What about the Children?

One thing I don’t understand about this blasphemous English schoolmistress in the Sudan, Bento; why don’t they prosecute the kids as well? Never mind the question of whether at 7 years of age they should be at least dimly aware of the importance of the name Muhammad, it is pretty clear that they are the ones who named the offending bear. I am clearly not an expert on this, but it would seem that it is not the intention of the blasphemer that is the crime, as it would be reasonable to doubt or difficult to prove that the schoolteacher knew she was offending Islam. Rather it must be the act itself which is the crime and as such must be punished no matter who commits it. In naming the bear, the children have a prima facie case to answer, at least as accomplices, surely. And of course, the bear must be put to death.

I would not expect the Foreign Secretary to have pressed exactly this issue when he summoned the Sudanese ambassador, British diplomacy is not what it was. It should not be in the power of one state to dictate laws in another, Spinoza is very clear on that in the Treatise; the sovereign should be all powerful, and so let the Sudanese leviathan do what it must. But it is another thing to ask that those laws be implemented fairly.

That’s what gets me about Sharia as it is apparently practiced; it’s so goddammed arbitrary. Stonees go unpunished if they manage to escape their stoning, and now these kids get away with a terrible blasphemy, which according to some merits the death penalty.

Honestly, Bento, if I were a cyncial man, I would think the whole issue of the bear was not actually that offensive to Muslims, but rather more political, a way of stoking righteous anger to support the government.


14 thoughts on “What about the Children?”

  1. Two things come to mind when I reflect on this incident.

    If that were a teacher of Arabic or Persian descent in someplace like Raleigh, North Carolina, who allowed a seven-year-old to name a teddy bear something like “Jesus Sucks D****y D***s”, you can bet she would be facing some kind of criminal indecency charges.

    Relative cultural mores are relative cultural mores, you know.

    Further, every jurisdiction has statutory sentencing ranges, and the maximum penalties for most offences are rarely invoked. However, those maximums are rarely invoked because they are usually very extreme considering the average circumstance of the offence. There is also a lot of, shall we say, “judgment” exercised by the constabulary on the scene.

    Here in the States, we have people being Tasered for refusing to sign speeding tickets, judges punishing a whole courtroom for excessive noise, a false accusation of rape and gross misconduct by police and prosecutors that nearly put several young men from Duke in jail for years and probably ruined their reputations, and various examples of people being made example of by having the “book thrown at them.”

    People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    I’m cynical, too, and suspect that either there’s a political axe to grind or something we’re not being told about the case, but what I do know doesn’t pass muster as being out of line, comparatively speaking. If you’re teaching in the Sudan, you should know not to disparage Muhammad; if you’re driving in Dubai, you should know not to flip the bird to other drivers when they offend you; etc.

  2. Actually, I have been to North Carolina and suspect you are right, it is much like the Sudan where I have not been. But I know that if some Bangladeshi in Brick Lane in London named a bear “Jesus Sucks Dick “(which he may have done), actually nothing at all would happen to him. The same here in Switzerland. No-one associated with this blog has anything to do with the US. Being outside of your glass house, we are thus free to throw stones.

    Your example, however, seems sort of irrelevant if you don’t mind me saying so. The bear here was not called “Muhammed takes it up the bum”, but just “Muhammed”.

    You should have written:

    “if a teacher of Arabic or Persian descent in someplace like Raleigh, North Carolina, who allowed a seven-year-old to name a teddy bear something like “Jesus ”, you can bet she would be facing some kind of criminal indecency charges. ”

    Do you really think that?

  3. I don’t mind you saying so, but I don’t consider the example irrelevant.

    The issue is relative cultural mores. What the “West” sees as harmless is viewed as obscene locally, so the relevant counterexample must be defined by what is considered obscene in the West. The point being that relative obscenity anywhere would be considered punishable.

    Feel free to substitute any example you wish.

