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Darfur Activists Pinpoint New Culprit: China
Standing before a crowd of several hundred people on Independence Mall, Muhdy Bahradin described the destruction of a village in his native Darfur.
He said that the raid on Surra, where a close friend of his lived, took place in the morning and began with a shower of bombs. It ended with the burning of huts and the fleeing of villagers.
But rather than condemn the Arab militias that carried out the violence, or blame the Sudanese government for funding the campaign, Bahradin singled out another culprit -- one that some people might find surprising.
On Sunday afternoon, Darfuri and Philadelphia activists alike protested the role of China in the ongoing Sudanese genocide, and called on the "Chinese conscience" to put human rights ahead of an economic agenda.
According to the event speakers, which included Ali Dinar, associate director of the African Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Izzeldin Bahkit, president of the Sudanese National Rally, China is both Sudan's largest overseas provider of oil and a major supplier of arms to that country.
China also has been a diplomatic ally to Sudan in the United Nations, noted the two men.
"You have to point your finger to who is behind these atrocities," said Dinar, a Sudanese native who visited Darfur this summer. "And China is the only country always standing with the genocidal regime in Darfur."
This weekend's rally was part of an international effort known as the "Dream for Darfur Olympic Torch Relay."
The idea behind this initiative is to cast attention on China's human-rights record during the months leading up to the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.
The campaign started in eastern Chad this summer, and will continue to countries where genocide has taken place, such as Cambodia and Germany, before ending in China in December.
The U.S. route includes more than 20 stops; several celebrities, like actress Mia Farrow and basketball player Ira Newble, are participating.
The Center City event included an appearance by Olympic speed-skater Joey Cheek.
Cheek, who works with other athletes to raise awareness about the genocide, said that the Olympics should be about more than "flowery words" and great feats of athleticism. He called for the competition to symbolize "our common humanity."
Building off these sentiments, Bahkit urged the crowd to take action. "There are already calls to boycott what is being called the 2008 genocide Olympics," he said to cheers from the audience.
The Jewish community, which has long been vocal in denouncing the genocide in Sudan, played a prominent role in the rally.
Though groups like the Darfur Alert Coalition, the Save Darfur Coalition, Dream for Darfur and STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition took the lead in organizing the event, participating co-sponsors included a handful of Jewish entities, such as the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, B'nai B'rith International, Germantown Jewish Centre and the Philadelphia Federation of Reform Synagogues.
In addition, several of the speakers, like B'nai B'rith executive vice president Dan Mariaschin, City Controller Alan Butkovitz and JCRC executive director Bert Siegel, are Jewish.
During his remarks, Siegel criticized the international community for being silent during World War II: "If the Sudanese government comes away with the same understanding -- that nobody cares -- there's a lot of guilt we're all going to have to live with."
In an interview afterward, Siegel said that "even the meanest, toughest nations in the world are vulnerable" to international pressure. By way of example, he cited the former Soviet Union's eventual release of Jews during the 1980s.
Citing divestment campaigns, rallies and speakers, Siegel said "this is part of a multi-pronged approach. I believe that everything we do could save lives."