Genocide in the First Person: An Interview with Simon Deng

The Review recently had the opportunity to interview Simon Deng, a Sudanese Christian abducted and forced into slavery at the age of nine by a northern Sudanese Arab.

Q: We know the general story of your experiences in Sudan. But how did you escape? How did you get to the United States?

A: I did not get out of slavery on my own. I was helped by other individuals who took me out of slavery and back to southern Sudan where I was reunited with my loved ones. From there, I decided not to talk about these things, put it behind me, and go on with my life like any other human being. I immigrated later to the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, where I became a swimmer, a Sudanese champion in long-distance, and I worked on trying to correct what was being done before me by the government, the wrong things being inflicted on the Africans in Sudan. And I found it very difficult to do that work at first. I was told by people in the government not to interfere with that. Because of my status as a swimming champion, I was being accepted and my people were not. I could help people and release people, but those who were left behind would look at me with eyes that say, “what about us?” And I felt that I could not go on. So I bought a one-way ticket to the United States. I came here, knowing that here, in this country, people are always concerned about human life. But most importantly, here in this country, people are concerned about the life of animals. And I felt that, if that is the case, why is nobody concerned about what is happening in Sudan?

Q: Why do you think the world ignored the conflict in Sudan for so long? Do you think it was perhaps out of fear of offending Muslims?

A: The world ignored the problems in Sudan for so long, in my opinion, for a couple of reasons, not one reason. One, the government of Sudan was waging war on the Africans who happened to be Christians. At that time, they were calling it “jihad” against the infidels. The world, in my opinion, didn’t want to get involved because they didn’t want to be accused of being anti-Islam and anti-Arab. That is one thing.

Two, since the crime was committed by somebody who happened to be Muslim, and the victims happened to be Christians and, especially, black people in that part of the world, who cares? But today, the atrocity is still going on. According to the Sudanese government, the African culture is a savage culture that needs to be changed and transformed into the Arab culture. Three point five million were killed in southern Sudan in the name of Islam between 1955 and 2005, seven million southern Sudanese Christians became refugees, and a quarter million Nubians were slaughtered. And the UN did nothing. And the UN said nothing.

They didn’t stop there. You’re seeing it: they went to Darfur, and they turned their guns on their fellow Muslims. They’re killing these people because they made a big mistake: they took Islamization, but they didn’t take Arabization. They didn’t take the whole package, and they are paying a price today. I don’t see any reason why they have to to kill their own fellow Muslims. These are people who practice the religion of Islam better than anyone who calls him- or herself an Arab in that country. And then you have to ask yourself a question, and everyone has to ask themselves a question: then why? The answer is very simple. These people happen to be blacks, Africans. They still maintain their language as Africans, and they still maintain their culture as Africans, and today they’re paying the price.

Q: Do you think these Arab jihadists are the same target of America’s War on Terror?

A: You know, people are always using the wrong words: jihadists, terrorists, and so on. The right word to me is not terrorist. The right word to me is not War on Terror, it’s War on Ideology. These are people who believe in an ideology which teaches that Islam is going to conquer the world. Whether you agree now or you don’t, you have to go and talk to them. They will tell you that Islam is going to rule the whole world. And you’re seeing it even in Europe, even in London today, they’re calling for shari’ah to be the law of the land. So that, believe me, yes, you are probably right. What is happening is a war on ideology, on those who believe and have the conviction that it’s their way or the highway.

Q: What do you think should be done? Whose responsibility is it to take action? The United Nations? The United States? The Arab countries?

A: The UN cannot do anything. The UN is a failed organization. They failed miserably. And anybody who tells me that the UN is the right place to go, he has to tell me which UN they are talking about. Is it the UN that I know? The UN that walked away from Rwanda, after telling the Rwandans, “we will protect you, we will give you safety”? And anyone who, in their right mind, thinks that UN is the right place to go, let’s go to Rwanda and ask all those skeleton bones, “do you believe in the UN?” If there is no answer from them, what should make you and me believe in the UN today? The UN failed because they don’t follow their principles. Article 1 of the UN, what is it talking about? Article 4, when it talks about enslavement…Here you had the UN telling us that you can buy a human being for $10, and they did nothing. The UN is the not the right place to go. But it is not up to me to say who is supposed to take action. It is up to the world, and it is up to you, and it is up to those who are free. If we believe that freedom is important to us because freedom is a God-given right to every human being, then you have to ask yourself the question: to protect that freedom, what will you do?

