Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Making the Connection: Darfur & the Lost Boys of Sudan

Darfur Alert Coalition and the Free Library of Philadelphia Show Award-winning Film: The Lost Boys of Sudan
to an Overflow Crowd

Friday, December 2nd,
The Darfur Alert Coalition partnered with The Free Library of Philadelphia to sponsor The Lost Boys of Sudan, the Award winning documentary that follows two Sudanese refugees on their extraordinary journey from Sudan to America.
This film offered people in the Philadelphia area a chance to make the connections between a number of key issues: refugee and immigrant rights issues, the effects of the war in Southern Sudan, and the on-going genocide in Darfur.

The Southern Sudanese Association, Western Sudanese Association and the Group Against Torture in Sudan (GATS) also co-sponsored this event and provided speakers for the panel discussion following the film.
The room for the viewing began filling up as people arrived early. By the 6 PM show time, the place was packed. As people continued arriving, we added new rows of extra seats and eventually squeezed dozens more in until people stood heel-to-toe from the last chair to the back wall. Even in this uncomfortable situation, the audience stayed, perhaps because as Jonathan Curiel said, the film was spellbinding. It humanized Sudan's continuing refugee problem.

Megan Mylan, the instigator of this opportunity and film's co-producer and her colleague sat outside the room with other organizers from DAC. We could hear the film playing and regularly hear the audience laugh at such scenes as when one of the Lost Boys fails his driving test and returns to the parking lot, smiles and gets in his car to drive off.

After the film, the overflow of the crowd cleared out, leaving a comfortably full room to participate in an open discussion with the panel. Dr. Mahdi Ibn Ziyad introduced the panel. People were riveted as Mohamed Ibrahim shook with passion while outlining the history of US involvement in Sudan and it's impact on Sudanese politics and his own life. Mohamed provided a context for understanding the cause of the refugee exodus that challenged the audience to dig deeper and learn more especially on the role of the Nixon/Reagan administrations in the current mess in Sudan .

Two Lost Boys, Michael Kuch and Joseph Deng spoke briefly about their experiences. They fielded questions from the audience about tribal conflicts and their efforts to lobby in Washington. They also pointedly addressed the value of Southern Sudanese joining with Darfur rights activists in working for a just, peaceful and unified Sudan.

Megan Mylan updated the audience on how the two Lost Boys in the film are doing now. She was also encouraged by someone in the audience to turn her attention and camera towards Mohamed Ibrahim and other survivors of torture and consider making a documentary about their harrowing and courageous experiences. Megan agreed and wrote down the man's contact information.
Fatima Haroun also made the connections between the suffering of the people from the war in Southern Sudan and her own people from Darfur. She was joined by another Darfurian voice from Philadelphia, Amira Teben who spoke very movingly about the importance of responding to the violence in Sudan as a human being and not allowing the twisted complications of politics to interfere with the urgency of attending to the humanitarian catastrophy that is causing so much anguish and suffering throughout the Darfur region.
Dr. Jerry Ehrlich looked as if he carried every one of the children who had died in his arms last year while he worked in Kalma Camp in Nyala, Darfur, Sudan. With remarkable humility and palpable anguish, he brought the depth of the human tragedy right into the room. He gave the audience a way to understand the necessity of each one of us doing all we can to stop the violence and get relief for the people of Darfur.
Dr. Ibn Ziyad addressed a question from the audience concerning the split among American Muslims' response to the genocide in Darfur.

Lou Ann Merkle thanked the audience for coming, the Free Library for hosting the event, the speakers for participating on the panel and the volunteers for helping make the evening a success. She particularly thanked Megan Mylan for using her creativity and skills to tell such important stories. She noted how invaluable the film is as tool for raising awareness, building community and helping heal the wounds of war. Merkle invited the audience to become actively involved in the work of the Darfur Alert Coalition including the upcoming Sudanese Speaking Tour.
Pat DeBrady brought letters urging our Congressional representatives to co-sponsor The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. People signed the letters that will be sent to key Congress people.

Sonya Springer helped promote the event and Martina Johnson-Allen helped hand out our DAC literature at the event. Tigani Abu Algasim and many other Sudanese were there, as were Suzannah Gund, Stephanie Nyambyire, Rita, Katie and a lot of other Swarthmore students.
Temple professors and students were there along with folks who had attended our first event a year ago at The Church of the Advocate or this past summer at The African American Museum.

Nearly 50 people signed up to be on our mailing list with some noting they wanted to volunteer with DAC. Our challenge will be to continue offering such programs and find a way to keep working together to advocate for an end to the violence in Darfur and help the people of Darfur reclaim their lives, livelihoods and land.

reported by Lou Ann Merkle

Monday, December 05, 2005


"Answers to Five 'Repulsive' Questions"
By Maher Hathout

ON NOV. 13, Current's Faith Front featured an essay by contributor Dennis Prager, "Five questions non-Muslims need answered." Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, replies: Prager's attempt to make America's more than 6 million Muslims feel like culprits was repulsive, but for the sake of argument, let's examine the questions to which he requested a response.

• "Why are you so quiet?"
Like an urban myth, the idea that Muslims have been mute since 9/11 plagues us. Prager knows that mainstream Muslims have issued condemnations of terrorism ad nauseam, and American Muslim scholars even issued a fatwa against terrorism this summer. The organization I advise (the Muslim Public Affairs Council) last year put together an integrated, grass-roots campaign to fight terrorism and extremism. The problem isn't how loud we are but how deaf some people can be.

