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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why Fanaticism is Scary

I heard this on Thom Hartmann this afternoon and had to go look it up because I couldn't believe it wasn't a joke.

A British teacher, teaching in Sudan - oh, just read the Reuters story:

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A British teacher accused of insulting Muslims after her class called a teddy bear Mohammad spent more than five hours behind closed doors in a Khartoum courtroom on Thursday as a judge heard the case against her.

In London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the Sudanese ambassador he was concerned about the teacher, 54-year-old Gillian Gibbons, who was arrested and charged after one of the school staff reported her to the authorities.

"We believe that this was an innocent misunderstanding," Miliband said in a statement.

A member of Gibbons's defence team quoted the judge as saying he wanted to finish the case on Thursday and court sources said the session could be over by 8 p.m. (1700 GMT).

Sudanese state media said on Wednesday that Gibbons faced charges of insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs because of the toy's name. If convicted, she could face 40 lashes, a fine, or one year in jail.

While Gibbons was inside, Sudanese authorities just outside the building gave a man some 20 lashes with a stiff leather whip, meters (yards) away from where the British consul, Russell Phillips, was sitting waiting on a chair. What offence the victim had committed was not clear.

In court, judge Mohammed Youssef listened to two accounts -- one from school secretary Sarah Khawad, who filed the first complaint about the teddy bear's name, and one from the official who has been investigating the case, court sources said.

In a sign that the Sudanese authorities might accept an apology and drop the charges, the spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in London said he thought that Gibbons had made an innocent mistake in endorsing the children's choice of a name.

"I hope the charges will be dropped and I hope she will be released but I also hope that people will understand that the whole thing came about because of insensitivity on her part," spokesman Khaled al-Mubarak told the BBC.

He added: "She is a mature teacher. She has had many students. She must have read the newspapers. She must have been aware of what's happening in the world."

Teachers at the school say that calling the teddy bear Mohammad, the name of the prophet of Islam, was not her idea in the first place and that no parents objected when Gibbons sent parents circulars about a reading project which included the teddy bear as a fictional participant.

The bear was first introduced to the class in September.

Gibbons, wearing a long dark blue skirt and black blazer, looked bewildered as she entered the court on Thursday afternoon, guided by police as she weaved through the crowds of officials, journalists and onlookers.

Ajib said Gibbons was calm when the verdict was read, as if she had been expecting it.

She was taken straight to Omdurman women's prison, a jail which is overcrowded and usually filled with women serving sentences for making and selling alcohol, illegal in mainly Muslim Sudan.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband had earlier said in a statement "We believe this was an innocent misunderstanding."

Sudan has had poor relations with Britain, the United States and most European countries for several years, mainly because of their disagreements over how to handle the conflict in the Darfur region in western Sudan.

The U.N. Security Council, of which Britain is a permanent member, wants to deploy a joint U.N.-African force to Darfur to restore order and help displaced people return home. Khartoum reluctantly agreed but is disputing many details.

"I'm utterly disappointed with this decision. We have been calling on the Sudanese authorities to show leniency, that this was a case of an innocent oversight, a misunderstanding, and there was no need for this to ... be escalated ..." said Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, the country's largest Muslim organization.

"We are very hopeful that perhaps the appeals process will be more successful," he added.

"The question that I would want the judiciary there and the authorities to ponder over is: How does this help the cause of Islam? What kind of message and image are we portraying about our religion and our culture?"

(Reporting by Opheera McDoom and Andrew Heavens, additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Jonathan Wright; Editing by Tim Pearce)

© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.
So, Gibbons was supposed to stop her seven-year-old students from naming the bear what they wanted to name it? Presumably she was supposed to shame the students for suggesting it. Maybe she should've smacked them around - given them the kid version of the governmental beating to which she could have been sentenced. I love that the judge's name is Mohammad - there's such lovely randomness to fanatical religious rules. A person can have the prophet's name, but not a beloved stuffed toy. Were the judge's parents daring to suggest that their progeny could possibly be as good and holy a person as the Prophet? How dare they? Forty lashes for hubris!

While I'm at it...lashes?! Are they kidding? Some systems will never give up the barbaric practice of beating people who break laws (or are culturally insensitive). Seems like a desperate attempt to maintain control over a frightened populace. She actually received 15 days in jail - ludicrous in itself - but people can die from being beaten like that.

I'm sure Gibbons is heartbroken she's being deported. Oh, no, let me stay! Pfth!

I'm naming my next cat Mohammad. {singing} Mohammad! Mohammad! Mohammad!" (Ouch! All right, who threw that rock?!)

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2 Comments:

Blogger Scooter said...

There was a lady on KQ this morning who got in trouble with a customer because he said his name was Mohammed, and she explained her dog was named Mohammed, so he hung up and called her supervisor. Her dog's a boxer - the dog is named after Ali, not afterr the prophet.

November 30, 2007 5:55 AM  
Anonymous Geri said...

I think I'll name my next cat Mohammed after the teddy bear.

December 05, 2007 12:10 PM  

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