Santiago Lopez" />
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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Teacher gives ‘blasphemous’ name to toy

A British teacher has been jailed in the East African nation of Sudan after her students voted to name a teddy bear used in a class project ‘Muhammad.’

The project for the class of 7-year-old students was intended to teach prompt the students’ creativity by having each child take the toy home on the weekends and keep a journal of what he or she did with the bear during that time.

Rather than name the bear herself, Gillian Gibbons – a 54-year-old teacher from England who has spent her adult life in education – had the class select names and then vote on which each student liked best. According to a Reuters news report, one student chose and voted for naming the toy bear Muhammad because it was the boy’s own name.

In Sudan, where an overwhelmingly majority of the population is Muslim, several parents took offense upon learning of the bear’s name, as did another teacher, and complained to the school’s administrators as well as the nation’s education ministry. Gibbons was subsequently arrested – though not charged – for blasphemy, which, in Sudan, is punishable by up to six months in prison and 40 lashes.

Law enforcement officials in Sudan state an investigation is underway. News reports from the country reveal that the class had eight names to choose from and Gibbons did not offer her own thoughts on Islam or the prophet Muhammad before choosing a name for the toy.

While a foreigner in Sudan ought to be tolerant of its indigenous people and their beliefs, shouldn’t the Sudanese be a bit more understanding of an outsider who comes to the country to educate its young?

Unless the Sudanese government offers a course in its local customs to all those seeking to remain in the country for any significant amount of time, Ms. Gibbons should be given the benefit of the doubt and let out of prison. Should charges still be sought against her, then there are ways of insuring Gibbons remains in the region long enough to answer them – asking her to surrender her passport comes to mind.

Locking up someone who wanted to make a difference in a country rife with conflict – the Darfur Genocide is occurring in the western region of Sudan – showcases Sudan as a narrow-minded society which wants to strain foreign relations even more than it has by adding fuel to the fire of the killings and displacement of its own people.

Even the parents of one of Gibbons’ students feels no ill will toward the instructor. In the Reuters article, they feel "annoyed" by the escalation of the matter and feel that if Gibbons did not intend to offend the community, then there is basically "no problem here."

If only the Sudanese officials involved in the case had the same perspective. Rather than gather evidence first and then make their case, Gibbons was arrested in her Sudanese home and then sent off to be locked up behind bars.

Regardless of the outcome, foreigners who wish to make a difference in Sudan will think twice and perhaps choose a less unruly part of the world to offer humanitarian support. Those there now may already be making arrangements to return home – as they well should be – and find another country that needs help.

The problem with wanting to effect change is that those who want to help must be open to adjustment. It seems that Sudan does not want to move on from antiquated and barbaric tendencies, even though such a show has not made the country one to be reckoned with on the world stage. Rather, Sudan has proven to be a country bent on the ill treatment of those within its borders.

George Washington once said, "Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company."

With close ties to China – which buys 60 percent of Sudanese oil produced and owns 40 percent of the company which drills for crude Sudanese oil – who in turn has kept alliances with Iran, Sudan has shown that it does not want to be alone or in good company. This is enough to keep humanitarian aid out of Sudan for good.

Lopez, an English senior, can be reached via [email protected].

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