• "Why are none of the Palestinian Christians terrorists?"
Beyond the seemingly deliberate tone of cynicism here, Prager seems to forget that the current spate of suicide attacks was initiated by the Munich Olympics tragedy, which was concocted by a non-Islamic group led by a Christian named George Habash. There is nothing about being Muslim that leads to terrorism. The premise is wrong; so is the conclusion.

• "Why is only one of the 47 Muslim majority countries a free country?"
Lest we forget, the good people of Germany were led to their defeat by Hitler. The same scenario is true of Mussolini in Italy, and is true of present-day North Korea. Likewise, some Islamic nations are not free because they are led by tyrants who suppress the will of their people. But let's not forget that the colonial powers that dominated these countries found it easier to deal with the dictators they installed than with masses intent on creating their own destiny. Our country is not completely innocent on this score.

• "Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?"
Yes, criminals are exploiting the grievances of depressed, oppressed and desperate masses in order to try to justify the unjustifiable. But finger-pointing won't get us anywhere. What we need now is to enable robust, mainstream Muslim organizations to expose this minority, isolate it and rid us of this scourge. Casting doubt about Muslims only adds to the haze and confusion that allow extremists international prominence. Innuendo only makes it less likely that any religion will be respected or its followers accepted.

• "Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?" What makes you so sure they're "religious Muslims"? The religiosity of any person or regime that does not respect human rights is dubious. You can't overlook the fact that these dictators direct the majority of their oppression toward active Muslim citizens who naturally pose a challenge to their religious and/or political authority.
Islam isn't the problem in these countries -- it would be the solution if moderate, inclusive leaders could gain international backing. These are the answers, but it seems that Prager has already drawn his own conclusions.
Rather than spreading doubts about the integrity of Muslims as Prager does here, countless other Jewish and Christian leaders have joined their Muslim colleagues in widespread campaigns to demystify Islam. As one of those Muslims with whom Prager has interacted, I had thought we could coordinate our efforts to spread the good word about Islam and Muslims for the sake of the harmony and safety of our society. Apparently, he's more interested in bigotry than progress.

Maher Hathout is senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California.

What is your take on this?

The Controversial 'liberal' LA writer challneges Muslims...

Five questions non-Muslims would like answered
By Dennis Prager,
He may be contacted through his website: www.dennisprager.com.
THE RIOTING IN France by primarily Muslim youths and the hotel bombings in Jordan are the latest events to prompt sincere questions that law-abiding Muslims need to answer for Islam's sake, as well as for the sake of worried non-Muslims. Here are five of them:

(1) Why are you so quiet?
Since the first Israelis were targeted for death by Muslim terrorists blowing themselves up in the name of your religion and Palestinian nationalism, I have been praying to see Muslim demonstrations against these atrocities. Last week's protests in Jordan against the bombings, while welcome, were a rarity.
What I have seen more often is mainstream Muslim spokesmen implicitly defending this terror on the grounds that Israel occupies Palestinian lands. We see torture and murder in the name of Allah, but we see no anti-torture and anti-murder demonstrations in the name of Allah.
There are a billion Muslims in the world. How is it possible that essentially none have demonstrated against evils perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam? This is true even of the millions of Muslims living in free Western societies. What are non-Muslims of goodwill supposed to conclude? When the Israeli government did not stop a Lebanese massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, great crowds of Israeli Jews gathered to protest their country's moral failing. Why has there been no comparable public demonstration by Palestinians or other Muslims to morally condemn Palestinian or other Muslim-committed terror?

(2) Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?
If Israeli occupation is the reason for Muslim terror in Israel, why do no Christian Palestinians engage in terror? They are just as nationalistic and just as occupied as Muslim Palestinians.

(3) Why is only one of the 47 Muslim-majority countries a free country?
According to Freedom House, a Washington-based group that promotes democracy, of the world's 47 Muslim countries, only Mali is free. Sixty percent are not free, and 38% are partly free. Muslim-majority states account for a majority of the world's "not free" states. And of the 10 "worst of the worst," seven are Islamic states. Why is this?

(4) Why are so many atrocities committed and threatened by Muslims in the name of Islam?
Young girls in Indonesia were recently beheaded by Muslim murderers. Last year, Muslims — in the name of Islam — murdered hundreds of schoolchildren in Russia. While reciting Muslim prayers, Islamic terrorists take foreigners working to make Iraq free and slaughter them. Muslim daughters are murdered by their own families in the thousands in "honor killings." And the Muslim government in Iran has publicly called for the extermination of Israel.

(5) Why do countries governed by religious Muslims persecute other religions?
No church or synagogue is allowed in Saudi Arabia. The Taliban destroyed some of the greatest sculptures of the ancient world because they were Buddhist. Sudan's Islamic regime has murdered great numbers of Christians.
Instead of confronting these problems, too many of you deny them. Muslims call my radio show to tell me that even speaking of Muslim or Islamic terrorists is wrong.
After all, they argue, Timothy McVeigh is never labeled a "Christian terrorist." As if McVeigh committed his terror as a churchgoing Christian and in the name of Christ, and as if there were Christian-based terror groups around the world.As a member of the media for nearly 25 years, I have a long record of reaching out to Muslims.

Muslim leaders have invited me to speak at major mosques. In addition, I have studied Arabic and Islam, have visited most Arab and many other Muslim countries and conducted interfaith dialogues with Muslims in the United Arab Emirates as well as in the U.S. Politically, I have supported creation of a Palestinian state and supported (mistakenly, I now believe) the Oslo accords.

Hundreds of millions of non-Muslims want honest answers to these questions, even if the only answer you offer is, "Yes, we have real problems in Islam." Such an acknowledgment is infinitely better — for you and for the world — than dismissing us as anti-Muslim.
We await your response.