Wearing a frown that creased his unreasonably handsome features, George Clooney was handcuffed by police outside the gates of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, DC on March 16, during a protest against a renewed military offensive by the Khartoum regime in the border areas of newly independent South Sudan. The Hollywood actor was shepherded to a waiting patrol car along with a troupe of civil rights leaders, including several Jewish representatives, who were also detained.

The spectacle was a timely reminder that the coalition which crystallized around the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region — in which Jewish communal organizations were heavily involved, together with assorted celebrities and civil rights groups — has endured. South Sudan is the site of a bloody and seemingly endless conflict that has already claimed upwards of two million lives. The country now faces a new round of murder and mass displacement at the hands of its northern neighbor.

How should these latest horrors be contextualized? In a recent interview, Clooney discussed his visit to the Nuba Mountains, the inhospitable terrain that lies at the heart of the current conflict. “Religion is not an issue,” he said, when asked about the causes of the war. “In the camps you will find Christians and Muslims hiding together. It is ethnic in nature.”

Given the increasingly sharp debate about Islam here in America, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the liberal Clooney is keen to avoid talk of a religious war. Nonetheless, the Islamist character of the regime in Khartoum can hardly be deemed incidental to the conflict.

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