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Monday, October 16, 2006

Saving Sudan & Darfur …..The Muslim Silence and the American Paradox

Sudan has been tearing itself apart for many years now. The war between the SPLA (Sudan’s People Liberation Army) and the Government was relatively well understood by the world outside. The South Sudanese who are predominantly Animist and Christian agitated for independence from an increasingly fundamentalist Islamic state that sought to impose its will on the whole country. As would be expected various outsiders with own agendas and interests weighed in to provide aid and weapons to the SPLA and the Government. Finally after decades of horrible suffering and destruction some sort of peace has finally been reached.

Few days ago an announcement was made about a peace accord reached between the Sudanese Government and the Eastern Sudan rebels; the conflict in the east has received less media attention even though it appears to have intensified prior to Darfur. While the on-going conflict in Darfur has recently been receiving considerable amount of media coverage, there remains a high degree of ignorance of the conflict both in Islamic countries and in the West. Many assume that the conflict is of Arabs against Africans or Muslims against non Muslims; both assumptions are false. This is a conflict of black Africans tribes against other black African tribes and both sides are Muslim. The news media often quotes “Janjaweed, the Arab militias” but there is little Arab about them to support their own claim of Arabness. In fact in the Arab Peninsula they would be referred to as Africans and more often “abeed” or slaves. In the West post 9/11 the terms Arab, Muslim and Terrorist conjure up similar images so Arab Militias carries a lot of emotions and feed the ignorance. Yet the name “Dar Fur”, itself is Arabic for the House of Fur and warring tribes to outsiders are indistinguishable much as the case was in Rwanda with the Hutos and Tutusis.

Another major struggle that is hardly mentioned in the news is what is happening in the Sudan heartland starting with Khartoum itself. Here the brutal fundamentalist regime has for many years been employing harsh suppression measures against its opposition ranging from murder and torture to, at best, exile and house arrest. Some of the victims are also Muslim fundamentalists who oppose with the regime, others include moderates, secularists, leftists etc.

A question that must be asked is why is the relative silence in the Islamic World about the on-going atrocities in the Sudan and in particular Darfur and what can the West and in particular the USA do to stop the carnage in Sudan. The relative silence of Muslim on Muslim massacres continues to be a source of shame and sadness for me. The Darfuri rebel groups receive assistance from pro Western sources. Christian, including Evangelical, and Jewish Charities have allegedly been active in helping the victims in Darfur. Could this be the reason enough for the relative indifference in the Muslim World? The history of the US and particularly French involvement in Northern Darfur dating back to 80’s is murky with the West arming some groups against others to outbid effort by Libya’s Ghadafi to expand his sphere of influence, could this be a factor in the silence of the Muslim World? Is there a tinge of racism? Isn’t the life of a black African Muslim worth the same as that of an Iraqi or a Palestinian? Is Darfur another front in the conflict between America and Islamdom? Are the people of Darfur naive to allow themselves to be used by the West? Do they have it coming? Why is the silence? Why is Darfur not a cause for Muslims and Arabs in the USA and the West? Whose action or inaction is complicit in the killings of hundreds of thousands? Many questions ….few clear answers!

Many observers have been talking of the US loss of moral authority and credibility since the War in Iraq. This is much more the case in the Middle East and the Muslim World, where the US silence on the suffering of the Palestinians and its unwavering support for Israel (right or wrong) makes the US completely disbelieved. The causes that the US advocates are viewed with suspicion and the default position is, virtually always, the anti American position. It is indeed tough for the US to label the death of 400,000 people in Darfur genocide when the numbers of Iraqi war dead are now estimated by some to be even higher …... What can the US do now?

I guess the answer must start with the US Government recognizing the reality that America is no longer viewed as the beacon of freedom and justice it once was, and that the US is viewed with suspicion and fear. It seems that the US, just by merely speaking on behalf of the people of Darfur, contributes to the antipathy and the indifference of many Muslims towards them. So paradoxically as the US tries to intervene to save Muslims from a horrible carnage its efforts boomerang and the Sudan Government is seen as a victim standing up to the US Imperialism and its crusades. The US is in tough position indeed, engage and risk more rejection by Sudan, the Arab League and much of the Muslim World or turn the other way and let genocide unfold into the killing of millions.

As an American Muslim I feel that the US must remain engaged in the effort to save the people of Darfur but it should be done through quite diplomacy and multi lateral organizations such as the UN. The US must refrain from lecturing and from the grandiose rhetoric of condemnations. The US must act and speak in manner that recognizes that it is no longer viewed as a moral authority; a new level of modesty in foreign policy will do more to help the people of Darfur than the big accusatory pronouncements. The US must also accept the limit of its power to shape the agenda in Sudan and elsewhere in the Muslim World. Direct and indirect financial and military aid for different groups by the US will most likely damage the interests of the US in the long run; the US has simply not been successful in this sort of effort for so long. The US may wish to re-direct some of its efforts through Muslim charities from the US and elsewhere and honestly and truly focus exclusively on the human suffering without attempting to gain an edge or advance a foreign policy objective apart from saving the people of Darfur.

Will this be enough to save Darfur and the rest of Sudan? Could this be a start to rebuild the US tattered image in the Muslim World? Could this prompt more voices to speak up against the horrors inflicted by the Sudanese Government?.....…at the very least it would be a start in the right direction!

October 15, 2006

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