Some people might react to the news that Gillian Gibbons has been charged in Sudan with insulting Islam and inciting hatred as a result of calling a teddy bear 'Mohamed' with either shock or anger. My reaction is rather different - puzzlement.
I am genuinely bewildered that anyone, anywhere, could possibly be offended by the naming of a teddy bear. Is there really anyone whose faith is so insecure that they think that calling a teddy bear Mohamed is meant as an insult? Unless there is some significance to teddy bears in either Islam or Sudan that I am unaware of, this seems an utterly trivial thing to get worked up about.
But apparently there must be people who are offended by this, as the BBC report quotes a group called the Sudanese Assembly of the Udemas as saying that it's part of a Western plot against Islam, which is just bizarre.
I am glad to see that the Muslim Council of Britain has come out strongly against this nonsense and I have to say that the Muslims I know are sufficiently secure in their faith not to be in any way concerned about such matters. However, I do note that the MCB adopted a rather different attitude on the Danish cartoons controversy. Is there really such a difference between the naming of a teddy bear and cartoons depicting Mohamed? I don't really see it myself.
However, one reaction which I think would be completely out of place would be to condemn Sudan for being completely backward in its laws. If it is, then so is the UK. Let us not forget that in 1977 the late and unlamented Mary Whitehouse successfully brought a prosecution for blasphemy against Gay News for publishing this poem by James Kirkup. And just last week, the producers of Jerry Springer - The Opera were taken to court by some Christian extremists who accused them of blasphemy.
I think it's high time in this country that we got rid of our blasphemy laws, which only protect Christian beliefs. All religions ought to be able to stand up for themselves, without relying on some legal crutch whenever they feel their sensibilities have been offended. Whether it's the naming of a teddy bear, cartoons, poems or inspired satire, those with religious beliefs really should just learn to grin and bear it.
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