Sudan at War—the Ominous Religious Dimension

Isam Al-Haj/AFP/Getty Images

Sudan at War—the Ominous Religious Dimension

This blood-soaked region is descending into violence once again. This time it threatens to explode well beyond national borders.

Sudan has been one of the bloodiest blots on the planet for most of the past half century. The last civil war—which lasted more than two decades, killed nearly 2 million people and displaced 4 million more—only ended in 2005. Finally, after six years of brittle peace, South Sudan declared its independence last July in a wave of hope for a peaceful future.

However, unresolved issues between north and south still lay on the table. Now, after just nine months of South Sudan’s existence, those issues are exploding into yet another regrettable conflict.

Already innocent people are dying. But the situation threatens to blow up into a much larger crisis, even to add fuel to a looming large-scale religious war.

Sudan has become a radical Islamist state. Carving the Christian and animist South away from the north removed what religious diversity the country had; what remains is avowedly Muslim. Since the South’s secession, President Omar al-Bashir has pledged to increase the power of sharia law, and his government’s persecution of non-Muslims is becoming increasingly bold.

One region in Sudan home to many Christians is the Nuba Mountains. For several months, Khartoum has been bombing its half a million inhabitants—with some of the air strikes specifically targeting churches—and blocking humanitarian aid to them. Consequently, a famine looms, and large numbers of refugees are fleeing.

Throughout Sudan, Catholics are facing a marked increase in threats, harassment and attacks. Imams preach weekly anti-Christian messages in the country’s mosques. Local media stir up hatred and demand that the government deport the predominantly Christian South Sudanese. The daily Al Intibaha newspaper, for example, has described them as “cancer cells in the body of Sudan, the land of the Arab and Islam.”

The Bashir government declared that as of Easter Sunday of this year, April 8, all South Sudanese still living in the north would no longer be considered citizens: They needed to move to South Sudan or apply for “alien residency.” Remarkably, this ruling broadly defined “South Sudanese” as anyone with even one great-grandparent born in the south—of which there around 700,000 in Sudan, many of whom have lived in the north all their lives and don’t even have South Sudanese citizenship. But Bashir says they have no place in a “strictly Islamic state.”

Facing strong international arm-twisting, when April 8 rolled around, the government gave these ethnic southerners another 30 days to register as foreigners or get out. But the pressure on these “foreigners” only got worse on April 9. It was reported that on that day, all flights and land routes to South Sudan were closed, and no word was given on when they would resume. The same day, an Islamic mob drove a bulldozer to demolish a Bible school in Khartoum, arguing that the Southern Sudanese were no longer legal citizens and saying the land should be returned to “the land of Islam.” Reports have emerged of ethnic southerners feeling trapped and fearing where the growing hostility will lead.

Amid this bubbling religious tension, the contentious issue of oil has given rise to even greater violence.

When the South seceded, it took with it over three fourths of the formerly united nation’s oil supply. Given this tough economic blow to the north, you can imagine how controversial the subject was in secession talks. Negotiators, in fact, never did agree on oil revenue sharing, nor over the exact border between the countries in some places.

Trouble has arisen in one particularly strategic border oil town, Heglig. About half the north’s oil production comes from oil fields in the Heglig area, making it economically vital to Khartoum. The International Court of Justice has ruled that it belongs to Sudan, and President Bashir has vowed to “never give up” the region. Last month, clashes broke out between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces. After two weeks of heavy fighting, South Sudan’s forces emerged with control over the disputed area. Both sides blamed the other for starting the conflict, but given the area’s importance to Khartoum, the South’s occupation essentially constituted “a military aggression with the obvious aim of weakening Sudan and threatening its existence,” in the words of The United Nations declared it an illegal capture and told the South to evacuate its troops.

Last Friday, South Sudan’s forces pulled out. They claimed they did so in order to comply with the UN, but Sudan claimed it had forced them out—and then officially declared war. President Omar al-Bashir vowed to overthrow the government and “liberate” the South Sudanese.

On Monday, Sudanese warplanes carried out air strikes on towns near Heglig that killed and wounded several people. (One Sudanese military commander claimed over 1,200 South Sudanese had been killed.) “There will be no negotiation with the South,” Bashir said Monday in Arabic on Sudanese government radio. “We have spoken to them now with guns and bullets. … We will teach the government of South Sudan a lesson.” The bombing continued into Tuesday.

Now, the bbc is reporting that the South is building up troops near the border. Satellite images confirm that the north is amassing military strike aircraft at two air bases. The descent into a broader war seems likely.

In all these clashes, religious undertones are never far from the surface, and life for Christians in the north keeps getting worse. This past Saturday, a mob reported to be around 300 Muslims torched a Catholic church in Khartoum.

These events are just one part of an unmistakable trend across the Middle East and North Africa: a mounting Muslim offensive against Christianity. Christians are increasingly suffering personal assaults, attacks on churches, forced conversions, thefts, sexual abuse of women, murders and executions. Places of worship are being bombed or torched, sometimes with Christians inside. Last month, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” Nigeria’s Christian population has almost entirely fled the country after facing slaughter at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Half of Iraq’s Christians have left. Egypt has experienced an exodus of at least 100,000 Christian Copts. Violent anti-Christian incidents have also been reported in Syria, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uganda, Somalia, Algeria and several other nations in the region.

It all adds up to a huge poke in the eye of the Vatican. This is no minor development.

In fact, it points directly to one of the Bible’s most shocking end-time prophecies.

The Catholic Church has had considerable influence in South Sudan. In a nation fractured by tribalism, the church is practically the only functioning institution that can bridge the divisions and help stabilize the country. It was deeply instrumental in bringing about South Sudan’s vote for independence last year. The reasons for the Vatican’s—as well as Germany’s—interest in the country are robust, as Ron Fraser explained in the September 2011 Trumpet issue. In fact, these two entities’ robust support for dividing Sudan was aimed specifically at weakening Muslim, Arab Sudan. Thus, these European players have already demonstrated their willingness to use South Sudan as something of a pawn in accomplishing their own broader aims.

The perspective supplied by biblical prophecy helps us place the growing conflict in Sudan in the context of end-time events. It is part of a provocation that will ultimately rouse the Vatican to mount a European political and military beast and lash out against those who are persecuting its flock.

We are witnessing nothing less than the build-up toward an epic religious clash between Muslims and Catholics—a modern repeat of the Crusades that will lead directly to the most destructive war in history!