Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Teddy Bears and "Blasphemy"

The ridiculous saga of the British teacher arrested in the Sudan, charged with "blasphemy" and "insulting Islam" for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Mohammed," and threatened with 40 lashes and imprisonment while crowds in the street called for her execution, is finally over. After the intervention of two Muslim members of the British parliament who traveled to the Sudan to "negotiate" on her behalf with president Omar al-Bashir, Bashir "pardoned" teacher Gillian Gibbons and expelled her from the country.

There is more to this appalling story than these bare bones, of course. It turns out that it was not the students or their parents who complained about the teacher and the teddy bear, but a former employee of the school, who had been fired and was apparently seeking a revenge that would close down the school. This seems to have succeeded, as the school, as I write this, remains closed.

I spent some time this morning visiting the website of the Council on American Islamic Relations, looking for an "official" reaction to the incident from this organization, which purports to represent the position of the American Muslim community. You can find there a link under "CAIR in the News" to a video clip of Ibrahim Hooper, the CAIR Communications Director, being interviewed on what appears to be an Islamic program (the interviewer is a young woman wearing a head scarf and dressed in conservative attire).

The interviewer begins by referencing the affair of "...the blasphemous so-called "teddy bear", a choice of words which seems to me to set the tone of the interview from the start, and continues with her asking Mr Hooper for CAIR's comments on Ms Gibbons' pardon and the case in general. Mr Hooper replied that her release was "... a positive development in a very negative case," and that "... unfortunately this case got blown way out of proportion ... (it was) a very minor affair that turned into a major public relations fiasco for the Muslim community worldwide."

The interviewer asks Mr Hooper about the stereotypes perpetrated by news footage of angry Muslims waving swords and demanding Ms Gibbons' death. He responded that "... you can always get a few people to do outrageous things and have it broadcast around the world, so people just need to get a grip and do things that reflect positively on Islam, rather than negatively." When the interviewer asks what CAIR is doing to counteract this negative coverage, Mr Hooper refers to "positive initiatives" such as the link on the CAIR website to an "Explore the Life of the Prophet Mohammed" page which offers books, DVDs, and other information about Islam and the prophet.

Now, it occurs to me that this is a pretty tepid response to a serious incident. Regardless of Mr Hooper's contention that this was a "very minor affair that turned into a major public relations fiasco for the Muslim community," the fact is that a teacher was arrested, charged with "offenses" that could have led to barbaric punishments, and threatened with death by mobs waving swords. I listened to Mr Hooper's comments several times, and did not detect any hint of an apology to Ms Gibbons, any condemnation of the actions of religious fanatics demanding an innocent woman's death, or any acknowledgment that the extreme sensitivity of Muslims to real or perceived slights leads to such incidents.

The reaction of the Muslim community to incidents like these is always the same: that everyone else needs to be more sensitive and to have a better understanding of Islam. I have yet to hear any representative of any Muslim community or organization admit that perhaps Muslims need to be more sensitive to the fact that not everyone in the world worships God in the same way they do. I have yet to hear any representative of any Muslim community or organization encourage Muslims to "get a grip" and be more sensitive to the views and opinions of others. It's always everyone else who is at fault.

If CAIR wants to improve the image of Muslims, it would do better to encourage the members of the Muslim community to be more tolerant of others, and not to be so spring-loaded to violent objection to the least perception of insult.

I try to live by the Golden Rule. It would be nice if the acknowledged leaders of the Muslim community would encourage their followers to do the same, rather than simply to insist on acquiescence of the world to their every whim and demand of belief.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

It will take a long time to diffuse this sort of blind hatred and closed mindedness. I don't think anybody is holding their breath.

La Chanson de Phoenix said...

I thought they were raised to believe Infidels didn't get any mercy from them...? Why would they change that mindset now? To them, this is the right thing to do. To us, it is Taboo and intolerant. Yeah, I think it is wrong, but once upon a time, our forefathers hung, stoned, and crucified innocent men. There were gladiators and arena fights, and people of all cultures have gone through a fascination with watching somebody get brutally tortured and/or killed.

We have simply adopted a more humane approach. Then again... why are we in Iraq? Because we are intolerant? Or because our prez is bloodthirsty, stupid, stubborn, and proud... Okay, I'm going off on a tangent.

We should each do what we can personally do (our own best) in our lives and hope it spreads and catches on. That's all we can do. Some people have greater influence over others.

Did you ever read the story of the rotten apple?

Jean-Luc Picard said...

They only arrested her so they could get something from us (Britain). We probably had to promise them trade or something like that.

John said...

There is so much about Islam that I do not understand. Unfortunately, much of what I have learned I recognize as having been tainted by religious bias. I have been trying to learn from many different sources to give a truer perspective, but it is difficult. As with any group (including Christians) there are those that give the entire group a bad name.

Many in the Arab world have a distorted view of the US and the west based on the teachings of political groups and local media just as our view is through the eyes of our politicians and media.

With free speech comes the responsibility for what we say. It is a blessing that we have information available to us so that we can research and make our own opinions of our fellow humans around the world.

Thanks for another fine post, Bilbo.

Mike said...
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Mike said...
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