Local Faith-Based Groups Act on Darfur Crisis

David Rubenstein
Coordinator, Save Darfur Coalition
Monday, August 8, 2005 11:00 AM

In the Sudan's Darfur region, state-supported militias have killed nearly 400,000 people in the past two years. Efforts by the U.N. and prominent nations have had limited success thus far, but local faith-based groups are taking action to raise awareness and support for those suffering in Darfur. How have these groups come together and what are they doing to bring attention to the crisis in the Sudan?

David Rubenstein , head of the Save Darfur Coalition, was online Monday, August 8, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the crisis in the Sudan and what D.C. area faith-based groups are doing about it.

Read the article: Uniting in Prayer and Action on Darfur.

The transcript follows.

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David Rubenstein: Welcome to our chat. Thanks to the Washington Post for hosting this.

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Washington, D.C.: David,

Which bills do you think will pass most likely in the U.S. Congress, e.g.; SR 495, SR 172, HR 333, HR 3127, HR 1424 and which ones do you support?

David Rubenstein:

I think that the two bills being aligned with one another in the House and Senate are a good start. The most important part is not what the bills contain, but the increased understanding in the White House that the American public cares about innocent civilians in Darfur.

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Eugene, Ore.: What effect will the death of Sudan's new vice-president have on the peace process in Darfur?

David Rubenstein: No one really knows the answer to that question, but I can't see how it could be good news for peace. We must remember that we have to raise the level of awareness here that we can have an impact, with very little cost, in helping keep people safe.

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Alexandria, Va.: What can I do as an individual to help the efforts in Darfur......I know so many people would like to help and see themselves as really helping the cause. The atrocities happening in Darfur may seem like a world away, but in reality its right in our backyard...literally.

David Rubenstein: I see it much the way you do. Many in the religious community see the people in Africa as God's children, and are acting as if half a world away is half a block away. This is key to many religious traditions.

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Oslo, Norway: The Darfur issue receives a lot of attention since it is Muslims who are dying. Why is the world ignoring the fact that nearly 2 million Christians and animists have been slaughtered by Muslims in Sudan?

David Rubenstein:

Actually, the U.S., although late, way key in helping find peace in southern Sudan, and as that peace is taking hold, is focusing on Muslim victims in Darfur as it did on the Christian and animist victims in southern Sudan.

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Lyon, France: Is the U.N. supportive of your efforts or are they, as usual, being an obstacle to helping the people who are in need of it?

David Rubenstein:

The U.S. has clearly been the world leader in both political and humanitarian relief for Darfur, but we need to do more. When my neighbor's house is on fire, I don't stop spraying water because others are not helping enough.

My neighbor's house is burning, and the children are still inside.

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Washington, D.C.: Should the United States government commit military troops to Darfur to help quell the violence?

David Rubenstein:

I don't think U.S. troops would be as helpful in the long run as a well-equipped and supported African Union force. Let's continue to build support for that here.

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Washington, D.C.: What is your group doing to help Sudan? And how do you counter attitudes that say we need to take care of what America is already involved in and not enter new engagements? Particularly given the extremely low priority Africa has maintained in U.S. foreign policy.

David Rubenstein: We (at www.savedarfur.org) work to raise public awareness about the crisis and give people tools to take action. I think that Americans have plenty of compassion, and are doing better at understanding that the people of Africa are people much like themselves.

Let's keep raising awareness.

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Bowie, Md.: David, do you believe that the losses the U.S. military suffered in Somalia negatively impact our nation's willingness to support military action in the Sudan?

David Rubenstein: I think anytime we have losses overseas, some people will want to pull back. But I want to emphasize that we are not asking for U.S. military action, but we do need more U.S. leadership on this issue. We have been, and need to get back to, being respected international leaders. This is a great issue on which to do this.

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Washington, D.C.: What are the names, addresses and phone numbers of organizations who can be trusted to give the aid given to them to directly help the people of Sudan?

David Rubenstein: At www.savedarfur.org we think awareness will do more to help Darfurians than relief aid will. Still, we support many terrific aid agencies. You can find a good list on the Sudan page at www.interaction.org.

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Oxon Hill, Md.: I just can not understand why this country (the United States) has so much to offer to everyone else but when it comes to a black country we can never give support.

David Rubenstein: I think there are reasons beyond race at work here, and it is important that we recognize that the U.S. has been fairly generous so far. Still, the need is way beyond our political and financial contributions, and I hope you will help us raise awareness.

