Death by the sword

I’m relieved to see that Mrs Gibbons, the teacher arrested, charged and convicted for allowing her class to name a teddy bear Muhammed has been released this morning after talks between two British peers and the Sudanese President. Mrs Gibbons came from my local area so the story has had a lot of resonance for me and others on Merseyside, and it’s been discussed extensively on many of the online discussion forums I frequent.

The whole situation has been ludicrous from the start. Although perhaps it might have been a tad naive of her to allow the bear to be called Muhammed, aware of the Muslim sensibilities on the issue, I fail to see how she has broken the law. 3 charges were brought against her, but she was only found guilty of one of them, which shows how difficult the law is for even Sudanese people to interpret, so how was she supposed to?

In any case the one of which she was found guilty was “insulting religion” (how they even hoped she’d be convicted of inciting hatred is beyond me). Now this all comes down to whether it is blasphemy or idolatry to call a teddy bear Muhammed or not. I fail to see how it is. There is a huge difference between a bear sharing a name with the prophet, and the bear being portrayed as the prophet, or vice versa. It is a totally different scenario to the Danish cartoons last year, where it was obviously a depiction of the prophet, and although an equally ludicrous situation, it was understandable how it could cause offence.

The teddy bear was not named after the prophet. Muhammed is a popular name in the area, and it’s fairly obvious that the children named the bear after a member of their class, and not after the prophet directly (interestingly, if it’s such a huge offence to Islam, why did the presumably Muslim children and their parents not see a problem with it for several months?). Claiming otherwise is like having a teddy bear here called Peter, and people claiming it’s named after St Peter. Or perhaps a better example would be a teddy in Spain called Jesus and people claiming it’s named after Christ, since Jesus is also a popular name in Spain.

But anyway as I said, although I don’t think she broke the law, I thought it was naive of her, and with a little common sense she could have avoided the whole situation. Then I saw this article in the Times, about the mobs calling for her execution for insulting Islam.

According to many reports, the flashmob appeared to be pre-organised. The signs were pre-printed, and it all happened right after Friday prayers when people came and joined the march all at once from several different mosques. So what can we infer about what was said inside the mosques? Certainly nothing good. I’d be prepared to say it amounted to inciting hatred and violence. I don’t see the Imams getting arrested though, do you?

How can Muslims still claim that Islam is a religion of peace? People are saying that it has nothing to do with religion at all and it’s all down to “anti-western sentiment” in the area. Well in that case it’s all our fault really, isn’t it? Bollocks to that. The fact is that religion, and particularly Islam’s seemingly unique ability to take offence at less than the drop of a hat, is at the centre of this case, and although this ever-elusive term “anti-western sentiment” may have something to do with it, we shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the box-room. Religion is playing a huge part too.

Others claim that it isn’t a true interpretation of Islam, that any true muslim wouldn’t be doing this, but how can you objectively claim that one interpretation of the Q’uran is right and another isn’t? That’s like saying Anglicans aren’t real Christians because they allow female ministers. Someone on the other side will claim the opposite, saying these aren’t real muslims because they aren’t standing up and defending their faith, which to be perfectly honest makes more sense to me.

What annoys me most is the modern liberalist phenomenon (don’t get me wrong, I’m a liberalist myself, but certain aspects of it really annoy me) of trying to understand and defend these insane religious sensibilities as a form of celebrating religious and cultural diversity. I’ve got nothing against other cultures, languages or religions at all, it’d be pretty hard to study foreign languages if I did, and I like living in a multi-cultural society, but as soon as it starts calling for someone’s death, that’s when I stop defending it.

Listening to: The Cat Empire – Car Song, Live at London

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