c.1997 The Boston Globe
Underscoring a widening rift among American Jews, a national Orthodox rabbinical group says the more liberal Conservative and Reform teachings followed by most US Jews ``are not Judaism at all.''
``It is prohibited to pray in a non-Orthodox temple at anytime,'' said the 600-member, New York-based Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, the nation's oldest group of rabbis.
The organization's statement Monday unleashed a torrent of criticism from Conservative and Reform leaders, some of whom said the Orthodox group is on the fringes of American Jewry.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform and largest branch of American Jews, called the Union of Orthodox Rabbis' statement ``sad and pathetic.''
The statement also was criticized by two groups that represent the overwhelming majority of North American Orthodox Jewsthe Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
In a statement, they said the declaration is a ``hurtful public pronouncement'' that ``calls into question the validity of the Jewish identity of the vast majority of American Jews.''
A 1990 study of US Jews found that 41 percent are Reform, 40 percent are Conservative and about 7 percent are Orthodox, with the rest unaffiliated.
The declaration by the Orthodox group highlights the growing passions that dominate Judaism's attempt to define itself. At a time when significant numbers of Jews do not belong to synagogues, and marriage to non-Jews is on the rise, there is deep concern about the future of American Judaism.
Many Orthodox rabbis have long refused to recognize marriages, burials, and conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis, but this is the first time that an Orthodox rabbinical group has made such a declaration.
Some Orthodox leaders believe the more lax rules adopted by the Reform and other Jewish movments is undermining the faith by promoting assimilation and intermarriage.
``There is only one Judaism: Torah Judaism,'' said the statement by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. ``The Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all, but another religion.'' The rabbis' group defined ``Torah Judaism'' as the laws God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, which they said can never be changed.
The definition of who is a Jew has ramifications beyond the United States. Israeli law permits any Jew to be eligible for citizenship.
But Israel's parliament is debating a bill that would disqualify conversions to Judaism performed outside Israel by Conservative and Reform rabbis. Many American Jewish leaders consider the bill a direct attack on the nation's Conservative and Reform movements because more than 80 percent of American Jews belong to one of the two movements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who relies on Orthodox parties to strengthen his ruling coalition, has become a strong sympathizer of Orthodox concerns. During a recent trip to New York, Netanyahu refused to be photographed with Conservative and Reform leaders.
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said he resented having other groups unilaterally define who is a Jew.
``These groups are right about one thingwe do have different goals,'' Epstein said. ``Their goal is clearly one of divisivneness; ours is one of unity.''
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.)
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
NEW YORKIn a provocative statement that rattled many American Jewish leaders, an association of Orthodox rabbis proclaimed on Monday that the Reform and Conservative movements are ``not Judaism at all'' and beckoned Jews to worship in synagogues affiliated with the Orthodox movement.
The association, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, had signaled its intention to issue the statement more than a week ago, but its harshness startled many Jewish leaders.
``The Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all,'' Rabbi Hersh Ginsberg, acting chairman of the association, said at a press conference at the New York Hilton in midtown Manhattan. ``While their adherents are Jews, their religion is not Judaism.'' Ginsberg went on to urge Jews affiliated with those movements ``to abandon their erroneous ways.''
Although it is difficult to determine the precise size and influence of the association, it apparently speaks for a small minority of Orthodox rabbis in North America, and leaders in both the Orthodox movement and the Conservative and Reform movements characterized it as a right-wing fringe group.
The Rabbinical Council of America, the nation's largest organization of Orthodox rabbis, distanced itself from Ginsberg's comments.
``We would not make such a statement or engage in such activity,'' said Rabbi Rafael Grossman, president of the council. ``Anything that can be interpreted as a disenfranchisement of Jews in any way is absolutely unjustified and uncalled for.''
Leaders in the Conservative and Reform movements said the statement has no practical impact, but said they worried about its effect in creating or widening schisms between groups of American Jews.
The statement by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis did not represent a new or newly expressed belief. But the way it was rendered, in decisive language at a press conference, represented a new boldness.