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Odenton, Md.: Why are these human beings being ignored? It seems as though no one cares because they are black people. President Bush got overly involved with Terri Schiavo and her "right to life", do these people not have that same right? Is this not the most hypocritical thing you have ever seen? Year after year, all over the world, whom ever needs help the U.S is there, except when their skin is dark.

David Rubenstein: I have no good answer for this one. It is up to "us," not to "them" to remind our elected leaders how important this is.

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Washington, D.C.: I am a west African storyteller/performer in Washington, D.C. I have scheduled a "Jazz Evening" fundraiser/awareness event for Darfur on Capitol Hill. November 26, 2005 at 7:30 a. Could a member of your organization attend and speak on the problems and challenges?

Vera Oye' Yaa-Anna

David Rubenstein:

Thanks for this question. Please send us a note at info@savedarfur.org.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: I'm starting to get upset with the motives behind the aid to Africa. Currently we have entire business sectors making profit on such aid(even non-profits) and much of the aid does little to prevent or solve the problems of Africa. But plenty of careers have progressed by driving around in an air-conditioned Landrover for two years in East Africa.

As for the Sudan shouldn't the west focus on stopping corruption and not focus on aid- since the latter has had absolutely little effect on the problem.

David Rubenstein: In the long run, we need to find creative tools for better government and reducing -- or ending -- corruption. In the short run, we need to stop the murder and rape and mutilation. We need to do both.

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Ft. Wayne, Ind.: Your organization has done such great work. How do you accomplish all that you do? What suggestions do you have for other organizations or coalitions?

David Rubenstein: Thank you for your kind words. We use the Internet and volunteers here in Washington and around the country. It's hard to put our lessons into a few words, and to remember that some of the best lessons were painful.

The most important thing we had to do with 130+ organizations in the coalition was to maintain a tight focus on one issue and the few best tools for addressing it. It is easy to get sidetracked if you don't keep focus.

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Arlington, Va.: What does the Save Darfur Coalition do to help local faith groups and activists work to stop genocide in Darfur?

David Rubenstein: The Save Darfur Coalition staff helps local activists network with each other, and provides them with the tools they need for effective action. Save Darfur has helped promote local events through our e-mail lists, we encourage places of worship to hang "a call to your conscience" banners, and we help groups organize events to raise funds and awareness. We also encourage individual congregations to include the issue of Darfur in their worship service - information and suggestions of how to do this can be found at www.SaveDarfur.org/faith. In addition, we work with other organizations to sponsor DC-area vigils, prayer services, and educational programs.

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Annapolis, Md.: If a church or congregation was going to do one thing to raise awareness, what's the best thing it could do? Hanging a sign is quite simple. But beyond that ...

David Rubenstein: I would suggest you host a well publicized teach-in. (You can find tools for this at savedarfur.org.) Be sure to have postcards and phone numbers for people to take action when they become motivated. Try to invite a good speaker, and, I noticed that the most effective programs include music. That last one was a surprise to me.

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Washington, D.C.: Why isn't aid to Sudan taken on the itinerant form of an emergency response considering the devastatingly tragic toll it's taking on millions of people's lives?

Peggy Seats

Washington Interdependence Council

David Rubenstein: Aid to Sudan, while insufficient, is still generous by many standards. The answer in the long-run, however, is not simply sufficient aid, but a mandate from the U.N. Security Council for the African Union to protect civilians. The AU will need this mandate, and sufficient support from the west for probably 15,000 troops. We don't expect to see even the 7,700 authorized by September.

Call President Bush today. And then tomorrow. And until the violence ends.

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Lyme, Conn.: Do you see the need for American assistance that could at least be used to guarantee that food and supplies gets to threatened population and that people are protected from genocide? If the African Union is unable to do the full job, why don't we at least see that lives are saved?

David Rubenstein: I think that American assistance on the ground might do more to increase violence, and, in any event, would not be supported by domestic or international political realities.

But we don't need Americans on the ground; the African Union, with western support, can and should do this job.

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David Rubenstein: A more complete answer to why our nation is not responding more aggressively and what people of faith can do:

The issue of genocide - which is what we are facing now in Darfur - should be one which calls out to the consciences of all people. However, it can be difficult to engage people when Darfur can feel so far away. One of the best ways to encourage action from your church and your pastor is to show them humanity of the people of Darfur, through testimonials, pictures, and documentaries. There are many compelling photo-essays on the Internet, as well as an excellent multi-media presentation discussing why we should care about Darfur - links are available at www.SaveDarfur.org. Furthermore, protecting civilian lives against genocidal forces is a bi-partisan issue, evidenced by the collaboration of Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ).

