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November 29, 2007

Teacher Charged In Muhammad Bear Flap

I guess its OK to call a terrorist Muhammad, but not a teddy bear.

Sudan on Wednesday charged a British teacher with insulting religion and inciting hatred, a crime punishable by up to 40 lashes, six months in prison or a fine, after she named a class teddy bear "Muhammad."

The charges come a day after a 7-year-old Sudanese boy said Gilliam Gibbons, 54, asked him as part of a school assignment what he wanted to call the stuffed animal and he said, 'Muhammad,' after his name.

It was harmless. It was innocent. Heck, it was even a little bit cute. But given the congenital state of offendedness in which these folks seem to operate, I guess we should not be surprised by the barbarous overreaction to the naming of a childís toy.

Oh, and I love the reaction of American feminists.

A spokeswoman for the National Organization for Women said the situation "is definintely on the radar, and N.O.W. is not ignoring it. But she added that the U.S.-based organization is "not putting out a statement or taking a position."

In other words, they donít have the guts to issue the sort of condemnation these charges deserve. After all, it might present Muslims in an unflattering light, and make the West look reasonable and enlightened.

Over in England, though, someone sees the matter clearly and isnít afraid to say it.

Once again, secular people around the world are left reeling at the capacity of Islam to discern "insult" in the most innocuous behaviour. At one level, this sequence of events is preposterous; I'm sure there are plenty of genuine crimes to worry about in Sudan without wasting time pursuing a woman whose good intentions are manifest.

But the significance of the case goes beyond the individuals concerned, highlighting aspects of Islam as it is currently practised in countries such as Sudan and Saudi Arabia Ė and promoted in some European mosques Ė which are incompatible with the modern world. One is the role of honour, which has repeatedly been used to legitimise furious over-reactions to everything from the naming of a toy to instances of women and gay people demanding autonomy over their bodies.

Ever since the outcry over The Satanic Verses nearly two decades ago, I have watched Muslim men (they almost always are men) use the claim that their honour has been insulted as an excuse for disgraceful and frequently criminal behaviour. Salman Rushdie "insults" the Prophet: burn his books. Danish cartoonists display a lack of respect for Islam: attack Danish embassies. A British Muslim girl wants to marry the "wrong" man: kill her for shaming the family. A Saudi rape victim complains that her attackers got off too lightly: increase her sentence (for being in a car with a man who wasn't her husband) to 200 lashes.

* * *

The damage that is being inflicted daily on the image of Islam doesn't come from people like me, who are constantly accused of Islamophobia, but practices such as forced marriage, honour killings and heated denunciations of "Western" values. I can't think of any secular country where a rape victim or a well-meaning British teacher would find themselves threatened with flogging.

When will the world recognize that much of what passes for Islam today is nothing less than a crime against humanity, and that it needs to be treated as such by all civilized nations?

Islamic Outrage Pig.jpg





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