What a crazy story. I imagine you’ve heard or read about it by now, so I don’t need to provide links.
According to the lastest article I found, she’s now sentenced to fifteen days in jail, five of which she has already served, and she’ll be deported.
My feeling is that it’s a ridiculously over-the-top reaction to a non-offense, and that she is owed an apology and should not be deported.
Now comes the part where I really venture into waters where I don’t belong, as I’m not from a Muslim culture and I have never lived in Muslim lands. All I want to do here is point out to western people like myself that people in Muslim lands, for the most part, don’t really feel about the animals the same way we do.
If you’re like me, you go to sites like Cute Overload and I Can Has Cheezburger and enjoy the adorable cats and dogs and bunnies and hamsters, some of whom are dressed up like people and look charming that way.
I posted a photo several months back of a dog in a cowboy hat and didn’t give much explanation to it. Now I’ll give the backstory. I had a photo of a really cute dog with a keffiyah on his head, that I displayed for probably more than a year with nobody complaining, until one day an older, native-Arabic-speaker came along and saw it and complained angrily, seeming to take for granted that I knew it was offensive. Since she didn’t bother to explain what she was so mad about, I had to make some assumptions.
My assumption is that in her mind it is not a picture of a cute dog wearing a keffiyah, but rather it’s a picture of an Arab portrayed as a dog. Maybe I could have gotten away with a bunny portrayed as an Arab (doubt it), but not a dog, which in general most Muslims regard as unclean.
The prophet Muhammad, no lover of dogs, left his followers a legacy of believing that angels won’t enter a house if a dog is in it, and that if they come into contact with a dog they have to wash their hands seven times before they pray.
Similarly, and I’m really making unbased assumptions here, I imagine that the Sudanese don’t typically have plush toy animals and that if they do, they don’t give them human names. Probably they don’t even name their hunting dogs and livestock.
I once asked an Arab friend what some common names for dogs were in Arabic. He said, “Well, there’s the saluki.” I explained that I meant what do they call them? Spot, Rover, Snowball, King? He couldn’t come up with any pet names in Arabic at all, even though he’s a dog owner (and a Muslim) and likes big, slobbery dogs.
The teddy bear at least originated as an American phenomenon, and if there were ever bears in Africa they’ve been gone for a while now. I spent a few hours today trying to hunt down evidence of bears in Islamic or African storytelling. The Qur’an borrows some stories from the Bible, but I was not able to find out if it includes the story of the young men who taunted the prophet Elisha and were immediately thereafter devoured by two handy bears.
Either way, to people without a teddy bear tradition, a bear is a fearsome beast.
The disgruntled administrative assistant at the school who was the only one to complain probably cobbled together the idea that Gillian Gibbons was intentionally demeaning the prophet Muhammad by portraying him as a bear. This seems beyond absurd to you and me, also the students and the parents at the school.
Somehow, though, a crowd of thousands materialized that actually seems to believe just that.
The funny thing is that when someone asked me yesterday if I had heard what was going on in Sudan, I was sure that he didn’t mean Darfur.
They named the bear Muhammad because it was the name of a popular boy in the class, for heaven’s sake!
Here’s a quote from an International Herald Tribune article on the 28th that just leaves your mouth agape at the lunacy:
Although Khartoum officials played down the case and said it was an isolated incident, Sudan’s top clerics said in a statement Wednesday that the full measure of the law should be applied against Gibbons, calling the incident part of a broader Western “plot” against Islam.
“Plot against Islam” indeed. Sounds like those “War on Christmas” nutjobs.