First we take Khartoum, then we take Berlin
Sudan and Syria are waiting for an American Response
The tide of anti-American demonstrations continues to swell as fervent protests spread throughout countries in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia. Last week, protesters in Egypt breached the walls of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and in Libya protesters attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Two days later, hundreds of radical Islamists attacked the British embassy and set fire to the German embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. Then in Bangladesh, thousands of protesters burned U.S. and Israeli flags, after police prevented them from approaching the U.S embassy. Outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hundreds of Afghans, some shouting “Death to America”, burned the U.S. flag and an effigy of President Obama. Even in the West on the streets of London, 150 protesters marched to the US embassy chanting, “burn burn USA” as an American flag went up in flames.
An American “response” came quickly. On September 15th, the U.S. State Department ordered the withdrawal of non-essential U.S. government personnel and family members from its embassies in Sudan and Tunisia and warned U.S. citizens against travel to those countries. U.S. President Barack Obama also contacted U.S. diplomats at a number of American missions in the Arab world in an effort to reassure, and has promised to send marines in to help secure embassies in the region.
Securing the life of American diplomats and calling for restraint is expected, however, a real American response has yet to come and many in the Middle East and Africa are waiting.
The events of the past days serve as a potent example of the struggle we face in a growing number of fronts today. This is an orchestrated struggle between Islamists who seek any excuse to continue a journey of Jihad and violence, and moderates who seek to protect the values of freedom, dignity and human rights. This is a clash of values – but not a clash of civilizations; at least not yet. Unfortunately, the “Western Civilization” has not been fighting alongside moderate Muslims or secular groups who risk their life to spread the Middle Eastern and African version of “American Values”. Last Friday, tens of thousands of Libyans, carrying pro-American banners had stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia – the Islamist group in Benghazi suspected of involvement in attack on the U.S. Consulate. But not a word for them as well. Here again, America is “leading from behind” or chooses not to lead at all.
Months before the attack in Bengazi, the quest for a real American response has been echoing strongly. Many Syrians hoped for U.S. action as they witnessed the Iranian and Russian governments throw support to a dictator on a killing spree. Assistance from the West was visibly absent. It didn’t take long for Islamist factions and Al Qaida to join the fray calling for the formation of “suicide cells to make Jihad in the name of God.” The Free Syrian Army does not stand a fighting chance against a fully equipped regular army, yet help to change that balance of power has not been forthcoming.
Take Sudan. Sudan struggles for decades to free itself from an oppression Islamist regime in Khartoum. President Omar al Bashir of Sudan has the distinction of being the first sitting president to be indicted by the ICC for directing a campaign of mass killing, and he continues to rely on Islamist militias to fight the secular opposition. The genocide in Darfur has already claimed 400,000 lives and displaced over 2,500,000 people and the killing keeps on as Bashir’s airplanes and gunship bomb civilians daily. But again, America is visibly absent, occasionally condemning the killing with words of sympathy while the Sudan Liberation Movement, chaired by Abdul Wahid Al-Nour, fights virtually alone for a decade to establish a secular, liberal and democratic Sudan.
As the deadly wave of Islamic extremism continues to swell, engulfing country after country and killing thousands in its wake, America reassures and remains visibly absent. And while fanatics storm Western embassies, other moderate Muslims, clerics and secular leaders like Wahid Al-Nour, struggle in isolation to bring about democracy, equal rights, and stability to their homelands. They cannot and will not sit and wait for the West to wake up and be present. They act because they want to live freely and because they care about the future of their children. But they should not have to fight alone. America and the West should help them with their fight or risk with the alternative: failure on the part of Western forces to intervene in Syria and Sudan spells victory for those storming American, British, and German embassies that will surely march for more.
First they’ll take Khartoum, and then they’ll take Berlin. New York might be next and we do not wish to see that again. So, this is the time to lead. It is a time to help some decent people win a fight.
Dr. Nir Boms is co-founder of CyberDissidents.org. Abdellatif Abdelrahman is the Peace Desk director of the Sudan Liberation Movement