Several rabbis with the association said at the press conference on Monday that this boldness was simply a belated response to a long-simmering disapproval of many practices of the Conservative or Reform movements, including tolerance of homosexuality and interfaith marriages.
But other rabbis said that what had prompted the pronouncement was the current political debate in Israel over whether Conservative and Reform rabbis should be allowed a greater role in religious affairs in Israel.
Israel's founders gave the Orthodox authority over religious affairs, but an Israeli Supreme Court decision several years ago suggested that conversions in Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis could be legally recognized.
Orthodox political parties in Israel are pressing for a law to overturn that decision.
Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which is part of the Conservative movement, said that the Union of Orthodox Rabbis is trying to join that foreign war. ``It's opening an American front,'' Schorsch said.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which represents about 900 Reform synagogues in North America, said the cost of that effort is annoyance among Conservative and Reform Jews who have grown tired of Orthodox Jews questioning their commitment.
``On a certain level, we don't care what they say,'' Yoffie said. But, he added, ``You have a whole lot of people who are committed Jews and they're tired and fed up with these religious leaders pounding them on the head.''
In the United States, the number of Conservative and Reform Jews greatly outnumbers the Orthodox. Jewish leaders said that some Orthodox institutions rely on support from Jews who are not Orthodox, and they worried about the effect of Monday's pronouncement.
BETHLEHEM, West BankVictor Batarseh, a Palestinian whose Christian ancestral roots reach back 900 years to the time of the Crusades, is a lonesome man these days.
Born 63 years ago in Bethlehem, Batarseh, a physician and Roman Catholic, has seen his family steadily depart the turbulent Holy Land.
His four siblings a|d three grown childzeo now live in America, part of a westward tide of PalestiniansChristian and Muslim _ who fled political and economic repression.
``The community is moving,'' Bataresh lamented. ``If things keep up like this, we'll have churches without Christians in them.''
In parts of the Middle East, that day already has come. In this centdT the creation of the Jewish state, the ensuing Israeli-Arab wars, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism have made Christians a small and shrinking minority.
As most Christians across the world celebrated Easter last Sunday and explored the spiritual message of the rJ]UII Q%=9zKW-.] the place where the story began has fallen on hard times. In some parishes, only a few nuns, monks or priests remain to carry out the daily rites as their congregations have vanished.
Political and religious repression of Christians is not unique to the Middle East. A 1996 report published by the Washington-based Freedom House documented growing religious persecution against Christians worldwide, from Cuba to Saudi Arabia to China.
But perhaps nowhere is the plight as dramatic as in the Holy Land, fabled in the Christian West as the spiritual platform where Jesus of Nazareth preached and his disciples carried forth the word.
Reality is far from the storybook images of Sunday school.
Throughout history, political clout has determined the subsistence of religion in the Middle East. Today, Christians are without it, and in places like Israel, Egypt and Lebanon, they suffer economic hardships and harassment because of it.
``The reasons for the emigration are still there, in that Christians are always going to be second-class citizens either in a Jewish state or in a Muslim-majority state. They are never going to be a force,'' said the Rev. Jerome Murphy O'Connor, a scholar at the French Dominican School of Bible and Archaeological Studies in Jerusalem.
The Vatican has announced that Pope John Paul II will visit Lebanon in May, the first papal visit to the Middle East since 1964, prompted in part to reassure the dwindling Christian community still living there after the bitter, bloody civil war. The pope also has expressed his desire to visit Jerusalem before the year 2000.
There are an estimated 6 million to 10 million Arab Christians in the Middle East, about 5 percent of the population, according to statistics at the Jerusalem-based Christian Information Center. While exact figures are difficult to come by, experts agree the proportion has slipped steadily over the years.
In Bethlehem alone, the ratio of Christians to Muslims has undergone a complete reversal in the past 50 yearsfrom a 70 percent majority of Christians at the end of World War II to a 30 percent minority today.
At the start of Lebanon's civil war in 1975, Christians dominated the country's political and economic establishment and represented about half of the population.
