Friday, December 21, 2007

Bear Escapades

By now you've surely heard of Gillian Gibbons and her teddy bear misadventure. It all started when Ms. Gibbons, a British teacher in Sudan, allowed one of her pupils to name his teddy bear Muhammad. Little did she realize that in a country ravaged by years of civil war; a country in the throes of severe drought and famine; a country where free speech and basic civil rights have become a luxury, people would get offended by an innocuous teddy bear.

But offended they were. To the extent that thousands took to the streets to protest against this ghastly deed. Off with her head, and all that. It got to the point where Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in prison to pacify the crowds, before being whisked away to the UK to avoid further damage.

All's well that ends well, you say. Sure, it does. If you're Gillian Gibbons. But what about Muhammad, the teddy bear? Spare a thought for poor little Muhammad. Ever since this whole controversy erupted, he's had all sorts of clerics and imams baying for his blood (er, stuffing?). At the last count, he had at least 5 fatwas issued against him. As a result of all this, Muhammad has had to flee his home in Khartoum and has gone into hiding to protect his fur.

With his own countrymen up in arms against him, and even the National Teddy Bear Association disowning him for 'bringing the society into disrepute', Muhammad can't help feel isolated. But there are still those who defend him. After all, they argue, Muhammad didn't choose his name himself. It was given to him by those pesky schoolchildren. If anyone is to be persecuted for this blasphemy, it must be those kids, who have very deftly washed their hands off the entire issue.

The only saving grace for Muhammad in all of this is that despite all the baying and the fatwas, no one has been able to trace him thus far. This is probably because of the fact that no one really knows what he looks like. It is, after all, prohibited in Islam to publish a picture of Muhammad.


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