The media are filled with the stories of successful women. One, Hillary Clinton, almost clinched the top spot on the Democratic presidential ticket; another, Sarah Palin, is the Republican party’s vice-presidental nominee. So, one might assume, we can stop worrying about the rights of women.
The media are also filled with news of celebrities, political and otherwise, and the capricious paths of gathering storms. We don’t read all that much about Darfur. Does this mean that all is well there, too?
If only that were the case. In Sunday’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof described the plight of an extraordinary woman, Dr. Halima Bashir, “a young Darfuri woman whom the Sudanese authorities have tried to silence by beatings and gang-rape.”
Bashir has had the courage to speak out. Called upon to treat dozens of girls aged 7 to 13, all brutally raped, she felt compelled to become their voice. In her own words, “What happened to me happened to so many other Darfur womenâ€¦. If I didn’t tell, all the other people don’t get the chance – and I have the chance. I am a well-educated woman, so I can speak up and send a message to the world.”
According to Kristof, the Sudanese government “dispatches rapists the way other governments dispatch the police,” using them to terrorize black African tribes and break their spirit. Not surprisingly, the country’s president, Omar al-Bashir, faces indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court .
Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish World Service have taken the lead in raising awareness about Darfur, and certainly our local Jewish Community Relations Council has placed it high on its agenda. But we must do more. Judaism teaches “Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa – Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”
We, as a community, must insist that both presidential candidates take a strong position against genocide, moving beyond flowery phrases and actively supporting the indictment of the Sudanese president. On page 10 we tell of a photographer who travels the world documenting memorials to genocide. Sadly, she never lacks a site to visit.
Each of us has a voice, and we must raise it on behalf of others – particularly those who cannot speak for themselves. At least once each year, it seems, there is a need to repeat a particularly poignant statement by Elie Wiesel: “Not to assist those in need today would, for me, be unworthy of what I have learned from my teachers, my ancestors, and my friends – namely, that God alone is alone; His creatures must not be.”