Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Teddy Bear Fatwa

This, from the BBC, is one of the more bizarre stories I've seen in a while. It seems that a British teacher, Gillian Gibbons, is current in prison in Sudan because she allowed the kids in her elementary school class to name a teddy bear "Muhammad." She's been charged with "insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs." If convicted, Gibbons faces six months in prison, 40 lashes, or a fine.

The British government is rightly pissed, as are British Muslims:

The Muslim Council of Britain reacted angrily to the news, saying it was 'appalled' and demanded Mrs Gibbons' immediate release.

'This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense. There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith,' said Secretary-General Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, in a strongly-worded statement.

'We call upon the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, to intervene in this case without delay to ensure that Ms Gibbons is freed from this quite shameful ordeal,' said Dr Bari.
Nevertheless, fundamentalist leaders in Sudan aren't looking to be lenient:
But Sudan's top clerics have called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.

'What has happened was not haphazard or carried out of ignorance, but rather a calculated action and another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam,' the Sudanese Assembly of the Ulemas said in a statement.

The semi-official clerics body is considered relatively moderate and is believed to have the ear of the Sudanese government.
Holy shit, with moderates like that who needs radicals?!? Maybe they're just pissed off because there's no spot for them in Mitt Romney's cabinet. However, a Sudanese civil rights lawyer predicts no worse than a fine, as she probably didn't actually intend to insult Islam.

Of course, that shouldn't be the issue. Sending someone to prison - or punishing them in any fashion - for "insulting" religion is a grave human rights violation. That she apparently did it in a profoundly silly way just adds to the insanity of the situation.

Just in case you're traveling in a land where hard core religious nuts run the courts, the BBC has tried to explain when it is OK and not OK to name something or someone Muhammad. Whatever you do, just don't say "Jehovah!"

UPDATE: Gibbons was tried, convicted, and sentenced today at what was apparently her first appearance in court. She got a term of 15 days in prison and will be deported afterwards. I can't imagine she'll have any problem with that last part.

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