(Please see UPDATE at end)
Over the past couple of days an amazing story from Sudan has come to prominence - a teacher, of British origin, in a primary school in Sudan, held a competition amongst her pupils to name a teddy bear; the kids apparently chose the name 'Muhammad' (or 'Mohamed', depending on how you transliterate the name of the Prophet [Peace be upon Him]) as one of the pupils, also named Muhammad, thought it would be cool to name the teddy bear after himself.
So far, so harmless.
However, we are told that 'a parent' complained to the school authorities that this was a deliberate provocation to Islam and and insult to the Prophet. An official from the Sudanese Embassy in London has on several occasions today referred to the complaint by 'a parent' (on BBC 'Today' this morning and just a short time ago on BBC 'Newsnight' this evening), but none of the inteviewers have sought clarification about the identity of this 'parent' who lodged the complaint. For example, does the parent exist?
The story has been peddled by the official from the Sudanese Embassy that it is normal for a complaint from 'a parent' to be followed-up by the authorities there, just as it would in the UK. I have two things to say about this particular aspect of this story: first, I agree but it is not clear that the 'teacher', were it in the UK, would immediately have been arrested an held in custody; secondly, the impression is somehow being given by the official from the Sudanese embassy, and not challenged by interviewers on the 'Today' or 'Newsnight' programmes, that Sudan is a perfectly normal country with a fully independent judiciary operating according to rules analagous to our own (as perhaps it had and did soon after its independence from the UK). Would it were so!
Then we, or at least me, suddenly remember some of the other recent news stories issuing from Sudan involving that part of the country called 'Darfur'. More specifically the charges against the Sudanese government that it has sponsored genocide in Darfur.
Briefly, I think there is rather more to this story about a British teacher supposedly insulting the good name of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon Him] than is at first apparent. I rather suspect that Gillian Gibbons is an entirely innocent pawn in a rather sordid game of politics. I hope that the British government will ensure that this British citizen is properly represented and that her rights are protected.
UPDATE: (Thursday 29NOV07 20.15 GMT) I heard in a news report earlier this evening that the person who reported the 'teddy bear' incident to the Sudanese authorities was an 'office worker' at the school; it is possible, I suppose, that this 'office worker' is also a 'parent'. Perhaps we will hear more about this in due course. From news reports this evening it seems that Ms Gibbons has been convicted of one of the three charges against her and sentenced to 15 days in gaol, after which she is to be deported. I hate to pre-judge, but it looks very much as if this whole case has been concocted and that a suitable 'formula' has been found to satisfy both the prejudices of those in Sudan who have been whipped up into a state of righteous indignation against this 'infidel' teacher and of the equally righteous indignation of people in Britain who (like me) are outraged by this idiotic case. I suspect (and I certainly hope) that Ms Gibbons will be treated with 'kid gloves' by the Sudanese authorities whilst in their custody untill she is safely out of Sudanese airspace.