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November 8, 2004
Crisis in Sudan brings community together
BY Michael Terrazas
In late August, as increasingly disturbing reports continued to emerge about what was happening to the population in western Sudan, Deborah Lipstadt felt a familiar—and horrifying—tug at her heart.
“I teach about the Holo-caust,” she told an audience gathered Oct. 27 in WHSCAB auditorium. “And one question I get all the time is, ‘Why didn’t anyone do something about it?’”
Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, decided to do that something about Sudan (see First Person, page 2). Then she picked up the phone.
“We went to lunch, and Deb had a lot of energy to move forward on this,” said Bobbi Patterson, senior lecturer in religion. “I said, ‘We can do this.’”
So began what’s been called the Sudan Crisis Working Group. Lipstadt and Patterson recruited more of their colleagues, who in turn recruited others, and the effort began to snowball. The group first met on Sept. 10, and two months later it has held or planned no fewer than nine separate events designed to call attention to Sudan and educate people about what’s going on there.
For those unfamiliar with Sudan—as Lipstadt readily admits she was before these efforts began—here is a primer: Africa’s largest country geographically, Sudan has suffered ongoing internal conflicts since it won independence in 1956. In the last few years, the country appeared on the verge of achieving relative peace, until the Sudanese government began arming pro-state militias (known as “Janjaweed”) to eliminate civilian support for rebel groups in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
According to most reports, the Janjaweed took this charge as a license to kill any able-bodied man it could find. As many as 2 million civilians (mostly women, children and the elderly) in Darfur have been displaced, many fleeing to neighboring Chad or to more remote regions of their homeland. According to international human rights groups, Janjaweed attacks on civilians have been accompanied by destruction and pillaging of crops and livestock—and often by rapes against civilian women.
Since the Janjaweed is made up mostly of Sudanese of Arab descent and the civilians in Darfur are almost exclusively dark-skinned Africans, some have painted the situation as “blacks versus Arabs,” but those most closely involved say this is an oversimplification.
“I challenge you to understand the complexity of this situation without failing to appreciate its broader moral contours,” said Jerry Fowler, staff director of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, to the same group Lipstadt addressed in WHSCAB.
Attended by several hundred individuals not just from Emory but also from the Atlanta community, the Oct. 27 event was the largest so far organized by the Sudan Crisis Working Group. Titled simply “Genocide in the Sudan,” the event served as an informational session and plea for involvement.
In addition to Fowler, other speakers included Michael Rewald, senior adviser for rights-based programming at CARE; Deborah Scroggins, former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and author of Emma’s War: An Aid Worker, Radical Islam and the Politics of Oil—A True Story of Life and Death in the Sudan; and Basia Tomczyk, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s international emergency and refugee health branch and an adjunct faculty member in the Rollins School of Public Health.
The audience that night sat in rapt attention as Fowler showed slides of images he’d taken on a trip in May to eastern Chad to visit refugee camps. Tomcyzk outlined the public-health situation in the camps, saying as many as 39 percent of children under 5 are malnourished; up to 59 percent suffer from diarrhea and dysentery; and as many as 80 percent have not received measles vaccinations, setting the stage for a quick and deadly epidemic.
All four speakers—echoing the common message of all Sudan-related events at Emory—urged those in attendance to: (1) keep informed about the situation; (2) contact the media and urge them to continue publicizing it; (3) contact government representatives to encourage official U.S. action; (4) support relief efforts through international humanitarian groups; and (5) become engaged with their own communities to encourage more support and activism.
Speaking only for the Emory community, interest and concern about Sudan has been no less than contagious; both Patterson and Lipstadt said they had no problems enlisting help. Karen Salisbury, director of student activities for Campus Life, said campus groups from the Student Government Association to the Emory Amnesty International Chapter, to Hillel to the Muslim Student Association, all pitched in.
Not to mention faculty involvement. Abdullahi An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law and a native of Sudan, spoke at an Oct. 16 breakfast in Cannon Chapel; Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the chapel and religious life, will lead an interreligious prayer service on Sunday, Nov. 14; and Neil Shulman, associate professor of medicine, helped organize a Thursday, Nov. 11, forum, “Sudan: Take Action.”
Another upcoming highlight is the Wednesday, Nov. 10, “Poetry Slam” to be held on the steps outside Cox Hall, followed by an all-day “Fast-a-Thon” on Nov. 11.
Other than the high level of community interest—as indicated by turnout at the Oct. 27 event in WHSCAB—those in the Sudan Working Group said they are most heartened by the willingness of their colleagues not only to listen, but to pitch in and help.
“It became an experience of Emory coming together around an issue that’s not seen in our daily lives, and in a way I haven’t seen in a long time,” Patterson said. “I never imagined it would mushroom to the level it did.”
“It’s important to have this conversation now—and to have it more than once,” said Provost Earl Lewis at the Oct. 27 event. “Rupturing the silence is something we must do.”
Several Sudan-related events still remain on the Emory calendar. For more information, or for background on the Sudanese conflict itself, visit www.ias.emory.edu/sudan/.