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Sudan in Focus: An Interview with Ismail Kamal

Ismail Kamal, an active Sudanese compatriot currently residing in the United States is interviewed by John Paul Cupp, Public Relations Director for the North American Committee Against Zionism and Imperialism (NACAZAI) on Thursday April 20th, 2006 before a speaking engagement at the University of California Irvine.
This interview is kindly available for wide distribution and publishing.
An Interview with Ismail Kamal

www.nacazai.org

Ismail Kamal, an active Sudanese compatriot currently residing in the United States is interviewed by John Paul Cupp, Public Relations Director for the North American Committee Against Zionism and Imperialism (NACAZAI) on Thursday April 20th, 2006 before a speaking engagement at the University of California Irvine.
This interview is kindly available for wide distribution and publishing.

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JPC:
Greetings Ismail, would you please provide briefly an autobiography of yourself and also introduce any organizations to which you represent?

IK:
My name is Ismail Kamal, and I am currently not with any particular organization, but an independent activist. I was an organizer with the Sudanese American Society which I co-founded in Washington D.C - that is currently defunct. It is no longer there. ) I was Outreach Director for the Muslim Students Assciation-National. A lot of my work was with the anti-war movement I was Outreach Director for the Muslim Students Association-National. A lot of my work was with the anti-war movement. That's where a lot of my activism comes from.

JPC:
I think you probably know, as well as the rest us the statements world Zionism and imperialism are making regarding the Sudan. First, I wish you to please reference for us your thoughts and feelings as to what the agenda is of the Zionist entity, America, and other imperialist and neo-colonialist powers with regards to the Sudan.
On that line, do you think that this follows the general pattern of the Zionist entity to balkanize the various Arab countries into mini-states or is that too simplistic an answer for explaining this agenda?

IK:
Well, a part of the problem in the Sudan can be attributed to 'Israeli' interference into Sudanese politics.
Of course, there are local issues that have led to the eruption of the Sudanese conflict, but historically 'Israel's' been very interested in exploiting issues in the Sudan for its own benefit.
Historically, since the early 1960's, 'Israel' has supplied arms to the rebels in the south, the Anya-Nya Movement, which is well documented and recorded in many posts, such as Ali Mazrui's Nationalism and New States in Africa, which explicitly tells of 'Israeli' interests in providing arms and helping movements that wish to weaken the Sudan.
Currently, since the 1990s, there's been a great degree of interest from either 'Israeli' academics, foreign policymakers, on the Sudan, given the fact that in 1989 a pro-Islamist government came to power into Sudan.
So you see reports, research done on the Islamic tendency in Sudan and how 'Israel' perceived that being threatening to it and now the issue of Darfur. So you see many reports on 'Israeli' officers, experts meeting with Darfur rebels then providing advise and so forth.
There have been some reports that have been talked about involving equipment, but again at the end of the day, that dimension of the conflict, 'Israel', has always been interested in exploiting conflicts in the Arab world for its own purposes, whether its in Sudan, or North Africa, or even in Iraq, but as part of a policy to weaken the Arab world and the Muslim world.

JPC:
Now then, I want to ask you bluntly if you consider the current doings in the Sudan to constitute genocide and/or ethnic cleansing, what is the basis for your position on this?
I also beg you to please provide your thoughts on the information we are receiving about the Sudan. I am sure you are well aware of this, that in the past decades as well as with recent events, we are being told that what follows is a constant policy of the light skinned Arabs to persecute, even annihilate the black and darker-skinned Christians out of racial and national supremacist ambitions.
Also, while we're on this subject, I'm curious of your thoughts on this whole 'human rights abuse' paradigm that we're hearing regarding the Sudanese regime and its nature as well as what exists in the allegations that the Sudanese regime is directly or indirectly sponsoring Arab militias which are allegedly committing atrocities against non-Arabs?