    The second point is the media’s focus on the possible extremity of punishment, which I find childish and ill-informed. Every jurisdiction has a wide range of sentencing guidelines, with minor infractions of all kinds *possibly* subject to extreme sentences, which are in actually rarely enacted. I’m sure if you search, you’ll find similar examples where you live.

    The third point is that “miscarriages of justice” take place everywhere, not just in the Sudan. So the media focus on this event, while ignoring similar miscarriages in the West (I’m quite certain you have them in Switzerland and the UK as well), smacks of ethnocentrism and xenophobia to me.

    My final point is cynical agreement that this incident may have other considerations driving it to resolution.

    Moving on from expanding my original comments … if the children are considered “adults under the law” then prosecute them, but I really don’t think you believe that 7-year-olds are subject to the same rules of justice regarding minor infractions that the adults, supposedly in supervisory roles over children, should be. In your vernacular, I may consider the antagonists in Sudan to be “barbarians,” but I would qualify my statement to remind all that they are not, at their core, really any different than the “barbarians” in charge here (or where you’re at).

  4. Yes, they are different. They wouldn’t put me in prison for naming a bear “Jesus”. You could call that a “non-core” difference if you like, but it’s pretty important to me.

    My point about giving lashings of justice to the kids is that it is a logical corollary of the prosecution of the teacher, who, like a 7-year old, may not have had any intention to commit, or knowledge that she was commiting, an infraction. Justice must be blind. Whip the kids too!

    You, sir (or Madam), are a Moral Relativist! Suttee! You like it, right? We seem to attract you lot here. Why is that, I wonder? Spinozism abhors moral relativism, you know.

  5. No, they’re not different, other than in WHAT offends. Given THAT an offence takes place, they are identical.

    Do you mean that 7-year-olds should be held subject to the same standards of “justice” that those adults in charge of supervising them are held to?

    I, sir, never made any claim about the “justness” of what is happening from MY moral perspective. Think about that carefully before you respond.

    I don’t know Spinoza from Shinola, and simply came here initially for one of your “lens sharpening” articles, and liked it enough to subscribe to your RSS.

    The world is a place where different cultural mores hold reign over different territorial areas, and when one crosses said mores, or more accurately, when one gets caught crossing them, one should expect punishment. Is that right? Is that wrong? I make no claim, I merely state what IS.

  6. “Lens Grinding”, not sharpening. So you are one of the econoblogger crowd. We have cleverly sucked you in with our supposed market savvy, and now you are engaging with Spinozist philosophy! It works.

    No, I don’t think you really think it is a good idea to put the poor lady in prison, and you should know I am not really keen on flogging 7 year olds, even if they are really naughty.

    As Spinozists we are interested in the descriptive in order to derive the normative. It is clear then what your point is, that this stuff happens, and you are probably against it. But then the real question is what is to be done about it; the answer is, not much, we cannot invade Sudan. All we can do it point out that it is wrong and ridicule the Sudanese authorities — that they may as well punish the children as the teacher, using the reasons given for the prosecution.

    On a minor point, few liberal democracies punish people for “offending” moral sensibilities, in part because of their adoption of Spinozist ethics. It is one way how our societies differ from others. We should periodically be thankful for that.

  7. More like “trader-blogger” crowd. I couldn’t give two [insert expletives] about the economorons such as Ritholtz, Roubini, and Panzner, and their almost always flawed prognostications. I view economic projection problems as (1) interesting only from a mathematically masturbatory perspective, (2) fruitless in terms of generating profits from the markets, and (3) far easier than pundits pretend they are. Points two and three lead to point one, so I should probably reverse that order …

    My apologies, “grinding.” I was in a hurry to turn over the broadband access to my Wifeykins, who needed to chat with her online friends, and in that haste, I did not look up the tag but simply typed quickly.

    This stuff happens, but not just in the Sudan; it happens everywhere. Our (western, includes UK, Switzerland, U.S., and others) media parades this example because they have an Islamophobic agenda, while they ignore local examples that are similar in content if not in context. I try to view the world as if I were an outsider, perhaps from another planet, and look past the cultural differences to find the structural similarities. I believe the societies are far less different than you think they are.

