When we created the country teddy page, we did not think that Sudan wold be one of the countries we would add to the list. But now the Sudan is now a country that has to be included. This because of a 54-year old British teacher Gillian Gibbons who became fascinated with Sudan and decided to teach there so she could lear more about the country and the people and she certainly fulfilled her goal! Gibbons is no doubt a sensative, idealistic woman. Like many of her generation in the West, she is comitted to the idea of cultural relativity or that cultural values are relative and that we in the West should not judge Third World societies on the basis of our values. Like virtually all British people she had fond mempries of teddies as a child and much of used them with her Brirish students. So she apparently brought a teddy with her to use in her 2nd-grade Sudanese class of 7-year olds. The children were enchanted by the teddy and out of affection named it Mohammed. Ms. Gibbons had no role in this, but did not prevent the children from doing this. It was an innocent mistake. The Sudanese are of course unfamilar with teddies. They have read about bears and know they can be fierce animals. Arabs in general do not have the tendency of us in the West to ascribe human caracteristics to animals and give them human names. (The dogs we in the Wst love have a very different status in Arab countries.) Thus some parents complained about Ms. Gibbons. Now a reasonable response would be for the parents to have spoken with Ms. Gibbons and explain that nmming the teddy Mohammed was inappropriate. Or they could have gone to the school principal. Instead they went to the police. The police arrested Ms. Gibbons and charged her of 1) insulting religion, 2) inciting hatred, and 3) showing contempt for religious beliefs. This could have resulted in a sentence of 40 lashes and 6 months in prison. The court in a closed session cinvicted Ms. Gibbons and sentenced her to 15 days and jail after which she will be deported. [Sullivan] After the sentence was announced, crowds in Khartoum marched through the streets, bradishing machettes and demanding that Ms. Gibbons be put to death.
When we created the HBC country teddy page, we did not think that Sudan wold be one of the countries we would add to the list. But now the Sudan is now a country that has to be included. This because of a virtually unknown British school teacher.
A 54-year old British teacher, Gillian Gibbons, from Liverpool became fascinated with Sudan and decided to teach there so she could lear more about the country and the people and she certainly fulfilled her goal! She got a job to teach at a private school in Sudan. Gibbons is no doubt a sensative, idealistic woman. Like many of her generation in the West, she is comitted to the idea of cultural relativity.
Cultural relativityis the idea that cultural values are relative and that we in the West should not judge Third World societies on the basis of our values. This of course was done indiscrimately during the Victorian era anf the bey day of imperialism and racism. The idea of cultural relativity was a reaction to this. Ms. Gibbons has not doubt found to her dismay that the idea of cultural relativity is one that has not found wide currency in the Muslim world.
Like virtually all British people she had fond memories of teddies as a child and much of used them with her Brirish students. So she apparently brought a teddy with her to Sudan to use in her 2nd-grade class of 7-year olds. Unfortunately we do not have an image of Ms. Gibbons' teddy. Presumably it has been taken into custody by the Sudanese police. But apparently it was a large white teddy.
Apparently Ms. Gibbons was applying elements of the British National Curriculum (BNC). The BNC
involves class room use of a teddy bear. It is designed to use the teddy to capture the children's interest. The children name the bear and then take turns bringing it home with them. It is accompanied with a visitor's log to record its adventures. In this way the children who in the 2nd grade are beginning to develop literary skills are thus encouraged to write. And as the children themselves name the bear, a little lesson in democracy. It is quite a clever way of engaging the children with their class activities and studies. Apparently Ms. Gibbons thought it would also work in Sudan. And as regards the children, it worked very nicely.
As I understand it she got her students to bring into class their Teddy Bears and Cuddle toys. And she shared her Teddy with them. Ms. Gibbon's pupils were enchanted by Ms. Gibbons Teddy. Following the BNC, she gave her students the opportunity to name the teddy bear. The children suggested several differentb names. out of affection for Mohammed, the children chose the Prophet's name. Ms. Gibbons neither suggested or encouraged the selection. It should be mention that Mohammed is not a sacred name. It is widely used to name boys. Thus it is not particularly surprising that the name was chosen. Ms. Gibbons
had no role in the selection, but did not prevent the children from doing this. It was an innocent mistake. And those of us who have lived in foreign contries know that it is not possible to live abroad without making some kind of cultural transgression. I can recall horrifying a friend in England when I ferred ti his beautiful and lovingly cared for back garden as a "back yard".
The Sudanese are not unfamilar with teddies. They can be found in stores or markets as is the case throughout the Middle East. Many children have cuddley toys. The Sudanese Ambassador in Britain tried to justify the reaction by saying that there are no bears in Africa or for that matter the Sharra which dominates much of Sudan. They have read about bears and know they can be fierce animals. It is just one more example of Muslims attempting to justify vicious, uncivilized behavior, all too common in our modern world. And all too often unchallenged by Westerners who know uncivilized behavior when they see it. It is true that Arabs in general do not have the tendency of us in the West to ascribe human caracteristics to animals and give them human names. (The dogs we in the West love, for example, have a very different status in Arab countries.)
We have a number of questions about teddies in the Arab and wider Muslim world. Related issues are aditudes toward animals in general. We are also not sure if little girls play with dolls. There are religious prohibitions about creating human images. Apparently this has not been extended to dolls. Nor do we know if children are given stuffed animals to play with. The British term is "cuddle toys". And if so what animals. Teddies are a favorite in the West, but there are many other animals to choose from. We do not know if some animals are preferred in the Arab world. And we do not know if the children name their stuffed animals and if so what names are used. This would all be interesting to know. Hopefully HBC readers will be able to provide some insights. This will help us to understand the Sudan teddy affair.
