Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Hazem Saghieh

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Sudan’s Tragedy and Our Culture in Denying Civil Strife

Two phrases often repeated by international organizations today compete whenever Sudan is mentioned: "It is the world’s biggest humanitarian tragedy" and "It is one of the world’s biggest humanitarian tragedies." Over three months ago, when the horrific figures had not been as high as they are now, the United Nations warned that "Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory."

It may suffice to mention one of many similar figures: the number of Sudanese who have been displaced by the war is now approaching nine million. That is, out of Sudan's 47 million people, around one-fifth have been forced to flee their homes. All of these people are in urgent need of food and medicine, in addition to safety and shelter.

However, with the exception of what the Sudanese themselves write about their country, we hardly ever come across Arabic texts that draw or suggest concern for Sudan. It might not be hyperbolic to claim that reference to the "No’s of Khartoum" proclaimed at the 1967 Arab summit- when it was decided that, with regard to Israel, there would be "no peace, no negotiation, and no recognition" remains more prevalent than any other mention of Khartoum in its current tragedy.

But what is behind this disregard?

No doubt, there are racists among us whose concern for Sudan is impeded by its Africanness and the dark skin of its inhabitants. However, in cultural milieus where that may not be the case, this neglect seems more complicated and discreet.

Indeed, the current state of affairs in Sudan amounts to a scandal for the consciousness of these cultural environments, which often consider that disputes and conflicts do not deserve to be called as such, let alone have attention paid to them, unless they are precipitated by a clash with a foreign Western power, and by extension, that victims are not victims unless such a power kills them.

As for the example that amounts to a slap in face to those who contemplate it, it is that the page on the victims of the Syrian regime's genocide can be turned with time - mind you, their extermination was recent, and it even continues to this day; meanwhile those killed in Algeria in the previous century, remain with us to this day in the form of a perpetual epic, entitled "One Million Martyrs", merely because it was the French who killed them.

Sudan (57 ethnic groups) is a country that scandalizes, as it speaks to the potency of civil strife and reflects its costs. However, it also reflects the difficulties of applying the nation-state formula; indeed, so severe are they that, in 2011, this single country was split into two independent Sudans, one in the north and another in the south. And so, in the face of these challenges, the need to deny these facts that unsettle and invalidate our dominant political culture seemed dire.

Indeed, major problems, as has repeatedly been made apparent, are not always the result of colonial actions, while failure to adapt to Western political and constitutional formulas is not necessarily always an unfounded accusation leveled by evil orientalists seeking to stigmatize us. More importantly, Sudan’s secession shocked culture reared on the idea that "unity" is the solution to our problems and our demand for strength.

We recall how, whenever our mainstream culture was faced with a problem tied to Kurdish, Christian, Berber, and other minorities, it denied the problem by attributing it to Western or Israeli "fingers" and discovered that the problem had traces of these "fingers."

Moreover, this mainstream culture's intellectuals rushed to affirm that modernity created and fostered such problems, or that they are a reflection of something deeper like the class struggle or the incurable traitorous nature of those minority groups' leaders. In behaving along these lines, we resemble those who deludedly believe they are defeating cancer when they call it "that illness."

We also recall how the term "secession," which was applied to Syria when it achieved its second independence in 1961, turned into a political insult intended to dishonor those it was directed against. Mind you, the only secession that was not targeted by militant satire - and it is not difficult to discover why - was that instigated by Hamas when it split Gaza from the West Bank in 2007.

On top of that, however, the Sudanese experience seemed scandalous to our culture from another angle that goes beyond disregard and shifting the responsibility onto foreigners and others. Indeed, the crimes committed by the Janjaweed in Darfur are a slap in the face to our imperious narcissism, according to which only pure good can come from us, especially since the Janjaweed are Arabs who committed their massacres against the non-Arab Darfuris and continue to commit them to this day.

Such symptoms are increasing, as is the destruction they are bringing upon us in light of the full psychological mobilization precipitated by Israel's war on Gaza, whereby there is even nothing less to care about in countries such as Lebanon, Yemen, and others beyond their being functions and tools of this grand conflict. Thus, we are not concerned by the lives of those countries, their economies, their education, or anything else within them, and their significance, except those that fall into the framework of the grand struggle with what is supposed to be the only evil, continues to decline.

Because it is difficult to tie Sudan to the grand conflict, whoever dies among its people can die, and the scandal that this experience creates can be buried with them.