By Altaf Mohammed Abid
With self-deprecating humour, which touched and amused his Sudanese and British audience, Peter Everington spoke about his experiences in building bridges of understanding between the two countries. â€˜The British owe it to Sudan to cultivate a robust non-partisan friendship with both Southerners and Northerners to help make the peace secureâ€™ in the region, following decades of civil war, he said. â€˜Stories from a shared history of two peoples may be useful for those working for a shared future, and on a larger canvas.â€™
He was speaking on the theme, â€˜Sudan and Britain â€“ a shared historyâ€™, at the IofC centre in London on 11 September.Arabs and Africans have struggled with their relationship in Sudan, and both have contended with the British. It is still a challenge for British and Sudanese on how to draw the best out of each other, Everington said.
He studied Arabic at Cambridge University in the 1950s, out of shame at the British invasion of Egypt in 1956, and a calling to rebuild bridges of trust. After graduating, he was a teacher and lecturer in Sudan for eight years, and has since paid 20 visits to the country. In 1996 he received Sudanâ€™s highest civilian decoration for services to education.
â€˜Sudan is ten times the size of the UK, as big as Western Europe if you leave out Spain, Portugal and Finland,â€™ he continued. So when the Sudan Ministry of Education first took him on, he was sent an air ticket to Khartoum, but wasnâ€™t told which part of the country he would be in. He said it was akin to â€˜a Sudanese arriving in Paris from Khartoum to teach Arabic in Europe, without knowing whether heâ€™ll be posted to Naples, Oslo, Vienna or London.
â€˜People had asked him if was going to speak on Darfur, to which he replied, â€˜This talk is about the interaction of peoples, Sudanese and British, rather than the performance of governments. I maintain there is a Divine purpose for the world in which we can all find our part; and that a change of motive in the individual can have a bearing on national governance.â€™
He believed that peace in Darfur is attainable as North and South implement their peace agreement.Sudanâ€™s size, races, beliefs and languages would have made its governance a major challenge for anyone, he said. â€˜If there have been wars between North and South Sudan, and now tragically in the West, these should be compared to the catastrophic wars within Western Europe in the last 200 years.â€™
He told a story from the First World War about an intelligence officer, Geoffrey Sarsfield-Hall, on a British campaign that marched on Darfur to fight the Sultan Ali Dinar, who had declared war on the British. The Sultan was killed. This intelligence officer later became District Commissioner of North Darfur. When he ended his service in Sudan he brought home with him a rifle made in 1885 with a silver decoration on its butt, inscribed with the name of Ali Dinar. When Sarsfield-Hall died his daughter Carol, respecting his wishes, offered it back to the Sudan as a gesture of good will.
â€˜In the post-war years hundreds of Sudanese came to study in British universities, Everington continued. â€˜Often they and their young wives were mothered by their British landladies in Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol and all over. Then it was common for the landladies to be invited out to Sudan as guests of the families.â€™
He paid a tribute â€˜to Sudanese in Britain doing good work in the National Health Service and other areas today, and to a new generation of British living alongside the Sudanese in teaching, the relief of suffering, and other constructive tasks in Sudan. In the context of our diverse UK society, it is significant that a group of British Muslims are part of the relief effort in Darfur.
â€˜â€™Muslims,â€™ he said, â€˜believe in the perfect humanity of Jesus as the only human being who lived without sin. I have noticed that when a Christian carries out some simple act of kindness, the comment from Sudanese Muslims is often â€œshuf al-insaniya kaifâ€. â€œLook at the humanity of thatâ€. A Muslim friend of mine who works in an Arab country said to me, â€œWe need the â€˜rahmaâ€™, the compassion of the Christians.â€ If you look at the areas of social breakdown in the UK, I say we need the compassion of the Muslims.â€™
Concluding his talk, Everington shared a story about a time when he took a taxi to a village in Sudan. When he got there he asked the driver how much to pay. The driver replied, â€œhasab damirakâ€â€“ according to your conscience. As Everington said, â€˜perhaps he hoped that my conscience would indicate a larger sum than he felt prudent to ask. No doubt he would have corrected me, if my conscience had fallen short of his expectations.â€™ Looking back he said, â€˜it was a compliment across the cultural divide for him to believe I had a conscience that could be invoked. I still take â€œhasab damirakâ€as a sign that, amid our differences and failings and the dangers we face, the good Lord can guide the Sudanese and the British to what is right for a shared future.â€™
Thanking for his talk, which prompted a standing ovation, a senior Sudanese diplomat in London declared that Peter Everington was an â€˜ambassador of the heartâ€™ between Britain and Sudan.
The Greencoat Forums are regular events in London that explore the changes of attitude needed to make an inclusive society and a just world possible. They are organized by Initiatives of Change(IofC) International, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, comprising of a diverse, global network committed to building trust across the worldâ€™s divides. It includes people of many cultures, nations, beliefs and backgrounds who are committed to transforming society through changes in individuals and relationships, starting in their own lives. To know more visit: www.iofc.org