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Tuesday, August 03, 2004


LI can’t pretend to understand the atrocity unfolding in Sudan – the latest atrocity. The “government” of Sudan is a criminal organization that happens to run a state – or at least fulfill the one state function of directed violence. The direction had been towards fighting the South – with the division between Arab Moslem and African Christian being the rubric by which bystanders tried to make sense of the thing.

It was obvious, however – and we noted this in our posts on Libya in December – that the next problem in Sudan was going to be in the West. What is happening there is a more traditional mass murder, on ethnic lines. We recommend the article by John Ryle in this week’s NYRB on “the harrowing of Darfur.”

“In the case of the south, where the victims were non-Muslims, the official rhetoric justifying the attacks used the vocabulary of holy war, of jihad. Murahaliin were transformed into Mujahideen. But the unofficial rhetoric of the conflict was racial, employing the terms abid (slave) and zurga (literally "blue," meaning black, i.e., not Arab, in Sudanese language), words that bear the weight of a history of discrimination and exploitation in Sudan, where ethnic groups claiming Arab descent assume a superiority over others. In the case of Darfur, the inhabitants are all Muslim, with the exception of some displaced southerners, but the province is a patchwork of Arab and non-Arab groups, of which the Fur are one of many. In the present conflict, in the absence of religious difference, it is racial rhetoric that has come to the fore. Adherents of the two rebel movements, the SLA and the JEM, are drawn, in varying proportions, from the three major non-Arab or "African" groups in the province, the eponymous Fur, the Massaleit, and the Zaghawa, while the Janjawiid are drawn from a number of pastoral Arab tribes who move in the same territory and compete for natural resources and political power.”

What we are seeing in Darfur is actually a window into the forces that have made world history – if we take away the helicopters and the automatic weapons, this is how the conquistadors came into the New World, how the slavers populated that new world with an enchained labor force, and how the loss of the population that made up that labor force, wrenched by the millions from an Africa in which the traditional forms of bondage and warfare were refunctioned to “fit” an international machine, made the various kingdoms and tribes of Africa vulnerable to further conquest by the Europeans. The same thing happened in the North, in Morrocco, for instance, and on the East Coast, with Arab slavers. Of course, once Europeans had accumulated enough capital, through genocide and theft, to move on to the next ‘stage” of civilization, they reversed themselves on the question of slavery, and used it as an excuse to conquer, colonize, and further exploit Africa – a neat trick.

Interestingly, according to Ryle, the scrim by which we on the outside understand what is happening in Darfur – another atrocity underwritten by radical Islamicists – distorts the actuality of Darfur. Both the Darfur rebels and the Khartoum government are animated by some Islamicist ideology:

“The current military regime of General Omar al-Bashir, which is known as the Ingaz (Salvation) government, came to power in a military coup in 1989, after overthrowing the elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi, grandson of the Mahdi. The power behind the throne in the Salvation government, until a split in 2001, was the Islamist thinker Hassan al-Turabi, who is Sadiq's brother-in-law. Turabi was the architect of a new Islamist program that reached beyond the Arab elites to include Muslim African peoples in Darfur and elsewhere. But Turabi now languishes in Kober prison in Khartoum, accused of links to one of the rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement. The Salvation government, like its civilian predecessor, seems to have reverted to an Arabist agenda, attempting to control the west of the country, as it attempted to control the south, by divide and rule.”

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