You all know the story. A teacher from Liverpool living and working in Sudan allowed her class to vote on the name of a teddy bear, which was then sent home with each of them in turn, and afterwards each child wrote about what they did that weekend in a kind of teddy bear diary. Thoroughly wholesome classroom activity, until the children decided on the name Mohammed, at which point of course it became blasphemy.
You can tell it was blasphemy because of course naming something Mohammed is an insult to the Prophet Mohammed, the father of Islam who died in the year 632 when he was stoned to death for nicknaming his penis "Little Mo". (It's a strange world that considers naming a class teddy bear after a paedophile offensive because the paedophile is sacred.) Clearly it was insensitive of her to allow the children to choose this name, and clearly she should have punished the boy who suggested it. His name, by the way, is Mohammed. Now the case has gone to trial, with the full support of the Sudanese justice minister, whose name is also Mohammed.
Mohammed is the most common name in Sudan, and indeed the second most common here, because of the strange obsession in Islamic cultures with naming every single man and boy in sight Mohammed, just in case dressing all the women in face-covering veils wasn't confusing enough. Really they should call all the women the same thing and at least save everyone the embarrassment of admitting they can't tell who that is under the burkha. This strange obsession probably comes from people like Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's interfaith relations committee and an imam in Leicester, who says ‘some of us believe we are assured of heaven if we name our children Mohammed’. Seriously, how stupid do your beliefs have to be before you'll question them? Your god will give you eternal paradise if you give your son a certain name -- and damn you to hell if you give your stuffed bear the same name? You have to wonder if that god might be drunk on his own power. What's next, not eating certain foods on certain days of the week? Thou Shalt Wear A Funny Hat?
Of course, there's no reason at all to assume he does say that. None of this stuff that the more insane Muslims complain so loudly about are found anywhere in the Koran. The "no pictures of Mohammed" rule comes from a line that states that it's impossible to accurately draw Allah. Therefore obviously it's offensive to try and obviously the same applies to anyone else they feel like. And equally obviously it's perfectly okay for them to burn quite irrelevant embassies and publicly whip schoolteachers should anyone break those rules.
The general reaction from everyone in the world is that the Sudanese authorities have over-reacted. Their ruling is that the teacher serve fifteen days in prison and then be deported, which the director of her school described as "very fair," considering that "she could have had six months and [forty] lashes and a fine". All she got was a fortnight in prison and then deported -- and she's only being deported from Sudan which in many ways is probably a favour to her. They're mental in Sudan, you know --I hear they'll deport you for naming a toy the wrong thing. In any case, she really can't stay in Sudan anyway, because a lot of clerics there are demanding she be executed! That's what they consider "justice", apparently: name a toy bear Mohammed, death by firing squad.
That sounds crazy -- because of course it is -- but you have to see it from their point of view: they don't see it as an isolated incident. Oh, no, they think it's part of a western plot of destroy Islam (which to be fair is starting to look like a pretty good idea). I don't know what it is about extremist Muslims that turns them into conspiracy theorists, but something must be doing it. These clerics, many of whom are called Mohammed, chant things like "shame on the UK" as if somehow some quite imaginary entity called "The UK" is responsible for the offence caused to Sudanese nutters by Sudanese children in Sudan, and when a Danish cartoonist drew a picture they didn't like, they ignored him and attacked the Danish embassy instead, reasoning that any and all Danes were responsible and their interests would be most efficiently served by killing the nearest available ones. It's entirely possible this is because they can't use aeroplanes -- they need the carbon credits for all their effigy and flag barbecues. (The other aspect of this which amuses me is that if there was a western "war on Islam" then it would be because Islam had started it when they attacked the embassy. That is an act of war.)
The BBC have serialised this story, by posting a long page almost identical to the last every time the slightest thing changes, because that's how they like to run a website. According to one, "police ... seized the book [which is the bear's diary and says "My Name Is Mohammed" on the front] and asked to interview the girl who owned the bear". If they seize the bear as well I hope they enter into the spirit of the thing and write a twenty-fourth chapter in the bear's diary detailing his being taken into custody and sealed in an evidence bag. That would make a good class display. It would teach the children the dangers of using irrational nonsense as a basis for government policy, for one thing, which might result in them growing up with a healthy disdain for the rantings of over-zealous religious wingnuts.
For my bit, I'm awarding those wingnuts the Religious Crackpot Of The Month for this month: the mad clerics shouting for death, the so-called justice department, the police, the parents who complained, the school director, and basically everybody involved in the ridiculous handling of this nonsense.