Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Religion, Muhammad, and Flogging A Teacher

Oh man I thought they only hated teachers in America, in Texas. In Sudan it appears that their hatred of teachers runs deep. And in Sudan, they’re really kind of strict.


Here, if you accuse one of your students of cheating or plagiarism, that generally gets you a few hall conferences with an Assistant Principal, and a few phone conversations with irritable parents who want to do anything else but talk to “a stupid teacher”. Here, if you are accused of inappropriate behavior towards a student, that ends your career, but you get to live on unscathed.

In Sudan, it seems, if you and your 7-year old students agree to name a teddy bear Muhammad, well if you do that, it gets you a flogging.

40 lashes to be exact.

I swear it’s true. I saw it in the Houston Chronicle.

It seems that Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year old veteran British primary school teacher who teaches at a posh private school in Khartoum brought a teddy bear to class for her pupils to adopt. Children were to take the teddy bear home on weekends and write about what they did with it. The class named the teddy bear “Muhammad” after opting between that name, Abdullah, and Hassan.

The most common male name in Islam is Muhammad, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer, right?

Wrong. It seems that Sudan has a religion abuse law on the books that generally forbids such iconoclastic acts as giving “an animal” the name of the Prophet Muhammad, blessed be his name. It’s insulting to their sensibilities.

The crime is punishable by up to 6 months in prison, a fine, or up to 40 lashes of the whip.

The school has been closed for a week until the furor subsides, and Ms. Gibbons is being held under arrest.

There's a lot more to the story and I encourage you to go and read all about it. But I just need to ask the question that needs asking: has anyone stopped to think that Gibbons’ class did not give the blessed name of the Prophet Muhammad to an animal? They didn’t, did they? They gave the name to an inanimate object. They gave it to a representation of an animal, but if you stop and think about it, this representation doesn’t even bear a close resemblance to your run of the mill grizzly bear (the teddy bear was originally a toy that commemorated Teddy Roosevelt’s bagging of a grizzly bear). See? Compare left to right.

But we’re talking Sudan, here, and perhaps it does not compute, in their minds, that a teddy bear is a loveable huggable toy, and not an animal per se. And it probably did not occur to them that naming the stuffed toy Muhammad was the equivalent of naming it “John” in the West. Not when you can make a religious point, and get an opportunity to flog a teacher.

After all, aren’t we talking about the same government that brought the Darfur genocide to the world? The government that has let 200,000 of its own people be starved and slaughtered?

When you take all that into account, it all makes perfect sense.

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