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Washington, D.C.: I see a lot of "raise awareness" in your responses and I feel compelled to ask - what happens after awareness? Building awareness while important doesn't concretely do anything to actually assist or change that situation. So let's talk beyond raising awareness to concerted steps force action, which likely would occur at a government to government level and our government has a long history of ignoring atrocities in Africa. With all due respect we need to be holding out elected leaders feet a lot closer to the fire and we as a public have not yet done that...isn't that the call to action here that should be made?

David Rubenstein: Thanks for this great question and answer rolled into one.

Please excuse my volume here:

WE HAVE TO DO MORE. INDIVIDUALS MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MOVING THE WORLD. IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU MUST DO MORE. TODAY.

Call the president. Call Congress. Tell your friends. Wear a green wristband. Put "Save Darfur" in your email signature. Call the president.

Your neighbor's house is burning. Take action. Today, and tomorrow. Tell people what is happening, and help them take action themselves.

Act now.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi David, thanks for the work you are doing! I would love to see a "Save Darfur" banner hanging from my Catholic Church in Bethesda. Any advice on how best to approach my very conservative pastor about this? It is a congregation whose only political expression revolves around pro-life issues. Other than that - silence except for platitudes and generic prayers at Mass. Do you make house calls?

Mary in Bethesda.

David Rubenstein: Dear Mary,

I would read a bit more about the suffering in Darfur, and schedule a appointment with your pastor. I would share how the suffering in Darfur affects your heart, and ask your pastor what are the teachings of your church to respond to suffering. I would ask your pastor's opinion of what could be done. Rather than "sell" him on a specific idea, you might want to ask his opinion on being effective.

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Wheaton, Md.: What do you think the reason is why the U.N. and most of the world remain silent about the genocide in Sudan? The Arab-occupation government has killed millions over the past 20 years.

David Rubenstein: I don't know how to answer this question, other than to say our governments reflect, at some level, our individual priorities. If you have friends overseas, send them a link to your favorite Darfur Web site.

Then call the White House and ask for international leadership on this.

It is clear to me that President Bush cares about the people of Darfur and Sudan. He needs to know that Americans care, too, and that he would have the political support to move this up his priority list.

I cannot answer for the rest of the world. It is very sad to me.

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David Rubenstein: Addressing the issue of legislation - as I mentioned before, the U.S. Congress has been very active in helping the people of Darfur because they understand that the American public cares about their neighbors there.

Members of the Senate and the House have proposed a number of bills calling for increased aid to Darfur, no-fly zones, sanctions, and support for the African Union. A number of these provisions have passed as attachments to other bills, and the emphasis they gave to the concern of the American public probably led to increased action by the US Administration and State Department, such as the appointment of Roger Winters as envoy to Sudan.

In addition, to keep Darfur in the news and the minds of the American people, Senators and Representatives proposed and passed S.R. 186 and H.R. 333, calling for a National Weekend of Prayer and Reflection for Darfur. Because of this, on July 15-17, 2005, churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship across the US prayed for Darfur, learned more about the crisis, and raised funds for awareness and humanitarian relief.

Currently in the House and Senate are H.R.3127 and S.1462, the Darfur Peace and Accountability Acts. Most importantly, these bills call for multilateral efforts to help the African Union protect the civilians of Darfur.

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Washington, D.C.: Wow, generosity and 400,000 have died. The connection is a bit difficult to make.

David Rubenstein:

Any reading of genocide history shows the same thing. Governments don't act unless they see a very clear threat to their own interests. America has been a bit better than others, but not nearly good enough.

Please take action yourself now, as it really is the case that a few people can make a big difference.

Call a newsperson and demand more coverage. Call the White House. Call Congress. Let your friends know you care. Our government hasn't done enough because they haven't been told that you care. Tell them.

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Arlington, Va.: David, You say that we are now facing genocide in Darfur. But the media presents the situation more as a humanitarian crisis.

Can you be specific about the ways in which the genocide is continuing?

Is it the mass rapes, is it the deliberate starvation? These acts also destroy the Darfur population, but somehow the media only perceives genocide when people are being killed through direct, immediate violence.

David Rubenstein: The media is wrong, mostly because it is easy to get pictures of starving children, and impossible to get pictures of the violence.

It is rapes, and mutilation, and murder. It is genocide. We must hold the news media accountable too. Fortunately, they respond to viewer and reader concerns. So please call.

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David Rubenstein: I am afraid we are out of time. Thanks for participating in this chat. I enjoyed being with you.

Let's go change the world.

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