Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The strange case of the Sudanese Teddy Bear

So, Gillian Gibson has arrived home safe and sound and seemingly not much the worse for wear for having spent eight days in a Sudanese jail where she was, she maintained, very well and kindly treated.
How does a middle aged English lady find herself in a Sudanese jail in the first place? International terrorism? Espionage? Drugs running?
No, Gillian Gibson was employed as a primary school teacher and in one lesson allowed her young charges to choose the name for a teddy bear. Sudan is a Muslim country and the children overwhelmingly voted for Muhammad. Now it may have been as much her ill-advised introduction of her pupils to the concept of democracy in Muslim Sudan that got her into trouble, but Gillian Gibson was arrested for insulting Islam and imprisoned for sixteen days. The other options included being lashed and possibly being sentenced to execution. At the start of her period of imprisonment there were those who protested at the leniency of her punishment and demanded for her to be shot.
Now, perhaps it is because I am not a Muslim and therefore don't fully appreciate the nuances of these things, but people name their children Muhammed and I, as a teacher, have met some fairly unsavoury children over the years. Could you not argue that that is an insult to Islam? As children generally love their soft toys to bits, isn't calling a teddy Muhammad likely to foster a subconscious love and respect that is carried into adulthood and is therefore deeply appropriate?
Gillian Gibson is at home today because of the good offices of two of Britians Muslim Peers, Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi, who flew to Khartoum to negotiate a pardon and here in lies the issue. Where in all the vile demands for death and retribution that so often characterise the Muslim voice, at least as far as the Western media and public opinion are concerned, are the voices of the reasonable, moderate Muslim majority?
Just as scriptural references to stoning and flogging are cited by countries such as Saudi Arabia as justification for their practices, in these same texts, we find that the Prophet Muhammad reprimanded his followers for stoning a person who attempted to flee. He also condemned those who killed innocent people. By drawing on these lessons, mainstream Muslims must illustrate that compassion, humanity and sense should override scriptural rigidity understood to justify anger and revenge.
Is it because those same moderate, reasonable Muslims also fear the retribution of those who follow a medieval theology of hate and dare not be seen to break ranks?
I often tell my pupils that when dealing with bullies, those who remain silent collude with them. Is this such a hard idea to grasp? But more than that I am amazed that so many Muslims seem perfectly happy that the case of Muhammad the Teddy has turned the world's gaze on them again and condemned them to sniggers and insults as if all believed that to call him after the prophet, peace be upon him, was a blasphemous insult. Do I not live in 2007?