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Justifying Genocide?

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To the editors:

As an African American writer and activist, I protest Tom Johnson's accusation (Letters June 28) that Joel Sprayregen's letter about Iraq "lays the groundwork for justifying genocide."

I recently had the privilege to attend the Woodlawn Organization's 1991 Advocacy Awards event. Mr. Sprayregen was the only non-Black and non-Hispanic to receive an award from TWO, a noted Black civil rights organization, for his contributions to human rights during the course of his work over many years in the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Sprayregen moved several people in the audience to tears by describing his personal role in the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. He expressed the satisfaction he felt having assisted in the rescue of an entire community from certain death. He then vividly exemplified the point by introducing to the audience his octogenarian aunt, who is the sole survivor of a large group of his own family which were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Since I understood Mr. Sprayregen's letter as arguing only that the Arab peoples themselves are poorly served by those who commit terrorism in their name, I found offensive Mr. Johnson's accusation of justifying genocide against a humanitarian whose family, like mine, has suffered from real genocide. I called Mr. Sprayregen and asked if he planned to respond to Mr. Johnson. He told me: "I wonder if Tom Johnson is embarrassed by the fact that his plea for leniency for Iraq was published on the very day that Iraqi soldiers shot at United Nations observers who sought to inspect nuclear weapon sites. I suggested that true friends of the Arab peoples might consider advising them to curtail terrorism. For this, Tom Johnson accuses me of justifying genocide! I'm afraid Mr. Johnson has revealed himself to be a crude propagandist rather than an objective journalist. The Big Lie technique comes directly from the teachings of Dr. Goebbels and Stalin. Considering the source, I feel complimented."

Mr. Sprayregen may be willing to grin and bear the accusation. In the name of decency, however, I protest against accusing this obviously distinguished worker for human rights of "justifying genocide."

Diane Deaderick

S. Ingleside

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