by Ian Buckley
What does this tale signify? I refer - of course - to the story of Mrs. Gibbons and her imprisonment in Sudan over the case of the toy bear named 'Muhammad'. Granted, Muslims in Sudan take their religion seriously, and the appellation 'Muhammad' is more an honorific, not a common or garden name as understood in the west.
Indeed, we must note in passing that - in former days in Western Europe - anything that savoured of blasphemy was once quite severely punished. Even during the age of steam and machinery, the restored Bourbon monarchy in France introduced the death penalty for sacrilege.
But the wealthier classes of the West have other gods to worship now, hence they are unable to have empathy with those who put their faith first.
Though maybe such people are in reality less content than the average Sudanese peasant. As British politician and diarist Alan Clark wearily commented : 'I've got £700,000 in my Abbey National Crazy-High Interest account. But what's the use? Lay not up for thyself treasures on earth.'
As is so often the case, a seemingly trivial event was the trigger that activated and re-awakened deeper discontents. The arrest and brief imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons must surely be seen in a much wider context.
Mrs. Gibbons became a symbol of the distant but omnipresent enemy that has looted, degraded and bombed Sudan. World Bank, IMF, NATO - a litany of control. But who in Britain, who in the USA, even remembers the cruise missile raids on Sudan? The major pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum was destroyed by thirteen Tomahawk missiles, for no reason whatever, except possibly to distract attention from the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Operation Infinite Reach they called it, a name that sounds like hubris, as the Greeks would say.
There has never even been a simple apology for the destruction of the Al-Shifa plant, which therefore joins an extremely long list of ignored crimes. Here we are beginning to see some context for the, er, over-reaction of Sudanese officials. Such as they feel that their country, culture and religion are under threat. Who is to say that they are totally wrong?
It goes without saying that the plight of Mrs. Gibbons received twenty, nay a hundred times, the coverage in the media than was allotted to the fate of Iain Hook. Iain Hook, who, huh - as the victims of the establishment media might say! As a UN official, Iain Hook would ordinarily have been considered to be more 'important' than a junior schoolteacher, but not when the agenda is concerned.
What does the mainstream media dish up? A sludge of trivia here, a spice of propaganda there, and a flavouring of war fever permeating the whole broth. It is some sort of awful commentary on the state of the mass media when one considers that reading Sir Richard Burton or Sir John Glubb provides more sensible and sensitive comment on the Arab world than the tendentious junk poured out today.
Not to forget historian Alan Moorehead, who said this, ironically enough in reference to Sudan in the 1880s : 'If this state had been governed entirely by greed, by inhumanity and by crude emotions it would not have continued as long as it did; the bulk of the people were not crying out for liberation as the Europeans liked to imagine they were.'
'This was the atmosphere of war, when all things become exaggerated and touched by propaganda. It was scarcely possible for any man, particularly if he was a public figure, to take a detached view, or to argue the case for the Arabs : to have done that would have meant being branded not as a liberal, not as a realist, but as a traitor.'