Letter: Sudan war: not just between Muslims and Christians

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Sir: The publicity now being given to Sudan is welcome if it alerts the world to the human catastrophe taking place there. However, the cliched representation of the crisis in the country as northern Muslim versus southern Christian may perpetuate rather than resolve it. While the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have spoken of the suffering of the Sudanese people in general, media commentators are mostly referring only to persecution of Christians and non-Muslims by an 'Islamic' government, and speaking of the risk of actions upsetting 'northerners'.

Why is the massive northern Muslim opposition to the National Islamic Front (NIF) government ignored? Despite their political and financial skills, the 'Islamists' are derided by about 80 per cent of the northern Muslim population, who reserve the right to decide for themselves what constitutes 'true' Islam. They brought down President Nimeiri, in the 1985 uprising, after he colluded with Dr Hassan al-Turabi of the NIF to bring in a disastrously unpopular interpretation of sharia law. They voted overwhelmingly against NIF candidates in the 1986 general election. The biggest spontaneous demonstration in Khartoum was in late 1988, when there was hope of a conference with the rebel SPLA over the civil war.

Lieutenant General al-Bashir's coup in June 1989 scotched the elected government's moves towards peace in the south and extended and intensified the war. Its conduct in the name of Islam is questionable. In the so-called jihad in the Nuba Mountains area of central Sudan, the many Muslims who side with 'rebels' are considered to be enemies of Islam. The Nuba people say they are merely resisting wholesale forced removal from their land and a programme of cultural deracination.

Under this regime, even the Muslim middle classes of Khartoum say they are being hounded and tortured, as well as those from trade unions, the intellectuals and, of course, the poor and black. If an American Christian fundamentalist seized power in the US, it would not be called a 'Christian' regime. Why, then, call this 'Islam' and not extreme-right totalitarianism?

Yours faithfully,



Sudan Update

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

31 December