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Jewish World Review July 3, 2000 / 30 Sivan, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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Plea to the Congressional Black Caucus -- WHEN A GROUP of distinguished black members of the clergy from around the country issued an urgent plea to the Congressional Black Caucus to help them end slavery in Sudan, I thought it would be a major story in the newspapers, on the television broadcast and cable news programs, on the Internet, and on the radio. But I have seen hardly any mention of this passionate renewal of the American abolitionist tradition. Dated June 1, the letter, addressed to James Clyburn, Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus, reads:

"This is the year 2000, and there are tens of thousands of black slaves (and) two million people in Sudan have lost their lives in a brutal civil war propelled by a regime in Khartoum (the National Islamic Front), which our government has placed on a short list of terrorist nations. More people have died in Sudan than in Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia and Rwanda combined.

"The U.S. Committee on Refugees, the Senate and the House have called events in Africa's largest nation a `genocide.' Yet world leaders, including President Clinton, remain silent.... The West has abandoned these people."

The letter then focused on this country's black members of Congress. "We, African-American pastors from around the nation, write to ask the Congressional Black Caucus to come to the front of this battle. As the descendants of African slaves, we must not rest until those now held in bondage are freed -- until the African villages in Sudan are protected from murderous slave raids, until the Sudan air force is made to stop bombing African schools, churches, and hospitals."

The pastors asked the Congressional Black Caucus to meet with President Clinton about this genocide against blacks. Donald Payne of New Jersey, a member of the Caucus, has been active in calling attention to these horrors, and so have a few others -- but where is the rest of the Caucus? And where are the white liberals in Congress who profess such concern for civil rights? The great majority are silent; but a conservative white senator, Sam Brownback of Kansas, has actually gone to Sudan to see for himself and is active in the new abolitionist movement.

Also in the pastors' petition is a request that the Congressional Black Caucus appoint a delegation to meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has said that the anguish in Sudan is not "marketable to the American people."

How can it be "marketable" when the president is silent, along with this year's presidential candidates, most white religious leaders, educators, prominent columnists and the hosts of the Sunday morning talk shows? And where is Ted Koppel? There have been scattered stories on Sudan in the press, but little sustained focus on slavery there. The network camera crews that were so evident in Bosnia and Kosovo (but not in Rwanda) are not to be found in Sudan.

The African-American pastors also ask the Congressional Black Caucus to "investigate the role of oil companies in the genocide in Sudan." That role is outlined in the recently released report of the President's Commission on International Religious Freedom: "Western oil companies, in partnership with Khartoum, use U.S. capital markets to fund their Greater Nile Oil Project (which is ethnically cleansing Africans from their oil fields), providing petrol to fuel air-force bombers which strike schools, churches and hospitals."

The pastors also address a scandal that has escaped notice in most of the American press. They want the president -- if he can take a break from attending fund-raisers and burnishing his legacy by flying around the world -- "to appoint a Special Coordinator for delivering food and medical aid (directly) to villages and areas that Khartoum wants destroyed. U.S. food and medical aid has been blocked by Khartoum (the seat of the National Islamic Front) because the United Nations' `Operation Lifeline Sudan' allows Khartoum to dictate to (many leading) humanitarian agencies who shall and who shall not be fed. This policy of forced famine has resulted, according to U.S. agencies, in the deaths of tens of thousands."

The pastors' letter to the Congressional Black Caucus ends: "We believe these actions and recommendations we make to you represent the interests of Africans in Africa's largest nation and express the duty of those of us who are the descendants and the brothers and sisters of these besieged and beleaguered people."

Where will slavery fit in William Jefferson Clinton's legacy?

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2000, NEA