What does Khartoum’s continuing declaration of “jihad” against the people of southern Sudan mean? What does the National Islamic Front seek to convey when President Omar Beshir declares that “the armed forces will work to liberate every inch of the homeland from the filth of the enemies.” Who are the “filthy” people who endure the consequences of “jihad” and compulsory Islamization? As it happens, the town of Nyala in southern Darfur—where Beshir made his bellicose statement—gives us an appalling example. An eighteen-year-old southern Dinka woman, of Christian faith, has been sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. The sentence is imposed on the basis of the shari’a, or Islamic law, that Beshir and his National Islamic Front regime are determined to see imposed throughout Sudan, on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In its savagery, this regime is indistinguishable from the brutal Taliban of Afghanistan, even as both regimes hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Eric Reeves [January 4, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
On December 8, 2001, Abok Alfa Akok—an eighteen-year-old Dinka woman of Christian faith—was sentenced by the “criminal court” in Nyala (southern Darfur) to be stoned to death as punishment for the crime of adultery (Source: Sudanese Victims of Torture Group, press release of January 3, 2002). Hers is but one terrible example of what is represented by the ambitions of the National Islamic Front in Khartoum, ambitions to force Islam on all of Sudan by means of shari’a or Islamic law.
Khartoum often makes disingenuous pronouncements about shari’a, declaring, for example, that it will not be imposed on non-Muslims. But this has never been the case and the reality is compulsory Islamization for all. This vicious reality takes the form of torturing and killing non-Muslims simply because of their faith, especially in the war zones of the south. It takes the form of imposing brutal punishments on Muslims and non-Muslims alike by virtue of shari’a (for example, cross-amputation of right hand and left foot is another punishment that has recently been resumed by Khartoum). Starving people are typically permitted to receive food aid from the regime only upon conversion to Islam in stricken areas of the Nuba Mountains and other marginalized areas of Sudan. Apostasy, or the abandoning of the Muslim faith, is punishable by death under Sudan’s shari’a.
President Beshir has declared on many occasions, as he did last May, that “the banner of jihad would remain high in the armed forces” (BBC Monitoring, May 22, 2001; text of report by Sudanese newspaper Al-Ra’y al-Amm). What the “banner of jihad” means is nothing less than what the world has come to see represented by the terrible “jihad” of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a regime which sought to support Osama bin Laden’s international “jihad” of terror. There may be music in Khartoum, and less restrictive attire for women; but the essential features of the Islamist ambitions are the same.
The Islamist project of the National Islamic Front lies at the very center of any true understanding of Sudan’s massively destructive civil war. For the war continues largely for two, finally related, internal reasons.
 The Khartoum regime of the National Islamic Front (NIF) is committed to its vision of Sudan as an Islamic state, even in the south where Islam is a distinctly minority religion. Islam, as construed by Khartoum, is to be imposed by compulsion upon all, even upon non-Muslims. The Islamist project is the raison d’tre of the National Islamic Front—its guiding means of ideological self-identification. The regime’s intransigent opposition to a state that truly recognizes the rights of non-Muslims is not an accidental feature of policy—it is the essence of all political calculations and the defining feature of a brutal survivalism that has existed from the first moment of the military coup that brought the NIF to power in 1989.
 Oil development in the south now provides the revenues that allow for growing military force to be deployed in service of the “jihad.” Moreover, the attitudes towards the people of the south in this war are at once racist and animated by a belief that the lives of non-Muslims are simply inferior. The scorched-earth warfare that serves as security for the oil companies operating in the south has been as brutal as it has because the populations destroyed or displaced are non-Muslim, non-Arabized Africans.
For their part, oil companies like Talisman Energy, Lundin Petroleum of Sweden, OMV of Austria, and various Asian and Russian oil companies have chosen to overlook these features of the regime, preferring to see an illusory “moderation” of behavior. Clearly all they have seen are beckoning hydrocarbon riches. This in turn only encourages Khartoum to believe that it can proceed with its “jihad” unimpeded and unconstrained by serious international pressure.
These companies, and their countries of origin, simply refuse to see Khartoum’s Islamist project for what it is, refuse to see what is represented in statements like that made by President Beshir less than two months ago: “[the National Islamic Front] will go on with the jihad and with the militarisation of the people” (Agence France-Press, November 17, 2001).
But we ignore the reality of the National Islamic Front at our peril. Though far craftier than the Taliban of Afghanistan, though capable of speaking in a disarming language of “moderation,” the NIF remains the same extremist regime that nurtured bin Laden and al-Qaeda from 1991 to 1996 and continues to support terrorism internationally (it remains on the US State Department’s most recent list of terrorist-sponsoring nations). It is the same regime, with essentially the same cast of vicious characters, that came to power in the coup led by General Beshir. The determination of this regime to effect a final military solution to their southern problem has been amply demonstrated, as has their determination to acquire the military means for such ghastly ambition (witness their recently reported purchase of twelve extremely advanced MiG-29 fighter aircraft).
For the moment, the determination to move forward with this radical Islamist project can best be measured by the fate of Abok Alfa Akok, the young Dinka woman who will be stoned to death for adultery. But in her fate we may see a terrible image of what lies in store for southern Sudan if left unaided by a robust international commitment to see a just peace negotiated for all the people of Sudan.