IK:
The Darfur problem has issues related to it that has a local dimension, a national, a state - a Sudanese dimension, a regional dimension to it, a global dimension to it.
Describing it as ethnic cleansing, genocide of light skinned Arabs against black Africans is not only incorrect but it is an attempt to simplify the matter and not get to the root causes of the problem. It is a way to catch people's attention. It is a way for groups over here to use with shallowness the word genocide to an issue that needs to be understood at its real root causes.
At a local level, historically clans and tribes in Darfur have fought for water resources, particularly since the 1980s, the great droughts of the 1980s in the Sahel in specific.
So there have been wars and battles between farmers that tend to be mostly of the African Fur and Zaghawa groups or between Arabic cattlemen and camel-herders who are pasturalists but at the end of the day there were peace agreements that were made between these groups and the differences were settled.
Starting in the 80s with this war in Chad, which is the regional dimension to the conflict, modern weaponry entered into the picture, and that -particularly the fact that some of the ethnic groups and tribes in Darfur also exist across the border, which is the Zaghawa.
So many of the Zaghawa in Darfur -Chad, have come to the aid of their fellow Zaghawa in Darfur, which has complicated the conflict.
At a national level, you have two rebel groups that have been fighting against what they see as underdevelopment- what they claim to be underdevelopment in Darfur.
The fact is that underdevelopment exists in most of the Sudan. Sudan has had a civil war for 50 years. The country's resources have been drained, so I don't think it is deliberate underdevelopment from the central state, but rather as a consequence of Sudan's own poverty - as a consequence of the fact that the old colonial system in Sudan focused on development only in certain parts of the country and neglected most of the rest the country, and that comes from the given fact that the new independent state got most of its development from those projects that the colonial powers left.
So I don't think it was an intentional program of under-developing certain parts of the country but a colonial inherited problem. So that's at a national level.
At an international level, at a global level, we need to look at the US interests into Africa and into the Sudan. Sudan had a pro-Islamist government throughout the 90s and the US saw this as something unacceptable; saw in it as a challenge to its own hegemony in the region.
So despite the fact that a peace agreement has come to Sudan in the south - right now in Sudan there is a transitional government that I think the US sees an opportunity in, to deliver a final blow to any Islamist influence that is left in that government.
The other aspect is that there is a growing interest in having US and other European powers control oil in Africa. Sudan is a new exporter of oil. Sudan has been producing oil since 1999.
Sudan, Chad, Gabon, are all countries that have come as new producers of oil so the US is trying to establish a presence in the region to control the oil resources and in doing so is competing with France. France of course has had the traditional influence in most of western and central Africa today.
The US at another level is also competing with China. Sudan in the 1990s deliberately took a policy to strengthen its relations with other Third World nations, big nations like China, India, Brazil, and South Africa; so the US is coming into conflict with China and with a Sudanese government that is more pro-Third Worldist than the US would like it to be.

JPC:
I guess it would be appropriate to ask you about the tribalism in Sudan and how you would assess tribalism in Sudan, since you briefly mentioned it, and what sort of forces exist that could possibly break it down and create some kind of Sudanese common identity?

IK:
I think Tribalism exists in many African countries for the fact that many of the states were put together by colonial powers. Never the less, people over the time have developed a certain national identity, and that's something I think unfortunately in the west people tend to underestimate. When you look at defining the conflict as Arab versus African, this is I think something is a problem related to the western psyche. People do develop a Sudanese identity and an attachment to a Sudanese state.
Now this is not to say there are not problems of ethnocism or tribalism, but people, many people - even people in Darfur or from the south identify as being Sudanese.
The questions in my mind are really the issues of development, equal development, a stable state, sharing of economic and political power. I think that is what is going to lead to a growing sense of Sudanese national identity.
In the historical context, Sudan has been in existence for 50 years. I mean we're one of the first in Africa, but never the less 50 years is still a short time for that process, I think, of developing a national identity, and I think the conflict in Darfur is not about a group of people trying to secede from Sudan, but its about issues, in many respects they are legitimate, issues of power and economic welfare and so forth, but it is not about an ethnic or racial conflict, and its not about an attempt to secede from the Sudanese state.

JPC:
The Sudan is essentially the point were both the Arab nationalist and the Pan African and Black nationalist paradigms meet and we're watching this over here and wondering what sort of hopes you see for these two powerful paradigms of peoples resistance to unite or at least to somehow build something together to prevent fratricidal losses, and in this respect are you seeing any kind of support from progressive Arab as well as from progressive Black African forces towards reconciliation.

IK:
I think that point really goes to the key of the issue, and that is something I would like to definitely like work on.
I think if you look at the liberationist tendencies in the Arab world that have mostly been either Arab nationalist or Islamist, there is some sort of reconciliation that has taken place over the last ten years, realizing a greater threat from demonic imperial colonialists forces.
That type of reconciliation and negotiation has not taken place between Islamists and Pan Africanists. It has, at one time in history take place between Pan Arabism and Pan Africanism between the 60s with Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Nasser that they were all able to find that reconciliation.
I think there is a need, most definite need for the Pan Africanists, Pan Arabists and Islamist forces to sit down negotiate, reconcile, and look at a greater picture.
That's something definitely I am interested in trying to work on. You know unfortunately we don't have the likes of Sékou Touré who was influential in the Muslim world, influential in Africa. Someone like him I think is what is needed.
Its interesting, I've actually seen some articles in Sudanese papers about reconciling the concept of a New Sudan, which is a concept of the SPLM, Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, which is the southern party that idea of a new Sudan between the Sudanese Islamists' idea of a civilizational project which is kind of a decolonizing project that they had attempted in the 90s, and their has been some kind of proposal to reconcile those two projects. Both were seen as liberationist. Both were seen as decolonializationist. I think that's what is need at the moment.

