BEYOND THE TEDDY BEAR CONTROVERSY
Tuesday, December 11, 2007.
By Elizabeth Yemisi Adegoke
On the third of December 2007, Gillian Gibbons was released from jail to a rapturous response.
The British teacher, 54, had been sentenced to 15 days in jail in Sudan, for insulting Islam by allowing her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad. She was promptly arrested, charged and found guilty of insulting Islam and inciting hatred. She was subsequently sentenced to 15 days imprisonment and deportation, but was later pardoned by the president and freed.
Upon Gibbon’s arrival she began to speak about her experience in Sudan, while she has been lauded in the press and by political figures claiming that she acted with “good British grit”, while the inevitable accusation of over-sensitivity on the part of Muslims begins.
The relationship between Muslims and the Western world post 9/11 has been strained to say the least and it seems as though many Western media outlets are still quick to undermine the reactions of Muslims in incidents like the case of Mrs Gibbons, ultimately painting them in a same negative light.
In 2005, for example, Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper printed twelve cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, protests were rife across the Muslim world, some violent, resulting in around 100 deaths.
According to the Times, the Danish Prime Minister, Anders, Fogh Rasmussen labeled the controversy as “the worst international relations incident since World War II”
The Western media picked up the incident and Muslims were shown burning effigies, protesting and calling for the death of the Danish Prime Minister, all the while stressing that this hysteria was over a cartoon.
Perhaps one the most prominent cases concerning Muslims and freedom of speech, is the1988 case of Salman Rushdie, an author who wrote a controversial book called the “Satanic Verses”, which was perceived by some Muslims as insulting the prophet Muhammad.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, the then spiritual leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s execution, there was a failed assassination attempt and Rushdie lived under armed guard for many years. The incident strained relations between Britain and Iran, as the former safeguarded Rushdie, and later presented him with a Knighthood.
The Rushdie case, for many became a fight over freedom of speech, while violent threats were thrown at Rushdie, the UK protected him.
A common thread throughout these incidents is the attempt of the Western media to downplay the effects, not to the likes of Mrs. Gibbons or Rushdie, but to those Muslims who are offended by the actions of these people.
It seems to me that these people are always portrayed as overreacting, countless images of burning effigies, angry protests and violence are plastered all over every newspaper, but no one seems to try to understand why, after all it’s just a teddy bear, its just a newspaper, its just a book.
Well actually its not. Not to some of these people anyway; their fundamental beliefs have been attacked, in whatever way, whether on purpose or not, however trivial it seems to you or I doesn’t erase that point.
The media also seems to be portraying many Muslims as angry and violent, which could create more anti-Muslim sentiment.
A recent hoax by a radio host Jerry Klein who suggested that all Muslims in the U.S should be identified with an armband or a crescent shaped tattoo showed that anti-Muslim sentiment is unfortunately a very real thing. The host said that although people called to disagree with him, worryingly a lot of people agreed with him.
A poll carried out by the Council on American Islamic relations, found that one in three Americans found that the word Islam still triggered negative thoughts like “war”, “hated” and “terrorist”.
I am not saying that the press shouldn’t report what is happening, there were indeed protestors who did call for the death of Mrs. Gibbons in the “teddy row”, there were effigies burnt over the cartoon row in Denmark, there was a fatwa issued for Mr. Rushdie, I am not saying that this things should be ignored. They shouldn’t. But these actions should not categorize and subsequently demonize an entire group.
In Miss Gibbon’s case for example, the two Muslim peers who stepped in to help her and the umbrella of Muslim groups who condemned the actions of the protestors received press coverage, we know that they do not agree with what happened.
But what about the people of Sudan? Are all of them in favor of the killing of Mrs. Gibbons? Reports say that around 400 people were part of the demonstration calling for her death; there are over 39 million people in Sudan so it is fair to say the protestors represent a minority.
But looking at the newspapers you wouldn’t get that impression. It looks like the entire country is in uproar over this issue, when that is not the simply not case.
It is not fair to cast everyone with the same brush, there are different groups of Muslims, each with different beliefs and ideals, for the media to categorize the majority of a group as the same is not only foolish but could eventually be dangerous.
Image: International Socialist Group, UK Branch.
Elizabeth Yemisi Adegoke is our new columnist. She is a freelance journalist based in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please e-mail comments to email@example.com
The fact remains that more than 90 percent of Muslims are intolerant(even though they say Islam is a tolerant religion).
They are too sensitive and sympathize with Islamic terrorists. I know what am talking about as I lived amongst moslems for a few years.
Anyway, I do agree with you that the press blew this out of proportion. The main issue in Sudan is Darfur. Black Africans are killed in their numbers each day by unscrupulous Islamists and one old white lady names a teddy bear Mohamed and the world forgets about Darfur.