Worm-full Blindness

Why Jimmy Carter won't condemn Sudan’s jihadi regime.

When U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaks with passion about Sudan’s opportunity to rid itself and the world of a horrible problem, he is not talking about Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, an ICC-indicted war criminal. Carter describes a nightmare scenario in which a foreign entity imposes itself into the very life of the people of Sudan, causing pain, misery, disease, and sometimes death. That sounds like Bashir’s National Islamic Front regime (now known as the National Congress Party or NCP). But Carter is not referring to the imposition of Shari’a or of Arab imperialism in an African country. He is speaking of worms, a threat which he takes far more seriously than the threat of Islamism. This attitude did not bode well for rigorous monitoring of Sudan’s first national elections since Bashir seized power in 1989, but the Carter Center was invited to observe the April 2010 elections by authorities in both North and South Sudan.

It’s not surprising that Jimmy Carter fails to see the threat of Islamism in Sudan. After all, he sees Israel as a threat to Palestinians, but disregards the threat of Hamas and Hezbollah. The Carter Center, established in 1982 by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in partnership with Emory University in Atlanta, is heavily funded by donors from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and other Arab states.  And the level of naïveté and the extent of appeasement shown to the world’s worst tyrants during the Carter presidency have never been matched by any other presidency, until today.

The Carter Center has worked since 1995 to eradicate guinea worm disease (Dracunculiasis) in Sudan. According to Carter in a piece for CNN in April 2010, Sudan has reduced its cases of guinea worm disease by 98 percent since the eradication program began. This is extremely commendable. Guinea worm disease is vile. It occurs when a person drinks unfiltered water filled with larvae-infected water fleas. The larvae burrow into the person’s intestines where they reproduce parasitic worms (nematodes) that incubate for a year, usually without the person’s knowledge. Finally, over a period of some ten days, the three-foot long worms emerge gradually from any imaginable part of the body through an excruciating, burning blister, like a real-life version of Alien. If they do not fully emerge, they retreat back into the body where they can cause paralysis or, on rare occasions, death.

While in no way wishing to take away from the seriousness of this disease, Bashir’s National Islamic Front regime has killed millions of people. Over 2.5 million people in the South, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile/Ingessna Hills died in the regime’s jihad to establish a Shari’a-ruled, Islamist state. At least 400,000 Darfurians have died because of the genocide waged by Khartoum in western Sudan. And these enormous death tolls do not take into account the other marginalized and oppressed indigenous black African people groups ignored by the world, such as the Nubians in the north, and the Beja in the east, that Khartoum has in its sights.

Additionally, if it were not for the Khartoum regime’s total disregard for the South Sudanese, there would be abundant supplies of fresh, clean drinking water. Even now, in the period of cessation of most hostilities in the South brought about by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the efforts to provide potable water for South Sudan come from international NGO’s, in cooperation with the regional government of South Sudan. Many of the small NGO’s have to raise funds to dig wells and bore-holes, funds that could otherwise be spent on other needed forms of relief and development aid. If the national government in Khartoum were taking care of its citizens, instead of trying to hasten their deaths, they would be building the wells, instead of sending their jihadi troops to poison them. But Carter does not seem to realize that jihad is waged in many forms . . . even by delaying and preventing the building of the kind of infrastructure that could prevent guinea worm disease.

It would seem that to Carter any price is acceptable if it allows the work on guinea worm disease to continue, even living in a state of denial about the true nature of the conflict in Sudan and about those who are responsible. Any peace is acceptable if it offers conditions safe for fighting guinea worm disease, even one that includes acquiescing to unfair elections or continued injustices against the South as the time draws nearer for its referendum on secession.

Before his recent failure to condemn Sudan’s fraudulent national elections, Carter had a long record of expedience over integrity concerning the country. A December 8, 1999 news article from Agence France-Presse, reporting on a Carter Center-facilitated peace agreement signed by Bashir and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, quoted Carter as describing Museveni and Bashir as “enlightened. . . Courageous leaders. . . .” Citing this breathtaking compliment in a letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell urging that Carter not be considered for the position of Sudan Special Envoy (to which Senator John Danforth was later appointed), a national coalition of activists working to strengthen U.S. policy in Sudan said that this called “into question President Carter’s understanding of the genocidal ambitions that define General Bashir’s regime.” The coalition letter also noted that the 1999 agreement, which President Carter had described as “far-reaching and historic,” was never been implemented by Bashir.

In another public statement, in The Boston Globe, December 8, 1999, Carter denounced the United States government, not the National Islamic Front regime. “The biggest obstacle is US government policy,” he said. In what was definitely giving the U.S. more credit than it deserved, he criticized what he saw as the U.S. being “committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum.” He also complained that “any sort of peace effort” (read: appeasement) “is aborted, basically by policies of the United States.” Carter’s castigations of the Clinton administration’s tepid support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), fighting against forced imposition of Shari’a and Islamism, were very helpful to Khartoum’s apologists. The Globe quote was used by the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, shameless lobbyists for Khartoum. And it was featured on the web site of the northern Virginia-based Islamist group, The Wisdom Fund.

Carter went on to criticize a bill signed by President Clinton that authorized food aid for the opposition forces and civilians in Southern Sudan. Congress had pushed for that bill after some three million people in Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan were brought to the brink of death, and over 300,000 starved to death thanks to Khartoum’s use of food as a weapon of war. But Carter condemned the U.S. authorizing “food aid just for the revolutionaries in southern Sudan” (emphasis mine). And in another public statement in an April 24, 2001 Reuters news article he said, "For the last eight years, the U.S. has had a policy which I strongly disagree with in Sudan, supporting the revolutionary movement and not working for an overall peace settlement." One could say that moral equivalency would actually be a step up from Carter’s perspective on Sudan.

