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Sudanese Responses To: "Obama And My Son": Mohammad Ali Salih, Washington, DC, USA
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Mar 8, 2008 - 8:46:38 AM

SUDANESE RESPONSES TO:

Mohammad Ali Salih: “Obama And My Son”: “ USA TODAY”: 22-2-2008

 

(FROM THE E-MAIL):

 

Dr. Albaqir Mukhtar:  

Dear Mohamed Ali Salih,

How are you my friend? Thanks for sharing with us this nice passage, and the interesting dialogue with your son.

Of course you know that I cannot resist the temptation of getting into the debate about identity.

The point that I take issues with you on is the way you sort your multiple identities; you put your cultural identities (the religion of Islam and Arabic culture) on top of your national identity (American and for that matter Sudanese), and you dropped your racial identity from the equation.

I see two problems here; first it is impossible that one  could liberate oneself from their racial identity, but one can make it the basis for reaching out to his or her human identity. For instance, Nelson Mandela will always remain a "black" African man, and at the same time a great human being; it is not either or.  

The same is true for other great individuals, such as Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Mahmoud Mohammad Taha. Identities are not "decided" unilaterally, but rather "negotiated" with "others",  i.e. we don't indulge in self-definition regardless of what the others think of us. You may remember my triangular definition of identity; i.e. self-definition, others' definition, and recognition by the centre of the chosen identity.

The other problem is that your cultural identity is your salient identity, and you relegate your national identity to the third class.

This is highly problematic in multi-cultural societies, such as the USA , the UK , and Sudan , just to mention a few examples, and it ultimately leads to disloyalty to the country that offers you rights and protection.  

This is exactly the dilemma of Muslims in the west; their loyalty is somewhere else whenever a conflict arises between the country that embraced them and gave them the dignity and rights that they didn't have in the countries of their origins, and a Muslim country.

This is also our problem in Sudan ; the cultural identities of the ruling class are above their national identity; they define themselves as Arabs and/or Muslims first and Sudanese second.  Could this be the reason why people in Riverian Sudan identify with Palestinian and Iraqi victims more than they do with Southern Sudanese (non-Muslims) and Darfurians (non-Arabs)?

Sincerely,

Albaqir

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MY RESPONSE:

Thank you, Brother Albaqir, for your comments.

I should start by saying I missed you after you left Washington , DC : your friendship and the discussions we used to have. Also, I try to follow your activities; please put me on your mailing list if you write a paper (or a book; I will be glad to review it).

Now, there are two generations between my son and me, and one generation between Obama and me. 

I probably will never understand my son's idealism (post-race, no-race, etc).  But, I am trying to catch up with Obama. Clearly, Obama is trying to "change" people thinking about race, although, being a politician, he does not mind playing the race card whenever it benefits him.

For me, race is always there.

But, like I wrote in this piece, after more than twenty difficult years of trying to find my identity as a Sudanese immigrant in America , I have realized that: (1) Race does not have anything to do with my identity.  (2) My identity is in my mind, not in my face. (3) I decide my identity, not others. 

I just finished reviewing "My Grandfather's Son," the memoirs of Clarence Thomas, the black Supreme Court Justice.  I was saddened by how the color of his skin has become the core of his identity.  Of course, like the rest of us who have lived among black Americans, I understand the legacy of slavery, discrimination, etc.

But, like I wrote in my piece, long time ago, I got sick and tired of this "white guilt - black victimization" syndrome.  And, long time ago, I decided I was not going to be part of it.

When I say my faith is the core of my identity, I don't mean it has to be Islam.  I could have been a Christian or a Jew, but would have needed something higher to believe in than my color, tribe, country, traditions, heritage, etc ...

Thanks to my son, during earlier discussions, I have come to believe that faith in one's self should be higher than that in God (or in Buddha, or in a cow or in a kujour) for the simple reason that our thinking leads us to believe in God (or Buddha, or a cow, or a kojour) or in no one, or only in ourselves.

So, Brother Albaqir, like they say, it is all in your mind.

And so, I don't agree with: “we don't indulge in self-definition regardless of what the others think of us".  This is not different from what Judge Thomas said in his book: "Whatever we think of ourselves, people still look at us as black."

Let us see to what extend the Sudanese in America have "liberated" themselves from the color of their skins as part of their identity.

I am looking for a research on this subject to translate, for the sake of a wider discussion.

