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American Muslim

San Francisco Chronicle -  April 29, 2006

Crisis in Sudan:
Conscience has motivated the movement

By Jim Doyle

Religious leaders across the country have highlighted Sudan's continuing tragedy in recent months with sermons, appeals for donations and letter-writing campaigns.

People of faith have formed what they call a "community of conscience" to stand up against the genocide and to press the White House to take action to stop the killings.

It is unclear exactly how many churches, synagogues and mosques nationwide have spoken out on Sudan, but human rights activists say the number is easily in the thousands -- and the number is growing.

The ecumenical nature of the Sudan protest is reflected in Sunday's lineup of speakers -- Muslim, Christian and Jewish -- at rallies from Washington to San Francisco.

American Jewish World Services, a New York humanitarian group, as well as Jews from various parts of the United States, have been instrumental in drawing public attention to Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

"The genocide in Sudan has especially resonated in the Jewish community," said UCSF student activist Jason Miller, a leader of the campaign to divest University of California assets from certain foreign firms doing business in Sudan. In World War II, one of his Jewish relatives hid from German soldiers for weeks in a convent in Rome.

"I think every Jew has a collection of stories from the Holocaust, and those stories are an integral part of our identity today," Miller said. "The primary lesson of the Holocaust is that genocide silences victims' voices, and it's our responsibility to shout the words they cannot communicate."

Elissa Test, a Stanford University student, is organizing Sunday's rally in San Francisco. She credits her Jewish faith and her grandfather's influence as a Holocaust survivor for her activism.

"His stories taught me that we need to care about each other in the world and do all we can to end the suffering that we see," Test said. "I think that my grandfather would want me to carry on the lessons learned after the Holocaust."

Other key figures in the national movement include:

-- Esther Sprague of San Francisco, a Golden Gate Community Church worker who transported about 200 Sudanese expatriates from across the United States for the Washington rally.

-- Tim Nonn of Petaluma, founder of Dear Sudan, an interfaith organization that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for humanitarian aid for Sudanese refugees. He helped pull together a national conference in Washington in November of nearly 60 organizations that led to the formation of the SaveDarfur Coalition and plans for this week's Sudan-related rallies and vigils in Washington, San Francisco and other cities. "We have the opportunity to participate in God's compassion," Nonn said. "Are we going to be a world that tolerates genocide? If we make that choice, we're signing our own death warrant as a society and as humanity. Compassion connects everyone in a new way that changes society."

-- The Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, who chairs the "Million Voices for Darfur" campaign, is a co-pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston. She has reached out to other African American Christian churches. "What you're talking about is changing the way people respond to genocide, which for the most part is see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil -- and do no good," she said. "That's a huge task. For generations, people have not intervened to stop a genocide ... You can either speak out and count for something, or remain silent and be rendered irrelevant."

-- Samina Faheem Sundas of Palo Alto, the founder of American Muslim Voice. "If we allow this to happen, we're really losing humanity," Sundas said. "Social justice and part of being a Muslim is that you just don't remain quiet. Silence is golden, but in the area of social justice, silence is an agreement that you're allowing something bad to happen.

-- Shirley Ferer of Hillsborough, who founded the Peninsula and Salt Lake City chapters of Dear Sudan. She believes that the Khartoum regime's ethnic genocide transcends religion and politics. "The government cannot kill its people. It's morally wrong," Ferer said.

Ferer got involved in the campaign in November after learning about Sudan during a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.

"Once people hear about it, they're stimulated to do something -- to write a letter or make a phone call or make a presentation," she said. "It's grassroots. Anyone can do what I've done."