewish World Service, an organization that serves as a kind
of Jewish Peace Corps as well as an advocacy group for a variety of
humanitarian and human rights issues.
At the meeting, which was attended by numerous American Jewish
organizations and a few other religious groups, it was decided that a
coalition would be formed based on a statement of shared principles.
After a year of programming that involved raising awareness about the
genocide, the coalition came up with the idea for a rally in
Washington. Planning began in the fall of 2005.
David Rubenstein, the director or "coordinator," as he prefers it, of
the coalition says that, given that the groups who started the
coalition were Jewish, "it's not surprising that they had the numbers
of more Jewish organizations in their rolodexes."
He says that the Jewish community has been "extraordinarily responsive
and are really providing the building for this thing," and yet he
insists that the coalition has worked "very, very hard to be
inclusive, to make sure there are people beyond the usual suspects."
This is a sentiment echoed by Ruth Messinger, president of American
Jewish World Service and one-time Manhattan borough president and
Democratic mayoral candidate for New York City. The world service and
Messinger personally have been at the forefront of planning for the
rally. Much of the Jewish turnout has been a result of her lobbying
efforts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The fact that the aggressors in Darfur are Arab Muslims -- though it
should be said that the victims are also mostly Muslim -- and are
supported by a regime in Khartoum that is backed by the Arab League
has made some people question the true motives of some of the Jewish
organizations involved in the rally. (Gal Beckerman, "US Jews
Leading Darfur Rally Planning," Jerusalem Post, 27 April 2006)
Should we laugh or should we cry?
Some say America is addicted to oil, but America is even more addicted
to war (or economic sanctions when war is not in the cards). "Leaders"
of almost all groups in America -- Republicans or Democrats,
Christians or Jews or Muslims (many of whom rooted for the war in
Afghanistan in the Carter-Reagan era and the war on Yugoslavia in the
Clinton era), whatever -- come up with their own pet wars to promote,
sooner or later.
Thus is the job of the power elite made easy. As Raffi Khatchadourian
notes in an op-ed in the New York Times, Washington is about to up
its already considerable military assistance to Idriss Déby, the
current ruler of Chad, whose forces have been fighting "hundreds of
rebels backed by Sudan" (the largess extended despite "torture, rapes,
summary executions and mass killings" that his forces have commited):
The CIA armed [Hissène] Habré for years, and since 2003, the U.S.
military has been training and equipping Déby's army, making his fight
to stay in office America's fight, too.
Last year, Chad took part in a vast, international military exercise
organized by the United States -- the largest exercise of its kind in
Africa since World War II, according to the Defense Department. This
summer, American forces will continue to advise Chadian soldiers, and
Congress is expected to allocate $500 million for a five- year program
to train and equip several Saharan armies -- including Déby's.
("Blowback in Africa," 28 April 2006)
Militaristic identity politics in America, in which each group clamors
for its share of Washington's war chest for its cause, supplies the
power elite with an excuse: "Imperialism? Far from it. We are here,
by popular demand."
Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.
5 Truths About Darfur
By Emily Wax - waxe @ washpost.com
Sunday, April 23, 2006; B03
The Washington Post
KOU KOU ANGARANA, Chad
Heard all you need to know about Darfur? Think again. Three years
after a government-backed militia began fighting rebels and residents
in this region of western Sudan, much of the conventional wisdom
surrounding the conflict -- including the religious, ethnic and
economic factors that drive it -- fails to match the realities on the
ground. Tens of thousands have died and some 2.5 million have been
displaced, with no end to the conflict in sight. Here are five truths
to challenge the most common misconceptions about Darfur:
1 Nearly everyone is Muslim
Early in the conflict, I was traveling through the desert expanses of
rebel-held Darfur when, amid decapitated huts and dead livestock, our
SUV roared up to an abandoned green and white mosque, riddled with
bullets, its windows shattered.
In my travels, I've seen destroyed mosques all over Darfur. The few
men left in the villages shared the same story: As government Antonov
jets dropped bombs, Janjaweed militia members rode in on horseback and
attacked the town's mosque -- usually the largest structure in town.
The strange thing, they said, was that the attackers were Muslim, too.
Darfur is home to some of Sudan's most devout Muslims, in a country
where 65 percent of the population practices Islam, the official state
A long-running but recently pacified war between Sudan's north and
south did have religious undertones, with the Islamic Arab-dominated
government fighting southern Christian and animist African rebels over
political power, oil and, in part, religion.
"But it's totally different in Darfur," said Mathina Mydin, a
Malaysian nurse who worked in a clinic on the outskirts of Nyala, the
capital of South Darfur. "As a Muslim myself, I wanted to bring the
sides together under Islam. But I quickly realized this war had
nothing to do with religion."
