The case of British educator, Gillian Gibbons...the teddy bear teacher...has drawn attention to the extremity of Sharia Law...and well it should. While I lack first hand knowledge of the issues surrounding the case, it appears that Gibbons is guilty of little more than being committed to teaching her students.
Apparently, her students were asked to name a teddy bear as part of an assignment...and they chose the name "Muhammad". Attaching this name to an object is forbidden under Sharia Law as a form of idolatry...and an insult to the prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith.
Gibbons actions subjected her to the possibility of forty lashes and six months in jail. In what some are calling an attempt at compromise, she was convicted of the offense and sentenced to fifteen days in prison and deportation. Since her conviction, a vocal segment of the Sudanese population has taken to the streets calling for Gibbons to be executed.
From The New York Times:
Hundreds of demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, poured into the streets on Friday demanding the execution of a British teacher who was convicted of insulting Islam because her class of 7-year-olds named a teddy bear Muhammad.
Despite the display of outrage, witnesses said that many of the protesters were government employees ordered to demonstrate, and that aside from a large gathering outside the presidential palace, most of Khartoum was quiet. Imams across the city brought up the case in sermons after Friday Prayer, but few of them urged violence.
It seems that Ms. Gibbons and the teddy bear became enmeshed in the larger struggle between the Sudanese government, which routinely accuses its Western critics of being anti-Islamic, and European and American officials pressing for an end to the crisis in Darfur.
In early November, Sudanese officials said that peacekeepers from Scandinavia could not serve in Darfur, the troubled region of western Sudan, because of a dispute two years ago, when several Scandinavian newspapers published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
United Nations officials have said that the Sudanese government was simply looking for ways to block or delay the deployment of an expanded peacekeeping force. This week, United Nations officials said that unless the Sudanese government started cooperating, the expanded mission might not be possible.
Now I have no objection to people practicing the faith of their choice...and while I'm troubled by the fact that many people of faith do not practice reciprocity in that regard, this event points to the extreme methods by which some faiths seek to indoctrinate and control the lives of their followers. By erecting strict prohibitions, they establish what I would view to be a modern day, self-enforced, thought police...one which requires full conformity and exacts severe punishment upon those who deviate from the doctrine in the slightest.
Further, given the virtual genocide taking place in Darfur, one must wonder if religion is once again being utilized to further the prejudices of those who cloak themselves in their faith in order to obtain power and wealth. Sadly, history seems to reinforce the conclusion that nothing serves such purposes better than the instillation of an extreme belief system which can be manipulated to pit one set of values against all others in what is effectively characterized as a battle of good versus evil. This fomentation of conflict isn't limited to religious beliefs, though it could be argued that the practice is predicated upon a predictable formula that emulates religious fervor.
In the end, whatever the reasons, those who invoke this type of behavior, are all guilty of manipulation. Knowing as much, it is essential for others to speak out and defy that which is portrayed as convention. Doing so can be dangerous...but it is also necessary if one seeks to break the often deadly cycle and shed some much needed light upon the calculations and motivations of the perpetrators in order to unseat them from their hold on power.
Despite the furor created by the Muhammad cartoons, I'm of the belief that humor is an effective place to begin combating the extreme mind sets which so often accompany these fanatical faith based fabrications. Deification is a slippery slope...and one which ought to be challenged in the same manner one might confront a scientific hypothesis. Most importantly, those on opposite sides of the argument must be willing to accept and allow the other to reasonably and thoughtfully explore the subject at hand. Nothing less than freedom is at stake.
As I thought about this recent event in Sudan, I couldn't help but think of Madonna and the controversy surrounding so many of her songs, her music videos, and her concerts. The following graphic, provocative though it may be, is offered with that in mind.