Sudan's envoy gets hostile reception at Belmont
By JAY HAMBURG
An unusual gathering at Belmont University featured the ambassador of Sudan, more than 300 students who came to express their anger at genocide in that East African country, and a professor who led a walkout in protest.
Yesterday's event was organized, in part, by the college's office of Spiritual Development, which informed the ambassador that the audience would have a clear point of view against the Sudanese government.
Many in the crowd — including one student refugee from the Sudan — accused the government of supporting atrocities such as murder and rape and what former Secretary of State Colin Powell has called ''genocide.''
Sophomore Amr Ali said his family escaped Sudan after the government harassed his mother and beat his father.
He told the crowd he was proud that he would soon be an American citizen. But he told Sudanese Ambassador Abdel Bagi Kabeir that he would not forget his native country.
''I want you to look at me,'' the 19-year-old told the ambassador. ''This is the future. The people that you have oppressed, the people that your government has kicked out of the country will go back. We will make the country greater than it has ever been since you have raped it since 1989.''
Ali received a loud ovation for his statements.
He was followed by history professor Daniel Schafer, who spoke on behalf of Amnesty International, telling the standing-room-only crowd that the ambassador is a ''genocide denier'' whose government is strongly implicated in many of the deaths.
A recent U.S. Agency for International Development report concluded that ethnic conflict there had killed more than 70,000 and created 1.8 million refugees.
Several countries, including the U.S., have accused the Sudanese government of using armed Arab militias called janjaweed to inflict terror.
Given that situation, Schafer said, students would be better served to leave the room and take part in a letter-writing campaign in the next room. ''He is not here to listen to our concerns, but to pretend to listen to our concerns,'' Schafer said.
With that, about 70 students got up and left.
Then, Kabeir said he himself had been a refugee in the 1990s and that his government had admitted there were ''atrocities'' and had asked for help in trying to control bitter ethnic conflicts.
Kabeir said the conflicts, dating back 50 years, were deep-rooted and involved many factions of ethnicity, religion and tribal associations.
''We acknowledge there is a serious problem. … We called for international assistance.''
Todd Lake, vice president for spiritual development at Belmont, said he hoped the event motivated students to take part in major global issues.
Lake said that while many religiously affiliated colleges had emphasized personal sin — Belmont is a Baptist university — ''Christian universities have been historically passive on the large, systematic evils. We want to help students think critically about transforming the world.''
Jay Hamburg can be reached at 726-8968 or firstname.lastname@example.org.