Republic of the Sudan is a pretty large country with a total area of 2.5 million square kms and 40 million people. The United States is about four times larger in land area and over seven times larger in terms of population. The US is also about 70 times richer per capita (official exchange rate) compared to Sudan. There are other stark differences between the US and Sudan, of course, some of which are causes and others the consequence of the immense income disparity. Here are some (Sudan, US):
Agriculture as share of GDP (38 percent, 1 percent);
Life expectancy at birth (49 years, 78 years);
Population growth rate (2.1 percent; 0.9 percent);
Median age (18.7 years; 36.6 years);
Infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births (92, 6);
Total fertility rate — children born per woman (4.7, 2.1);
Literacy over age 15 (61 percent, 99 percent);
Independence (1956, 1776);
I am not usually in the habit of checking out the vital statistics of third world African nations. I am more concerned with a third world Asian nation. What piqued my interest in Sudan was the recent news report about a British school teacher in Sudan. She had allowed her primary school class of 7-year olds to name a teddy bear, and the kids collectively chose to name the bear “Mohammed.”
Ms Gibbons, who joined the school in August, asked a seven-year-old girl to bring in her teddy bear and asked the class to pick names for it . . .
“They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad,” Mr Boulos said, adding that she then had the children vote on a name.
Twenty out of the 23 children chose Muhammad as their favourite name.
Mr Boulos said each child was then allowed to take the bear home at weekends and told to write a diary about what they did with it.
He said the children’s entries were collected in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a message which read, “My name is Muhammad.”
The police seized the book and interviewed the 7-year old who owned the bear.
The teacher was charged with “inciting hatred and showing contempt of religious beliefs.” Crowds wanted her killed for insulting Islam and the prophet of Islam. She could have been jailed for six months and given 40 lashes. The courts were lenient and sentenced her to only 15 days in prison and deportation. No doubt the heavy diplomatic pressure from Britain had something to do with the leniency.
This sort of insane sensitivity gives new meanings to the word bizarre. How shaky must one’s confidence in one’s idols be that it provokes such mindless rage against absolutely innocent behavior?
Compare and contrast that with what is goes on in the US. The US is over 70 percent Christian — which means that a majority do consider Jesus to be a divine character. And some don’t. So you can have someone called CaucasianJesus holding forth on his website ChruchofJesusF**kingChrist.com and no one gets his or her knickers in a twist.
My considered view is that there is a connection between the attitude of the people reflected in the mohammed bear episode in Sudan and the general poverty in that country, just as there is one between the freedom from religion in the US and the prosperity of the US. Yes, the US is a country of religious people (astonishing for an advanced industrialized country) but freedom from religion is hard-coded into the constitution and the system. I will go into the connection in a later post.
But for now, here is the question: Is India closer to Sudan or is it closer to the US?
The vital statistics of India place it closer to Sudan than to the US, of course. But what matters is the trend. Is it moving to the Sudan end of the scale or to the US end? I think that it is sliding very fast towards Sudan. Taslima Nasreen is only the latest episode.