Published November 30, 2007
Ever been to Sudan? I have. It's not a friendly place for Westerners, nor is it embracing of other cultures, religions or beliefs. So it should come as no surprise that the fundamentalist goons who run the country and its powerful hard-line clerics believe that punishment is necessary for Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher who allowed her students to vote to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."
Sudan is run by radical Islamic fundamentalists. Remember, this is the country that gave shelter to bin Laden after his home country of Saudi Arabia kicked him out. He built training camps just outside the capitol and owned a large, luxurious city house down the street from a radical mosque. According to government reports, bin laden plotted attacks on U.S. interests while in Sudan. (Once pressure mounted on Sudan for harboring bin Laden, they eventually kicked him out, too. That’s when he set up shop in Afghanistan.)
In late 2004, FOX sent me there to report on Darfur (long before this became the hip Hollywood cause). Our crew (including 2 guys — a producer and cameraman) and I also visited some of bin Laden's old stomping grounds, including a training camp and his house. We toured the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum that U.S. missiles hit in retaliation for the attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. We also visited southern Sudan, a lush and remote area primarily inhabited by black Christians and Animists, people who believe in spirits.
We learned that the Arab-Islamic government of the north forced many black Christians and animists in the south to convert to Islam. They were forced to learn and speak Arabic and even change their names. Thomas became Hassan. Michael was all of a sudden a Muhammad.
Southerners despised these forced conversions, which is part of the reason they fought a decades-long civil war with the Arab government of Khartoum.
Back in Khartoum, we were followed and questioned practically everywhere we went. Standing outside a mosque, my producer and cameraman were harassed by two men. Out of the blue these strangers angrily asked: "Are you Jews?! Are you Jews?!" My colleagues were taken aback. Later, we laughed about it because that wouldn't take place back home.
We toured bookstores and found literature that bashed the West and advocated for the destruction of Jews and Israel.
Every step of our trip, from the capitol to the remote refugee camps in the west, we were tailed and harassed by government goons. Officials lied to us and denied that government-sponsored militias were involved with killing Sudanese people in Darfur, the western part of the country. Among the many reasons militias went after the people of Darfur? They are black Muslims not Arab Muslims. Nice.
It is no surprise that some in Sudan want to see Gibbons executed for her part in allowing a teddy bear to be named after the prophet. So far the courts have ruled that she will serve 15 days in jail before being deported back to the U.K. Gibbons should consider herself lucky. It's not as though Sudan is a great place to live for Westerners or anyone who believes in the principles of personal freedom or the right to practice one's own religion.
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