'She Was 12. They Shot Her.'
Francis Bok escaped after being a slave in Sudan for 10 years. On May 23, he testified before a congressional committee in Washington:
"When I was seven years old, my mother sent me to the market to sell some of our eggs and beans. I was there . . . When they came. Hundreds of arabs on horse, camel, and on foot stormed the place. They shot people in the head. They hacked off heads with swords. They captured the children. I was caught. They stuffed me in a big basket tied to a donkey and they took many of us north.
"Along the way, a 12-year-old girl would not stop crying. She had seen her parents killed. They could not get her to stop crying. So they took her out of the basket and shot her in the head. Her younger sister cried out. So they cut her foot off. . . .
"I came here today to say to President Clinton: You must help us. Why are you silent? This is a country that freed its slaves. But my people are still in bondage."
The same question is being asked of William Jefferson Clinton by African American clergy. Clinton recently received the highly prestigious Charlemagne Prize in Germany for his efforts to bring unity to Europe. But he turns his face away from Africa, having been complicit in the genocide in Rwanda by refusing to urge and enable the United Nations to move in while the slaughter could have been prevented. And he does not even speak of slavery and genocide in Sudan.
Black clergy recently began a 21-day fast to call attentionincluding the president'sto the long continuing holocaust in Sudan.
Reverend Michel Faulkner, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in New York, originated the idea of the fast after hearing Francis Bok's testimony in Washington. Bok is now an associate of the American Anti-Slavery Group in Boston, which has been a vital force in the new abolitionist movement.
Turning to the Bible, Isaiah: 58:5-6, Reverend Faulkner preaches: "Is this not the fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice . . . to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"
The president is a devout churchgoer. We have seen him often on television, a Bible in his hand, the other entwined with that of his wife, who has also been silent on massive slavery in Sudan. Will someone in the national, New York City, or New York State press corps ask her about it? And will someone in the august Washington press corps ask President Clinton why heso intent on his legacywill not move to help free the slaves?
Also fasting with Reverend Faulkner has been Pastor Chuck Singleton of Loveland Church in Los Angeles, who heads the committee on Modern Pan-African Slavery. I know Chuck Singleton, and while I am not a fellow believer in God, we share a passion for the liberating spirit of jazz.
Singleton is a good friend of Jesse Jackson and has been on some of Jackson's rescue travels in various parts of the world. But so far, this pastor, who actually lives the Sermon on the Mount, has been unable to get the Reverend Jackson to break his silence on the horrors inflicted on black Christians, animists, and the Muslims in the southern Sudan who will not swear fealty to the National Islamic Front in the north.
Also fasting has been Pastor Marvin Williams of Gethsemane Garden in Atlanta. On June 9, he led a protest in Atlanta during "National Sudan Day" against the brutality and enslavement ceaselessly inflicted on children and adults in Sudan. With him were representatives of over 40 churches in Atlanta.
Also responsible for the ignorance of most Americans about this genocide is the press. There have been scattered stories, but nothing like the intensive coverage of the rapes and murders in white Bosnia and white Kosovo.
Nina Shea works for Freedom House in Washington and is also a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. On May 24, she told the House International Relations Committee about the relentless practices of the National Islamic Front:
"They include aerial bombardment, scorched-earth campaigns, massacres, slavery, forcible conversion, and its most lethal tacticwhat Senator [Bill] Frist [of Tennessee] has termed 'calculated starvation,' which is achieved by using brutal means to drive communities off their lands, thus creating vast numbers of internal refugees who are dependent on humanitarian relief for survival, while, at the same time, barring international relief flights from delivering aid.
"Estimated at 4.5 million, they number the largest internally displaced population in the world. As a direct result of the conflict [between southern rebels and the government in the north], some 2 million persons have been killed, mostly Christians and followers of traditional beliefs in south or central Sudan. This is more than Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone combined." (Emphasis added.)
Why are these rampant atrocities not on the evening news, the Sunday talk shows, and on newspaper editorial and news pages? Why are most of the liberal Democrats in Congress and elsewhere silent? In New York, Congressman Gregory Meeks has joined the abolitionists, but where are Jerrold Nadler, Charlie Rangel, et al.? Why are Hillary and Rick Lazio not asked whether they support slavery in Sudan, and if they don't, what the hell are they doing about it?
Francis Bok's slave narrative continues: "I was given as a slave . . . . When I came into my master's house, Giema called the whole family to meet me. They all had sticks. They all beat me and they laughed and called me 'Abid, abid.' Slave, slave.
"I escaped twice, and was caught. They said they would kill me if I tried again. But I could not stay there. I prayed. Every day. And I ran away.
"I also came here today [to Congress] to call on all Americans of goodwill, especially my black brothers and sisters whose ancestors suffered as slaves. You must help us. The world has turned its back on us. But you must reach out your arms to us. We are your brothers and your sisters. They are killing us."
Is anybody reading thisblack, white, Jewish, Christian, Muslimlistening?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.