JPC:
We are hearing repeated calls for NATO personal to occupy and plunder the Sudan, and of course this is the very NATO, which destroyed Yugoslavia and is today committing terrorist acts in Afghanistan.
As you can imagine, this is a great concern for us when we hear this and so I am wondering if you could please tell us your thoughts on the likelihood of such an occupation, the scenario surrounding it, the timetable of it, and an alternative to that which is the hope of a negotiated peace that would sabotage the supposed basis for this. Also, while we are on this do you see any evidence that the reactionary powers are trying to sabotage peace and unity?

IK:
On the possibility of a peace agreement, it's very likely that a peace agreement will be signed within the next two weeks. That is what it looks like from the reports that we've been reading about in the African Union and other news-reports. I think what is needed is to strengthen the African force, which I believe will be supplemented by an Arab force. That is what is needed in Darfur, not a NATO force, not a UN force. The arrival of NATO forces will only increase the intensity of the conflict. It would only be viewed as another attempt by an imperialist force to exert its hegemony in another part of Africa or the Arab world or the Muslim world.

JPC:
Is any popular resistance being planned in the event of an occupation or to prevent this occupation? What is the likelihood that an insurgency could be successfully mounted against it, and if it were who would constitute this insurgency?

IK:
Of course you don't see any official reports on this, but I would imagine that something like that would happen. What has been occurring in Darfur, and this is not getting reported much in the media, is that there have been many popular demonstrations by the people of Darfur against NATO intervention, against UN intervention, and I'm almost positively sure that if western forces were to arrive in Sudan there would be some sort of militaristic reaction at a local level against these forces as a type of resistance.

JPC:
People seem to forget that any future invasion of Sudan would not be a first. I would like you perhaps to tell us please about the recent history of your people against occupation; various bombing and things from outside powers?

IK:
Well, of course the most notable in memory of an outright military attack on Sudan was the destruction of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory that was alleged to be a factory producing chemical weapons when in fact it was a pharmaceutical factory producing 60% of Sudan's medicine locally. No proof was ever produced that it was a chemical weapons factory. The owner of the factory has never been compensated by the US government. There has never been an apology. We can speak of the deaths of those who did not receive their medicine because of the destruction of the factory. It is those people who are absent from the media. Those who have died from health problems worsened because of the lack of medicine and the destruction of the pharmaceutical factory.

JPC:
It must seem frustrating for you trying to get a non-hostile sentiment, let alone support for your country from much of this country's supposedly 'progressive' forces. I may be sounding a bit extreme on this but, frankly my experience is that they seem opportunistic on anything that either directly confronts Zionism or when they have to rationally approach charges relating to 'genocide' and 'human rights abuse'. Frankly, I'm curious what kind of support and sentiment you are getting and if you have any ideas on what those of us who wish to build ties with your fraternal homeland to best support this cause.

IK:
That's a very good question. Because of the way the conflict has been narrated and portrayed, many progressive forces feel that they are not able to articulate or understand the conflict as one that US imperialism, US interests, other factors are involved in the debate, and they have succumbed to the idea of it as a racial conflict. Therefore many of them feel intimidated to challenge that narrative because many of them feel that way. In all honesty this has to be the question no one wants to answer because no one wants to challenge the African American leadership on this and things taking place, but also there are other factors like the heavy involvement of the American Jewish Community and the Christian right.
I think what is needed from progressive forces is to look at the broader forces, that the Sudan, the stability of Sudan as a meeting place of Africanism, Arabism, and Islamism. Its important for those political tendencies to reconcile themselves there to deal with their own issues, but at the same time to see it as an opportunity, as a forum not as a place where people will conflict with one another. There have been certain pockets throughout the country of people, writing here and there, I think who are able to see the smokescreen and through the media, through the lies being spread. Here and there I read articles and have spoken to people but I think unfortunately it is still not strong enough.
I think people should be able to take a principled position on Sudan, by on the one hand recognizing there is a tragedy and people need to be assisted, but at the same time not allowing for opportunistic forces, allowing for, whether it be imperialism, whether it be Zionism, whether it be the Christian right, to take advantage of Sudan's suffering for its own purposes.
I think this is an unfortunate problem within the progressive left in the United States that it always shys away from taking strong stances when it needs to. Interestingly though, an article that came out in a progressive publication a week ago, had called for solidarity with Sudan, with Zimbabwe, with Congo, in the face of possible NATO intervention. So, I think it is coming out slowly, people are starting to realize it, but I think its going to unfortunately be too little- part of that is just the weakness of any response you know from activists on this issue. The general feeling I get is that people think there is a fishy issue that has been going on. But they can't point to it.

