I’ve received many emails this week about the case of the British teacher and a teddy bear at a private school in Sudan, all of them asking if I planned to write anything about her case.
Yes, I have definitely been following this, even before it bubbled its way up from the bottom of the news to the top of the international headlines.
Like the case of the Girl from Qatif, which I wrote about last week (the young Saudi girl who was gang raped, then sentenced to 90 lashes, which was then increased to 200 lashes, for having been in the company of a man who was not a relative. Damn. There’s just never a male relative on hand when you need one, is there?), this one is right up there in terms of my disbelief at how justice is meted out in different countries.
For those of you not in the loop, Briton Gillian Gibbons had arrived in Sudan in August to teach at Unity High School. As part of a class project she allowed her pupils, six and seven-year-olds, to vote on a name for a teddy bear - a stuffed animal which to you and I is synonymous with snuggling, comfort, innocence. They decided on Mohamed, after one of the most popular boys in class.
The teacher intended no more offense than did the children, and nothing was undertaken with an intent to blaspheme. However, Sudan being a largely Muslim country, when news of the name spread (the first formal complaint filed was by a secretary at the Unity High School), there was an uproar from stauch Islamists who did perceive it as an insult to their holiest prophet.
And she was arrested.
She initially faced the more serious charge of inciting religious hatred, which held a sentence of 40 lashes and 6 months in prison.
International outcry was swift, British leaders, as well as leaders from around the world, brought pressure, and after apologizing to the court yesterday for any offense she had caused, Ginny was convicted on a lesser charge of insulting Islam, and sentenced to 15 days in jail.
She had already served five, so she is now in Omdurman’s women’s prison for the remaining ten. It is overcrowded, filled with many inmates who are southern Sudanese women convicted of selling alcohol, and many who also have babies. As opposed to the penal system we are familiar with in the USA where inmates are provided with three meals a day, Ms Gibbons will have to rely on wellwishers to bring her any food and water.
15 days in prison. Over a teddy bear.
Don’t ask me to get behind that one in support.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a "when in Rome" type attitude when it comes to international travel.
If I’m in France, I believe the onus is on me to speak some French, eat a croissant, and wear a beret. But when it comes to different religions? I do not expect anyone to believe as I believe, and for that courtesy and respect of differences, I expect the same in return.
Yes, Ginny traveled to a foreign land, but this woman did not set out to offend any religion, or any individual when she entered Sudan to teach.
Should she have been better versed in the religion of the country? Perhaps, especially considering it is one rife with rules, regulations, nuance, and is fervently embraced by its followers. But this is not like the Danish cartoonists or the artist–in-hiding I wrote of last month – they went after Islam full bore. And the artist freely admits he drew his sketch of Mohammed as a dog with the absolute express intent of pissing people off.
I still do not wish him harm, but if you’re going to go out of your way to poke a snake, you’d better have some serious anti-venom on hand, and don't bother me with your look of feigned surprise when it strikes.
There were signs, late yesterday, that Ms Gibbons might be allowed out of jail early. The judge instructed her defense lawyer to prepare her travel documents (exit visa) as quickly as possible. And legal analysts predict much has to do with international pressure.
That pressure may hold sway over leaders who do not wish to be perceived by the rest of the world as barbaric, but it means little to the thousands of Muslim Sudanese protesters who flooded the streets in Khartoum today, many brandishing clubs and knives, still actively calling for Ginny’s execution.
Yes, her execution.
They were heard to be shouting "No tolerance: Execution," and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad."
Look, Allah is not HER god. Mohammed is not HER prophet. And quite frankly? I don’t believe the rest of the world, all the people who do not follow Islam, necessarily need to play by their religious rulebook.
That doesn't mean that non-Muslims should feel free to poke fun, degrade, insult, or otherwise demean Islam. Or that Muslims should feel free to do the same in regard to Jesus, Buddah, Vishnu, etc. We should all respect our differences, especially when it comes to religion, because how a person worships is largely a result of their geography at birth. If my mother had been sitting on a camel when her water broke, I imagine I would be garbed in some colorful sheetwear and facing Mecca several times a day. But she was in Dayton, Ohio, so I know all the ins, outs, ups, and downs, of Catholicism.
I don't not insult Allah because I fear retribution (ok, maybe there is a little fear), but because I respect that in this big world, there are thought processes besides mine.
If Ginny had been raised a Muslim, in a Muslim land, had been indoctrinated into all the rituals, was well versed in all the reverence, and knew the penalties for noncompliance, then I could understand a little better.
But we’re talking about a British citizen, a decent woman, whose only "crime" is in allowing a bunch of rugrats to name a teddy bear.
An apology should have sufficed. Quite frankly, that tightassed secretary should have practiced a little of that Islamic love and grace and taken her aside to point out the misstep.
After all, I do believe it is the Qu’ran which teaches: "Keep to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness."
I’m still looking for the part that talks about common sense, but then that seems to be lacking in just about every religion these days.