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Teddy Bear's No Picnic

Children's toys are worth killing over?

By Hobbes  |  November 30, 2007

In yet another example of "No good deed goes unpunished," we read today the sordid tale of British teacher Gillian Gibbons.

Ms. Gibbons, a former assistant head teacher (principal) in her 50s, went to Sudan this past August to teach in a school there.

There is only one reason why any reasonably successful Westerner would go to, of all places, Sudan to be a teacher -- and it ain't the scenery.  We can reasonably assume that Ms. Gibbons was motivated by altruism - by the desire to help Sudan, and the Sudanese, through assisting in their education.

There is a long, long history of British, American, and other Westerners doing exactly that, via mission schools, elite institutions, and other educational facilities provided in a tremendously backward area.  This particular school dated back over a century; Ms. Gibbons wished to dedicate her life to this noble calling.

And, to all appearances, it went superbly.  Her students loved her; their parents loved her; the director of the school considered her to be excellent in all respects.

Then, as part of an upcoming class study on bears, Ms. Gibbons asked if any children had a teddy bear at home they could loan to the class for a while.  One girl did.  The bear needed a name, so in an exercise of participatory democracy, the children were permitted to pick it.  They selected the name...Muhammad.  No, not because of their religious fervor; it happened to be the name of another, fairly popular child in the class.

A few days later, the Sudanese religious police showed up to haul her off to prison for "insulting the Prophet."

She was convicted of a crime, sentenced to 15 days in a fetid Sudanese prison - the stuff not merely of nightmares, but indeed of horror films - and processed for deportation.  Meanwhile, hundreds of armed protesters surround the prison, court, and presidential palace in turn, demanding her execution.

Now we find that the original accusation was made, not by a child, nor by a parent, but by a disgruntled school secretary.  This ploy seems to have backfired; the school is now shut down until at least next year, for the safety of the students and staff.  Meanwhile, the British Empire is tut-tutting at the Sudanese ambassador and speaking gently into telephones.  The Sudanese must be shaking in their boots; Kitchener must be spinning in his grave.

A century and a half ago, a Brit by the name of General Gordon, who also fell foul of an Islamic nutjob, the Mahdi Mohammed Ahmed (there's that name again!), wound up dead from this sort of thing.  In that case, the British response was somewhat more compelling: an army was sent to conquer the Sudan and put an end to Mahdist rule, commanded by the aforementioned Lord Kitchener.

The prophet Muhammed, being insulted by having a teddy bear named after him (by at least one remove)?  Hogwash.  There are so many reasons it is hogwash, it hard to know where to begin.

A teddy bear is a symbol for love and affection.  It is something hugged and caressed by children.  Even if the teacher was referencing the real deal, a rational person would assume she was encouraging her students to adore and respect the religion.  Do the Sudanese customarily burn, mock or dismember their teddy bears?  There was no evidence that the teacher was going to effigize the prophet Muhammed through the proxy of the teddy bear.

Why would the Sudanese government or the nefarious secretary assume that the teddy bear was even meant to reference Islam?  How many people throughout Sudan and the Islamic community at large have that very same name?  Perhaps Muslim countries like to fall back on this double standard in the event they run into elements of their society they don't like.  If they catch a thief named Muhammed, they can him convict doubly - first for his crime, and second for bringing shame on their prophet.  Maybe there's a good reason that Anglo-Protestant cultures, while not being shy about naming children in honor of Abraham, Paul, Peter, and countless other religious luminaries, generally avoid naming them specifically after Jesus Christ - but Islam has yet to figure this out.

Another question surfaces: why is that Muslims are so insecure about their religion that every effigy, symbol, cartoon or t-shirt is immediately responded to with anger and violence?  Do they not consider their god to be all powerful and able to watch out for himself?  Christians throughout the US have for decades tolerated the mocking of their God with barely a raised head or cocked eyebrow.  Catholics have seen the same constant ridicule, as have Hindus and Buddhists.

Even more important: why are no media outlets addressing this blatant disparity?  There have been numerous stories of network shows that have been stopped from airing pictures and dialogue about Islam when the very same episode openly mocked Christianity or Catholicism.  South Park, a cartoon on Comedy Central, went so far to make the point that they showed images of Jesus being defecated upon, immediately prior to showing a blank screen - in place of which, executives told them, they could not mention the name Muhammed.

Insult to the the Prophet?  Quite the contrary.  The teddy bear, and the child who was the immediate source of the name, are insulted by having to share a name with a pedophile and desert pirate, whose rabid, insane followers today commit horrendous crimes and massacres in the name of his vile teachings.

Islam needs no help insulting itself.  It can thank its insecurities, and its founder, for that.