I thought I'd share my thoughts on one of the stories currently achieving prominence in the media.
I'm sure the majority of you will have heard of the Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case. For those of you who haven't, here's a brief summary. A British teacher working in Sudan let her young students vote on the name of a class teddy bear. The winning name was that of a popular 7 year old, Muhammad, one of the world's most popular names and that of the Islamic prophet. This poor teacher suddenly found herself on the receiving end of a charge of insulting religion (!) and was sentenced to fifteen days' jail. Meanwhile, groups of Sudanese have protested this verdict as too lenient - yes, lenient, and they are demanding her execution. Yes, there are people in this world stupid enough to want somebody executed simply because of the name they permitted to be given to a teddy bear. Suddenly, the Danish cartoon controversy seems thoroughly sensible in comparison to this absolute lunacy.
Look, if you're so sensitive about your religion that you perceive an insult in a teddy bear's name, then maybe your personal faith is a flimsy piece of junk without a leg to stand on. I don't mean to say that the Islamic religion in general is a "flimsy piece of junk" (though I would contend it doesn't have a leg to stand on, like most institutionalised religion), but that the individuals who have a problem with this teddy bear's name have such a poor faith that they cannot defend it with logic, reason, or even subjective arguments/experiences, but have to employ the weight of legal institutions and the threat of death to maintain its power.
I must admit, I wonder how many of these people sincerely believe this women should die, and how many have just fallen victim to the propaganda of religious leaders who want to keep their population focused on everything but the real issues, or have been prompted to protest at the behest of a government they dare not disobey. This is Sudan, after all. In the west, Darfur is still in the throes of conflict, repression, and genocide with state support. In the south, tensions between Christians and Muslims have caused considerable bloodshed since the 1980s and currently have a shaky truce. Living conditions in general are horrible. There is so much wrong with this country, and the first thing they could do to fix things would be to overthrow the political and religious elite who have a vested interest in keeping it this way. But the elite aren't stupid, so a manufactured controversy like this conveniently keeps people occupied. Redirect their anger about poor living conditions, substandard education, and a miserable economy towards something that doesn't threaten the status quo but reinforces it.
This really is so incomprehensibly ridiculous. I am a typical leftie, I advocate respect for foreign cultures, and I will vigorously defend minorities in Australia who are accused of being insular, unassimilated and "un-Australian". But this isn't a matter of respecting culture. This is sheer stupidity, encouraged and manufactured by an elite because it suits them. It has precious little to do with religion as it should be practiced. I'm sure all intelligent Muslims with common sense do not think somebody should be prosecuted, let alone executed, for naming a teddy bear Muhammad (which, I repeat, was after a boy in the class, not the prophet, and why is the teacher being sentenced when the Sudanese children themselves - likely Muslims - chose the name?). In any case, an umbrella body representing British Muslim organisations has come out vehemently against the prosecution. And reports that get beyond what the Khartoum regime wants the media to see state that most of Sudan is quiet, free from protests, and not in favour of execution. But of course, those aspects aren't getting much air time. It's far easier for the media to focus on minorities: terrorist organisations, protestors burning embassies over cartoons, and people demanding execution because of a teddy bear's name. Islam's image really has taken a horrible hammering. I can't say I understand why somebody would grant intellectual assent to the claims of Islam, but they are fully entitled to have their beliefs and they should be able to practice them without an idiotic minority making them look like intolerant extremists, and certainly not a minority sponsored by a government.