From The Times (London)
November 27, 2007
Sudan police throw teacher in jail for teddy bear named Muhammad
Rob Crilly in Khartoum and Lucy Bannerman
A British teacher faces a jail sentence in Sudan for insulting Islam by letting her class of seven-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad as part of a school project.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, has been accused of blasphemy — an offence punishable by 40 lashes under Sharia — and could be imprisoned for up to six months.
She had asked the children to pick their favourite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats. In a class vote, the pupils rejected her own suggestion of "Faris", with 20 out of 23 deciding to call the cuddly toy Muhammad — also the name of one of the class's most popular boys.
Ms Gibbons had left Liverpool for Sudan in July, after leaving her job as a primary school deputy head in the city. An experienced traveller whose MySpace entry talks of her passion for learning about other cultures, she took up the challenge of a new job in Khartoum after the break-up last year of her 33-year marriage.
Yesterday she was in isolation in a cell in Khartoum, and colleagues and the consular authorities were desperately trying to negotiate her release.
Unity High School, the British school where she taught the children of Sudanese professionals, expatriates and oil workers, stood empty, amid fears of adverse reactions from Islamic extremists.
Robert Boulos, the school's director, said that on Sunday police had barged into the school grounds, where Ms Gibbons was living. "We tried to reason with them but we felt they were coming under strong pressure from Islamic courts," he said in his study lined with sepia photographs of the school's colonial heyday.
"There were men with big beards asking where she was and saying they wanted to kill her."
A similar crowd gathered at the police station where she is being held.
Mr Boulos said the school would remain shut until January to protect the safety of staff and children. "This was a completely innocent mistake," he said. "Ms Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."
He said that a seven-year-old girl took the teddy into class in September. It was dressed in old clothes and was sent home each weekend with different pupils who were asked to keep a diary of its activities.
Each entry was collected in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover, next to the message "My name is Muhammad", although the bear was not marked or labelled with the name in any way.
Islamic law forbids images of the Prophet Muhammad, lest they give rise to idolatry.
It is understood that Sudanese police have now seized the book and had asked to interview the toy's seven-year-old owner.
The extreme circumstances of the case have led colleagues to believe that the British teacher may have been caught up in a personal vendetta.The bear's name was chosen within weeks of Ms Gibbons's arrival in September, but objections were raised only last week.
The Sudanese Media Centre — closely associated with the Sudanese Government — reported that the teacher could be prosecuted under Article 125 of criminal law, which covers "faith and religions" legislation. It also stated that the Briton's actions had "met with wide condemnation by guardians of the students".
However, colleagues of Ms Gibbons told The Times that no such complaints had been received by any of the children's parents. They pointed to a disgruntled fellow teacher as the possible source of the complaint. The woman, understood to be a member of a well-known, conservative family, is believed to have a grudge against Unity High School, set up 100 years ago by a Christian bishop.
Bishop Ezikiel Kondo, chairman of the school council, said: "It's a kind of blackmail."
One Sudanese woman whose seven-year-old son had hosted the bear for a weekend, said: "I didn't complain and neither did any other of the other parents. Anyway she didn't name the bear — it was the class. Really we think she is a good teacher."
Another colleague told The Times: "I think the complaint came internally. The police are suggesting maybe it was from another member of staff."
She added that Ms Gibbons was still awaiting to be charged formally. "A lot of staff have been in to see her. She is upset but fine."
Yesterday staff at Unity huddled together in the shade of the courtyard, discussing whether religious leaders would call their faithful on to the streets in anti-Western protests.
Press agencies reported that young men had started to gather outside the police station where she was being questioned.
Officials from the British Embassy visited the teacher in police custody yesterday. "She was clearly shaken up but otherwise well," one said.
In the Liverpool suburb of Aigburth, where Ms Gibbons lived until her divorce, residents waited to hear her fate. Peter Sorensen, a former neighbour , said: "We all thought it was a tremendously brave move for her to go to Africa at her age. It seems that she wanted a new challenge and she was planning to stay there for two years.
"Gillian was a very nice person and wouldn't harm a fly."
Her ex-husband, Peter, a local headmaster, and their children, John, 25, and Jessica, 27, declined to comment, for fear of jeopardising negotiations.However, Mr Sorensen said that friends and relatives were extremely worried about the conditions under which Ms Gibbons was being held, he said.
Ms Gibbons had worked in primary schools in and around Liverpool as a supply teacher and then as a literacy adviser for the city council.
Response is 'unusually harsh'
–– Gillian Gibbons, who taught at Unity High School in Khartoum, was arrested for supposedly "insulting the Prophet Muhammad", a violation of Article 125 of the Sudanese criminal law that covers insults against faith and religion
–– There is no specific, or explicit, ban in the Koran on images of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad – be they carved, painted or drawn
–– However, chapter 42, verse 11 of the Koran does say: "[Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth . . . [There is] nothing like a likeness of Him"
–– The fear is that images could give rise to idolatry, but experts said that in this case the response in Sudan, which has been governed by strict Sharia (Islamic law) since 1983, has been unusually harsh
As someone said in response to this article, apparently the Muslim respect train seems to travel in one direction only…
If calling a teddy bear 'Muhammed' is an insult to the so-called Prophet (because allegedly you can't name a thing with a face after him, although there is NO SUCH LAW IN THE KORAN), what about all those males out there named Muhammed? Males with faces, last time I looked. Must they now go out and lash themselves? And their mothers for naming them so?
