Why is it that -- yet again -- another Arab League member is massacring its minority populations? Why is the Western media reluctant to identify the religion and ethnicity of the mass murderers and rapists?
To discuss these and other issues on Frontpage Symposium today, we welcome:
Thomas Haidon, an advisor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Khartoum, Sudan in 2003. An American lawyer who was raised in the Catholic faith but converted to Islam, he is a member of the Board of Advisors and President of the New Zealand Chapter of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism;
Jon Lewis, a Mid-East expert whose works on the Arab world’s persecution of minorities have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Forward, In the National Interest, Middle East Quarterly and other prestigious publications;
Walid Phares, Professor of Middle East Studies and Religious Conflict at Florida Atlantic University and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He serves as an Analyst on Terrorism and Conflicts with MSNBC;
FP: Walid Phares, Thomas Haidon and Jon Lewis, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Lewis, let me begin with you. I would like to start with something that has puzzled me: many of the roots of the Darfur genocide reside in Islamic jihad. On many fronts, this is a holy war led by Muslims. How come we almost never hear about this in the mainstream media?
Lewis: Hi Jamie, Walid and Thomas.
The media in the United States is very uncomfortable in attributing religious motivations to violence. We see this in the case of the Palestinian suicide bombers who are often described as motivated by poverty and frustration, rather than by religious ideology. In Darfur, there is indeed a religious component to the violence; after all, the Khartoum government is an Islamo-fascist one.
What bothers me more about the media coverage of Darfur is its lack of historic context -Darfur is but one example of Arab racism toward non-Arabs within the broader "Arab world." The Darfur genocide, I believe, must be viewed not solely as a case of an Islamic jihad, but also as a case of Arab racism and should be seen as parallel to Saddam Hussein's genocide against Kurds and the Algerian government's repression of the Kaybles.
Remember: both the Kurds and Kabyles are primarily Sunni Muslims, at least in a nominal sense. I don't mean to downplay the Islamic jihad aspect; however, I think that we cannot understand the violence in Darfur (and Iraq, for that matter) without examining the persistence of intra-Muslim ethnic conflict in the region and Arab racism.
FP: Fair enough. One second though, before we move on, I would like to pursue a point. You say that the U.S. media is uncomfortable in attributing religious motivations to violence. I don’t think this is the case. If, hypothetically, Christians or Jews were engaging in genocide somewhere in the world, and were saying that this was part of their religion (which it isn’t), the media would be all over it. It is only because these are Muslims that the media ignores the theme, because criticizing Islam does not fit with the left-lib agenda. This is obvious isn’t it?
Lewis: Well, in general, I think the media doesn't feel comfortable discussing religious motivations for international conflict. However, Jaime, you are completely correct in the double-standard applied to Christians and Jews. The liberal-left desperately wants to believe that Bin Laden and Hamas are motivated by political rather than theological means and have tried to downplay the Islamist ideology.
With Darfur, I think that because it is an intra-Muslim conflict, it is not as clearly religiously-motivated as say, Khartoum's genocidal war against Sudan's Christians. The fact that the Darfur conflict is getting far more press than the atrocities committed against Sudan's animists and Christians indicates that the media is more comfortable with an "ethnic" conflict between Arabs and Africans than with an Islamic jihad against non-Muslims. So, you are right, Jaime, when you say that the liberal-left agenda is not comfortable in criticizing political acts motivated by Islam.
FP: Dr. Phares, what do you make of the media’s silence on the genocide being Islam-driven?
Phares: Hello gentlemen.
I have worked on the Sudan conflicts since at least 1979, when I published a chapter in my first book "Pluralism" on what I called then the Nubian and Southern Sudanese conflicts. The work was in Arabic, and it received the responses by Arab nationalist and Islamic Fundamentalist intellectuals of the time. They unanimously rejected the fact that there was a minority "ethnic claim" in Sudan to start with, let alone a legitimate "ethnic resistance." They accused "foreign forces" of triggering domestic crisis in Sudan and the Arab world.
In that sense, nothing has significantly changed since. Recently, the region's intelligentsia is being challenged by a growing number of Arab and Muslim dissidents, such as Ezzedine Ibrahim in Egypt, or the emerging anti-Terrorist Muslim groups in the US. But the dominant elite that influence regimes and organizations hasn't change its attitude.
Because of that, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Western Governments and media simply ignored the genocide in Sudan. More than a million southern Sudanese, mostly Christian, but also Animists, died in the ethnic cleansing campaign. US and European elites didn't want to jeopardize the economic relationship with both Sudan and the Arab League as a whole. The story is long, but its bottom line was the power of oil in silencing an international outcry. I even remember the Pope being refused a visit to the south, and the demonization of the Bishop of Canterbury when he met southern Sudanese. In the US, the "Jihadist" lobby fiercely opposed any action in Congress for years. In a sense, this lobby was providing political cover to the massacres in Sudan.