Expedience also ruled Carter’s assessment of Sudan’s April 11-16, 2010 elections. He had already stated in his CNN op-ed, “Whatever the outcome of April’s national elections in Sudan and the referendum on national unity in Southern Sudan next January, ridding their nation of Guinea worm disease will show the world what Southern Sudanese can do when they are not distracted by war.” (italics mine) How better to get over the “distraction” of war and onto the more important business of eradicating guinea worms than by praising the work of Khartoum’s National Elections Commission (NEC), an instrument of the regime. In a press statement after meeting with the NEC, Carter said that the elections commission had answered all of the Carter Center delegation’s questions “satisfactorily,” and that NEC “had assured” them “that they are making excellent progress in the delivery of the elections material for the elections.”

On the other hand, Sudan expert, Professor Eric Reeves of Smith College called the event “an electoral travesty.” The travesty began even before the elections took place. There had been great signs of hope. A new movement rose up among northern Arab Sudanese youth. Girifna which means “we’re disgusted, we’re fed up” uses social networking like Facebook and You Tube to get out of message of revolt against the “status quo policies” of “dictatorship and injustice.” Girifna aspires for a Sudan with “human rights, liberty and the promise for every citizen to be able to develop his/her own god-given potential.” Its members faced courageously the threat of imprisonment and torture to hold demonstrations on the streets of Khartoum and other northern cities, urging people to vote against the NCP.

And hopes were also high when the SPLM announced its candidate for President of Sudan, Commander Yasir Saeed Arman, a gifted, secular, democratic northern Sudanese Arab. Arman quickly was viewed as Bashir’s main contender. But on March 31, 2010, the SPLM withdrew Arman from the race, citing “election irregularities,” the continuing violence in Darfur, and the fear of nation-wide election violence as the reasons for withdrawing the only man who had a real chance to defeat Bashir and to bring transformation to Sudan. Interestingly, even though Arman withdrew from the race, Sudanese sources say that he received two million votes!

In the election itself, Reeves condemned the “massive fraud” that “occurred in both the census and the registration process leading up to the election” as well as the “countless abuses at voting centers and with ballot boxes,” and “the brutal security services,” as well as the fact that the Bashir regime had a “virtual monopoly on national wealth and power, including broadcast and most print media.” In another article Reeves detailed evidence of election fraud provided by witnesses on an anecdotal basis, since, Reeves said, “no truly systematic reporting would have been permitted by the regime.” He listed such incidents as “ballot boxes with fake seals,” “intimidation of poll monitors by the regime’s security forces,” the military “hoisting ballot boxes over a wall in back of a polling center,” and in Darfur “of voting that in some camps for displaced persons did not reach three percent.” Admittedly, President Carter pointed out initially some of electoral problems on the Carter Center’s website, but he later told reporters that he saw “no reason for any concerns.”

Bashir, who “won” the election by 68%, blamed all of the voting fraud on poor logistics. Unfortunately the U.S. State Department, bolstered by Carter’s assessment, seemed to agree. They released a joint statement about Sudan’s elections with the United Kingdom and Norway saying that they shared the “serious concern” of “independent observers” concerning “weak logistical and technical preparations and reported irregularities in many parts of Sudan.” They regretted “that the National Elections Commission (NEC) did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting” and strongly encouraged “the NEC to address in good faith any legitimate disputes effectively and impartially.”

Eric Reeves scoffs, “this disingenuously shifts the blame by failing to note that the NEC is entirely a creature of the regime, and has acted throughout the electoral period precisely as instructed.” And he notes that “most consequentially, the White House statement makes no mention of what effect, if any, this assessment will have on US policy toward Khartoum and in responding to Sudan’s many crises.” If one was to guess, they would have to say no effect, since in over ten years of focus on Sudan, U.S. policy has never attempted to make Khartoum feel any significant repercussions for perpetrating jihad against its own people.

The lack of criticism by Carter, and by the U.S. government, led Bashir to chortle at a rally in the Blue Nile region, “Even America is becoming an N.C.P. member. No one is against our will.” This in turn has emboldened Bashir. Since the elections, says Reeves, the regime has “dramatically accelerated military actions in Darfur.” It has bombed and displaced additional civilians, and it has threatened the security of “the immense humanitarian operation that serves some 4.7 million people in need.” The regime has also cracked down on political dissent in northern Sudan, especially in Khartoum. And it continues its usual pattern of deception and delay in resolving key issues of the north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – issues that should have been fully implemented right after the CPA was signed in January 2005.

Tragically, the U.S. government, like Jimmy Carter, is failing to support the pro-democracy forces in Sudan, just as it has failed to support the pro-democracy forces in other parts of the Islamic world. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol recently said on Fox News that the Obama administration has “created a dynamic in which the radicals are getting stronger throughout the Middle East.”  He could add that the Obama administration is creating a dynamic in which Sudan’s radicals are getting stronger as well. But the movement among Sudan’s marginalized people and its dissatisfied northern young people is also strong. On Girifna’s You Tube, a young northern Sudanese woman named Alsarah sings a freedom song that declares:

To the long beard and the prayer bead of lies we say,

“The country is waiting to be lifted up.

Let’s fulfill its beautiful dreams”

If only Jimmy Carter were as eager and determined to stop the Bashir regime from killing millions as he is to rid the country of guinea worm disease! If only the U.S. government were willing to support Sudan’s lovers of democracy and freedom over the lovers of long beards and prayer beads of lies. Then we might help the freedom lovers of Sudan to fulfill their beautiful dreams.

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).