Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

November 29, 2007

Religious Tolerance, Teddy Bears, And The Insanity Of Sharia Law

by Doug Mataconis

Today, an English teacher who went to Sudan to teach was sentenced to jail and deportation for letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammed:

KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) — A Sudanese court found a British teacher guilty of inciting religious hatred and sentenced her to 15 days imprisonment Thursday for allowing a teddy bear to be named “Mohammed,” British authorities and her lawyer reported.

Gillian Gibbons also faces deportation from Sudan after her prison term, her lawyer told CNN. He said he was “very disappointed” with the verdict and that Gibbons planned to appeal.

Gibbons, 54, was arrested Sunday after she asked her class of 7-year-olds in Khartoum to name the stuffed animal as part of a school project, the British Foreign Office said. She had faced charges under Article 125 of Sudan’s constitution, the law relating to insulting religion and inciting hatred.

Although there is no ban in the Quran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s founder, likenesses are considered highly offensive by Muslims.

And, of course, the fact that its offensive gives them the right to punish people, right ?

Wait a minute, isn’t that the same thing the FCC said about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction ?

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  • Diggy Zazz

    I have just named my left butt cheek Muhammad. All should now show their respect by kissing it.

  • Paddington Bear

    Has anybody spared a thought for those voiceless millions around the world that have suffered more than anybody? Us Teddy Bears are outraged that this teacher only received a prison term rather than a good whipping. How do you think it makes us cuddly, lovable comforters of children feel to have one of our own named after a genocidal, illiterate pedophile? She should be punished as harshly as possible and I demand we take to the streets and shout “death to America, Israel, England” until this travesty is righted.

    Paddington Bear
    Darkest Peru

  • Phillipe Farneti

    I shall build a monument to this bullshit. I shall build a 30ft tall cock and balls of lead and inscribe Muhammad upon it and make is cum all over them.

  • UCrawford

    Surprise, surprise…there’s not really a difference between religious fanatics regardless of the religion. Color me shocked.

  • TanGeng

    Do foreigners have to submit to Sharia law?? If it was only effective inside the community that recognizes it, it’d still be abhorrent at times, but Sharia would at least have “consent” of the governed.

    Forcing all individuals to submit is awful. I guess that’s why lots of Muslims run away from their countries. We can denounce it intellectually, but what should we do about that?

    BTW: Doug, what’s the point of this post?? Are you emphasizing the FCC more or Sharia Law more?? We can and should certainly try to get rid of the FCC.

    I hate the fucking FCC. Fuck the FCC. Useless piece of shit bureaucracy. Hehe. I don’t understand why we can’t punish companies for their indiscretion on profanity and nudity through the market.

  • UCrawford


    In Sudan (and many other Middle Eastern countries) the government recognizes Sharia as their code of law so foreigners are required to submit to it in those countries. Same as foreigners here are required to follow the laws of our country. Sharia’s a horrible form of law, of course, but then again some of ours suck too, as Doug pointed out.

  • UCrawford

    Actually, the U.S. military used to make their female personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia wear abbayas (because the Saudi morality police there require women to have their heads covered) until a lieutenant colonel sued on the grounds that the military regulations imposed on her freedom of religion (by forcing her to follow another religion’s practices) which forced the military to do away with that regulation and back their people when they were harassed by the Saudis. After a stink was raised, the Saudis backed down a little later on…if enough heat is raised by outside parties occasionally foreigners are given some leeway to skirt the laws.

  • TanGeng


    Ahh thanks. I remembered knowing that Algiers and Casablanca would allow foreigners to purchase alcohol, which is illegal under Sharia. I knew that foreigners were granted some exceptions.

    The funny thing is quite a few Muslims purchased the alcohol discreetly. The alcohol and subsequent revelry distracted the people from noticing and talking about how awful and corrupt the government was. The fundis hated the quiet defiance of Sharia, though.

  • UCrawford

    Actually, when I was in Kuwait (which is Westernized but recognizes some aspects of Sharia) I found that there was a significant underground black market for alcohol among the Kuwaitis. We were there during Thanksgiving so our unit set up a deal where we’d spend the day with an American family living in-country (the one I went to worked for Conoco or Shell, can’t remember which one) and a lot of them were able to secure alcohol for us. The only thing they usually weren’t able to get were pork products, which they asked us to bring from the commissary. I was told that it was the same in Saudi. The authorities didn’t particularly care as long as the foreigners weren’t being visible about it. If it looked like they were flouting the law, however, or someone really raised a stink, there were crackdowns. A bunch of Brits got nailed in Saudi for consumption of liquor a few years ago…they’d been doing it for years but then one of the Brits were murdered by an apparent terrorist attack so the Saudis had to punish them all for possessing liquor after they found that in the investigation. Just that whole Middle Eastern thing about arbitrary law that I never could wrap my head around. Weird place in a lot of ways.

  • UCrawford

    Afghanistan also allowed drinking when I was there even though it was an Islamic republic. There were a few drinking clubs in town, but the deal was that they were allowed to operate freely as long as they didn’t have a sign out front advertising the place and as long as the patrons didn’t disturb the peace. People there drank, it all just stayed underground…comparable in a lot of ways to Prohibition here.