Armed Christian factions were responsible, in part, for starting and sustaining the war. It cost them dearly. Today, Christians represent only about 30 percent of Lebanon's 3.7 million people _ and their clout has faded.
The largest Christian Arab population resides in Egypt. The Copts, among the oldest of denominations, believed to have been founded by the disciple Mark, range in numbers from 3 million to 10 million in varying government and church estimates. For years, they have been targeted for attack by Muslim militants and discriminated against by the secular Egyptian government.
In Israel, some Arab Christian villages continue to thrive, while others simply disappeared after the war that gave Israel its independence in 1948. A tide of refugees, Christians and Muslims, left Israel and later the West Bank and Gaza Strip when Israel captured those territories in 1967.
In Israel and the Palestinian-ruled territorieshome to Jerusalem and BethlehemChristians number fewer than 200,000 among a population of 5 million Jews and 2.5 million Muslims.
Across the Middle East, Christians tend to come from the merchant classes and receive their education in better-equipped, church-supported schools.
As a rule, they are more affluent, more learned and more able to escape the confines of Israeli occupation or repressive Muslim regimes for travel and jobs in the United States and Europe.
The 1993 peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which ended Israeli military occupation in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sparked hope among Christian leaders that Palestinians would begin returning. But economic depression and political unrest have continued the outflow of Christians and Muslims alike.
The deck was always stacked against Christians with the rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism in the early 20th century, said Daniel Rossing, an Israeli scholar on religion.
The predicament was particularly troublesome for Arab Christians, whose theology is rooted in the same Old Testament that Jews evoked to justify the creation of Israel.
``Stressing the Jewish roots of Christianity is not the way to play favor with your Arab Muslim neighbors,'' Rossing said. ``When your Bible is filled with references to Jerusalem and Israel, you've got a problem.''
Still, Christians like Batarseh in Bethlehem insist they will remain.
``It is very difficult to live here,'' said Batarseh, staring at a portrait of Madonna and child on his office wall. ``But it's home.''
``If things keep up like this, we'll have churches without Christians in them.''
Dr. Victor Batareh, of Bethlehem
(Charles W. Holmes is Middle East correspondent for Cox News Service.)
c. 1997 Cox News Service
JERUSALEMAs a religious concept, the state of Israel is the fulfillment of a biblical dream to Christians whose theology is steeped in the Old Testament.
But in practice, the political reality of Israel has essentially created two Christian camps: those who defend the Jewish state and those whose sympathies rest with the Palestinians and their Christian minority.
Fundamentalist Protestants such as Baptists and Evangelicals tend to sympathize with the modern state of Israel, believing its creation is the realization of biblical prophesies. Such groups, who describe themselves as Christian Zionists, are a minority voice in the Middle East.
Older, establishment churches such as the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Anglicans take a critical view of Israeli policy as they seek to protect the 200,000 Arab Christians in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, in his Christmas message last year admonished Israel's rigorous security in the West Bank, saying it had transformed some Palestinian towns into virtual prisons and violated Arab freedom of religion to enter Jerusalem to pray. The complaint has been echoed through Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East War.
The pro-Israel International Christian Embassy, established in Jerusalem in 1980 with the backing of fundamentalist churches in the United States, the Netherlands, Norway and South Africa, cites biblical references to defend Israel's claims to Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank, including the hotly contested city of Hebron.
``Attempts by Palestinian liberation theologists to twist Scriptures to serve their political purposes cannot change this reality,'' said Christian Embassy spokesman Jan Willen van der Hoeven. Yet van der Hoeven also accentuates some programs the group sponsors to assist Arab Christians.
For the most part, churches are not part of the Jewish-Muslim political rivalry for control of the land. But as a matter of policy, most regard Jerusalem and the territories as disputed land, in accordance with United Nations resolutions.
Like most issues in the Middle East, religion and politics are inextricably intertwined.
