Dear Baruch: So Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher in Sudan convicted to 15 days in prison for allowing her students to name a teddy bear “Mohammed” after one of the students, has been pardoned by Great Leader El-Bashir himself and is now safely home in the UK, reports the BBC.
She makes all the right comments, bravo, very sporting of her: “I am very sorry to leave Sudan. I had a fabulous time. It is a beautiful place and I had a chance to see some of the countryside. The Sudanese people I found to be extremely kind and generous and until this happened I only had a good experience. I wouldn’t like to put anyone off going to Sudan.”
Some commentators still don’t get it. The idea that you can “accidentally insult” something is just a bizarre notion to me. How can there be insult without intent? I am also worried that now, back in the West, there is a sense that a line will be drawn beyond which civil society cannot tread for the sake of interfaith respect or somesuch — as now we know that if we name inanimate objects after Mohammed we insult Islam, and so we have been warned, and any repeat of this insult would no longer be accidental, but intentional.
In Sudan, of course, calling teddy Mohammed may well result in lashes if you are lucky enough to avoid a mob of ultimi barbari. I just want to go on the record stating my continued support for the right to call teddy Mohammed in the UK, regardless of whether this can be construed as an insult or not. Irreverence, mockery and irony must remain tools of the free speech trade, especially when used in the service of lampooning irrational beliefs such as those of religious people. In other words, a Muslim Life of Brian must remain a viable option, should anyone choose to make one.