Debate on slavery in Sudan splits between reality, denial

July 11, 2001|By Gregory Kane

SO THERE I WAS, sitting in Howard University's Blackburn Center about a week before America's Independence Day celebration. The occasion was a debate on the subject "Does slavery exist in the Sudan?"

Muslim after Muslim filed into the meeting hall, which was soon packed. I glanced out the window and still more came up the walk. I soon felt a disturbing George Armstrong Custer feeling come over me.

The debate had six panelists -- three of whom believe slavery exists in Sudan and three who are living in denial -- who each delivered a five-minute statement. One of those on the "slavery does exist" side was Walter Fauntroy, a minister and former District of Columbia congressman. Fauntroy recently visited Sudan and returned to the United States denouncing slavery there. But before the Muslim crowd, he chumped out completely.

"The issue in Sudan is about oil," Fauntroy trumpeted. He went on to talk about nebulous evil forces who sought to benefit from Sudan's oil. Not once did he mention Sudan and slavery in the same breath or give details of his trip there.

Anthony Swanston, a local Caribbean-American activist, was on Fauntroy's team. He did much better, saying he believed slavery exists in Sudan based on reports from several human rights organizations.

Akwei Malwal, a Dinka from Bahr al-Ghazal province in southern Sudan, was the most convincing.

"Slavery has been in Sudan for years -- centuries actually," Malwal told the crowd. "The British found Arabs enslaving blacks." He accused the Sudanese government of ethnic cleansing, of "chasing away southerners from villages or capturing them. Once you are captured, you are enslaved."

Malwal was the only one who called the 18-year-old north/south civil war in the Sudan religious in nature.

"In 1989, this government declared a jihad [holy war] on the Africans," Malwal said. "What kind of government declares war on its own citizens?"

Said al-Kati, who represented the Sudanese embassy, took the contrary view.

"This never started as an issue of religion, but some people are turning it into an issue of religion," al-Kati said. "People are trying to demonize the people of Sudan -- a proud people. Slavery is forbidden in our religion. In our country, it is not practiced."

Indeed it is not. Since the 1820s, when Arabs first started raiding southern Sudan for slaves, slavery has not been practiced in that country. It's been perfected. But you couldn't convince Hodari Abdul Ali of that. He was on the panel and sided with al-Kati.

"As a Muslim of African-American descent," Ali began, "I felt offended by the lies and slander against Islam and the Sudan."

Well, that figures. Almost all African-Americans, by racial requirement, are compelled to be offended by something. Ali and al-Kati were joined by Muhammad Majied, a Sudanese Muslim imam living in Washington, in defending the Sudanese government. After each one spoke, the Muslims assembled in the room encouraged them with cheers, applause and shouts of "Allahu Akbar," which means "Allah is the greatest."

Al-Kati had just said the struggle in Sudan wasn't religious, but the cries of "Allahu Akbar" would have a distinctly religious overtone with most folks.

The fervor of the Muslims -- Arabs and their African-American allies oblivious to the history of Arab enslavement of blacks -- did not die after the speeches. When the moderator -- of the Washington group Women's Wing Organization -- called for a question-and-answer period, the Muslims and their supporters showed they don't know the difference between a question and a rant.

One of the first up was an African-American woman who described herself as a Pan-Africanist. She bellowed that the USA was "the United Snakes of America" and scoffed at notions of slavery in Sudan.

"We have slavery right here in D. C.," she huffed. "We can't vote."

A bearded fool followed her and continued the theme: Slavery exists right here in Washington.

If you put a horse under each of these idiots they could lead a cavalry charge in the battle against common sense. Washington residents can, in fact, vote.

That's why they were able to elect a crackhead as mayor. That's why in every presidential election D.C. voters cast their ballots for whatever Democratic hack is seeking the nation's highest office. Residents don't vote for a U.S. senator or a voting member of the House of Representatives, but if the reasoning powers of the average Washingtonian are anything like those of the first two questioners, perhaps that's for the best.

But the two dolts might have performed a service. They illustrated, more than anything, why American Negroes -- who think they're African-Americans -- should stay out of African affairs.

It's always "me, me, me" with American Negroes. It's always about our suffering and misery, which we think reduces the suffering and misery of all others to insignificance. The truth is, the problems American Negroes face pale in comparison to the death, degradation and destruction occurring daily in southern Sudan.

Why, some critics of slavery in Sudan have wondered, don't more African-Americans speak out about what's going on there?

The best answer? Because the southern Sudanese have suffered enough. Anything African-Americans add would make it worse.

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