    Regarding your first sentence in your last paragraph, I submit that we should probably just agree to disagree.

  8. Baruch,

    I’m firmly in your corner, fwiw. Doodah…now come on…Islamaphobic? Given the behaviour of any number of countless third world mobs when “Mohammed” is slighted….can you really equate such societies with more civilized ones? Btw, I don’t care for soccer either…when was the last time a baseball or cricket umpire was beaten/killed by an angry mob?…..seems to be a fairly common occurence for soccer judges in some places….

    Excuse me…have to puke in disgust….


  9. Only, no puking on the website, please. Like you I don’t much like “soccer” — BTW we call it football. Rugby is much better, and referees only get hurt there when they are tackled by mistake.

    Nodoodahs, I think we come to the nub of our disagreement; I actually agree with you that societies qua societies are much more similar than we think to another.

    My only quibble is that this is a State or government action, and you would agree I am sure, that one state or government can be very different from another?

  10. Sorry for the change in nom de plume, but this PC isn’t logged into my WordPress ID.

    “… can you really equate such societies with more civilized ones? ” Hmm, that statement utterly reeks of Islamophobia. Cheers!

    I actually believe that States or “governments” qua “governments” are all alike, the differences are cosmetic / esthetic for the most part, with some cultural mores overlaid around the edges. The essence of their behavior to subjects, and their interaction with other states, is functionally identical, with their circumstances and the cards they’re holding being the primary variables in predicting behavior.

    People are people, societies are societies, and people with power (or lust for same) are people with power, regardless of where they live or what trappings of “government” they foist off onto the masses.

    From Reuters this a.m – “The British teacher jailed in Sudan for letting her students name a teddy bear Mohammad won a pardon on Monday and was released into British care.”

    Making the thread somewhat moot?

  11. Earlier, I had mentioned this:

    “Every jurisdiction has a wide range of sentencing guidelines, with minor infractions of all kinds *possibly* subject to extreme sentences, which are in actually rarely enacted. I’m sure if you search, you’ll find similar examples where you live.”

    I donated a used vehicle to charity last week, and filled out a VTR-346 to notify the DMV that the vehicle was being transferred, to limit my liability in case anything untoward occurs before the title is transferred. In a “WARNING” message at the bottom of the form, there is this text:

    “Transportation Code, S501.155, provides that falsifying information on any required statement or application is a third-degree felony offense punishable by not more than ten (10) years in prison or not more than one (1) year in a community correctional facility. In addition to imprisonment, a fine of upt to $10,000 may also be imposed.”

    I seriously doubt that the 10 years and $10,000 is ever applied as a punishment for falsification of forms. It’s so goddammed arbitrary – somewhat like Sharia. And comparable to the punishments meted out, vs. those maximum possible penalties, in other States.

  12. Well the thread is not completely moot, given the poor lady had to spend nights in a Sudanese jail and have a mob outside baying for her blood.

    The US is really more into draconian sentences for that type of thing than other places. The only thing I can think of similar in Switzerland is vaguely severe penalties (like jail), for speeding.

  13. But honestly, you really see no diference between government according to the US constitution and, say, the government of Sudan as is?

  14. Honestly, the U.S. hasn’t been governed according to its Constitution in over 200 years. Anybody who expects that words on a piece of paper, words that are interpreted by State officials, will work to restrain State power and ambition, is sadly misguided as to human nature.

    Even if it were somehow magically going to start abiding by its Constitution, the difference would be a matter of degree and not a matter of principle.

    There’s a old story: the woman who says she’ll sleep with a man if only it’s on a mink coat in Paris, and the man responds with “well how about for $5?” The woman says “what do you think I am?” and the man says “we’ve already established what you are, now we’re simply negotiating.”

    Thus it is with the State. They are the same in principle …

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