Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sudanese teddy bears

There's been a big to-do in Sudan because a teddy bear was named Muhammad. See articles by the BBC and Gulf Times. Apparently an Englishwoman asked her class to name a teddy bear, and they chose the name Muhammad. The school secretary complained to the police and the teacher was accused of insulting Islam and inciting hatred, etc. She could have faced being flogged, but instead will serve 15 days in jail and be deported.

Analysis: First of all, I do not agree with what is happening to this woman. There was no ill intent on her part or on her students' part. But there are laws in Sudan against insulting Islam and naming a teddy bear Muhammad was deemed insulting. Think about it - many Americans would be insulted if you named a teddy bear Jesus (and does anyone remember the elephant dung Virgin Mary?). You need to remember that not every country in the world has the concept of free speech. In many Middle Eastern countries pornography is illegal and will get you jailed or deported. Whether you agree with it or not, if you get caught that is what will happen to you. It's the same concept with insulting Islam. The courts in Sudan felt that the teacher had insulted Islam, and I think she was lucky to get off with such a light sentence. When you live and work in countries that are radically different from what you are used to, you have to be careful. Especially if they are under religious law. It wasn't that long ago that the US had some religious laws of its own. In some areas it was illegal to work on Sundays. And it wasn't that long ago that you could go to jail for having an affair (adultery) or having consensual anal sex with your wife. There are still counties in the US where you cannot buy alcohol. This event has already started more talk in Sudan about discrimination against non-Muslims, so maybe some change will come of it.

[Note: does anyone remember the American kid who was supposed to get caned in Singapore?]

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