Teddy-Bear Crisis over...?

The British school teacher, Gillian Gibbons, who was jailed in Sudan for "insulting Islam" was released today into the care of British officials. She was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in prison for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammed." Under Sharia Law, which is enforced in Sudan, this is a punishable offense.

Gibbons released an apology, stating that she was sorry for causing distress to the people of Sudan, by allowing students to name a teddy bear "Muhammed."

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is delighted at the turn of events, saying that "common sense has prevailed." See source article .

My question is: if common sense has actually "prevailed" - then why is Gibbons, who has just been released from prison, issuing an apology to the people of Sudan over a teddy bear?!

If devout and orthodox Christians in the West had heard that a Buddist had named his dog "Jesus" we might be mildly annoyed, but clearly no one in the US or even Europe would be jailed for this.

This highlights how different Western and Islamic values are - we do see a sort of a "collision of civilizations" here, but not the sort that some thinkers had expected. Islamic civilization (as represented by the Sharia Law-enforcing countries*) is extremely defensive and non-tolerant in the face of opposition, and makes dissenting views illegal (just ask dissenters in Turkey who have "insulted Islam"), while late-modern/post-modern Western culture is determined to see all points of view as equally legitimate and to be inclusive/tolerant of every possible conviction (because, having rejected all "absolutes," we lack a coherent foundation to stand upon in opposition to any position). So, Sharia Law countries will lock people in jail for "insulting Islam" (whatever that may mean) and the sort of Western values that the Gibbons apology represent will expect such people to apologize for ever being so insensitive/intolerant to begin with.

Do you see how radical Islamic and radical pluralistic ideologies work so nicely together? - the one is aggressive and narrow-minded, self-assured in its own divine foundations; the other is so uncertain of any foundations or absolutes at all, that it is forever apologizing for those moments when it lapsed into having and defending real convictions of any kind.

And what do you expect will happen to more traditional Western values, such as freedom of thought/speech in such an environment as this?

* I recognize that there will some debate as to whether Shariah enforcing nations are representative of "Islamic Civilization." I agree that this is certainly a debateable point, and I hope that such debate will begin in earnest across the Muslim world. But it does seem to me (and I freely admit that I am NO expert here) that these nations represent the greatest continuity with what Islam has been historically, while more moderate varieties of Islam are moderate precisely in so far as they have integrated Western/Enlightenment values into their worldview.



Blogger Nance said...

Did you see where some were calling for the poor woman to be beheaded? My Lord. Likely a VERY small number, I'd guess, and only mentioned for sensationalism, but still...

10:24 PM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger John said...

Likely a VERY small number, I'd guess, and only mentioned for sensationalism, but still...

The AP reported that it was thousands of people in Khartoum.

Can we stop calling Islam a "religion of peace" now?

6:34 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

When I was in Political Science at LSU, there was a seminar on "the clash of civilizations." The prof who led it, Elis Sandoz, told us (as I recall) that approximately 20-25% of all Muslims are committed to a radical or anti-modern/anti-Western ideology. If there are just over 1 billion Muslims, we are talking about 250 million people or so. IF that percentage holds true - I am unsure of his sources on that.

People who compare Islamic radicalism to those "guys that blow up abortion clinics" (how many times has this actually happened?) fail to come to terms with the inordiant difference in proportion involved there. Out of 2 billion Christians there may be a few hundred of these folks, maybe? What do ya'll think - how many members does Westboro Baptist church have?

7:25 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger Ryan Jones said...

You know, just to put it in a different perspective, some people in the US feel similarly about people who burn American flags. We scoff at the teddy bear incident (myself included), but the name Muhammed carries a powerful symbolic meaning in Muslim nations, just like the flag does here. Additionally, we are steeped in individualism, so we always place the individual's rights over other values, like community and reverence. But not everyone thinks as we do. It's not a question of poor values, but rather of prioritizing the same values in a different order than we do.

By the way, if you go for this sort of thing (and if you haven't done it already), I just tagged you with the One Book Meme. I'd like to see your responses.

10:46 PM, December 06, 2007  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hi Ryan,

Honestly, I'm not sure what One Book Meme is about, but I'll go look.

And absolutely, you have made my point (I think): we have two worldviews and values that have some deep-rooted differences here (with different corresponding sacred symbols as you point out). I do not think it is possible for these worldviews to co-exist peacefully unless one or both of them are changed in some ways. That is my whole real point in making posts like this: we cannot simply "speak 'peace, peace'" over this clash because in fact there are some cases where values are antithetical to one another (this is borne out especially in situations of religious freedom, freedom of expression, or the place of women in society). My question is whether we are going to continue assuring ourselves that really almost all Muslims think just like we do (we who are headonistic, capitalistic, secularist, individualists who believe in freedom and tolerating everyone else's views) and if we are nice enough to them they will act as though they held our values. Yet if they are true to their own values/ideology then that will not happen (whether this is actually even a bad thing is another question entirely, but it is something that Americans need to come to grips with).

10:49 AM, December 07, 2007  

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