``Any kind of dialogue, any exchange of views among Christians and Jews and Muslims is needed,'' said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. ``But the question is one of motive and provocation. How can some Christians say they defend Israel's rights to own and control Jerusalem and also say they support Arab Christians?''
For most churches, their interests rest in protecting access to Christian sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Galilee. The Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are also major landowners in the Holy Land and have a stake in the peace process and the way future maps are drawn.
The landmark accord between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 was responsible, in part, for the establishment of diplomatic relations a year later between the Vatican and Israel, easing centuries of suspicion between the Roman Catholic and Jewish worlds.
In Israel, the Vatican's interest in opening diplomatic channels to Israel was seen as a strategic move with the future of the Middle East in mind. Likewise, the Greek Orthodox Churchto which most Palestinian Christians belonghas issued a call for a similar accord with Israel.
``It's the peace process and the future status of Jerusalem,'' said Barry Rubin, a political scientist at Hebrew University. ``They want to be in the game on these issues and to do that, they need to be on the field.''
c.1997 San Francisco Examiner
SAN FRANCISCOYou won't see me in church on Easter, and I say that with the utmost respect. I admire persons of kind and sustaining faith, because I never had such a faith.
If I had to have a religion, I wouldn't want one invented 20 years ago by a couple named Bo and Peep. So many people, especially in California, are willing to give up tried beliefs, ones deeply rooted in culture, for bunkum.
When I was a little kid, my family went to church only on Easter, which I thought was either 51 Sundays too few each year, or one Sunday too many.
I loved the old hymns and the feel of rebirth, but I had no idea what the minister was talking about.
Because my parents wanted me to get some religious education, they sent me to Sunday school at the age of 12. The Bible fascinated me then, and I was baptized in the Episcopal Church a year later.
To be honest, I hated giving up Sundays of fishing and sandlot ball to dress up and go to church. It also felt hypocritical to partake of religion when I didn't really believe in it.
Not that I don't believe in God. I simply believe that if God exists, man would not have the capacity to understand Him. As shown in Rancho Santa Fe, man can't even understand himself.
If I wanted a religion, I'd choose one that doesn't promise easy escape from earthly troubles. I'd want a religion with leaders of depth and intelligence and no New Age babble, UFO-ontology or salvation sales pitch.
Atheism is another faith I distrust. As a student, I met Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the professional atheist who filed the lawsuit responsible for eliminating prayer in public schools.
She was on a campus speaking tour in 1965, just two years after the landmark Supreme Court decision. O'Hair was bright, charismatic and entertaining in an abrasive, profane way. But she was a true believer in nonbelief, and her son who was her acolyte had a certain locked stare.
I had met my first leader of a cult, a cult of no God.
Now O'Hair has mysteriously disappeared with her son and granddaughter, allegedly taking with her more than a half-million dollars, each marked ``In God We Trust,'' belonging to two atheist groups.
If she left on a spaceship, it apparently was one that could transport a Mercedes and a Porsche, and one that accepts American Express. The O'Hair family's credit card bills still are being paid, presumably not by a higher power.
Atheism can lead to its own hypocrisy, just like any religion.
Even as a student in the '60s, I hated the Marxist cliche about religion being the opiate of the masses, especially since Marxism was a cyanide of the masses.
My grandparents found great comfort in religion. If that's what you call an opiate, well then, you're probably in favor of pain.
After the deluge of stories and images from Rancho Santa Fe, I worry about religion as a hallucinogen of the peoplecertain people, anyway.
With the continuing news of religious fanaticism out of the Middle East, Asia and parts of Europe, an even bigger threat is religion as the PCP of the people.
Murdering for one's God is as old as religion, but it has become more popular with the widespread distribution of the AK-47, originally intended as a weapon of godless communism.
Something is badly wired in the hardware of the human brain, and thousands of years of upgrades in cultural software have not fixed it.
The human need for transcendence produced Bach's ``Christmas Oratorio'' and Blake's luminous engravings and poetry, but it also can kill. We're the scariest animals in the kingdom. Woe to the lion and the lamb who lie down with us.
