April 8, 2005

Ugandan Government Is Failing Its People

As a native of Acholiland, I highly commend the Forward for exposing the slow-motion genocide perpetuated in northern Uganda during the past 18 years by the Lord’s Resistance Army and the equally ruthless Ugandan national army (“Children Forced To Become Killers, Sex Slaves in Forgotten Uganda War,” April 1).

All told, nearly 300,000 Acholis have perished. As the Forward reports, virtually the entire Acholi population now lives in squalid camps, where children die of hunger and diseases and women are victims of rape.

The primary role of government, in any country, is to provide security to all its citizens. In this regard, the Ugandan government has been a spectacular failure. Government soldiers have committed atrocities against Acholis suspected of being rebel sympathizers, killing many, burning their homes and stealing their livestock and food.

Why are such atrocities against Acholis tolerated? Why does the Bush administration — which claims it will promote democracy throughout the world, and has been vocal in its condemnation of Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe — turn a blind eye to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s excesses?

In October 1990, Museveni sponsored the invasion of Rwanda by the Rwanda Patriotic Front. Officers commanding the rebels were sent to train in the United States with Ugandan passports.

Disingenuous media reports prefer a fairytale version of Rwanda’s tragedy, that the Rwanda Patriotic Front appeared out of nowhere in April 1994 to halt genocide. Yet many people who carefully follow events in central Africa believe the Museveni-sponsored invasion was a contributing factor in the genocide four years later, in which 800,000 people perished. The insurgency pitted armed Tutsis against the majority Hutus and exacerbated ethnic animosities.

Museveni later co-sponsored the invasion of Congo — with Rwanda President Paul Kagame — after Laurent Kabila, whom they had installed as Congo’s president after defeating the detested Mobutu Sese Seku, wanted too much independence. Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia intervened on Kabila’s side. Eventually, Museveni and Kagame turned against each other, fighting over Congo’s riches. A United Nations investigation later implicated Museveni’s family, including his brother, general Salim Saleh and son, Muhozi, in the Congo looting. More than 2 million died in the conflict — yet no action has been taken to date.

Most Acholis would be more than happy to see Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony rot in hell for the crimes he has perpetrated in Uganda. On the other hand, peace has been elusive for nearly two decades, so if the devils need to be pardoned — including government soldiers and officials — so be it.

Many Ugandans are waiting to see what Washington — with its alleged commitment to democracy — will do if, as expected, Museveni tears up the constitution in order to run for a third term in office. Some Ugandans believe that Museveni fears yielding power because he suspects that his successor, should the opposition prevail, could one day forward his own name and a bill of particulars to the International Criminal Court.

Milton Allimadi

New York, N.Y.

‘Student Bill of Rights’ Prohibits Favoritism

An April 1 article alleges that if the Academic Bill of Rights that has already inspired legislation in more than 20 states passes in Florida, students would potentially be able to sue if their university is not providing “balanced exposure to significant theories and thoughtful viewpoints,” and implies that it would lead to the inclusion of discredited theories in the academic curriculum (“Conservative ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ Picks Up Steam”).

The clause cited by the Forward on “balanced exposure” is taken from the introduction to the Florida bill and is not in any way binding upon Florida’s universities. The actual standard set in the bill states: “Students have a right to expect a learning environment in which they will have access to a broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study.”

This mandate is nearly identical to that provided by a statement on academic freedom recently issued by the American Historical Association that declares, “Students should be made aware of multiple causes and varying interpretations. Within the bounds of the historical topic being studied, the free expression of legitimate differences of opinion should always be a goal.” Florida’s own public universities already have in place similar policies, which, sadly, are not enforced.

The comments of those quoted in the article misconstrue the effects of the bill. The bill would not sanction the teaching of Holocaust-denial or creationism in the classroom, since neither of these views could be considered “significant scholarly perspectives.” The claim, attributed to unidentified critics, that the bill “amounts to little more than an affirmative action program” is similarly flawed. The text of the bill explicitly states that the political or religious views of faculty will play no role in hiring or tenure decisions — a clear prohibition on favoritism for those with certain political views.

Sara Dogan

National Campus Director

Students for Academic Freedom

Washington, D.C.

Building Exclusion

I read with anger the April 1 obituary for Sidney Eisenshtat (“Sidney Eisenshtat, 90, Leading Synagogue Architect”). World-class architecture costs big money. How often is congregational life all about money?

How many moderate- and low-income Jews have been embarrassed and oppressed by endless fund raising? How many marginal Jews have disaffiliated because of the cost of being Jewish? How have vulgar, cathedral-like synagogues perpetuated negative stereotypes of Jews?

Forget about fancy buildings. Let us concentrate our resources on education, social services and religion. Let us make Judaism affordable and accessible.

Aaron Finestone

Philadelphia, Pa.

Take Abuse Seriously

In light of the recent allegations against Rabbi Mordecai Tendler of “conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi,” the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance condemns any behavior — by any leader — that takes advantage of women (“Orthodox Group Expels N.Y. Rabbi, Cites Misconduct,” March 25).

The charges are particularly distressing considering that Tendler, a strong advocate for agunot, was in a position of trust for many women at a time when they were particularly vulnerable. We applaud the Rabbinical Council of America for taking these issues seriously and instituting formal procedures to deal with them.

Carol Kaufman Newman

President

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

New York, N.Y.

Judaism and Schiavo

A March 25 article on Terry Schiavo makes absolutely no mention of the stance that Jewish law takes on such cases — namely, that it is forbidden to hasten someone’s death and that food and water constitute normal, humane care, not heroic or medical care (“Jewish Lawmakers Dominate Debate Over Terri Schiavo”).

The fact that so many American Jews willfully or ignorantly choose to reject rabbinic law on such an important issue is sad indeed. I am ashamed of the Jewish representatives in Congress who voted against intervention on behalf of Schiavo. Certainly in America, a religiously pluralistic society, each of us should have the right to follow our own religious beliefs (or lack of them), but the point of this case was that Schiavo’s choice was unknown; she left no living will. The argument that this was a private family matter was negated the moment her family members disagreed on what she would have wanted and took the matter to court to decide.

The Forward also echoed the truly disingenuous media drumbeat that this was solely a Republican, anti-abortion, evangelical Christian concern. What about the 47% of Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted for intervention? What about the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke out against killing her by withdrawing her feeding tube? What about spokespeople from disability rights organizations like Not Dead Yet?

Why has the Forward participated in silencing the voices of people like these — like me — who are political liberals yet are morally aghast that the American legal system has now set a precedent for withdrawing a feeding tube from a severely disabled woman without her own consent?

Judith Antonelli

Brookline, Mass.

Of Religious Concern

David Curzon’s discourse in the March 25 Portion column seems excessively to overinterpret and to overgeneralize that “human action, is to be the center of our religious concerns” (“Central Message”). The actions he cites in Leviticus are repetitive, ritualistic activities. This conclusion about ritualism denigrates our God-given intellect and our ever-outreaching concern for wisdom and knowledge in accordance with our human nature as God created us.

Have I missed Curzon’s hermeneutic intent?

Leo Shatin

Boca Raton, Fla.

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April 8, 2005

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