After the Referendum:Sudan Negotiates National and Religious Identity in the North

By Alex Thurston

The secession of South Sudan in July 2011 posed an existential question for (North) Sudan: what will be the political and cultural basis of the nation, which is in some ways a new country itself?

In December 2010, shortly before the referendum on Southern secession, President Omar al Bashir gave his answer:

“We’ll change the Constitution,” he said in a televised speech. “Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”

Bashir reiterated this promise in October, adding, “Ninety eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this.”

Bashir’s call for a consolidation of the state’s Arab-Islamic identity is calculated to appeal to the base of Islamists who brought him to power in 1989, many of whom continue to support the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). But it sits poorly with a number of groups in the new Sudan, including many Muslims. Efforts to use Islam as the basis of political power have a long history in Sudan, but past attempts to impose Bashir’s brand of political Islam have also hit major resistance. The many forces opposed to his regime have their own ideas about the country’s future. Continue Reading →

Painting a State of Suspension

by Narges Bajoghli

“The Chronicle of Her Innocence” by Bahar Behbahani at NYU Abu Dhabi
19 Washington Square North, New York, NY 10003
September 29, 2011 – January 27, 2012

“I, and only I, am responsible for what I recall and see, not individuals in the past who could not have known what effect they might have on me.” (Edward Said)

Sitting in her airy studio in Brooklyn, hair pulled back in a loose bun, and in comfortable work clothes with paint on her sleeves, Bahar Behbahani excitedly points to this line from Edward Said’s memoir, Out of Place (2000). One of two books sitting on her spotless work desk, Out of Place becomes a natural part of our conversation as we talk about memories, home, childhood, immigration, the Middle East, war, and stereotypes. “The importance of words, symbols, and signifiers to Edward Said really resonates with me,” Behbahani says as she flips through her notebook where she’s copied her favorite passages of his text.  “The way he plays with words, his attention to their meanings, is what I try to do with my paintings.” For the Iranian-born artist, Said’s notions of immigration and memories resonate on a deeply personal level. Continue Reading →