Islam must be a very weak and insecure religion indeed if it, or at least segments of it, feels the need to strike out at every imagined slight with shrieks of "Death to (whomever)!" and threats of grave physical punishment for NON-MUSLIMS. Who gives these desert-driven, uneducated, hate-filled monomaniacs the right to impose their faith on those who believe otherwise, or who do not believe at all?
If these people want to live in the 7th century, let them stay in their own countries and not come to the West. If they want to come to the West, then they have to abide by our rules and laws.
Artists of every sort all over Europe are terrified to speak out against Islam because they fear, and quite rightly, that some wacko Muhammedan will slit their throat for "offending." (Cf. Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that Danish cartoonist, Salman Rushdi). So yeah, in this instance the terrorists have indeed won.
This is what happens when you have a primitive tribal religion that lucked out, making it into the modern era without a Reformation. You end up with primitive tribalists who spend 18 hours a day memorizing the Koran like robots (rather than learning about science and history and stuff), still operating according to laws made when the world was herding goats and sheep, bristling at every imagined offense and dying (literally, in many cases) to see their Muslim Mordor cast its darkness over the rest of us out here in the sunny free-thinking Shire.
Unlike their long-ago and amazing predecessors, they do not think and they cannot create (what's the last dynamic and world-changing Islamic scientific or medical breakthrough or artistic achievement you've heard of? Right. I thought so…).
They can only destroy what they could never hope to build.
At least the Catholic/Christian Church managed to educate and sophisticate itself a bit over the centuries, though I have issues almost as big with it also.
Since when did Muhammad become some sort of divinity whose name must never be taken in vain? Seems to me that Islamic radicals are making it up as they go along, according as to whose ox they think needs goring. And then of course you get militants wishing to impose shari'a law on the entire world. ACCORDING TO THE TEXT OF THEIR OWN BOOK.
Well, they can't. Though I fear they are well on their way to cowing the British lion. In a decade or two, they may well accomplish what the Nazis could not, and bring Britain to its knees. And the rest of Europe with it.
And it's Britain's own fault for letting them in. And Holland's, and Denmark's, and France's, and Germany's… Nobody seemed to understand that these fundies are NEVER going to be assimilated and that their burning desire is to bring the whole planet under their dismal, mindless, barbarian code. By Islam's own account, Muhammed was a warlord, a rapist and a mass murderer with delusions of talking to angels. Oh, wait, maybe he DID talk to angels…or at least something that said it was an angel. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it was one of those naughty fallen angels. A REAL ghost writer. Which might explain a lot.
The Koran, for all its adherents' claims of it being a "book of peace", is a primer for intolerance and savagery, calling for the slaying of anyone who doesn't believe in it and the destruction of non-Islamic society. Sure, the Old Testament has nasty crap in it too, but nothing like this.
Islam is a religion based on hatred for anything not itself, and if there are any truly tolerant, peace-loving Muslims out there who reject this, it's long past time for them to stand up and speak out. A free-speech movement has to start somewhere, and hopefully not all thinking Muslims (and I know there are plenty) have been beaten into the bloody ground by the shari'a stick.
The next time this hellhole called Sudan, or any other equally backwards Islamofascist state, starts rattling its tin cup for handouts from the Western World, I suggest we Just Say No. Or that any aid be made contingent on adopting 21st century attitudes. Like, no whippings, stoning or beheadings, and letting women have actual lives. You know, simple basic stuff.
If our money is good enough for them to accept, so too should our principles be. If their leaders think it better serves their desperate, hungry, war-ravaged populace to threaten a foreign woman (who was there to HELP them!) with lashing over a fucking teddy bear rather than concentrate on problems like Darfur, genocide, starvation and the rest of it, then these are leaders who should not be allowed to lead.
And for ALL gods' sake (and no gods' sake, for the atheists among us), let us speedily develop some kind of energy that doesn't depend on Islamic oil. If I could have three wishes from an obliging genie, I would wish: One, to put an end to organized religion (ALL organized religions) and their heinous offenses against humanity down the centuries. Two, a static electricity generator (where's John Galt when you really need him?) or cold-fusion reactor that make petroleum obsolete. (We'd still need plastic, so maybe a sub-wish would be for some kind of silicon-based biodegradable plastic breakthrough…). The third wish I reserve. For the moment. Though it might involve the Death Star...
Oh, and I'm running out right now to buy a dog, a cat, a parrot, a pig, a goat and a pony. And I'm going to name them Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Krishna, Pope and Odin. Yes! I am!
I think that Islamic fundamentalism (I'm talking ONLY about fundamentalists here, not the modern Muslims who are fit heirs of the enlightened Islamic age of Averroes and Avicenna, not to mention the mighty tolerance of Akbar the Great) is the single greatest danger the world faces at the moment and into the future.
Perhaps when the Islamic world has grown up and taken their heads out of the tents, they might want to think about joining the rest of us in a civilized world. May Al-Lat send them a Reformer, to clear away the clinging detritus of the past 1500 years.
Or else I foresee the Tenth Crusade. And as a sworn Templar, that does not make me a very happy knight.