  • David T

    I agee with your comments, UCrawford. Former co-workers of mine traveled regularly to Saudi Arabia. On the flights to Riyadh, the passengers would imbibe alcohol, purchase the mini bottles, and wear western clothing. As the flight approached its end, the Saudi citizens all headed towards the bathrooms and changed into the local garb, hid the bottles and western magazines, and transformed into the traditional muslim. It seemed to be routine to them; a charade designed to give the pretense that they followed their Sharia laws to a “T”, when in fact they were willfully disregarded when ‘out-of-country’.

  • UCrawford

    When I was in college I had a fraternity brother from Jordan and he once told me that the unwritten rule is that the further you are from Mecca the less of a sin it is. Of course, he didn’t seem particularly devout to begin with since I never saw him pray and he regularly smoked and drank…I think he only claimed to be Muslim for his folks’ sake.

  • UCrawford

    You’re right, David. People from the Middle East often behave very differently once they leave their countries. When they’re in-country, though, the laws are enforced pretty strictly on the locals unless, of course, they’ve got some pull in which case they can do what they want (that whole arbitrary thing again). Foreigners can get away with violating the rules in-country as long as they’re discreet (well, foreigners from Western countries anyway…if you’re a foreigner from the Philippines or Thailand or even Pakistan you’re little better than an indentured servant and the locals can do whatever they want to you whenever they want).

  • Justin Bowen

    Welcome to the world folks. Is it really that surprising to you that other people live differently than we do?

    UCrawford was absolutely correct when he talked about foreigners having to submit to the laws of the country that they are in. Having done five years in the Navy as well as having made many trips to foreign countries on my own time, I can’t remember the number of times that I went through briefings on foreign customs and laws or sat through short classes to become familiarized with the country that I was visiting. As an educator, I would have assumed (incorrectly as we are now finding out) that she would have had some kind of formal training on the customs and laws of Sudan. One thing that is true of many Islamic nations is that they do not tolerate insults to their pedophile prophet. Was she totally ignorant of this reality?

  • UCrawford


    I hear you on the tutorials…had to sit through a lot of them while I was in the Army. Not that I minded, since the travel opportunities were worth it.

    I’m sympathetic with the teacher in this case. She didn’t tell the kids to go name their teddy bear Mohammed…they asked her if they could and she said sure. So the blame over this stupid issue doesn’t really lie with the teacher for making a small, apparently unintentional gaffe, it lies with the kids’ parents for not thoroughly indoctrinating their kids with the rules of their fucked-up version of Islam…they’re simply shifting blame/refusing to accept responsibility (which, sadly, is a staple of Middle Eastern society). And this entire controversy only became an issue when some secretary at the school with an axe to grind (who apparently wasn’t even a parent) decided to make an issue of it by screaming about it to the lunatic fringe. If I were the administrator of the school, that secretary would be put out on her ass the next day…rather rudely at that. And if the “people” didn’t approve of that, I’d be looking to immediately pull my school out of their country so they could wallow in their own ignorance. Considering that it’s the wealthy and influential Sudanese who send their kids there, I’m pretty sure that would get their attention rather quickly.

  • Justin Bowen

    [quote] She didn’t tell the kids to go name their teddy bear Mohammed…they asked her if they could and she said sure.[/quote]

    I think it’s important to look at what she did and not how she did it. In other words, it’s important to look at the law that she broke and not how. Before public schools started issuing waivers here in the US, schools were forcing kids into sex-ed classes. Many parents strongly objected to this. Well, now we have rules. While I think the rules are ridiculous (as well as the entire theory of public education for that matter), they are still the rules. If a teacher here were to flout the rules, she’d be reprimanded or dismissed because that’s how we handle things here. She broke a law in Sudan and that is how they handle people who break that particular law. As a teacher, she is, to a degree, responsible for what the children are taught and how they are taught. She is more responsible, however, for how the children behave while they are in her care (I hate to use this source and example, but it’s the best one that I can find at the moment:,2933,148364,00.html). While I may disagree with the law or the punishment, I can’t help but feel that she IS responsible for what her students did (I’d apply the same theory to parents when their kids do something stupid). The students probably didn’t know better. To a certain degree, it was her place to let those kids know that they couldn’t do that.

    If I were a teacher or a school administrator I would be very familiar with the local customs and laws. One thing that is true of many educational institutions is that the instruction that is given does not necessarily have to be the whole truth or even partial truth. It merely has to be acceptable. That’s why we are taught to believe that Lincoln and FDR were great presidents.

