At Large

Sudanese If You Don’t Please

Islamism rushes into Africa, where the West still fears to tread.

By 5.25.06

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IN SPITE OF THE varying degrees of anguish available to the close observer of news in Iraq, the decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein was by all accounts easy. So easy it was that three presidents made it, under changing but steadily compounding circumstances, and though Chirac's France was able to stuff its head in the sand and declare veto on any coercive enforcement of Resolution 1441, few and far between have been American politicians of any stripe who couldn't understand that Iraq was a standing problem about which the United States was able and obligated to do something.

Contrast that situation against the one entrenching itself with unmitigated anguish in Sudan -- specifically, in Darfur, that part of the country where a spoonful of genocide is required to make the Islamism go down. There, the inhuman spectacle of intrastate butchery that would have been Saddam's legacy under any circumstance has held rapt the attention of an uncomfortable world, while also seizing the community of nations in a talkative paralysis. Yet, and not at all strangely, there is one segment of planetary opinion which has had no trouble at all finding the motivation to act in Sudan -- and act in the sort of concert it has often attempted but not quite achieved since the days of Suleiman the Magnificent.

I speak, of course, of the forces of imperial Islam, headed up in Hydra fashion by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the fractured triumvirate of bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Zarqawi. This quartet of ingrates has succeeded in replacing the possibility of a seedling Iraqi caliphate with the certainty of a disgraceful chaos that kills many more Iraqis than it converts to the cause. Iranian loyalists, al Qaeda dogmatists, and Sunni insurgents have made a sham of Islamist unity identical in its bloody failure to the one playing out in the Palestinian Territories, where Balkanized allegiances have also forced the would-be princes of pan-Islamism to turn away from the heart of their would-be imperium and look to its periphery for the saving hope of victorious slaughter.

THAT SEARCH IS a tall order. There is not a single Muslim state that is not bordered by at least one pro-American or U.S.-occupied nation. But there are half-Muslim states that are outside the reach of America's virtual empire -- places where the U.S. could project force but won't. It is worth pondering that some of the sharpest examples of such places lie at Islam's bleeding edges. Nigeria is one of them, but is yet too far afield to rally the faithful of the Middle East.

Sudan, on the other hand, recommends itself highly. Close enough for local jihadists to reach from abroad, with a friendly, heartless, and bloodthirsty government operating out of squalid Khartoum, Sudan is bordered by a series of untouchables. No expeditionary force -- either of human decency or Western crusaderism -- can launch from probation-era Libya, lockdown Egypt, basketcase Uganda or despotic Eritrea. Ethiopia and Congo are likewise out of bounds. Djibouti, the Red Sea enclave where American and French military tacticians address the Horn of Africa, is too little too far for Sudan's sake, and easily flanked by a wave of Nile-bound mujaheddin.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that within the space of a single week this spring, bin Laden and Ahmadenijad both made pointed overtures to Sudan, using the benighted land as a third-ditch war magnet and proliferation point for radical losers as well as nuclear weapons. Osama, in his latest State of the Jihad Address, called on "mujahedeen and their supporters, especially in Sudan and the Arab peninsula, to prepare for a long war against the crusader plunderers in Western Sudan." Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, meanwhile, was embraced in Iran with the offer of freebies of mass destruction. "Iran's nuclear capability," Ayatollah Khamenei enthused before his honored guest, "is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country." Khamenei's magnanimous capstone: "The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists." Think of it as horizontal synergy for the Caliphate relaunch.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Total social failure has always been Islamism's time to shine, but in Sudan the circumstances are ripe for a geopolitical crisis to join the humanitarian one. The key is the Khartoum regime. Bill Berkeley's 2001 report on race, tribe, and power in Africa, The Graves Are Not Yet Full, is still authoritative. Before "Islamofascism" had earned its stripes, Berkeley informs us, Sudanese spoke of "Islamic-Leninism" to describe the cruel, cunning rise of Hassan al-Turabi, the mild-mannered lawyer with the Sorbonne doctorate who orchestrated al-Bashir's 1989 coup when the President was still a general. In 2001, Turabi told Berkeley that the power vacuum in Sudan "is being filled by an Islamist spirit. I just happened naturally to have been on the track where history is moving."

But Turabi's track was self-aggrandizement through money and power, the product of the war and genocide for which Islam made such a "potent symbol" and "lever" of popular will. Today, Turabi is on the outs, fresh from a half-decade stint in Sudanese jail. In keeping with the upset of his political power, Turabi's politics have flipped. The Financial Times has quoted him bemusedly:

If you allow freedom, anyone who appears with a very exceptional, extreme view, his views will not sell actually. He would realize he is isolating himself so he has to integrate into society by moderating his programs and his attitudes. That is better for us and better for humanity.

Color me skeptical. For men like Turabi, Milosevic, and Mao, ideology -- including religious ideology -- is the mask that gives a human face to the lust for power beneath, indifferent to the name in which it is enjoyed. Khartoum is run by such men. We may not be interested in an intervention in Sudan, but those already intervening there are interested in us. The real trial of American power will come when, for the first time since the Barbary Wars, Africa is used as a base of attack against the United States. As daunting as it is to head such a calamity off at the pass, the alternative will be even worse. Yet the saving deployment of American foot soldiers is an impossibility of the practical imagination. That the United States cannot rush solo to the rescue of Sudan should spur fellow enthusiasts of civilization -- on continents other than yours and mine -- into inspired and decisive action. Alas, I fear, I must ask you to get out your crayons again.

James G. Poulos is a writer and attorney living in Washington, D.C. His commentaries are found at Postmodern Conservative.

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About the Author

James Poulos is a doctoral student at Georgetown and the former Political Editor of Culture11. His writing has been published by The American Conservative, The National Interest, The New Atlantis, Partnership for a Secure America, and The Weekly Standard. In addition to AmSpecBlog, he has blogged at The American Scene, Doublethink, and Postmodern Conservative, which he founded. With degrees in political science and law from Duke and USC, he is currently at work on a dissertation about life after Napoleon.