Gillian Gibbons, the teacher who was locked up by the Sudanese authorities for allowing her class to call a teddy bear Muhammad, said of her experience: “The Sudanese people I found to be extremely kind and generous and until this happened I only had a good experience.”
She also expressed hope that news of her experience would not stop westerners from going to Sudan.
She’s certainly right on the first account, and not being too unrealistic on the second. After all it’s the Sudanese people — the vast majority not fundamentalist bigots, not rich and not powerful — who have the most to fear from the fascistic Sudanese dictatorship.
If Gillian Gibbons had been a Sudanese teacher, informed on by some stooge of the government or religious authorities, he or she would have not been locked up for a few days but for months or years; would have been whipped; may now be dead. The Sudanese government do not always take prisoners.
It is good news that Gillian Gibbons has been freed and is in such good spirits, especially as she did not make a “mistake” or “misjudgment” but committed no crime at all. But remember exactly what her jailers have done to Sudan!
• Demolished all political democracy since 1989, when military ruler Omar Hassan al Bashir came to power, backed by the Islamist National Islamic Front (a Sudanese offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood).
• Continued to wage a horrific civil war in the south of the country which, in the course of two decades, has killed two million people and displaced three million.
• Systematically plundered the natural resources in order to bolster their own military-Islamist state.
• Most recently, overseen and perpetuated horrific violence and repression in the Darfur region which has killed 400,000, displaced 2 million and left 3.5 million dependent on international aid.
In Darfur violence is on the increase. Allies of the state regularly attack refugees in the camps of the region. The government is moving its allies into the region and integrating its state-sponsored militia, the janjaweed, into official security structures. They are trying to force refugees to go back to areas that are not safe.
It was easy for UK parliamentarians to secure the release of Gillian Gibbons. It would take vastly more political pressure to help the people of Darfur. Yet there are very many ways in which the UK government and other governments could do that. They choose not to.
They choose to put their faith in a very small UN peace keeping operation which will have to act as protector in many refugee camps over a vast area and an arbitrator among the many groups and militias (some government allies) now struggling for control in the region. Tragically, they will fail.