>If You Go Down to Sudan Today, You’re In For A Big Surprise

>This is also from the old news department, but I need to blog it before Christmas chaos hits.

There is a British teacher who is lucky to escape Sudan with her life. Why? She allowed her 7-year-old students to name a teddy bear Mohammed! But she still says she had a fabulous time in Sudan. Wow, lady, you’re a far braver soul than I could ever be. I guess that’s why you’re teaching English in foreign countries and I’m not.

Gillian Gibbons was teaching English in a Sudanese private school. She decided that a good way to teach the kids some English would be to have one of the kids bring in a teddy bear, have the kids name it, and then each kid could take the bear home and record logs of what they did with the bear. They were going to put their stories in a book and let them all keep it. What a sweet little project! I wish teachers did stuff like that with us when we were little.

She decided to let the kids pick the bear’s name. By a huge majority, the kids chose Mohammed. With Mohammed being a common Muslim name, is it any surprise that was the choice?

So the kids carted Mohammed the fuzzy bear everywhere, and the book was created. They even called Mohammed an intelligent bear. But one of the parents saw it, and ran off to the police. A crime had been committed! Apparently, insulting the prophet Mohammed is a crime, and by naming a stuffed animal Mohammed, even if they called it intelligent, the prophet had been insulted.

So, *clang*, Ms. Gibbons found herself in jail. She could have faced lashes, jail time, and people were coming out in droves with clubs and knives demanding her execution! What the? Luckily, she was pardoned and allowed to go home safely.

Ok, I try to be open-minded to different cultural views, but this is just ridiculous! I can’t understand it. I can’t. I can’t switch places and try and see things from their eyes. I can’t even think of something that we get morally offended about that they would look at and wonder if we were on crack. I can’t do it. I just can’t. Words fail me. My mind is full of sputtering phrases. Let me try and convert them into thoughts that make some semblance of sense.

It was a kids’ project. The kids chose the name. She didn’t force it on them. Part of me screams that you can’t blame the kids, but surely they’ve had it pounded into their heads that you don’t insult Mohammed. Surely, they know this more than Ms. Gibbons. I know that if you go to another culture, you have to learn about their beliefs, but if I was teaching there, and all the kids chose to name the bear Mohammed, I’d have to wonder if maybe this wasn’t viewed as an insult. An insult is a highly interpretive thing. Plus, if you are trying to teach the kids about voting, you can’t really have them vote and then tell them they can’t have it that way. I would have thought, if I was having as fabulous a time in Sudan as she seemed to have had up to now, that the parents would have been reasonable and seen this as a cute little project, nothing more.

The parents have to remember that she’s not from there, and they wanted their kids to learn English from someone who is not from there, after all. So maybe it’s their fault. Maybe they should take the lashes for letting someone teach their kids who didn’t know about insulting Mohammed. They have to expect that someone from far away might do something that’s not exactly standard with their norms. I don’t understand. There seems to be a contradiction here. The private schools go to great lengths to make sure their English teachers are the whitest of white so it looks at least as if the teachers are native English speakers, but if the teachers are not adhering precisely to their beliefs, they should die, die, die? Either you get someone who knows your beliefs inside and out to teach the kids English, or you deal with a few oopses. As long as the oopses don’t hurt the kids, what in hell does it matter? Maybe, if you’re worried about whether the kids are going to be good little Muslims after this episode, you take the teacher aside and explain it to her. You don’t lock her up.

Another thing that confuses me is if it’s such an insult to name a bear Mohammed, how come you can name your kid Mohammed? Aren’t you calling your kid a god, or giving your imperfect child God’s name? Isn’t that an insult, or a sign of hubris, or something? I admit I don’t know shit about shit about all the rules of Islam, but logic leaves me confused on this one.

I also don’t understand this country’s stubbornness. Because of that Danish cartoon, Sudan won’t let Scandinavians come to Darfur, even though they offer highly technical skills. I’m all for standing up for your principles, but this is absurd.

I think I’m done sputtering. I’m just glad she got out ok. This reminds me of that Star Trek The Next Generation episode where Wesley Crusher was going to get executed for stepping on the grass. I never thought I’d see a real case as ridiculous as that. But I guess they had to get the idea from somewhere.

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