Break the Silence, and Speak up on Darfur


Burt Siegel

Many who have no idea who the 18th-century British parliamentarian and essayist Edmund Burke was are probably familiar with his observation that all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.

As the toll of murdered Darfurians in the nation of Sudan rises each day, I can't help think that the world has learned very little. Neither the Holocaust – in which six million Jews were killed – nor the Hutu massacre of co-religionist Catholic Tutsis, nor the murder of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo by Eastern Orthodox Serbs or Catholic Croats seems to have reached that part of our souls where we are so horrified that we demand that steps be taken to stop another genocide.

According to estimates, since February 2003, more than 400,000 African men, women and children have died, while another 2.5 million civilians have been forced into refugee camps in Sudan and neighboring Chad.

The destruction of villages has continued unabated, and the rape of women and young girls leaving the camps to collect firewood to cook has become an unrelenting occurrence.

Not long ago, I had a touching and instructive discussion with refugees from Darfur. They told me that growing up as Muslims in Sudan, they knew almost nothing about Jews and Judaism, and certainly had little awareness of the Holocaust or anti-Semitism.

One refugee observed that being a victim could lead a person to follow one of two paths. He said that it would be understandable for a victimized people to feel that in light of a history of brutalization and abandonment, they had no obligation to reach out to anyone else. He told me that he recognized that a self-protective instinct could easily lead to an overarching self-interest, where one could say since no one seems to worry about me, I must worry only about myself.

But, he continued, the Jewish community has responded in just the opposite way – and Darfurian refugees have been profoundly moved by this response.

This outpouring of support and concern from world Jewry has also been recognized by the Arab-dominated government in Sudan. Here in Philadelphia, the Darfur Alert Coalition has invited leaders from Darfur to come to America for a speaking tour.

We were recently informed by one of our guests that the government-controlled media in the country has already denounced this effort as a Jewish-controlled campaign to divide the Islamic world since, in this case, both victims and victimizers are Muslim.

This accusation should come as no surprise, as the government in Khartoum long ago claimed the entire crisis in Darfur and the demands for better treatment by people of that region were being orchestrated by Israel. Though some in the Muslim world may believe Jewish conspiracy myths, the Darfurian refugees tell me they know who their friends are. And so far, they have found all too few in the Muslim world.

National Jewish organizations like the American World Jewish Service and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs have taken leadership roles in mobilizing the community in telling our elected officials that funds must be provided to the African Union nations serving as peacekeepers in western Sudan.

Congress recently cut $50 million it had earmarked to support the military mission of the African Union in Darfur. Our representatives must be told to restore this much-needed funding, and to support a stronger multinational force to protect civilians in the war-stricken region.

As Ruth Messinger, who leads the American Jewish World Service, said recently while speaking at a JCRC-coordinated program in Philadelphia, this is the first time the United States has determined that genocide was taking place while it was still happening; still, our government has failed to act on it.

Messinger reminded us that we, of all people, know the end results of the price of silence.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here