New Tory peer, Baroness Warsi is accompanying Labour peer Lord Ahmed on a mercy mission to Khartoum to attempt to secure the release of Gillian Gibbons, the teacher who has been jailed as punishment for her naming of a teddy bear as Mohammed.
The BBC reports that the two Muslim peers are travelling on their own initiative. That’s important. They may need to offer soothing words to the Khartoum regime in order to secure Ms Gibbon’s release. Those soothing words should come from them – not from the British Government.
Other thought-leaders should have been more careful with their words. The unholy alliance of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, in separate interventions, called the response of the Sudanese government "disproportionate". No. No. No. I couldn’t agree more with what Danny Finkelstein wrote on Comment is Central yesterday:
"And the verdict was not disproportionate. The arrest and imprisonment of this teacher was a political act, not a cultural or religious one. Its aim is not cultural preservation but terrorising the population. It is the classic move of a totalitarian state supported by a mob. Why wasn’t it disproportionate? This word implies that some sort of censure was required but that imprisonment was too much. The punishment wasn’t out of proportion. It was unwarranted, outrageous, insupportable. The use of the phrase "disproportionate" is offensive."
Sudan is a state that has become a master of obstructionism. It has played the United Nations at every turn. It has used every trick in the book to delay the deployment of an international force to protect the people of Darfur. And as Baroness Cox told yesterday’s World at One it is using aid from Saudi Arabia to force people to convert to Islam in the nation’s south. If the sad Gibbons incident forces people to wise up about the Sudanese regime it won’t be all bad.