May 22, 2003
A high-level meeting between the Foreign Minister of Khartoum’s National Islamic Front regime (Mustapha Ismail) and US Secretary of State Colin Powell took place yesterday (May 21, 2003). Following the meeting a State Department spokesman gave a thoroughly upbeat assessment of Khartoum’s “cooperation” on terrorism. This seems rather dramatically at odds with the ominous account of Khartoum and terrorism recently offered by New York Times investigative reporters, who claim to have spoken with “senior counterterrorism officials” in the Bush administration (May 17, 2003). But for establishing the record, perhaps we should particularly note what the State Department has said on the present occasion: “‘We’ve had very good, and I think increasingly good, cooperation with Sudan on issues of counterterrorism, working together,” [State Department] spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters” (Agence France-Presse and AP, May 21, 2003). “‘I think it’s safe to say that Sudan is not the kind of haven for terrorists that it used to be, and has been quite cooperative in many ways in terms of the work we’ve been able to do with them since 9/11,’ [Boucher] said” (Voice of America, May 21, 2003).
But just how capacious a view of terror and terrorism does the State Department have? Do they know of the child in Nyala, Darfur Province, who was recently arrested by the al-shorta al-sha’abiya (“Public Police Force”) and sentenced in an Islamic court to 100 lashes of the whip? Can they imagine the terror that is presently the life of the 14-year old girl sentenced to this barbarous punishment for “adultery”? (The conviction was under Article 146 of Khartoum’s 1991 Penal Code.) Moreover, the young girl convicted is 9 months pregnant. A 25-year old businessman, Alsir Sabeel Nour Aldeen, was charged in connection with the incident, but was found not guilty and freed “for the lack of evidence.” (Details of this case have been provided by the Sudan Organisation Against Torture [SOAT] in a press release dated may 20, 2003—the day before the National Islamic Front Foreign Minister’s meeting with Secretary Powell.)
If we wish to understand terror, and if we wish to understand the meaning of Khartoum’s imposition of shari’a (Islamic law) and its penal provisions (hudud), then it should require no great imaginative exertion to feel something of what this young girl is now feeling as she awaits her ghastly punishment. Nor should it be forgotten that 100 lashes can easily prove fatal, depending on the force with which they are administered. Most importantly, it must not be forgotten that the police that made the arrest and the court that convicted the girl are both natural extensions of the National Islamic Front vision of Sudan—all of Sudan.
Those who can justify the merciless whipping of a pregnant girl must be seen for what they are. Foreign Minister Ismail must be seen not simply as the always-smiling face of deft and expedient diplomacy, but as a representative of unspeakable brutality and cruelty. His face, the faces of all who represent the power of the National Islamic Front regime, must be seen looking down upon this pregnant young girl as she endures her savage punishment—and approving. The faces of the Khartoum regime must be seen whenever we hear of the terror that has been wrought with increasing fury of late in Darfur, and has been the fate of southern Sudan and other marginalized areas for years and years.
And we must hope that in assessing Khartoum, the US State Department develops a fuller sense of what constitutes terror.
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