I joined a few friends from church yesterday and went to the Save Darfur rally on the National Mall. It was a very interesting event, featuring everyone from Manute Bol to George Clooney. My favorite speaker was Paul Rusesabagina. It was not a large rally — only several thousand people, I think — but I was struck by how many of those gathered had signs or T-shirts announcing their religious affiliation. I saw many Christians, but a ton of Jews.
The Baltimore Sun‘s Matthew Hay Brown and Laura McCandlish noticed the same:
Days after Yom HaShoah, when Jews remember the victims of Nazi Germany, busloads traveled from the synagogues of Baltimore to make their numbers known. . . .
“The timing of it, coming so close after Yom HaShoah, made it obvious,” said Lisa Pintzuk, a member of Har Sinai. “What’s the point of remembering the Holocaust if you let it happen again?” . . .
“One of the things that allowed the Holocaust to happen was the world’s silence,” said Joel Nathanson, a dentist and part-time cantor at the synagogue. “We just don’t want it to happen again. Especially in this day and age, when information travels so much faster. It’s our responsibility to speak up.”
The “never again” mantra spoken by many Jews has been broadened to include acts of genocide against non-Jews. The Holocaust Museum has a whole shop dedicated to exposing ongoing human rights abuses (NB: one of my housemates is employed there). The sentiment was expressed by one young Jewish woman at the rally who wore a T-shirt that said “Why mourn a Holocaust when you can stop one?”
In the past, the Jewish community has been extremely reticent to see the Holocaust linked with other claims of genocide. Yesterday the linkages couldn’t have been more pronounced. That’s a very interesting development and one that could be covered more.
One quick criticism of the Sun piece, which is really thorough and gives a look at a wide variety of participants at yesterday’s rally: the story never covers the evangelical angle at all. The National Association of Evangelicals was one of the sponsors of the rally and evangelicals got interested in the problems in Sudan years ago. Matthew Hay Brown mentioned their involvement in an earlier piece, but it would have been good to see a mention in the rally write-up.
The Washington Post‘s Sudarsan Raghavan wrote up a rally piece that mentioned evangelical involvement, but read this carefully:
But yesterday’s rally brought together people from dozens of backgrounds and affiliations, many of whom strongly disagree politically and ideologically on many issues. Judging from T-shirts and banners identifying the various groups, Jews appeared to be among the largest contingent of demonstrators.
Among the speakers were Rabbi David Saperstein; Al Sharpton; Joe Madison, a liberal black radio talk-show host who has been pushing the issue; Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; rap and fashion mogul Russell Simmons; and former basketball star Manute Bol, who is himself Sudanese.
I also have to mention Alan Cooperman’s Darfur piece from last week’s Washington Post, which is a very good summation of the groups involved in the current efforts in Darfur and how difficult it is to get hundreds of disparate groups on the same page. It has one of the funniest and most colorful closing quotes I’ve read in a while. This passage caught my eye, though:
Some Darfur activists also have complained about the involvement in the rally of a Kansas-based evangelical group, Sudan Sunrise.
Last week, after an inquiry from The Washington Post, Sudan Sunrise changed its Web site to eliminate references to efforts to convert the people of Darfur. Previously, it said it was engaged in “one on one, lifestyle evangelism to Darfurian Muslims living in refugee camps in eastern Chad” and appealed for money to “bring the kingdom of God to an area of Sudan where the light of Jesus rarely shines.”
Yep, get the presses running again. Evangelical Christians continue to evangelize! Don’t they know that evangelism became passe in the last century? Someone should really tell them.
UPDATE: Reader Tom Zoellner just co-wrote Paul Rusesabagina’s autobiography, An Ordinary Man.