It's worth noting that William Blake talked to angels, fought for earthly justice, and his chariots of fire were certainly fueled by manic-depression.
Blake is the most famous visionary touched by madness. Now we have a madman touched by visions, one Marshall Herff Applewhite, aka Bo.
Like Blake, he showed that religion and madness are not far apart in the brain's wiring. Unlike Blake, his mad visions were pathetic, unpoetic and fatal.
For some reason he collected followers. You'd think the men would draw the line at being castrated, but some of them didn't.
This is a weird world. If you don't have faith in established religion, and you don't want to escape on a UFO, how do you survive?
It helps to have a family with a sense of humor, firm rationality and humane values, even if they don't care to go to church.
It is very important to be able to say ``B---s---'' when someone starts talking about Internet postings about a UFO following a comet across the sky. Leave that to Pierre Salinger.
Here in Northern California you hear people spouting all kinds of crap about inner selves, outer space, cyberspace, conspiracies, goddesses and angels. How many times have you heard someone say B---s---?
It's the basic American critique, good for theology, art or politics. It's time we bring it back.
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=@
In the modern annals of political warfare, no leader had been more effective than Yasser Arafat. He used its techniques and strategies to achieve major goals against an enemy far stronger militarily. But despite his successes, once again his character and ambitions have led Palestinians to the brink of disaster. <
The Arafat techniques include an international propaganda campaign that made much of the world accept as truth the fiction that a part of Jerusalem is already a city in itself, with an Arab majority, belonging to Palestinians by history and right. Arab Jerusalem, or East Jerusalem, they call it.<
Any action by Israel to defend its interests and sovereignty in that fictitious city, like opening a second door in an archeological tunnel or building apartments for Jews, is denounced by Arafat and countries around the world as provocation and justification for Arab riots and terrorist murders.<
Terrorism is a built-in part of Arafat's political warfare. The technique is to promise to give it up as a weapon against the Jews. Collect for the promise. Then break it when necessary to put more pressure on Israel. Make the promise again. Collect. <
The overall strategy is to take every concession provided under the 1993 Oslo agreement to negotiate a peace, and bank it. Then use terrorism, police firepower, anti- Jewish vilification (Israelis injected HIV into 300 Palestinians, proclaimed a high Arafat aide) and the threat of military conflict to obtain what had not been agreed tolike Palestinian statehood, control of the whole West Bank or rule over Jerusalem in stages. <
Now Arafat has taken a step that could be a prelude to Arab attack, or at least will convince Israelis that Arab commitment to peace is fleeting and reversible. He got Arab states to announce suspension of diplomatic ties and resumption of the anti-Israel boycott.<
Since 1993 the Arafat construction of strategy and techniques has won Palestinians the attributes of a sovereign nationcontrol of territory and population, an army, a functioning administration. The Rabin-Peres Labor government provided him with all that _ probably irrevocably. <
The propaganda about Arab Jerusalem was a textbook triumph over reality and history. <
For only 19 years had there been an Arab majority in eastern Jerusalem. This came about after the Arab nations, with Jordan as spearhead, seized the eastern sections of Jerusalem rather than accept Israel's existence and, as Israel did, agree to the U.N. plan for partition and an internationalized Jerusalem.<
Jordan created the Arab majority in eastern Jerusalemby killing or driving out all Jews, while its soldiers entertained themselves burning 58 synagogues and defecated on Jewish tombstones.<
Since 1967, when Jordan and allies were defeated in another onslaught on Israel and lost their occupied territory on the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Arab population in Jerusalem has grown 154 percent, from 68,000 to 174,000. Jewish population increased more slowly, but enough to keep the majority it has held for a century. <
Arafat sympathizers abroad cry ``provocation'' about the building of apartments for Jews in ``Arab Jerusalem.'' But more apartments for Arabs were built there than for Jews; Oslo did not forbid either.<
Much of the Western press charges that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the landslide majority of Jewish voters who elected him over Labor last year do not want peace. That is as much a lie as the AIDS-injection story. But they will not surrender the whole West Bank and Israeli territorial security to get itnor bargain away Jerusalem slice by slice.<
Unless under American pressure Arafat abandons political warfare against Israel, Israelis one day will say no more talkthis we will give, this not. If Palestinians continue to use terror against Israelis and their security, they will confront Israeli military power or the Arabs may attack for the fifth time in Israeli's half-century of independence.
