Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 3, 2007

Insult to Injury, Not Islam

When British teacher Gillian Gibbons was jailed in Khartoum, Sudan for allowing her 7-year-old classmates to name a classroom Teddy-bear “Mohammad,” members of the international community protested. While 20 out of 23 of the students voted to name the bear Mohammad – one of the most common names in the Arab world – the Muslims in the area interpreted this as yet another example of the Western vendetta to desecrate and destroy Islam. Gibbons was charged with insulting Islam, arrested, and jailed with the possibility of lashing.

While the rest of the world vehemently protested against this unfair indictment, the Sudanese people protested as well. Hundreds of people in Sudan felt the consequences were too lenient, entered the streets beating drums, armed with clubs and swords, burning pictures of Gibbons and demanding her execution.

Despite the opinion of many Sudanese people, a pardon was issued from the Sudanese President, and Gibbons was released. British authorities had Gibbons moved to a secret location for her safety. She expressed her apologies and disappointment at not being able to return to Sudan, a place where she claimed the Sudanese people had been nothing but kind to her.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was “delighted and relieved” that Gibbons was released and that “common sense had prevailed.” But what are the ramifications of this ordeal?

“This case has done quite a bit of damage to how the Sudanese government will be perceived; they have done their country no favors,” said Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, the county’s largest Muslim organization.

Sudan has known much tragedy in recent years, particularly in its Darfur region. The Sudanese government is not known for its generosity to its people, nor has it succeeded in stabilizing the region. In fact, contrastingly, the Sudanese government is associated with mass corruption, disorganization and instability. Why would the government prosecute a British school teacher whose intentions were, obviously since she had come to teach in Sudan in the first place, to help. All of this chaos over the name of a teddy-bear while whole chunks of the region are in shambles.

The Sudanese members of Islam have once again portrayed Islam as a culture of paranoid, vengeful people- at great disadvantage to the Islamic Community abroad, who are not in agreement or in support of Sudanese actions.

“This has certainly given ammunition to those who never miss an opportunity to portray Muslims as intolerant,” Bunglawala said. “We only hope that the actions of Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi and the whole British Muslim community can mitigate against the damage done by the Sudanese authorities.”

It would seem that citizens of Sudan would be grateful for anyone who came into Sudan to help – teachers, peace-builders, NGO workers, etc. Sudan’s response to what was clearly not an act attended to offend or upset, greatly diminishes their standing in the world as reasonable, rational people. This only further alienates the Islamic community, and increases anti-Islamic sentiments worldwide.

The UN Peacekeeping Force, while trying to expand in Sudan, has found similar difficulties. Sudan is now rejecting any peacekeeping forces from Scandinavia after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the prophet Mohammad. Riots erupted across the Islamic community, resulting in dozens of deaths.

This kind of behavior and reaction of Muslims is extremely detrimental to inter-religious and interfaith dialogue and understanding – specifically for the people of Sudan who need, at this crucial time, as much support as possible. This oversensitivity, paranoia, and violent tendencies cannot be tolerated by the international community, nor by the Sudanese government.

Brown’s assertion that Gibbons’ freedom was a triumph for “common sense” negatively implicates the people of Islam, and the people of Sudan. The Islamic community worldwide must begin to propagate peace and understanding before it is completely, and unfairly, written off as a people lacking any common sense.

–Jillian Vicinanza

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