On March 7, 1965, six hundred peaceful civil rights protesters were brutally attacked by police in Selma, Alabama. In the following weeks, Americans of all faiths came to Selma to rally in support of the human rights and dignity of African-Americans. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of American Judaism's great theologians said, "When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying."
Since the beginning of their demonstrations for their own human dignity and rights, Egyptian protesters have been chanting, "salamah." The linguistic root of Selma and salamah are the same in Semitic languages: s(sh)-l-m and mean "peace." Like Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King, the Egyptian protesters moved beyond parochial religious identities to come together as Christians, Muslims and secularists to call for a peace that is the fruit of justice in a place where it has been long denied. They have been praying with their feet and with their hands they link together in human solidarity.
The response by the Mubarak military dictatorship has been, like that of the police in Alabama, one of brutality. The oppressive regime and their clients, the oligarchic elite, will not simply abandon an unjust system they rationalize with disdain for the masses.
Two years before the brutality at Selma, Martin Luther King Jr., in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," had urged American clergy to reflect upon the nature of injustice so they could understand why the solidarity and witness of "outsiders" was needed in the civil rights movement. Referring to the American domestic situation, Dr. King stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
President Obama has said that it is not for the United States to determine the leader of Egypt. That is certainly correct. Yet the United States has for many years directly intervened in the trajectory of Egyptian politics by supporting the Egyptian military through vital training and intelligence, and by transferring to them over a billion dollars of aid annually. The physician's motto, "First, do no harm," should be applied here. The United States does not need to intervene, but must at least freeze all military support for Egypt until the state stops hurting its own peaceful citizens.
When President Obama went to Cairo, he chose to speak at the university, where his audience was filled with young people. It is these young people who have given energy to this movement and they now are being beaten and bloodied by Mubarak's thugs. I pray that my brothers and sisters in the American interfaith community will bear witness to this injustice and to call for the President to withdraw military aid to Egypt to protect our sons and daughters there.