I can not imagine what Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir had for dinner the evening when he made his fervent speech in Darfur where he proclaimed ‘America, Britain, and France are all underneath my shoes’. I hope that the President’s shoes remain in good condition because he will surely need them over the coming days.
That said, it is Bashir’s good fortune that the metaphor of being underneath one’s shoes is lost in translation and is not such an insult in the West, as it is in our culture, for surely such a remark made by the President about an Arab country would have led to war.
Let’s compare the words used by the Sudanese President to greet ‘his colleague’ President-elect Barack Obama and those used by the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The Israeli Barak addressed the American Barack, who is of African and Islamic heritage, with an open letter in the Hebrew-language newspaper ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ with the words ‘Dear Mr. President-Elect Obama’.
The Israeli Barak, despite his country’s influence, addressed Obama with the words ‘Dear Mr. President-Elect’ while the paranoid Sudanese President who is under investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) greeted the democratic president’s election with his shoes; and you ask why things are getting worse for us?
Al Bashir knows that his army, which he built using squandered Sudanese funding, is able to defeat those that are starving in the Darfur camps, but that’s all they can do because of his failure to meet with the JEM rebels that attacked the city of Omdurman after they had penetrated internal security and traveled hundreds of kilometers without experiencing any losses. Al Bashir’s courage in front of the poverty-stricken people of Darfur does not conceal the truth, which is that he is in a state of severe panic regarding the investigation by the ICC, which has forced him to request reconciliation and support from his political opponents, who he has tormented for the past twenty years, with the pledge of stopping these operations against them.
How else can we comprehend the contradictory nature of the Sudanese President’s language?
It stems from the President’s belief that the people of Darfur are isolated from the world. They do not watch television, they’ve heard nothing of Obama or McCain, and then there is the general prosecutor who is pursuing the President relentlessly regarding the promised ICC trial.
Therefore President Al Bashir makes his speeches in two separate political languages; one to the people of Darfur and these are heroic speeches in which he threatens and menaces, and declares that America, Britain, and France are underneath his shoes. While the other speeches he makes in Khartoum are in a completely different political language. Here he pledges reform, and concessions, and suggests that instead of being tried by the ICC, he is tried locally in a court under his own supervision to put the whole matter behind him.
Yet when you read Ehud Barak’s address to the President-Elect, Ehud Barak who today holds the post of Israeli Defense Minister and probably fills larger shoes than those worn by the Sudanese President- you see an open message of friendship written without any arrogance or ego. And without any threatening language either, rather Barak reminds the President-Elect that as leader of such a large country he will also be responsible for the safety and security of the whole world, and that Israel is a friend both to him, and to the United States, and stands ready to provide further support to the new President.
If Omar Al Bashir had any political sense he would see that it is wiser to benefit from this historic opportunity in the United States since President-Elect Obama has initiated peace, and is offering Al Bashir the opportunity for a real peace, not a fictional peace as was seen previously in Darfur. If Al Bashir pledged to give President-Elect Obama what he refused to give to President George Bush, then maybe he will have begun laying a positive foundation towards building a good relationship.