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Bad Presidents

by Christopher Brauchli
A Ship of Fools - Title of a1965 Movie

If craziness loves company, U.S. citizens should take comfort from some of the other world leaders. Evidence was offered by a teddy bear and a South American leader.

The teddy bear was in Sudan. That country has been in the news for the last 5 years because of the slaughter taking place in Darfur. Since 2003 more than 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been displaced. To end the crisis the United Nations wants to deploy a joint African Union-United Nations force to bring peace and stability to the area. Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, says he wants to see such a force deployed while simultaneously doing everything he can to delay its deployment. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Jean-Marie Guénno, the United Nations' top peacekeeping official, has said that the Sudan government has imposed limits for the joint force that would make it "impossible to operate."

The people of Sudan are almost certainly concerned about the sad plight of their fellow citizens but something more important than human suffering has attracted their attention-a teddy bear.

Gillian Gibbons is a British subject who until recently taught at Unity High School, a private school in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. As part of a class project for her 7-year old charges, Ms. Gibbons asked them to name the teddy bear she brought to school. In a vote to name the bear, 20 children voted for Muhammad, a common name among Islamic families but not among teddy bears. Following the bear's baptism by ballot each child was permitted to take the bear home over a weekend and then write a story about what the bear did when visiting the child's home. The stories were then collected in a book with a bear on the cover with the title: "My name is Muhammad."

One of the things the bear did when visiting the children's homes was to make some of the parents so angry that they demanded that Ms. Gibbons be severely punished. The Sudanese Assembly of the Ulemas, described as an influential and semi-official association of clerics and Islamic scholars, said the teddy bear was a Western plot against Islam and demanded that Ms. Gibbons be punished to the full extent of the law. They said the bear's baptism was "a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam."

Following trial, Ms. Gibbons was sentenced to 14 days in jail following which time she was to be deported. On November 30, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets demanding that Ms. Gibbons be killed for insulting Islam. Reports suggested that many of the demonstrators were government employees who had been ordered to take to the streets to protest the lightness of her sentence.

President Bashir showed himself to be truly compassionate in the teddy bear case, a quality he has successfully hidden when addressing the slaughter in Darfur. He pardoned Ms. Gibbons and permitted her to return to England before her jail sentence had ended. Now that he is not distracted by the teddy bear Mr. Bashir may direct his presidential gaze towards Darfur. If the past is prologue to the future, he won't. Meanwhile, half way around the world, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez was continuing to prove that among loony world leaders he takes a back seat to no one.

Addressing the General Assembly at the U.N. in 2006 he likened Mr. Bush to the devil, a comparison that even Mr. Bush's detractors found excessive if not offensive. Mr. Bush is not he only target of Mr. Chávez's invective.

Attending a summit in Chile of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, Mr. Chávez repeatedly referred to former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as a "fascist." "Fascists, " said he, "are not human. A snake is more human." Exasperated by the rhetoric, Juan Carlos, the king of Spain, finally blurted out "Why don't you just shut up." Mr. Chávez who gives better than he takes, was offended at the remark and has now demanded an apology.

Referring to the event in a recent speech he said: "Are we going to turn the page, are we going to forget? No! The only way this is going to be fixed is for the king of Spain to offer an apology for having attacked the Venezuelan head of state." Putting force behind his words he went on to say that if no apology were forthcoming he would nationalize the Venezuelan subsidiaries of Spanish banks, Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA. Infatuated with the sound of his own words he said that if the U.S. interfered in the election held December 2, he would cut off its oil sales on Monday, December 3. Since sales were not cut off presumably there was no interference.

Christopher Brauchli brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu For political commentary see my web page http://humanraceandothersports.com

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