JPC:
As I'm interviewing you, you are preparing to speak at a major university about your country. So that represents some kind of milestone or inroad to be optimistic about it. I was wondering if you could tell us please what sort of organizations and personages are supporting you, all be it probably very small, and what kind of work they are involved in and the direction this kind of work is taking or should take?

IK:
Right. It seems that most of the support is coming at individual levels, regardless of the ideology, regardless of tendency, or organization, or commitment. I think people who can see the great picture, whatever their political belongings are the people that are coming out in support and in solidarity with Sudan in its crisis. I think that's what seems to me more of the case. People who are knowledgeable of US imperialism or Zionist policies are able to look at the greater picture.
What I think is needed is more recording and writing from Sudan in English. This is I think one of the biggest problem, and it is that a lot of the recording is in a language that is not accessible to the greater public in the west. That is something I'm hoping in the next few months to be able to do. That is to report in English where people can read and see the reports that are coming in an accessible manner.

JPC:
Do you know of anything, all be it you've mentioned they're very small, do you know of any media sources relating to the Sudan or web pages that are accessible for us in the west?

IK:
One of the good publications is  http://sudanvisiondaily.com, it's a Sudanese paper in English. I think it's coming up and has been reporting well on issues from Sudan. There is also the Sudanese Media Center that has an English website which is  http://sudanvisiondaily.com, it's a Sudanese paper in English. I think it's coming up and has been reporting well on issues from Sudan. There is also the Sudanese Media Center that has an English website which is  link to www.smcsudan.net .

JPC:
Do you have any personal feeling on the direction your country should be taking right now that we haven't mentioned or do you feel that you've covered this.

IK:
I think just going back to the point of reconciling the three tendencies of Islamism, Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism. Even though these are not necessarily Sudanese politics specific, all Sudanese politics necessarily need to articulate its self in these frameworks. Never the less if these three important tendencies I think if they are able to reconcile, negotiate, have a form of discussion, I think that we will in a very serious way help Sudan come out of its problems and take the country forward.

JPC:
I feel sort of like I've added too depressing a face for a country such as yours, of course because we are talking about current events in the Sudan, in that the Sudan has a very glorious civilization that goes back for several centuries, and particularly in line with what you've just mentioned on the three major trends which need to be reconciled in your opinion. Would you kindly reference for us the accomplishments of the people and historical trends in their development. In particular, in looking at the historical development of Islam and Christianity and anything else that tempers the spiritual beliefs your people feel and express.

IK:
Well, like you said Sudan does have a glorious past that people tend to look over. First of all, Sudan inherited the ancient civilization of Kush, one of the most important civilizations of Africa. Kush and Nubia were shinning jewels in African history.
Christianity came to Sudan before it came to many other parts of the world. The Christian Kingdoms of Mubatia, Mukara, and Alwa, these places were Christian kingdoms existing in Sudan before there were Kingdoms, perhaps even in Europe.
Then of course also Islam and the Islamic civilization heritage, and it had one of the great kingdoms of the African Sahel, the kingdoms of Sinnar, the Kingdoms of Darfur.
Another important chapter in Sudan's history is the Mahdi, which is one of the greatest resistance movements against colonialism, and the historic battle of Omdurman in 1898, which was one of the most important anti-colonial battles in history. There the Maxim Machine Gun was first used.
The Sudanese, we come from a long and old history and a proud history.

JPC:
So then you believe then that the history and the culture are there to answer the challenges for unity that the Sudan is facing?

IK:
I think so.

JPC:
Dear brother, I am most grateful for the generous patience you have shown in answering my question thoroughly and thoughtfully. On behalf of the North American Committee Against Zionism and Imperialism (NACAZAI), I would like to tell you that it is our firm position to defend the Sudan and its patriots against all forms of Zionist and imperialist conspiracies. As we wrap up this interview, are there any further thoughts or final statements you would like to make?

IK:
When thinking of the Sudan, I'm reminded of Public Enemy's famous song Don't Believe the Hype. I think that is the best message you can take from this interview. Don't believe the hype on Sudan. Don't believe the hype on Islam. Take the time to do your own research. See whose doing the hype-ing.

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