Saturday 1 December 2007

Outrage Over A Teddy Bear Called Mohammed

You've got to feel sorry for the British teacher Gillian Gibbons, who has been jailed for 15 days after allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet by allowing her pupils in Sudan to name a teddy bear Muhammed.

Not only is her situation driven by an interpretation of religion that is as twisted as those who believe Harry Potter should be put to death, but Ms Gibbons is also the citizen of a country whose press love a story about the travails of the English abroad, especially when it's a white woman in a Muslim country.

The Sun claims today that "all Britain is outraged by the jailing of this innocent schoolteacher" and speaks of the demonstrations in Sudan in support of the prosecution as "scenes of savagery yesterday [that] sent chills down our spines." It's little wonder that the British government, long a hostage to the tabloids, seems to have expended more energy on Gillian Gibbons than it has on real scenes of savagery, the genocide of 200,000 people in Sudan's Darfur region. Or in helping others trapped in unfair legal proceedings overseas.

Some questions have been rattling around my head over the last couple of days:

Isn't Ms Gibbon's detention less about religion and more about politics, an attempt by the Sudanese government to threaten and discredit international aid workers from countries pressurising it over Darfur? Wasn't it the children that named the teddy bear, not the teacher? Are we to hear that they too have been locked up - or could this be an excuse for the government in Khartoum to close the British international school that allows Muslims and non-Muslims to be educated together?

Moreover, what 'mistake' has Ms Gibbons actually made? As there was no intention to use the toy as a representation of the Prophet, how can naming it Mohammed be idolatrous if there is no idol worship? And if there was no intention to used the toy to cause deliberate offence, how can it be an insult? For years, the Islamic Society in Britain has apparently sold a soft toy made for British Muslim children named Adam the Prayer Bear, named after the prophet Adam. What are they to do now?

Will every British Muslim who looks on this sorry affair with embarrassment now be required to "stand up and be counted" as opponents of extremism, just like after the London bombings and after every story around the world that involves extreme interpretations of Islam?

And will Archbishop Rowan Williams make a statement on 'Jesus Camp' (as he has over the treatment of Gillian Gibbons)? Harry Potter fans everywhere demand to know...

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