Palestinians have proved their national identity and courage. Now they face proving their wisdom, by rejecting war in favor of building peacefully on their gains. <
No evidence exists that Yasir Arafat will lead them to that choice.
c. 1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
The following editorial will appear in The New York Times, Sunday, March 30:
Although not intended by its sponsors, and not noticed by most visitors, there is a fascinating political subtext to ``The Glory of Byzantium,'' the Metropolitan Museum's sumptuous new show about Byzantine culture at its peak, from the 9th century to the 13th. (The show ends in July.)
You might think this celebration of the arts and letters of a thoroughly defunct empire would be politically inert, but not so. According to a Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, Byzantium and its Orthodox Church belong not to the West but to the ``Rest,'' namely the assorted ``Others'' lacking the unique core of institutions and beliefs said to constitute Western civilization.
This core, Huntington writes in a recent Foreign Affairs essay, includes the classical legacy of Greece and Romethe rule of law, and civil society and social pluralism, the latter pair being defined as the rise and persistence of autonomous groups not based on kinship. Because the ``Rest'' are so different, the professor contends, it is an error to try to universalize such Western concepts as human rights. In short, we have to learn to live with a ``clash of civilizations.''
But the clash takes an odd turn as one walks through galleries filled with Byzantine icons, statuary, illuminated books and mosaics, many of which have never left such places as the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece or St. Catherine's in the sands below Mount Sinai. Here one is reminded afresh that great cultures are not boxed behind fault lines, but spill messily all over the map, filling the interstices and soaking the subsoil.
This was true of the Greek-speaking Byzantines, whose scholars and monks kept classical art, letters and science alive for a millennium after the fall of the feebler Western Roman Empire. The Orthodox images of the bearded Jesus and the Holy Family spread through Gothic Europe to Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine, just as Byzantine architecture swept the Islamic East. In Italy, Eastern icons form a connecting link to the early Renaissance.
As to the principles of civil society and social pluralism, it is fair to say that Byzantium's most zealous tormentors lay in the Christian West, not the Islamic East. In 1204, the walls of Constantinople, which had withstood attacks by Persians, Arabs, Avars and Bulgars, fell to the Crusaders led by the craftiest of Venetian Doges, Enrico Dandoldo, then about 85 and nearly blind, who led the way, shouting, through the breach.
There followed three days of pillage and massacre, of book-burning and heresy hunting, on an unprecedented scale. ``Even the Saracens are merciful and kind,'' declared a Byzantine writer, in comparison with those ``who bear the cross of Christ on their shoulders.'' Or in the satisfied words of a Western chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, never since Creation had ``such a vast quantity of booty'' been taken from one city.
Byzantium was fatally weakened by the invasion and the years of occupation that followed, opening the way for the Ottoman conquest in 1453 under Sultan Mehmet II. By that time, so disenthralled were Byzantines with the West, that one of the empire's highest officials expostulated, ``I would rather see the Muslim turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre.''
Whatever their other sins, and however they diminished the rights of minorities, the Ottomans proved to be more respectful of Orthodox Christianity than the Western Church. Moreover, in 1492, when Spain ordered the mass expulsion of the Jews, they were able to flee to Ottoman lands. This comparative tolerance finds expression in the wonderful illuminated books at the Metropolitan from St. Catherine's in the Sinai. Its library is rivaled only by that of the Vatican, and its survival attests to a long Islamic tradition of multicultural tolerance, often overlooked in the West, sometimes even at Harvard.
