Monday, 27 April 2009

Gillian Gibbons

To AN et al.

I have just been listening to last Tuesday's broadcast of On The Ropes on Radio 4. It is available for seven days from the date of broadcast so, if you can, please try to listen to it while it is still there.
As you know, I am often exasperated by the way women are so full of guilt and spend their time apologising for their very existence.
Here was a woman who was teaching young children with devotion and care in Khartoum. She was introducing them to the ideas of travel and geography with a UK national curriculum approved method using ‘Barnaby Bear’. The children, seven year olds, for heavens sake, wanted to identify more closely with the travelling bear and decided to give it an Arabic name. They chose the name of the most popular child in the class, who happened to be called Muhammad.
The children and the female teacher were behaving perfectly reasonably. It was the foolish male grown-ups, overdosed on testosterone, who behaved foolishly with cowardice and cruelty.
Some minor official at the school, with a grudge, it seems, against the school, decided to report this serious blasphemy and slander against the exalted name of the founder of Islam to the authorities. True to form, they arrested Ms Gibbons with a truck load of machine gun toting soldiers – presumably to dissuade her from further acts of waging war against Allah and His Prophet.
Naturally the Friday prayers after her well publicised arrest were all about this Western conspiracy against Islam and linked her with Salman Rushdie and the Danish cartoons. The pious devotees, after performing their holy rites, came out onto the streets with swords and machetes to demand the execution of this heinous blasphemer and to cleanse the sacred soil of Sudan of this sacrilege.
With all the hullabaloo, the court could do nothing but find her guilty despite her being really terribly, terribly, terribly sorry and being just a middle aged woman who wouldn't cause offence to anybody intentionally and didn't realise she was doing wrong. She had been in prison for five days already and the prosecution had the right to appeal against the leniency of her sentence within ten days. They therefore sentenced her to 15 days for ‘insulting religion’.
As we all know, a brace of Muslim peers flew out to plead for her with the President and she was duly flown back to the UK to face the further ordeal of the British press.
She is still terribly, terribly, terribly sorry and racked with guilt for ‘causing’ so much distress to her relatives and damage to the reputation of the school. She is so grateful for the treatment of her guards for not abusing her and for the selfless generosity of the Ministry of Interior for kindly providing her with a bed at one o'clock in the morning some days after her incarceration. Yes, she did get a little bit of money for the story but gave it all to her children because she felt so guilty about the anxiety they had been suffering.
At the time, a couple of years ago, I told my own students what had happened and suggested that, if they felt as angry as I did about Ms Gibbons' treatment, they should bring a teddy bear to class in protest. Most of them did.