Monday, December 3, 2007

Tale Of The Teddy Bear Ends.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) -- In an effort to shut down Khartoum's Unity High School, a disgruntled former employee alerted Sudanese officials that a British teacher had allowed her class to name a teddy bear "Mohammed," a British source and Sudanese presidential palace source told Time magazine's Sam Dealey.


An undated amateur photo shows Gillian Gibbons, who was jailed for allowing children to name a teddy bear "Mohammed".

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was convicted last week of insulting religion and sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir pardoned her from her prison sentence on Monday and she was released hours later. She is expected to leave for England soon.

The two sources said Sarah Khawad was fired as the school's secretary in November after an employment spat and threatened to shut down the school.

The sources said Khawad did not appear to have a vendetta against Gibbons, but hoped that by bringing the teddy bear incident to the education minister's attention, he would close down the school for anti-Islamic teachings. Video Watch Time magazine's Sam Dealey's report on the pardon »

The private school was shut down after the controversy came to light last week. It is unclear if it will reopen.

Although there is no ban in the Quran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's founder, some Muslims consider likenesses highly offensive.

The sources said they have confirmed the account with Gibbons.

Defense attorneys confirmed that it was Khawad who launched the initial complaint against Gibbons, not a parent as originally thought. Khawad also testified at Gibbons' trial.

Before approaching Sudan's education minister, the two sources said Khawad tried to enlist two parents, who were also teachers at the school, to join in her protest against the teddy bear's name, but they declined.

Gibbons had been working at the school -- popular with wealthy Sudanese and expatriates -- since August, after leaving her position as deputy head teacher at a primary school in Liverpool this summer, said the head of Unity High School, Robert Boulos.

She had asked her class of 7-year-olds to come up with a name for the toy as part of a school project, he said.

Classmates took turns taking the teddy bear home with them, accompanied by a diary with the bear's name written in the front of it, he said.

She was taken into custody on November 25 and tried days later in a Sudanese court. She was cleared of charges of inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs.

Gibbons had initially faced the possibility of 40 lashes and a six-month jail term for insulting Islam.


The incident sparked a diplomatic row, with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband calling on his Sudanese counterpart to dismiss the charges. Two British lawmakers, both Muslims, traveled to Khartoum to help secure her release.

It also resulted in angry protests in Khartoum, with some calling for the British woman's execution.


Cooler heads finally prevailed in Khartoum and in the UK. Once again I am reminded of the genius of the founders in separating church and state. The Sudan government shows what happens when fundamentalist religion is allowed to run a state. The toxic mix here is one part religious extremism mixed with one part anti-colonialism and garnish with political instability.

The Sudan is a creation of the British Colonial past. It is an afterthought of British goals in the East. The UK occupied the Sudan to protect it's investment in Egypt which protected its interest in the Arabian sea which was vital to the defense of India. Plus there was the little matter of slaughtering a few uppity Wogs that had the unmitigated gaul to kill off a British Garrison. Like much of the UK's empire Sudan was acquired as an afterthought, for no really good reason other than accident.

The borders of the Sudan having been drawn higgeldy-piggeldy by clueless imperialists, the post colonial government has had trouble keeping the ship of state from breaking up into dozens of pieces. It Islamic principles have rubbed raw the feelings of the Christian and Animist south. Plus there is the conflict between Arabs and Blacks and the not totally separate conflict between agriculturalists and pastoralists that adds fuel to the fire. Sudan is always a crisis waiting to happen.

Fortunately, a way was found to cut losses all around and bury this matter in a deep grave. To the unsung heroes who did the spade work we must give them our thanks.
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