< NYT-03-29-97 1412EST<
c.1997 The Boston Globe
One year ago, just back from his 27-day ``world tour'' of African dictatorships and Middle East police states, Louis Farrakhan held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Why, one reporter asked, did he defend the government of Sudan, an Iran-style Islamic junta that enslaves African natives from the country's southern provinces?
Farrakhan bristled. ``Where is the proof?'' he demanded. ``If slavery exists, why don't you go as a member of the press? And you look inside Sudan, and if you find it, then you come back and tell the American people what you have found.''
Farrakhan has long insisted that Khartoum's grisly traffic in black slaves is merely an unproved rumor. But there is no shortage of eyewitness testimony laying out in skin-crawling detail the atrocities inflicted on the southern Sudanese.
``What usually happens is that Arab armed militias go into the southern villages or the Nuba mountains,'' reported The London Observer in 1995. ``They burn the villages. The men are killed if they don't escape, and the women and children are rounded up ... and taken to the Arab north.''
These women and children are black-skinned and often Christian, unlike their lighter-skinned Muslim captors. The slavery that awaits them is both race- and religion-based, and it is unspeakable: Hard labor in the fields. Domestic servitude. Whipping. Branding. Genital mutilation. Compulsory conversion to Islam. Rape and forced marriage.
Some masters sever their slaves' Achilles tendons, to keep them from running away. Countless African teenagers are impressed into the army, cannon fodder for Khartoum's jihad against the south. ``The government's hands,'' says Macram Gassis, a Sudanese Catholic bishop, ``drip with the blood of innocent people.''
Yet Farrakhan, who routinely invokes 19th-century American slavery, persistently covers up for the perpetrators of 20th-century African slavery. His newspaper, The Final Call, labels the reports out of Sudan a ``Big Lie ... another manipulative device to divide the Black and Arab people in America.'' On a PBS program, Farrakhan's spokesman Akbar Muhammad dismissed evidence of Sudan's slave trade as a Jewish conspiracy. ``I know that the Jewish groups, the Zionists, have a problem with the Sudan.'' Shown footage of young black captives being whipped by Arabs, Muhammad shrugged: ``That's their culture. They'll beat 'em.''
In the year since Farrakhan issued his National Press Club challenge, two major US media outlets rose to meet it. The Baltimore Sun and ``Dateline NBC'' sent several journalists deep inside Sudan. What they reported was harrowingchildren ripped from parents at gunpoint, town squares where slaves are distributed like booty, a man shot in the face when for trying to save a child from capture. ``Here in southern Sudan,'' wrote the Sun's Gilbert Lewthwaite and Gregory Kane, ``there can be no doubt that slavery exists.''
For their heart-stopping journalism, Lewthwaite and Kanethe former a white veteran foreign correspondent, the latter a black Baltimore columnist who had never before traveled abroadmay win Pulitzer Prizes. But in the Farrakhan fever swamp, the coverup goes on.
``The Sun is a Zionist Jewish daily,'' ranted The Final Call. ``Reject the slavery propaganda against Sudan. ... Don't let the Zionists get away with damn lies!'' Farrakhan swore that in all his travels to Sudan, no one had told (ital) him (unital) about slavery. ``A lot of what I have been reading when it comes to life in Sudan,'' he declared, ``are vicious lies.''
But the only lies in this tale are those told by Farrakhan. Because for all his denials and demands for ``proof,'' Farrakhan was personally told at least three years ago about the enslavement of black Africans in Sudan.
In telephone interviews last week, two leaders of the south Sudanese resistance recounted their meetings with Farrakhan in the spring of 1994.
``For two or three days, we sat at breakfast every morning,'' said Bona Malwal, a former Sudanese cabinet minister, recalling the week he and Farrakhan spent in Nairobi. ``We talked about the situation in the Sudan. We talked about slavery. It came up very often. He knew blacks in the south were being persecuted. He said he had been told about the slave camps.'' Malwal, now editor of the London-based Sudan Democratic Gazette, said Farrakhan vowed to intercede with the authorities in Khartoum, to ``tell them the way they were treating the south was not right.''