Q: So what do you think we should we do? What can we do?

A: As I said before, I will not be the one telling anyone to do A, B, or C. It is up to the others. And the reason I say that is, we talked about what the government of Sudan was doing even before World Trade Center number one. We told everyone in the United States, look: the war is being waged on us because we are infidels. We asked them the question: if I’m an infidel because I’m a Christian, what does that make you? And they didn’t listen to us. And then came World Trade Center number one, which didn’t succeed. The US government arrested those who were involved and everyone said, “yeah, we got them.” But we said to them, “you’re wrong. You’re being so naïve. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.” And it’s true. They don’t know what they’re dealing with. If the world didn’t get the picture, not because of what happened here in the US, but worldwide: London, Russia, even all the way to India and the Philippines, then…When are you going to wake up so that you don’t need to be told by a former slave? It is up to the world.

Q: What is your main goal when you give speeches about your experiences?

A: My main goal is to let everybody know that people have already learned from history that when you decide to do nothing, at the end of the day you will be terrified. When you see evil being done on innocent people and you turn a blind eye, walk away, and do nothing, in the end you will say to yourself, “I wish I would have done something.” When you, as a free person, see somebody crying for freedom and you don’t go and support that person, knowing that freedom is a God-given right to every human being, again, you will be terrified. It was said perfectly by Martin Luther King, Jr., when he talked about love, freedom, and injustice, when he said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If you think that, in your house, nothing will come to you, think again. Think again. Where are the twin towers?

Q: How do you think the situation should be resolved? Should Sudan be divided into two countries?

A: Of course when it comes to questions about Sudan, it is up to the Sudanese to decide. But you as an outsider, you have to be a judge. You are going to be needed to judge what is wrong or right. The southern Sudanese have never seen that something called freedom. If you have a husband and wife, and they’re killing each other, you as an outsider, when you step in, what will you do? You will separate them. By doing so, you are trying to create peace. And after three million dead, the world has to ask the question: how many millions do we need from the southern Sudanese for us to act? Eventually, Sudan is going to be two entities. Why are we victimizing the southern Sudanese? Why are we victimizing those who have already suffered enough? Enough is enough.

Q: There is a current, nationwide movement claiming that Israel is an apartheid state. Having been to Israel and having lived through what you have, how do you feel about the use of the term “apartheid” in this context?

A: It is nonsense. Israel is not an apartheid state. And I say that because I was in Israel myself. I say that because we have Sudanese today in Israel who have run away from slaughter by the Sudanese government. They ran to Egypt to seek shelter and safety there, and the Egyptians turned on them and killed them, before the eyes of the world, in front of the United Nations offices in Cairo. The Sudanese, in the end, couldn’t find safety in Cairo, and they walked across the desert. Some of them were killed by Egyptian security forces on the way. When they came to Israel, the first thing that came to their mouths was “thank God, we made it.” So, for anybody who says that Israel is an apartheid state, let’s go to Sudan. If Israel is an apartheid state, what about Sudan then? For God’s sake…For the sake of argument, if Israel is an apartheid state, what does that make Iran? When women and gays and lesbians are sentenced to death, tell me where this kind of brutality happens in Israel? If Israel is an apartheid state, what about Saudi Arabia, where women don’t have freedom? In Israel, everyone has freedom, including those who call Israel an enemy state. If Israel is an apartheid state, what about Egypt, when it comes to the Egyptian Copts? To have a church in Cairo, you need a guard if you want your church to survive. Compared to these places, Israel is not an apartheid state. We should not always listen to groups like the UN, because the UN knows how to do one thing, and that is to condemn Israel when Israel defends herself when she is under attack. There are people in Israel who blow themselves up, and when Israel takes action to protect her kids, the UN condemns them. And we follow the UN. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee and find who is an apartheid state in the world. And Sudan is the first.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review