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?