When he later met in Kampala, Uganda, with representatives of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, Farrakhan was even blunter.
``We talked to him about slavery,'' recalled Steven Wondu, a key SPLA official. ``About the racial issue, the religious issue. I will never forget what he said: `When it comes to a choice between religion or the dignity of the black man'''i.e., between the Muslim masters or the African slaves```I will choose my skin.' >From that minute, we took him for a friend.''
But Farrakhan was no friend. To speak out in behalf of Sudan's black slaves would be to forfeit the patronage of Khartoum's Arab dictators. That was a price Farrakhan wouldn't pay. And so, as a million African innocents go on bleeding under the whip, he goes on making excuses for the slavetraders who whip them.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for the Boston Globe. His e-mail address is jacoby(AT)nws.globe.com).
c.1997 The Boston Globe
< (begin itals)< <
Q. Who made us?
A. God made us.
Q. Who is God?
A. God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.
Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
< (end itals)< <
And now we reach a point where 39 people kill themselves after trying to hook up with God via a UFO. At the edge of Easter weekend, the tremendously disturbed cult members in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., seem to have attempted to establish a sense of community through a computer and, when their efforts failed, they took themselves right off the court, choosing group suicide over any further interaction with society.
That they were strongly insane is not even to be debated. That their isolation might be a symptom of some sprawling, potentially lethal disease afflicting our faithless culture is, however, an altogether different issue, one perhaps worthy of discussion.
This morning, millions will rediscover religion in the same manner a housekeeper traces a finger across dust gathered on top of an end table. The table, of course, is right there to be seen, yet it occasionally requires attention to look its best.
And if Christmas is Christianity's Super Bowl, Easter is its World Series, a lengthy ritual encompassing weeks when, ideally, self-absorption yields to self-analysis.
But while the world spins faster and faster, its centrifugal force often wrenching older, established orders from familiar roots, today's celebration offers the peace of permanence and reliability in institutions whose rules do not bend with the fleeting winds of each passing trend. The Lord's Prayer did not change in response to the popularity of the Beatles or the emergence of Apple Macs.
Another reminder of this cement-like order took place last weekend inside an old brick church built in 1868 by poor people who arrived here from Ireland. There, they had been starved into submission by the English, who attempted to strip them of their language as well as their faith but succeeded only in inspiring great resentment that has not abated across a whole century. The church was St. Augustine's in South Boston, and the event was a funeral Mass for a man stabbed to death earlier in the week on a sidewalk outside a tavern.
The service was both inspiring and familiar. It offered comfort to the survivors and hope to those who simply came in off the street to worship. It was blunt, beautiful and left nobody with either a sense of blame or shame.
And it was conducted a day after many Christians recalled, in silence, that time on Good Friday when Christ died on a cross He accepted, then carried through city streets where spectators gathered to laugh whenever He fell beneath the weight. Christ was a poor man raised by his mother and a foster father. And on the afternoon He was crucified, He was accompanied in death by two other men, both convicts, who were executed at the same time.
Christ sure does seem to have been quite a guy. Dying, he still found it within himself to offer comfort to those alongside, choosing not to judge either man. And the strength of His actions then is incredible; they have endured for nearly 2000 years and have had far more impact than any single sneaker or beer commercial, any work of literature or politician's words, any movie, technological invention or any other human being you can think of today.
So we are left to wonder, how would the crowd react to Christ if He were to walk among us now? Would we glibly link Him to Rancho Santa Fe cultists? Call Him a nut? Crucify Him in print?
Would He be vilified on talk radio simply because His basic message revolves around the universally despised: the pauper, the prisoner, the AIDS patient, the convicted, the doomed, the hopeless as well as the homeless? Would He be made a laughable figure by the choir of crickets who need to see a sampling of favorable public opinion before they speak out or stand up? Or would He simply be ignored because He had no money?
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Q. Who made us?
A. God made us.
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(Mike Barnicle is a columnist for the Boston Globe.)
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