Interview with a Sudanese blogger
IN FEBRUARY 2011, when President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan announced that his government would accept the choice of the Southern Sudanese people to split from the North, most of the media coverage was that of happiness and congratulations from other countries, including the United States. According to Aleu Garang Aleu, a spokesman for the Southern referendum bureau, “people will party. There will be disco. There will be dances. People are warming up for the celebration now.”
But what has happened since the parties have ended? How is Sudan moving forward?
I spoke with Amir Ahmad Nasr, a 24-year old Sudanese man who is also known as the Sudanese Thinker, about Sudan’s representation in the media, what some of Sudan’s challenges are now, and about a book he has coming out.
Matador: I saw that you started blogging because you felt that Sudan was very underrepresented in the media — why do you feel it is important for Sudan to have a voice out there that isn’t coming from the mainstream/Western media?
Amir: Every time Sudan is in the spotlight, it’s almost always for something extremely negative and quite horrific. In such circumstances, I feel that it’s important for Sudanese themselves to be the dominant voices, or at least a very visible part of the public discourse, so we can represent ourselves and add the important contextualization and nuances that are often missing.
Sudan, in many ways, is an enigma that needs clarification. Moreover, for us young Sudanese, for all of our lives, the term “Sudanese” and even our identity has been associated with negativity. It’s time for us to seize the opportunity social media provides to amplify our voices and correct the misconceptions out there, and to also show positive stories about Sudan as well.
What did you observe during the separation of South Sudan from the rest of the country?
Outside Sudan and the Arab world, the response to the separation has been very positive and celebratory. Inside Sudan, the reaction has been mixed.
For me and for many who have views similar to mine, it was a bittersweet moment. Bitter because a large chunk of Sudan is now gone along with its diverse populations who contributed to our mosaic, and sweet because the Southerners got the freedom and dignity they’ve been denied for so long. For others in Sudan, there was a sense of loss of national pride mixed with resentment, especially towards the Khartoum government for mismanaging things so badly.
For some right-wing racists, the reaction was heavily tainted with a “good riddance” attitude.
What has been going on since then?
The Northern government is trying to manage the crisis and the increasing pressure. The economy is worsening, and people are upset over the loss of South Sudan.
Moreover, the defiant mood in neighboring countries, thanks to the uprisings last year, is making the government quite nervous. Worse, we have the conflicts that have been unleashed near the border of the South and an emerging humanitarian crisis. If these aren’t resolved, the situation can escalate.
As for South Sudan, already, we’re witnessing the negative effects of tribalism with the recent deaths of hundreds after clashes between Southern tribes. The SPLM (Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement) needs to maintain social coherence and work sincerely to eliminate corruption. Otherwise, a free South Sudan won’t turn into the truly viable and stable state it desperately needs to become.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for Sudan right now?
Where do I even begin? The challenges are many. The biggest I’d say is the vast endemic corruption and totalitarianism of the Sudanese regime. What they’ve done to the country, and continue to do is absolutely repulsive. It’s simply not sustainable, and when we hit rock bottom, it won’t be pretty. The youth have no jobs and no prospects for a near bright future.
The established Northern opposition groups don’t inspire much confidence either. The parties themselves aren’t even democratic to begin with. There’s so much work to be done, it’s rather daunting.
Nonetheless, Sudanese can still make a difference through social entrepreneurship initiatives with a focused and limited scope. And I’d never rule out the possibility of an uprising erupting within Khartoum, or the regime imploding from within. For more details, I encourage those interested to read my article for Al Jazeera English.
You have a book coming out. Can you tell me what it’s about and what was the inspiration behind it?
My blog, The Sudanese Thinker, has led to places and experiences I never thought I’d have, and one of them is a thorough re-examination of my relationship with Islam, something I’ve been scared to do for much of my life growing up. That’s the inspiration behind my upcoming book, which has a title that’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s called Islam: A Love Story – How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind, Broke My Heart, and Blogging Freed My Mystic Soul. You can read the prologue here.
I’m writing it for a number of niche audiences, but at its core, it’s 1) a defense of freedom of conscience, 2) a thesis on the power of social media and how it can positively shape the future of faith and religious identities of the faithful, and 3) a sophisticated assessment of religion including its dark side, and why mysticism is empirically valid.
How do you hope it will impact the Muslim community?
I hope it will impact young educated Muslims by getting them to reconsider their understanding of religion, and to encourage them to become more scientifically-literate, even embracing an enriching understanding of evolution, not the godless, mechanistic, cruel understanding too many have been wrongly exposed to.
I want the book to heal the painful internal tension experienced by people of all religions, especially Muslims, who have a troubled relationship with their faith, by getting them to discover and appreciate the mystical heart of their traditions, in a way grounded in empiricism, not mere dogma or belief, and also grounded in an approach that’s transformative.
What else are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on phase two of The Future of Islam In the Age of New Media, which will include video interviews, and also a social media aggregator and portal called Voices of Sudan that will bring Sudanese tweeps, bloggers and social media users together to amplify their voices and hopefully become a force for influencing Sudan’s narrative in the media.