Save Darfur, Ban the Burqa

President Bashir arrives in El Geneina, West Darfur, 2008

Last year the head of the UN-AU hybrid force commander announced that the war in Darfur was over. Since then there has been a slew (OK, two) of reports from Darfur that reinforce the idea that the region has settled into an uneasy calm. A calm full of tension, kidnapping and banditry to be sure, but still a long way from the slaughter of the early days of the war. That of course does not mean that the suffering is over.

A French philosopher writes movingly of the pain and soul-searching of, erm, himself…

A meeting in Paris of hard core activists of Urgence Darfour, who have spent years trying to alert public opinion of the horrific massacres perpetrated by the Islamist regime of Khartoum. The atmosphere is less than jolly. One could even qualify it as downright gloomy. For what have we done, all these years?

Usually I hate these kinds of things. I think it started when I had to watch Jim Kerr writhing on stage at some sort of concert for Nelson Mandela. There’s a fine line between raising awareness and making yourself the centre of the story. Well, actually, no there isn’t. Unless you are some kind of moron. But that’s one for another day, when we can discuss the power of wristbands, “not in my name” and that sort of thing.

Anyway, the point is that I carried on reading this particular post with a metaphorical cushion in front of my face. And sure enough, there it was:

And so, there’s no longer any point in talking about the war against fanaticism, a law prohibiting burqas, or the defense of moderate Islam. The incarnation of moderate Islam was there before us, an example of Islam without burqas, without the Sharia, where boys and girls attended the same village schools together. I saw it with my own eyes. This miracle we pretend to wish for so fervently, this living proof that a non-fundamentalist Islamic society is apparently possible, and that a party like al Nur’s can combine Islam and citizenship without difficulty, was within reach, and we will have let it die.

So there we have it. The aim is not to return Darfuris to their homes, promote peace and stability. It is the victory of one rebel faction over an Islamist regime intent on forcing women into burqas and keeping women out of mixed schools. Never mind the fact that I can count the number of burqas I have seen in Sudan on the fingers of two hands, the real issue at stake for this French intellectual is bringing down the government and defeating Islamist thought.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that all Darfur activists have this aim in mind. But it might explain why some seem to have little interest in accurately reporting what is happening or ending the conflict.

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