Giant ghost in South Sudan (updated)

Anyone who has been near a news rack knows that one of the major stories in the world today is the birth of South Sudan as a nation, rising out of an ocean of bloodshed and oppression over the past few decades. So here is a short test for news consumers (and for editors):

True or false: The bloodshed in this land has been rooted in ethnic and tribal tensions, even in the Darfur region in which Muslims who are black have been crushed by northern Muslims who are Arabs.

True or false: The conflict in this land has been rooted in economic factors, including the Arab north's desire to hang on to major oil fields.

True or false: The violence has been caused by religious tensions, in part due to the actions of the Islamist regime in the north (mostly Arab) to force conversions upon Christian and Animist believers (mostly Africans).

True or false: The answer to all of these questions is "true."

The answer, of course, is "true" in each case.

This civil war has been about blood, oil and religion. There is no way to grasp the importance of the story without dealing with each of these factors. That's why your GetReligionistas went out of our way to praise a recent New York Times report that did an unusually fine and balanced (but not perfect) job of walking American readers through this hellish labyrinth.

We know that it's hard work to cover a story this complex in a small amount of ink. However, one of the mantras of GetReligion is that it is impossible to understand how the world really works without taking religion seriously. That's why we praise journalists who do that and, well, snipe at those who do not.

So here we are on THE DAY, the day in which South Sudan is officially recognized as a nation -- a primary foreign policy goal of the White House in the past two administrations. You would think that this is the day in which the lead story on this issue needs to get the true or false test straight.

You would think wrong if the newspaper on your doorstep was the Washington Post. So what was all of this bloodshed about?

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is expected to attend Saturday’s ceremony. He has promised to accept the oil-rich south’s secession, after initially balking at losing a Texas-size region that had provided much of his government’s revenue.

But the north and south are divided over key issues that were supposed to be resolved by now under the peace accord. They include how to fully demarcate the border, divide oil revenue and determine which side will control the disputed region of Abyei.

And northern Sudan is still riven with conflicts. Peace in the Darfur region remains elusive. A month ago, the Sudanese began bombing Southern Kordofan, an oil-producing state that will also remain part of Sudan. Anti-government fighters in the area mostly belong to the Nuba, a non-Arab group made up of northerners who sided with the southern rebels during the 21-year war.

You can just feel the tensions, right? Or how about this tiny hint toward the end at the depths of the conflict here, one that many have called the most overlooked tragedy in the recent history of our planet. The word "genocide"? Yes, people have been using that term for a long time, on the left and the right, and with good cause.

Thus, we are told:

The 2005 peace accord ended a grinding war between the largely Arab, Islamic northerners and the southerners, who are mainly Christian and animist and had long complained of discrimination.

That's that. Good night, all. Two million dead? Four million displaced?

Perhaps the story covering the actual event will be better? So far, the Post is going with this short story from the Associated Press.

UPDATE: Believe it or not, today's story is just as haunted. If anything, the religion-shaped hole is even bigger.


Contrast that short Post piece today with this longer story in the Times, in which religious themes -- historical and current -- are everywhere.

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