Next: Teddy Bear War?

Gillian Gibbons, the British school-teacher sentenced to 15 days in prison in Sudan for naming a class teddy bear “Mohammed,” has been transfered to a secret location after thousands of Sudanese—many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums—marched in Khartoum to demand her execution. Some burned pictures of Gibbons and chanted “Kill her! Kill her by firing squad!” (Canadian Press, GMA, Dec. 1)

Two Muslim British peers on a mercy mission to Sudan hope to meet President Omar al-Bashir to seek a pardon for Gibbons. Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi, from the upper house of Britain’s parliament, met with Gibbons in her prison cell. “I want people to know I’ve been well-treated, and especially that I’m well fed,” she said in a statement. “I’ve been given so many apples I feel I could set up my own stall.” (AFP, Dec. 1)

Ironically, the imbroglio has pushed from the world headlines the far more critical crisis brewing between Sudan and Europe—over the obstacles Khartoum has erected to the Darfur peacekeeping force, UNAMID. UN peacekeeping operations chief Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council that Khartoum’s demands “would make it impossible for the mission to operate.” Among other demands, Sudan wants advance notice of troop movements and to be able to shut down communications. The 26,000-strong UN/AU force is due to arrive by year’s end, but is still awaiting Khartoum’s authorization for non-African troops, land for UNAMID bases, and approval for night flights. (BBC, Nov. 28)

As we had to point out during last year’s cartoon crisis, it wasn’t really about cartoons: It is oppression under a Western-enforced order in the Muslim world that provides the raw material of popular anger for such violent outbursts. The struggle in the background this time concerns fears over the integrity of Sudan’s national territory and access to its oil wealth.

History has already seen a “Pastry War” (1838), which supposedly concerned debts over a ransacked French pastry shop in Mexico City, but was more fundamentally a scheme by the restored Bourbons to re-establish a New World empire at the expense of independent Mexico. We’ve also seen a “Football War” (1969), which was allegedly sparked over stadium violence in El Salvador-Honduras World Cup play-offs, but more fundamentally concerned encroachment by Salvadoran peasants displaced from their lands by the coffee boom into Honduran territory—a vagary of incipient globalization that was also taking a grave toll in tropical deforestation and would eventually lead to the Salvadoran guerilla movement of the 1980s.

If the bizarre Gibbons case escalates along with the show-down over Darfur, will the media bequeath the depoliticized sobriquet of “Teddy Bear War” to the subsequent drive for military recolonization of Sudan by the European powers?

See our last posts on Sudan and the struggle within Islam.

  1. oil or idiocy?

    “It is oppression under a Western-enforced order in the Muslim world that provides the raw material of popular anger for such violent outbursts.”

    Sure, but isn’t there also an issue with ‘backward cultures‘ that use superstition/religion to keep their underclasses in a frenzy about threats from the decadent west? Cartoonists, teachers and women should not be sacrificed to geo-political analysis. Sometimes bigotry, misogyny and superstition run deeper than oil.

    1. Both oil and idiocy
      As we have written:

      There is really a three-way civil war underway throughout the Islamic world. The three inter-related conflicts are: 1.) Sunni v. Shia, 2.) fundamentalism v. secularism, and 3.) national liberation v. imperialism. The sad irony is that it is the social iniquities that underly this last contradiction that provide the raw material of endemic rage—which is increasingly exploited, siphoned off as it were, into the prior two. Fundamentalists conflate secularism and imperialism (given a propaganda boost by their neocon enemies, who do likewise), and pose the only alternative as a purified, hegemonic Islam which must, of course, crush internal heresy.

      Perhaps the most demoralizing thing about the contemporary world scene is the near-complete evisceration of any type of conscious anti-imperialism.

      1. worse than oil and idiocy
        IMHO this is “the most demoralizing thing about the contemporary world scene” (and a much bigger problem than global warming). Ruling elites, here and abroad, working idiots into a frenzy by shouting ‘God’ definitely makes the top five.

  2. A teddy bear revolution?
    Bashir has pardoned Gillian, and pledges she will be on her way home to England today. (AP, Dec. 3) Will this prompt a coup d’etat by the hardliners—or even a popular uprising?