The remark by a prominent Muslim refugee-rights activist troubled me greatly: "Zionists [are] abusing this issue," he announced curtly when he said he would not be joining me and hundreds of other people on Sunday at a "Scream for Darfur" rally at Queen's Park in Toronto.This line of thinking, that Jews have somehow stolen the issue of Darfur's genocide by actively campaigning against it, has been making the rounds in cyberspace and needs a rebuttal.
The fact that more than 200,000 Darfurians, almost all of them Muslims, have been killed in an ongoing genocide; the fact that more than a million Muslim Darfurians are displaced refugees living in squalor and fear, appears not to have registered with the leadership of traditional Muslim organizations and mosques in this country.
One would have expected Muslim organizations to be leading the call for this week's debate on Darfur in Parliament. One expected them this past weekend to stand in solidarity with their fellow Muslims suffering in Sudan, but that did not happen. The city's Muslim elite was conspicuous by its absence.
Elfadl Elsharief, the Muslim Sudanese who organized the rally, angrily dismissed the notion that the Darfur tragedy is an exaggeration and that he and his organizers were being used by Zionists.
"It is nonsense to suggest that the death, destruction and the suffering of the Darfurian people is imaginary or that Zionists are using us as propaganda," he told me at the rally. "The Sudanese government-backed militias are the people who are killing their fellow Sudanese. The tragedy is that it is Muslims who are killing other Muslims."
Indeed, it certainly appears that some kind of Arabic-Islamic ideology is being used in Sudan to ethnically cleanse marginalized citizens who are not considered true Muslims by virtue of being black. "To suggest that this is some sort of a U.S.-Israel conspiracy is ludicrous and insane," said Mr. Elsharief. "Muslims of Arab background should stand shoulder to shoulder with the Darfurian Muslims; unfortunately, they are not. That is a shame," he added, as he walked away shaking his head in despair.
Mr. Elsharief's frustration was shared by Mohamed Haroun, the eloquent president of the Darfuri Association of Canada. "A lot of us feel that some Muslims, who dominate the community, do not consider us African Muslims as equals. I am afraid there is widespread racism against African Muslims by other Muslims. How many more Darfuri Muslims should die before other Muslims will stand up against the Sudanese government?"
The sentiments of hurt expressed by my two Sudanese Muslim colleagues are shared by Muslims across the world, but do not find expression in the Muslim leadership. Last month, Fatema Abdul Rasul wrote angrily in The Daily Star of Lebanon: "For the entire Muslim and Arab world to remain silent when thousands of people in Darfur continue to be killed is shameful and hypocritical."
El-Farouk Khaki, the immigration lawyer who was accused of being used by Zionists because he had sent out the invitation to Sunday's rally, agreed that there is widespread internal discrimination within some Muslim societies. "This is racism at its worst. I am an African-Canadian; I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the Darfur crisis has not made news in the traditional Muslim organizations because Darfurians are black. Had they been Bosnian, Kosovar, Arab, Pakistani or Iranian, I can bet you, these grounds would have been full of slogan-chanting Muslims demanding justice. Muslims need to address their internalized racism before they ask others to respect us," said Mr. Khaki, who is secretary-general of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
For three years, the government of Sudan has been engaging in genocide of the people of Darfur. For all these years, Khartoum has invoked its Islamic credentials to stave off any criticism or censure from inside the Muslim world, falsely posturing itself as a defender of Muslim frontiers against Western imperialism. It is time for Muslims to rip off Khartoum's mask of deception and speak the truth.
Tarek Fatah is host of a weekly TV show on CTS-TV, The Muslim Chronicle, and is the communication director of the Muslim Canadian Congress
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