On Teddy Bears

Gillian GibbonsSo Gillian Gibbons is pretty much forgotten. Her place has been taken by the canoeist and the wife who staged his death so that they could live a life of Riley in Panama, of all places. So just time for a few final reflections on Sudan, Islam and that blasted teddy bear.

  1. It is easy for people who think they know Sudan to slip up in much the same way as Gillian. Both I and another Nairobi-based journalist made to kiss a female, western colleague on the cheek in a public place (my pal tried it inside the Republican Palace of all places). We both reckon to know Sudan well and have travelled widely through all sorts of places in Africa paying heed to local custom/religion/law as we did so. And we both made an elementary error that could have seen us arrested.

  2. There was a desperate appetite for stories of an east-west clash. I did a piece on rising anger a couple of days after Gillian was arrested. But by the time she was sentenced that anger had started to recede. Yet an isolated, stage-managed demo after Friday prayers was exaggerated and reported in hysterical fashion. Reporters were under constant pressure to talk it up when in reality it was a one-off. Frightening for those of us who got caught up in it, but not really a clash of civilisations.

  3. Sudan does not respond to threats. A quiet word, Muslim to Muslim over a cup of tea, allows everyone to save face even when one side is backing down. Maybe the Chinese approach over Darfur is more productive than we like to think. The likes of Melanie Phillips ranting that Sudan needs a kick up the backside simply show how little they understand about the place.

  4. I’m glad I’m Irish. If I run into trouble anywhere in the world I can walk into the embassy of any EU member state and ask for consular assistance. It is unlikely to be the British embassy. This is the second time this year I’ve seen close up how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office tries to secure the release of its citizens, and the second time I’ve been underwhelmed by the calibre of its staff. Rabbits caught in headlights would have given a more assured performance.

So that’s it. There’s a nice piece in Saturday’s Daily Mail by Baroness Warsi on “How I freed the teddy bear teacher” but there’s not much more to say. I’m gradually catching up on my sleep but something is kind of missing now. I’ll probably report on bigger stories, ones with more international resonance, but I can’t help feeling that few will be so close to perfection.

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