Regards.

Mohammad

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Y.Y.;

Dear Mohammad/Albaqir, 

I read with great interest your two theses. You are both erudite from whom we should learn and benefit.  Allow me to contribute a little, for whatever this little is worth. 

In Sudan , we have tribes as the lowest rung in the ladder. It is synonymous with a backward society. Above this rung, you have the Taifa: Ansar, Khatmia etc.

The Taifa includes many tribes across Sudan , from Darfur to Kassala, to the White Nile . They feel like one family. And the last rung of the ladder is citizenship which I call identity  

So, I am Sudanese and I feel all the Sudanese are my family, irrespective of creed, religion, race and culture.

Sudanese is my identity and my citizenship.

At the same time, I am a Moslem and Arab. The one does not cancel the other. They all live together in me.  

So, I am equally Sudanese, Moslem and Arab.   I do not attach a great importance to both my Arab and Moslem part of myself.

I believe that religion is between the person and his God and is highly personal.  

I never judge people by their religion.  Religion for me is very minor. I am a practicing Moslem and pray five times a day and fast Ramadan and try to be a good Moslem, as far as I can.   But I never ask anybody what is your religion and judge him by that. Never.

Also, I do not feel that I am Arab because I speak Arabic.   I am Arabi -speaking because I speak Arabic.

I am African because Sudan is in Africa .

I am Sudanese because this is my citizenship/identity.

Because of the South, I do not want to attach a great importance to my Arabic heritage. I want to forget that I am Arab so as not to alienate my other citizens who are not Arab.   I judge people by their education, knowledge and awareness.   Not by being Arab or Moslem or for that matter Sudanese.

I feel at ease with Sudanese of the Nile because I believe they are a good bunch.  May be because I am one of the herds.  

When I am out of Sudan , I do not care a damn what others think of me. I try to behave and respect myself.   If others do not respect me, then I keep away or take the matter to justice, if it is worth it.

But I am never color-conscious, race-conscious, religion-conscious or Arab-conscious.   I am married to a Sudanese lady for the last thirty years. Believe me, I do not know up till now her tribe. I do not care if my son becomes Christian or atheist. This is his choice and is very personal.

I am very upset at the notion that South Sudan will cede. I am against this because I think that it is in the interest of everybody that we should stay together.  

Sorry for being long. It was nice to read your thought-provoking ideas. I will discuss them with people around me, and give you their feedback. May be I will write an article on it. And I wish to thank Mohammad for giving me this opportunity to comment.

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A.Z.:
The views of your son on race show that the time has come to implement the ancient Socratic dictum that the home of a great-souled person is the whole world.  

This led to the Stoics philosophy of the brotherhood
of mankind irrespective of race, color or creed.   And this was what Alexander the Great attempted to achieve practically.

I think race, and adopting it as an identity, is the root of all evil that bedeviled mankind.   It endangered the notion of the chosen people.   It encouraged the tribal mentality which allowed those who are proud of their race to hate the others, attack and enslave them.  

Also, taking race as an identity had given birth to the twin evil institutions of slavery and war.   I guess racial identity is similar to those bad passions which are ingrained in the constitution of our minds such as hatred, envy, malice, possessiveness etc... We must get rid of these so as to become civilized.

Therefore racial identity ought not be prioritized, let alone taken as an identity.   It must be banished from our souls like the above-mentioned unbecoming passions.   So that one day the worth of a person all over the world is not judged by his race or color but by his intellectual endowments and moral worth as Martin Luther had dreamed long time ago. Your son must be congratulated for his precocious vision.
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F.D.:

I enjoyed the beautiful debate and I should be very thankful to your son for the lesson he taught me, too. I will save this article because I believe that it might help me in the future with my children if I faced a similar situation. 
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I.B.:
Thanks for a great article.  I think our generation could not understand this profound inter-generational shift into the "post-race" culture; and, I guess, that is also the reason why we could not appreciate the prospects of Obama's electability in what we regard as a racially divided society.

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M.I.:

Congratulations, not only for a superb write-up but also for superb ideas.   Obama is doing something great to all people of color, all over the world. If Dr. King liberated us from unfair laws, Obama is liberating us from self-doubt. This is our second liberation.   In that sense, we hail him whether he wins or loses.
On a personal note, brace up, you have bred another Obama!

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