  • UCrawford


    I take your meaning, and I won’t argue with the fact that she definitely erred on the customs angle. I’m just saying that it was an understandable oversight that even someone indoctrinated to Muslim culture might have missed because even the best cultural training seminars aren’t going to cover every contingency (I seriously doubt that any manuals she might have had (or the Koran, for that matter) included a “Do not name teddy bears Muhammed” section). For all we know she might have thought it was okay because the kids meant to do it as form of compliment (e.g. they love the teddy bear, they love Mohammed, therefore naming the teddy bear Mohammed is an expression of their love for both…same as naming your kid Mohammed might be for adults). My point is that cultural clashes are inevitable in countries ruled by Sharia (or any religious law) given the arbitrary nature of the interpretation of religious texts and the very arbitrary enforcement of the laws that stem from it. So I’m sympathetic with the teacher because it’s a situation that almost anybody could find themselves in. She could very well have been arrested because someone interpreted her saying the name “Mohammed” as an insult because she’s an infidel.

    Frankly, it’s very unlikely that these protests are really about the teddy bear at all. Things like this are often a useful proxy for the government to manipulate public opinion for some other motive and for the anti-government firebrands to challenge the government and/or gain notoriety for themselves. That’s the thing that Western politicians rarely get about the Middle East…it’s never about the surface issue, inflammatory and apparently pointless topics like this are a means for people to indirectly confront something else they’re not happy with because the culture stifles direct confrontation and encourages passive-aggressive behavior and misdirection. That’s why Reagan pulled us out of Lebanon…he realized that the politics of the region are an incomprehensible snakepit to outsiders.

  • UCrawford

    I agree with you about public education, by the way. In this case, though, I think that the school she worked for is a private institution funded by non-government sources. I could be wrong, the article wasn’t that specific. If that’s correct, though, that doesn’t qualify as public education, but charity, and there’s nothing wrong with teaching the Sudanese government that charity can easily be taken away from somebody who chooses to act like an asshole. In fact, I think that’s an infinitely more valuable lesson for the kids than teaching them about the habitats of bears :)

  • Aimee

    What’s even scarier is these people are screaming for this woman to be killed over this. Naming a fucking teddy bear an overly used name. They want her to face the firing squad and believe that the naming was intentional. Yassin Mubarak says “What she did requires her life to be taken”. And there are people that do not think there is anything good about America. I beg to differ. At least here if you insult god or jesus, there isn’t a lynch mob waiting for you. Intentional or not, it is just regoddamndiculous.

  • UCrawford


    You have the same kind of lunatic fringe in the States on any number of topics. As I said a lot of it is designed to be overblown to garner publicity.

    “At least here if you insult god or jesus, there isn’t a lynch mob waiting for you.”

    Tell it to the innumerable women who’ve gone to family planning clinics and had to deal with those assholes from Operation Rescue. Or tell it to the doctors who perform abortions who’ve been shot by or received death threats from “pro-life” activists. Or tell it to the people who got blown up by Eric Rudolph in Atlanta. He believed he was doing God’s work…even though it involved killing a bunch of people who never committed a crime. And plenty of people agreed with him and helped him evade the authorities, despite the fact that he was a murderer. Hell, tell the gay community about the remarkable tolerance the religious right has for their group and how they have no reason to fear violence from the religious right here in the States. Or give that line to someone who dealt with segregation in the South in the ’60s. Plenty of the thugs running lynch mobs down there believed God was on their side…as do members of the KKK when they target Jews and Catholics.

    Murderous religious fanaticism is not specific to any particular religion…plenty of cultures encourage it, and the violence that accompanies it, including our own.

  • CLiffsider

    These guys are selling bears named Mohammad in protest and are raising money for an education charity in Sudan.

  • CLiffsider
  • Aimee

    UCrawford, I don’t think there is a comparison here. This is over a freaking name, a name that every other man in the Muslim community has. Abortion and teddy bears don’t even belong on the same page. Anti-Abortion fanatics are made up of all kinds of people not just one religion. Besides, abortion isn’t about insulting god or jesus, It’s about personal choices.

  • UCrawford


    Apparently you never watched “Life of Brian”. Or checked out the demanded punishments in the Bible for taking God’s name in vain.

    Care to explain how beating someone to death with a rock for saying “Goddamn it” is more moral than lopping their head off for naming a teddy bear after God?

    Actually, naming a teddy bear after God would technically be a death penalty offense in the Bible too…since that would make it a false idol.

  • UCrawford


    Whoa, wait a minute…did you just say anti-abortion activists are somehow justified in using violence with that “personal choice” remark?

  • Aimee

    UCrawford, first, not only have I seen the life of Brian, but I own it. 2nd, I never said people should be able to beat someone to death with a rock for taking gods name in vain. I think all religions are bogus and involve some pretty crazy shit, it’s brainwashing in my opinion. But when was the last time you’ve heard of a Christian stoning someone, or beating someone for blasphemy in the U.S.? There does seem to be an abundance of mothers lately killing their children in gods name, but those are isolated incidents,and usually involve mental health issues, but still very wrong. We are talking about a mob of people wanting to kill a teacher over a name of stupid bear that her class voted on.

    3rd, I never said that anti-abortion activists are justified. I have been on the other side and luckily never came across people picketing, so no, I don’t agree with what they are doing either.

    What I said was the women seeking an abortion were being targeted for their personal choice. It’s not a religion thing, or maybe it is, these protestors come from all walks of life. As I’m sure you know, it can sometimes be difficult to get your thoughts across properly in writing. I hope you understand my position now, or I did I just confused you more?

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