Nonetheless, during that time, a number of Western academics and journalists saw Sudan as an exciting experiment in Islamic governance, and Turabi, its architect, wrote Georgetown professor John O. Voll, "had an international reputation as an imaginative advocate of renewal and rethinking the foundations of Islamic law." Turabi was a media darling. Milton Viorst once described him as "a man of brilliant intellect and ineffable charm … admired by many, and even more feared by some. He is at ease in both tie and turban." This was in 1995, during the jihad years when the sartorially versatile Islamist was exhorting his countrymen to slaughter each other.
"I think many Westerners saw the Islamists as indigenous, self-determining voices, the true voice of the south," says an-Na'im, a liberal Muslim thinker who teaches at Emory Law School. "They understood Islamism as a way of countering Western hegemony, but they overlooked the fact that these movements suppressed their own populations."
An-Na'im, who advocates a reinterpretation of Islam in accordance with human rights, was a disciple of Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, the Sudanese Muslim religious leader and political activist hanged in Khartoum for apostasy in 1985. Taha understood that the biggest problem facing Islam was its historical treatment of women and non-Muslims, and his work is a powerful argument against the forced Islamicization and sharia that have plagued Sudan for 20 years. If there's a positive side to Sudan's troubles, an-Na'im contends, it's that Taha's legacy has been partly realized. "The Islamist idea, Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood project are totally discredited. Not just for the Sudanese, but throughout the Muslim world."
It's not clear whether George Bush or John Kerry are paying any attention to Sudan right now. The president has defined America's war as a war against terrorism. But it's not. It's a war that requires us to take on the toxic Arab-world ideologies that breed terrorism. He says he wants to bring democracy to the Middle East, but he doesn't seem to have noticed that, like Saddam's Baathist state, Sudan's Islamist experiment has been exposed as a murderous authoritarianism. The region's ugliest political ideas are the enemies of liberal democracy and the United States. This is a part of America's war.
John Kerry says he's the man to bring our allies aboard, when he knows very well that neither France nor Germany have any intention of committing troops to Iraq. What does he have to lose by proposing a robust multilateral coalition to separate the two sides in Sudan? At the very least, it would show that Kerry knows leading the nation isn't about accepting our allies as the arbiters of right but of convincing the American people that what he believes is right.