Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gillian Gibbons Freed in the Sudan

As you have probably already heard, British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons was freed by Sudanese authorities on Monday. This is good news in more ways than one. Beyond the fact that Ms. Gibbons is now safely returning home, this news reflects the utter failure of the Khartoum regime and its Islamist supporters to turn this incident into a major civilizational controversy similar to the Danish Mohammed Cartoons.

In the words of an astute BBC analyst:

If Khartoum was hoping to turn the teddy bear into a rallying point for Muslims across the Middle East it was quickly disappointed.

Condemnation of the British teacher's detention came in from around the world and from all religions - leaving the government looking for an escape strategy.

To their credit, British Muslims were almost unanimous in criticizing Khartoum's actions. In fact, it was a delegation of two British Muslim MPs who helped persuade the Sudanese regime to free Ms. Gibbons.

It also appears that many Sudanese Muslims were just as offended as their British co-religionists by the prosecution of Ms. Gibbons. At first glance, this might seem a strange argument to make. After all, just last Friday, about 1,000 Islamists demonstrated in Khartoum, demanding that Ms. Gibbons be killed for her "offense". However, while this provided Sudanese Islamists ample opportunity to display their intolerance and fanaticism, it also showed their unpopularity. The New York Times' account of the demonstration explains:

Despite the display of outrage, witnesses said that many of the protesters were government employees ordered to demonstrate, and that aside from a large gathering outside the presidential palace, most of Khartoum was quiet. Imams across the city brought up the case in sermons after Friday Prayer, but few of them urged violence.

In fact, there is little evidence that the majority of Sudanese were ever really bothered by Ms. Gibbons' alleged insult. As the BBC's Amber Henshaw points out, there were many who felt "deeply upset by what has happened to Mrs Gibbons." The actions of one man in particular stand out:

At court on Thursday before the verdict, one man approached me and asked whether I was the teacher.

I said no but he continued in broken English that he had just wanted to apologise to Mrs Gibbons for the ordeal that she was being put through.

Let this be the epitaph for this absurd yet sad incident.


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