When Ms. Gibbons' Teddy began his travels to the children's home in September, a letter accompanined him to the children's homes. Teddy completed eight home visits without incident. And as suggested by the BNC, it was accompanied with a visitor's log to record its adventures. In the log it says, ' My name is Mohamed.' Apparently a parent complained to the police. One account says a teacher at the school complained. We are not yet sure about that.
Now a reasonable response would have been for the parents or fellow teachers to have spoken with Ms. Gibbons and explain that nameing the teddy Mohammed was inappropriate. Or they could have gone to the school principal. Instead they went to the police. The police arrested Ms. Gibbons (October 25, 2007).
The police charged Ms Gibbons with 1) insulting religion, 2) inciting hatred, and 3) showing contempt for religious beliefs. This could have resulted in a sentence of 40 lashes and 6 months in prison. Ms Gibbons apparently cried through the proceeding, apauled that she could have been accused of showing contempt toward Islam or the Sudanse people. This was just the oppisite of the way she felt or her purpose if being in Sudan. Few details are available about the court proceeedings because they were closed to the public. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a central factor in determining if an individual has violated Islamic rules against insulting the Prophet. Nevertheless, the Sudanese court convicted Ms. Gibbons and sentenced her to 15 days in jail after which she is to be deported. [Sullivan]
After the sentence was announced, a crowd of thousands in Khartoum marched through the streets, bradishing machettes, swords, and clubs; beating drums; and demanding that Ms. Gibbons be put to death (November 30). They also burned newspapers with Ms. Gibbons' photograph. The crowds was outraged that Ms. Gibbons had insulted Islam. What mistified Westerners is how incidents like Ms. Gibbons' teddy outrages Muslims, yet rape amnd pillage by Muslims in Darfur or suiside killings by Muslims in other countries does not seem to spark outrage. The demonstration is one more chilling example of Muslims that are convinced that Islam gives them the right to kill other people who do not share their beliefs, including other Muslims.
It is difficult to judge in the Arab world to what extent such manifestations are spontaneous or orcestrated by the Sudan's hard-line Islamic Government and/or religious figures. The Government at this time apparently had no interest in a major diplomatic confrontation with Britain. The Government is under international pressure because of its support of Arab militias attacking people in Darfur and resisting the deployment of an internatiinal force. The Government does have an interest in perpetuting the myth that Sudan is being unfairly treated by the West. There are many instabces of the Government whipping up anti-Western sentiment including street protests. Thus the teddy incident may have provided a useful opportunity to depict Ms. Gibbons as one more disrespecftful Westerner. We have not yet seen any assessment as to the precise role played by the Sudanese Government.
The reaction of the Muslim world to this affair was quite different than the reaction to the Danish cartoons. Presumably the difference is that the Danish cartoonist sought to provoke. Ms. Gibbons had no desire at all to be provocative. Mulim spokesmen in the West were not outraged by Ms. Gibbons, but were dismayed at the Sudanese reaction to Ms. Gibbons. We are less sure about the reaction in Arab countries, but the lack of any demonstrations suggests that the event aroused no real anger.
By far the most interesting aspect of Ms. Gibbons and her teddy is the reaction of the Muslim world to the publication of the incident and the discussion of it. Here the primary reaction was that what happened in the Sudan is not representative of Muslim thought or Islam. (Interestingly Sudan is an is an Islamic state which uses Sharia Law. The line of logic is the same that Socialists use today to explain how the Soviet Union was not really a Socialist state.) Muslim spokes men describe how Islam is a religion of peace and charity. There are the pro-forma statements of the number of times that the Koran speaks of peace and charity. Which is absolutely correct. Then there are the statements that the overwealming portion of the world 1.3 billion Muslims do not advocate violence. Again absolutely true. What one does NOT hear from Muslim spokesmen is any introspective thought explaining how a religion so devoted to peace and charity can generate so much violence. With a religion of 1.3 billion adherents, been a small percentage is a lot people. A mere 1 percent of 1.3 billion people is 13 million. And public opinion poles show a much larger percentage of Muslims believe that violence against civilians and even suiside bombings are justifiable. And this is not just attacks on Jews and Christians, but other Muslims. In the so-called War Against Islam, the vast percentage of attacks on Muslims around the world are perpetrated by other Muslims.
Never mentioned by Muslims spokesmen when incidents like this are discussed in the media are passages in the Koran that justify violence. Islam is often desribed as a religion of peace. And there are references toward peace in the Koran. but there are also many references to war and violence. The number of such references is disturbing. Even more disturbing are references to violence as a positive good and references justifying violence against unbrlivers. These passages are unlike any in the religious books of the worlds other great religions. Several of these passages would seem to give a Muslim justification for suiside bombers targetting Jews, Christians, and even Muslims of differing views. The Koran also authorizes violence against women. In reading these passages it should be remembered that Islamic scholars teach that the Koran is the literal, perfect word of God and can not be questined. We have quoted the various pertinent passages from the Koran and attempted to assess their meaning. Some are elusive. Others seem rather straight forward. We do not pretend to be Islamic scholars and welcome any insights that readers might have.
Sullivan, Kevin. "Sudan convicts teacher in naming of teddy bear," Washington Post (November 30, 2007), p. A18.
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