2 Everyone is black
Although the conflict has also been framed as a battle between Arabs
and black Africans, everyone in Darfur appears dark-skinned, at least
by the usual American standards. The true division in Darfur is
between ethnic groups, split between herders and farmers. Each tribe
gives itself the label of "African" or "Arab" based on what language
its members speak and whether they work the soil or herd livestock.
Also, if they attain a certain level of wealth, they call themselves Arab.
Sudan melds African and Arab identities. As Arabs began to dominate
the government in the past century and gave jobs to members of Arab
tribes, being Arab became a political advantage; some tribes adopted
that label regardless of their ethnic affiliation. More recently,
rebels have described themselves as Africans fighting an Arab
government. Ethnic slurs used by both sides in recent atrocities have
riven communities that once lived together and intermarried.
"Black Americans who come to Darfur always say, 'So where are the
Arabs? Why do all these people look black?' " said Mahjoub Mohamed
Saleh, editor of Sudan's independent Al-Ayam newspaper. "The bottom
line is that tribes have intermarried forever in Darfur. Men even have
one so-called Arab wife and one so-called African. Tribes started
labeling themselves this way several decades ago for political
reasons. Who knows what the real bloodlines are in Darfur?"
3 It's all about politics
Although analysts have emphasized the racial and ethnic aspects of the
conflict in Darfur, a long-running political battle between Sudanese
President Omar Hassan Bashir and radical Islamic cleric Hassan
al-Turabi may be more relevant.
A charismatic college professor and former speaker of parliament,
Turabi has long been one of Bashir's main political rivals and an
influential figure in Sudan. He has been fingered as an extremist;
before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Turabi often referred to Osama bin
Laden as a hero. More recently, the United Nations and human rights
experts have accused Turabi of backing one of Darfur's key rebel
groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, in which some of his top
former students are leaders.
Because of his clashes with Bashir, Turabi is usually under house
arrest and holds forth in his spacious Khartoum villa for small crowds
of followers and journalists. But diplomats say he still mentors
rebels seeking to overthrow the government.
"Darfur is simply the battlefield for a power struggle over Khartoum,"
said Ghazi Suleiman, a Sudanese human rights lawyer. "That's why the
government hit back so hard. They saw Turabi's hand, and they want to
stay in control of Sudan at any cost."
4 This conflict is international
China and Chad have played key roles in the Darfur conflict.
In 1990, Chad's Idriss Deby came to power by launching a military
blitzkrieg from Darfur and overthrowing President Hissan Habre. Deby
hails from the elite Zaghawa tribe, which makes up one of the Darfur
rebel groups trying to topple the government. So when the conflict
broke out, Deby had to decide whether to support Sudan or his tribe.
He eventually chose his tribe.
Now the Sudanese rebels have bases in Chad; I interviewed them in
towns full of Darfurians who tried to escape the fighting. Meanwhile,
Khartoum is accused of supporting Chad's anti-Deby rebels, who have a
military camp in West Darfur. (Sudan's government denies the
allegations.) Last week, bands of Chadian rebels nearly took over the
capital, N'Djamena. When captured, some of the rebels were carrying
Meanwhile, Sudan is China's fourth-biggest supplier of imported oil,
and that relationship carries benefits. China, which holds veto power
in the U.N. Security Council, has said it will stand by Sudan against
U.S. efforts to slap sanctions on the country and in the battle to
force Sudan to replace the African Union peacekeepers with a larger
U.N. presence. China has built highways and factories in Khartoum,
even erecting the Friendship Conference Hall, the city's largest
public meeting place.
5 The "genocide" label made it worse
Many of the world's governments have drawn the line at labeling Darfur
as genocide. Some call the conflict a case of ethnic cleansing, and
others have described it as a government going too far in trying to
put down a rebellion.
But in September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
referred to the conflict as a "genocide." Rather than spurring greater
international action, that label only seems to have strengthened
Sudan's rebels; they believe they don't need to negotiate with the
government and think they will have U.S. support when they commit
attacks. Peace talks have broken down seven times, partly because the
rebel groups have walked out of negotiations. And Sudan's government
has used the genocide label to market itself in the Middle East as
another victim of America's anti-Arab and anti-Islamic policies.
Perhaps most counterproductive, the United States has failed to follow
up with meaningful action. "The word 'genocide' was not an action
word; it was a responsibility word," Charles R. Snyder, the State
Department's senior representative on Sudan, told me in late 2004.
"There was an ethical and moral obligation, and saying it underscored
how seriously we took this." The Bush administration's recent idea of
sending several hundred NATO advisers to support African Union
peacekeepers falls short of what many advocates had hoped for.
"We called it a genocide and then we wine and dine the architects of
the conflict by working with them on counterterrorism and on peace in
the south," said Ted Dagne, an Africa expert for the Congressional
Research Service. "I wish I knew a way to improve the situation there.
But it's only getting worse."
Emily Wax is The Washington Post's East Africa bureau chief.
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