When the Darfour situation exploded last year, the US was in a different mode, the European Governments as well. The Arab League had to deal with new geopolitical realities. And evidently in the Nuba area, it wasn't Muslim on Christian, but Arab on Black. That alone was a major difference. The combination of the changing international relations and the shift in the type of ethnic cleansing in Sudan produced the current media and diplomatic interest.
FP: So Dr. Phares, can you crystallize the themes for us? Why are the Muslim Arabs killing the Christians and Blacks? This is an Islamic Jihad combined with racial hate?
Phares: It is both. Probably one of the most lethal religious and racial war combined in contemporary times. In the historical roots, we see the march by Arab-Islamic dynasties through Egypt down the Nile valley and the occupation of the old Nubian kingdoms as of the 8th century AD/CE.
At that time, Arab-Muslim tribes, sent by Amr bnel A'ass, the conqueror of Egypt, clashed with Afro-Nilotic populations, many among whom were Christians in what is today the upper part of Sudan. The "Blacks" were pushed further South and West slowly and surely. So the Nubians of Darfour are the heirs - not necessarily the direct descendants - of the native Nubians of northern Sudan, marginalized towards the periphery.
It took the Arab-Islamic Caliphates and the Ottoman Sultanate a few centuries to "create" two layers of populations in Northern and central Sudan. The northern part was demographically "Arabized” and “Islamized." Practically, and as was the case in other areas of the empire, settler tribes, coming from Arabia and Egypt, established a province by the name of "ard el Sudan" - in Arabic, the "land of the blacks."
A lower layer, was the Islamized black population, the actual African Muslims, from Khartoum to the Nuba mountain in the West. The push has been for over a thousand year, from the north towards the south and the West: Arabs would dominate Blacks. And Muslim Arabs would dominate Black Muslims.
It was only in the mid 20th century that the dominant elite of Khartoum moved further south to clash with and try to colonize the non Muslim Blacks (i.e. the Dinka tribes and other sub tropical Africans).
In a sum, and since the modern state of Sudan was established by the British in the 1950s, the northern Arab-Islamic elite attempted to dominate two ethno religious African communities. The southern Black Christians and Animists and the Nubian Black Muslims.
Since the 1989 coup that brought the National Islamic Front NIF to power with General Omar Bashir and Hassan Turabi, the "Jihadists"in Khartoum focused on the ethnic cleansing of the southern "Christians," on the base of religious ideology. They tried to rally the Black Muslims against the Black Christians. But as of the end of the 1990s, and especially since 2001, the Blacks understood that they were under two Jihads. One is religious against the Christians, and the other is racial against the Blacks, and they were being played against each other.
Hence, the Nuba mountain Black Muslims started to oppose the Arab-led militias. Furthermore, a growing number of anti-Islamists Arabs, criticized Khartoum's regime for its racial and extremist attitude.
Besides, world events, and the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq convinced the Khartoum regime to act against the weakest link first, that is, the Black Muslims in Darfour. Hence, the Jamjawed, Arab militias armed by the regime, unleashed a clear anti-African genocide. So, to summarize, the Jihadists in Khartoum are both religious extremists and racists. In addition, they are also fascists as they have suppressed the moderate Arab Muslim voices.
FP: And the world has just stood idly by while this Arab-Islamic genocide of Blacks and Christians went on for years. Why? Mr. Haidon?
Haidon: Greetings Dr. Glazov, Professor Phares and Mr Lewis. It is certainly an honor and a pleasure.
I agree with both men. Clearly, the acts being committed against Black Darfurians are primarily based upon classical "jihad" and anti-African racism.
However, there is also a political/economic element that has added further fuel to the fire. Khartoum has used this element to further encourage the Janawid militias to murder and pillage. The ilk of the Janjawid and other nomadic Arab tribes have always been given preferential treatment by Khartoum over settled Black African Darfurian farmers. This is why government positions were attacked by Darfurians in the West. The Janjawid are therefore not only motivated by Islam, and racial hatred, but are in a prime position for a power grab over some of the sparse arable sections of the West.
Nonetheless, the concept of Jihad should be viewed as a strong undercurrent behind the governments support for the Janjawid in Darfur. "Jihad" is likely a more strong policy consideration of the Bashir regime. As Professor Phares points out, the Islamic government of Sudan was never prepared to recognize the self-determination of any other people in Sudan. This is the common thread that Islamic states have shared throughout history in terms of ethnic and religious minorities: the non-recognition of their self-determination. Self-determination does not have to mean secession or statehood, but does necessitate some level of autonomy.
