What Opponents of Theocracy Can Learn from the Nuba
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jun 21, 2011 at 09:39:27 PM EST
There are many challenges in contending with theocratic political movements bent on domination. One of the challenges is building sufficient knowledge and mastering understandable terms with which to discuss these movements.  Another is making reasonable distinctions among the various groups and individuals and avoiding the intellectual and political errors of broad-brushing, and labeling and demonization.  These errors tend to confuse rather than clarify what we know (or think we know) and stop learning and conversation cold.  Good reporting, scholarship and effective political thinking and action in defense of pluralism depends on building, and being able to use and to articulate this knowledge.

That is why I was so struck by what a Sudanese Anglican Bishop told me in a recent interview for Religion Dispatches.


The politicians and generals who lead the Khartoum regime in northern Sudan claim that they will seek to advance Sharia law, when the more religiously diverse South Sudan separates and becomes an independent nation on July 9th.  Meanwhile, a widening civil war is already underway as the Khartoum regime appears bent on militarily crushing domestic political opposition and taking the oil and agricultural resources of contested border areas.  The escalating conflict is much in the news at this writing.   As the horror spreads, I hope that we do not lose sight of a remarkable example of how to be critical of a theocratic political entity without resorting to broad brushes of any one, or all religions.  

Anglican Bishop Andudu Adam Elnail, who is a leader in interfaith relations for his church in Sudan was in the U.S. when he and his fellow Anglican pastors were hunted and their cathedral burned on the northern province of South Kordofan.  He believes if he had not been here, he might now be in a mass grave in Kadugli.  As I learned in the course of our interview, he is an articulate exponent of the values of religious pluralism -- even in the face of a genocidal regime.  He thinks that this may be part of why he was targeted. It seems that Arab Islamic theocrats from Khartoum find religious pluralism of the Nuban people of South Kordofan, threatening.  

As displaced people flee Kadugli in all directions, Bishop Andudu has become a refugee of a different kind:  He is a black African Christian leader called to the world stage as a voice for the persecuted, the displaced, the slaughtered, and the silenced.

As chair of an interfaith committee, I have developed good relationships with Arabs and Muslims in some parts of the State and some Islamic extremists are not happy because of that. In addition, I am black and a Christian, which means inferior and an infidel to some Muslims and Arabs--but not to all.  I know some Muslims and some Arabs oppose what the Khartoum regime is doing. In the Nuba Mountains, there are marriages between Christian and Muslim families, so we are showing the world how to live together.  We know how to build relationships based on mutual trust and respect, if the Khartoum regime would leave us in peace.

I also asked Bishop Andudu about the inter-religious dynamics as they relate to war and peace in Sudan.

The issue is complex and has more to do with Arabization--some Arabs imposing their own culture on black people, refusing, denying other black cultures.  In some learning institutions and schools in Sudan, there is little or no history of black people; what children learn is history from Arab perspectives.

We do not have big problems with Muslims in most parts of South Kordofan, only in a few places, especially in the areas where Arab culture and politics are mixed with radical perspectives of Islamic religion.  As you can see from the genocide in Darfur, where most Darfuri people are Muslims, the Khartoum regime has shown willingness to kill Muslims, so it is obviously not just a matter of Islamic religion.  The Khartoum regime is led by individuals who are Arabs and who are indicted war criminals, and who have a record of oppressing black people, whatever religions we take. But the Khartoum regime does not speak for all Arabs, any more than they speak for [all] Muslims.

There is much more, and I think worth reading his carefully chosen words in context.

For those of us in the U.S. who have to contend with the relentless politics of "blame it on Islam" led by demagogues of the Religious Right, Andudu's articulation of the values of inter-faith respect and understanding, and his refusal to smear all Arabs and Muslims because of the horrific actions of some, is a model for how we can better contend with some of our own theocratic demagogues.

interfaith bishop stand on gay bishops in his church?

by JerrySloan on Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 12:21:48 AM EST
but whatever they may be, his views on mutual respect among people of differing faiths, unified in their opposition to things theocratic, I think remain useful for people on our side of the pond to consider.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 01:41:26 AM EST

that this bishop realizes the problem is fundamentalism and not religion.

I just wonder if he's connected with the interfaith alliance... what he's said sounds right.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 09:50:28 AM EST

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