I’d bet money (if I had any) that schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons will probably think twice before deferring to her young and oh-so-naive pupils for the final decision at any future toy-naming ceremonies. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she drops this particular classroom activity from the curriculum altogether.
She tried it once, which I’m sure seemed like a good idea at the time, but quickly learned the hard way that those little rascals aren’t really so good at the name game. Student participation is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
Of course, she’s the 54-year-old British teacher who left her teaching job in Liverpool last August to hop on a plane, destination Sudan, in order to teach in Khartoum. According to her MySpace page, she does like to travel, after all!
I assume things were going well, until that recent and most unfortunate lightbulb moment: What better way to teach a flock of seven-year-olds about animals and their habitats than to appoint a classroom mascot representative of the wild kingdom? And all kids love teddy bears, Liverpoolian and Khartoumian alike! Bingo. Idea “spot-on”, as they say in jolly old England.
So she picked up the stuffed and cuddly toy and presented the new mascot to the class, without introduction, of course, since the bear was theretofore nameless. That’s when the kids got to play Name That Bear and things began to go terribly awry. With an overwhelming majority of votes, the winning name was (drumroll, please) … Mohammed! Uh oh.
Classmates began taking turns bringing the teddy bear home, accompanied by a diary with the bear’s name written in the front of it. Parents were none too pleased, to say the least, and reported the blasphemy to the proper religious authorities.
Although there is no outright ban in the Koran on images of the Prophet Mohammed, likenesses are considered highly offensive by Muslims. As an aside, if a teddy bear indeed resembles the holy prophet, no wonder they might want to keep that little secret to themselves.
So Ms. Gibbons was hauled off to prison last Sunday to await trial after being convicted of inciting religious hatred for letting her pupils name the teddy bear Mohammed. Even though the kids had actually named the teddy after one of their most popular fellow classmates (Mohammeds run rampant in Islamic circles, coming in at number one on the list of most popular baby boy names), that alibi simply held no water.
Pre-trial incarceration wasn’t, I’m sure, Ms. Gibbons’ only concern. Knowing that the maximum penalty for her crime could very well be imprisonment for up to six months and an appointment with the whipmaster for some 40 duly administered lashes, there was undoubtedly much anxiety.
Wisely, she opted to humbly approach the bench and apologize for her blasphemous behavior. Sanity reigned and she was granted lash-amnesty, and sentenced to only 15 days in a Sudanese prison. Cool. Of course, she’ll then have to leave the country, never to return again, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be a problem.
Then, today, just when you thought the matter was resolved, leave it to the radical Islamic masses to step it up a notch. Apparently the Sudanese at large aren’t so happy with the sentence, and so thousands, many armed with clubs, knives and axes, streamed out of their respective mosques after Friday sermons and rallied in Central Martyrs Square outside the presidential palace, demanding her execution.
Not just a lashing, mind you, but full-on execution! Even managed to recruit a fleet of pickup trucks with loudspeakers, blaring rebel-rousing messages against Gibbons.
Reported chants of choice: “No tolerance!” “Execution!” “Kill her, kill her by firing squad!” You get the picture. Clearly, they were not pleased with the verdict.
Gibbons was, of course, swiftly whisked away from the prison for her own safety, to serve her final nine days of imprisonment in an apparently undisclosed location. Hopefully she’ll make it home soon, and intact.
Yet another fine example of radical religious fanatacism. I’m sure that there are millions of Muslims who are wincing once again at the behavior of their step-brethren. Kind of like I wince when the black sheep of my universal Christian family act up. Just remember, whatever spiritual family you belong to, there are those certain members that you sometimes simply must disown.