The self-determination of religious and ethnic minorities is an anathema to the Islamic state. This is an essential concept of Islam. Non-Muslims are dhimmi. Thus it is of no surprise to see Muslim violence against non-Muslim's in Muslim countries, whether it be in Sudan of in Iraq.
Now to your specific question Jamie. In the context of Sudan, I think a major causation factor for inaction (in addition to the important realities Professor Phares and Mr Lewis mention) is the operation of international law and the denigration of the United Nations system (I also believe that before 11 September countries like the United States after undergoing a cost-benefit analysis realised that military or harsh political intervention would be too costly, both economically and strategically.
Since 11 September, I believe that this rationale may be giving way to the realization that the wholesale slaughter of non-Muslims or minorities in Muslim/Arab countries has now become a more compelling national interest) Going back to Rwanda, the various political agendas of states, the technicalities of international law and the United Nations, i.e. the very technical definition of genocide, effectuating the enforcement procedures of Chapter VII. These factors prevented an adequate global response. When you have intra-state conflict, the conflict is compounded even further issues involving territorial sovereignty.
From a positivist perspective following the procedures of the United Nations, before states can intervene in a conflict (absent a case of self-defence under article 51 of the Charter), a threat to "peace and security" must be established (through a resolution of the Security Council), then and only then can states legally act. This is not to say that states always follow these procedures. However, even the United States generally follows this system despite the arguable derogation of the war in Iraq.
The UN system however does not have to "handcuff" states from acting to protect civilians from genocide/ethnic cleansing. There is an emerging doctrine in international law known as humanitarian intervention, which permits a state to take the necessary means to protect a civilian population of another state from genocide or ethnic cleansing. NATO's intervention in Kosovo is a perfect example. Although humanitarian intervention is not recognized in the UN Charter it is becoming a more accepted practice.
The inactivity of the Arab world, I believe is a certainly different animal. Protecting the Darfurians from slaughter to Arab states is far less important than preventing a UN resolution on anti-Semitism from being passed, or condemning Israel for protecting its population. The Arab world's infatuation and obsession with Israel and the United States, along with traditional Islamic beliefs on non-Muslim minorities have prevented real action to stop the atrocities.
There is only one Arab League state, Algeria on the Security Council. Algeria actually voted in favour of resolution 1556, which gives Sudan 30 days to disarm the Janawid. Pakistan, the only other Muslim country on the Security Council abstained from voting. It will be interesting to see how Algeria responds if Sudan fails to disarm the militia. If Khartoum fails to disarm them, the enforcement procedures of Chapter VII of the UN Charter will come into play.
FP: Mr. Haidon, you are quite critical of Arabs, Muslims and Islam in your commentary. Yet you are a Muslim. Could you kindly put your personal faith in the context of your critical disposition here. It is very interesting.
Haidon: I am certainly frustrated with the current state and disposition of Islam and Muslims. The problems don't stem merely from misinterpretation in the Qur’an and
Sunnah but from the sources themselves. It is my personal belief that the violent and unsavoury elements in Islam must be highlighted by Muslims, admitted and
Yet, I am still Muslim, because I believe that Islam can be a secular and modern faith, consistent with democracy. But this will never occur until there is as Walid Shoebat mentioned recently, a "confession".
FP: Ok, thanks Mr. Haidon. So Mr. Lewis what do you make of the other guests’ remarks?
Lewis: I am in general agreement with both Dr. Phares and Mr. Haidon. I think that Walid's comment that the Darfur crisis is "one of the most lethal religious and racial wars combined in contemporary times" is very true. Outside of North Korea, Sudan perhaps has the worst human rights record on the planet, yet Sudanese embassies around the world are rarely protested. This, of course, begs the question of why such an event has merited far less attention by human rights activists, peace activists, and NGOs than has the American effort to liberate Iraq, but perhaps that is something we can discuss further.
I did want to respond to Mr. Haidon's comment regarding Darfur and the United Nations. I applaud him for criticizing the Arab League for its moral hypocrisy - for being obsessed with Israel and expending its diplomatic energy in passing resolutions against Israel, while at the same time doing little to stop a genocide.
I think it is important to remember that, when the Arab League introduces resolutions against Israel in the United Nations, that they aren't simply concerned with condemning Israel. They are using Israel as a means to distract world media attention - particularly in Western Europe - from the severe human rights abuses within Arab League member states.
That Sudan remains on the United Nations Human Rights Commission (and will in 2005 as well) indicates how pathetically farcical the international system has become. This may be the first time in history that a state that is actively committing genocide is a member of the international community's highest - and supposedly most influential - human rights organization. Darfur's Blacks are thus the victims not only of Khartoum, but also of the United Nations.
To continue reading, Click Here.