Where is the ghost in this Sudan story?

e1074I know that this is a very old topic around here, but here I go again. The fact that people are being massacred in the Sudan is old news by this time.

The fact that religion has a lot to do with it is old news, especially when you are dealing with the South Sudan -- where Christians and animists have been dying for many years, in numbers that are just as bad if not worse than the hellish conditions in Darfur.

It does help that Hollywood has jumped into the game when it comes to crying out for justice in Darfur. Hey, better late than never.

It is also old news that there is more to this conflict than religion and that the religious elements are complex and many-layered. The press should know all of that by now.

So I am mystified when I read a story in a major newspaper -- the Los Angeles Times, in this case -- that seems not to realize that there is much of a religious component to the Sudan fighting. I am talking about the Maggie Farley piece that ran the other day with this long double-deck headline: "Sudan rebel affects peace talks by sitting out: As other opposition leaders meet today to map strategy, Abdel Wahid will wield considerable clout -- from exile in Paris." The whole point of the story is to show that rebel leaders can be morally complex, too.

OK, I get that.

Wahid, a round-faced 39-year-old, is one of Darfur's original rebel leaders, and even from afar, a man of secrets, contradictions and considerable power. He is a holdout who gains influence over the conversation about peace by refusing to talk; a would-be peacemaker who threatens more war; a fighter for the rights of displaced people, yet a figure who derives his power from their misery. And he is one reason it is so hard to stabilize Sudan.

Wahid began the SLM in 1992 while a law student in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, to agitate for a secular democratic state and a greater share of the country's power and wealth for the long-neglected people in the vast western region of Darfur. The group evolved into an armed movement, which along with other rebels attacked Sudanese forces in 2003. The rebellion resulted in widespread retaliation by militias known as janjaweed, widely believed to be backed by the Sudanese government. The militias terrorized the villages harboring rebels, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths and driving more than 2 million people from their homes into U.N.-run camps.

Though he has been living in Paris since 2004 for what he says are security reasons, Wahid remains one of the most influential leaders of the Fur tribe, which makes up the majority of Darfur's population and has been the main target of attacks.

So please read on. Am I missing something? Is there a religious element to this story, some way of describing the alignment between this rebel and the Islamists that run the government? Is this the only truly secular leader in this whole conflict?

In other words, what is going on here?

This is not a good question to have to ask at the end of a news report. What am I missing?

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