Ed Husain: Where is the Muslim anger over Darfur?

Are they the 'wrong' kind of Muslims if they self-identify as black African instead of Arab?

Share
Related Topics

As war raged in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, people around the world called for international intervention to stop the shelling of civilians. In January this year, millions shared similar feelings of horror and anger witnessing the bloodshed in Gaza. Both events were especially painful to Muslims watching other defenceless Muslims being killed. But why have the deaths of vastly more unarmed Muslims in Darfur caused so little concern among co-religionists?

The Khartoum regime, brought to power in a highly ideological and fundamentalist Islamist coup 20 years ago, has killed an estimated 400,000 of its fellow Muslim citizens. Yet, there is near silence about massive human rights abuses in the remote western corner of Sudan. As Tareq Al-Hamed, editor of the Asharq Alaswat paper, has asked, "Are the people of Darfur not Muslims as well?"

When the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader, President Bashir, in March, Muslim politicians from Senegal to Malaysia rallied behind him. The same people who demand international justice for war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza abruptly changed their tune. Instead of denouncing Bashir as the architect of ethnic cleansing, they congratulated him for defying the "conspiracy" to undermine Sudan's sovereignty so the West can take its oil. The Iranian Parliamentary Speaker, Ali Larijani, said the ICC warrant was "an insult to the Muslim world".

Mercifully, the views expressed by Arab and Muslim leaders are at odds with their citizens. The Lebanese American pollster James Zogby found 80 per cent of those questioned in four Arab countries were concerned about Darfur and felt it should have more media attention. However, they were reluctant to apportion blame, and, not surprisingly, they were hostile to international intervention. Meanwhile some commentators in Muslim-majority countries are questioning their leaders' support for Bashir.

According to The Daily Star of Lebanon, "Bashir has sought to cultivate an image of himself as an Arab/African hero who is standing up for his fellow Arabs/Africans by defying the edicts of foreign 'imperial' powers."

So, are Darfuris the "wrong" kind of Muslims because they self-identify as black Africans rather than Arabs, despite widespread inter-marriage in Sudan? The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, cites Arab chauvinism against Africans. I have lived in Arab countries and seen first hand the racism and bigotry that commands the minds of the Arab political class.

The Canadian academic Salim Mansur claims: "Blacks are viewed by Arabs as racially inferior, and Arab violence against blacks has a long, turbulent record."

For the Nobel Prize winning novelist Wole Soyinka, the unwillingness to confront Arab racism is rooted in the role of Arabs in the slave trade. "Arabs and Islam are guilty of the cultural and spiritual savaging of the Continent," he writes.

The Ethiopian academic Mekuria Bulcha estimates that Arab traders sold 17 million Africans to the Middle East and Asia between the sixth and twentieth centuries. Yet, there is an almost total reluctance on the part of Arab intellectuals to examine their central role in slavery, past or present. Any attempt to confront persistent Arab racism is shouted down by appeals to Arab/African solidarity against the neo-colonialist West, a sentiment that seldom moves beyond slogans.

Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of the senior council of Wahhabi clerics responsible for writing Saudi school text books, states: "Slavery is part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad and jihad will remain as long as there is Islam. It has not been abolished."

Arab racism is familiar to African guest workers in countries like Libya and Egypt, enduring routine verbal and physical attack. Sudanese Arabs suffer from their own racial identity dilemma, viewed as black by their Egyptian neighbours to the north (Sudan is a corruption of the Egyptian word for black). I have heard the Arab Sudanese use the word for slave (abid) to the faces of their fellow citizens who self-identify as non-Arab. It is also known for Sudanese parents to tease their darker-skinned children, calling them slaves.

To be charitable, it seems that Muslim and Arab leaders wish Darfur would simply go away. Hence their enthusiasm for postponing Bashir's arrest warrant "to allow peace talks to work". Shortly after the ICC announcement, key members of the Khartoum regime attended an Arab League summit. They were confident the League would call for the cancellation of ICC jurisdiction in Darfur, conferred by the United Nations Security Council in 2005. The meeting failed to agree on anything stronger than the usual denunciations of Israel and America. Privately, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi were urging Sudan to deal with the ICC through legal channels. The Sudanese also failed to get a solidarity summit in Khartoum. However, Bashir did enjoy a victory tour of countries where he was hailed rather than arrested.

Arab and Muslim leaders are by no means unique in failing to back up their words with action. Both the US and the UK until recently had leaders who frequently cited their Christian faith, yet did little to help Christians being persecuted in China, Nigeria, Eritrea, North Korea or Egypt.

However, "Muslim solidarity" matters for two reasons. The Khartoum dictatorship is sensitive to the opinion of Muslim and Arab leaders. A genuine peace deal will be more likely as a consequence of private pressure from Iran or Egypt rather than Canada or Sweden.

Muslims' amnesia about Darfur is also symptomatic of the malaise affecting the public face of a faith that lacks the confidence to engage in constructive debate or renewal. Until Muslims can be self-critical without being condemned as heretics, there will be atrophy where there should be vibrancy, and polarisation and extremism where there should be tolerance and inclusiveness. Darfur's tragedy is fast becoming an indelible stain on the collective name of Islam and Muslims.



Ed Husain is co-director of the Quilliam Foundation and author of The Islamist

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower