January 17, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1806

Sudanese Columnist: Sudanese Society Has Lost All Traces of Tolerance

January 17, 2008
Sudan | Special Dispatch No. 1806

Following the incident of the arrest and imprisonment of British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons in Sudan, and the ensuing demonstrations in which Sudanese demonstrators chanted slogans against Britain and the West and demanded that Ms. Gibbons be executed,[1] Sudanese columnist Khaled Fadhel wrote an article in the independent daily Al-Sahafa condemning extremism in Sudanese society.

The following are excerpts: [2]


In Sudan, "Freedom of Expression is Reserved for [Opinions] In Line with the Positions of the [Ruling] National Congress Party"

"[After a Sudanese] court imposed a prison sentence on the British schoolteacher... for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, thousands of Sudanese expressed their opinion in rowdy demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum. For the British, the right to demonstrate – as part of human rights and freedom of expression – is [a concept] that is taken for granted and which arouses neither anger nor surprise.

"But in a country like Sudan, freedom of expression is reserved for [opinions] that are in line with the positions of the [ruling] National Congress Party. [To wit,] when one hundred Sudanese students from the University of Khartoum demonstrated against the tragedies taking place in Darfur... – they were brutally put down and persecuted by the authorities!...

"The important question is whether Sudanese society, particularly the Muslim [society], has become extremist. It is clear that religion-based prohibitions and accusations have become rampant – so much so that it is difficult to imagine leading a normal life in such circumstances... It has reached a point where even thoughts can be grounds for accusations of heresy, for making one's killing licit, and [even] for attempted murder...

"Tolerance has vanished from Sudanese life... to such an extent that [even] the civil war[3] has been relabeled 'jihad,' [implying that the members of] one side were sacrificing their lives for the sake of Allah, while the others were destroyed for clinging to falsehood and [worshiping] idols. The paradox is that, although both sides included Muslims, Christians and followers of the African religions, the war has been described as 'Islamic jihad' against the loathsome infidels! This is a saddening and shameful fact, that ends all hope for tolerance in Sudan.

"Whatever the Reason for the Killings and Deportations in Darfur... Both Victims and Criminals are Muslim"

"[This lack of tolerance] is also manifest in the atrocities taking place in Darfur – [which have resulted] in thousands of deaths and millions of refugees – this time all of them Muslim – who have not fallen victim to an invasion of 'Crusaders' or 'satanic forces'... Whatever the reason for the killings and deportations in Darfur... both victims and criminals are of the Muslim faith. Can we remain silent in the face of such behavior, and claim, as an excuse for our silence, that the Sudanese are tolerant?

"All the talk of Sudanese moderateness... becomes meaningless in light of the growing intolerance of our society. I wish to stress that the Islamist regime, which has been in place for the last 20 years, has created fertile ground for the emergence of openly extremist forces. At some point, the [regime] opened the gates of the country to extremist forces from all over the Muslim world... so that even Osama bin Laden found sanctuary in [Sudan]... and exploited Sudanese elements that clearly came under the influence of his ideas and actions. And Al-Qaeda, after all, cannot possibly be considered 'moderate'...

"The Most Dangerous Phenomenon... is the Lack of Rational Thought"

"The most dangerous phenomenon – among all of the extremist [tendencies] and religious and ethnic tensions [created] by the Islamist regime – is the lack of rational thought, and the blatant dominance of emotion [over reason], even among the educated [circles], or those who consider themselves educated... The Sudanese Muslims have become easily incited. [They respond] to any call, without thinking or examining the situation from all its aspects. Emotional outbursts and lack of rational thought [create] an optimal climate for the extremists to act and take control [of society].

"The late [editor of the Sudanese daily Al-Wifaq] Muhammad Taha [who was murdered in September 2006] fell victim to a malicious campaign... [waged] from pulpits of the mosques.[4] With my own ears I heard a preacher urging the worshippers to attend the trial of the 'one who cursed the Prophet,' though he knew full well that the entire incident was [based on] a mistake... But climate of madness, and the dominance of emotion [over reason], won the day.

"[Do the Muslims of Sudan...] think that they love Allah and the Prophet more than the [other] Muslims of the world?... I wish this love would prompt them to improve their behavior, so as to come closer to the [true] ideals and intentions of Islam.

"Did Anyone Give the Case of Gillian [Gibbons] Any True and Reasonable Consideration...?"

"[Another] paradox is that, under the rule of the lovers of the Prophet, general corruption has spread to an unprecedented degree, and the lives of most Sudanese, Muslim and otherwise, have become an intolerable hell under the [constant] threat of death...

"The present climate in Sudan – is it motivated by love of the Prophet and by commitment to his noble ways? Did any of those zealots ever stop to [think and] look around him before bursting out? Did anyone give the case of Gillian [Gibbons] any true and reasonable consideration, taking into account the culture gap [between her country and ours], and assuming good intentions on her part?

"The prophets, peace be upon them, were the leaders of mankind, and belief in them is one of the tenets of our Muslim faith. Our Prophet Muhammad has a sacred place [in Islam]. His life, his history and his ways teach us to examine, to learn and to develop – instead of striking out blindly at what we do not understand, and letting our emotions get the better of us. Islam believes in reason... not in emotional outbursts that make Islam and the Muslims look like a powder keg that can explode at any moment and destroy lives out of ignorance."


[1] Gillian Gibbons, a British schoolteacher teaching at a Sudanese school, was sentenced on November 29, 2007 to 15 days in prison for "blasphemy, insulting Islam and inciting hatred," after she allowed her second-grade pupils to name a teddy bear "Muhammad." On the following day, thousands of Sudanese citizens took to the streets, protesting the leniency of her sentence. Some of the demonstrators, waving swords and sticks, demanded that she be executed. On December 3, 2007, Sudanese President 'Omar Al-Bashir pardoned Gibbons at the behest of two Muslim British MPs.

[2] Al-Sahafa (Sudan), December 2, 2007.

[3] The civil war between South Sudan and North Sudan continued intermittently from 1956 (the year of Sudan's independence) to 2005, when a peace agreement was signed.

[4] Muhammad Taha Muhammad Ahmad was tried in 2005 for "insulting the Prophet," after his paper published an article, taken from a website, which questioned the Prophet's lineage. During the trial, there were angry demonstrations demanding his execution. Taha was released after formally apologizing for publishing the article, but in September 2006 he was abducted and killed by unknown persons.

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