If it had happened here

It's the incongruity that really hits home. A court in the dusty midst of the Sudan sentencing a mild-mannered fiftysomething woman teacher from Liverpool for insulting Islam, after naming a teddy bear? It's not what we're used to from that part of the world, is it? Mass rapes, yes. Genocide, certainly. Floggings and amputations and all the other atavisms of Sharia law. Civil War. Hunger. Angry, hate-filled mobs. We're inured to that.

But Political Correctness? That's what we do. Only yesterday, an Irishman was given a suspended sentence for calling his English neighbour "a Welsh bitch". The offence was "racially motivated", the court decided.

Imagine if the Mo Bear saga had happened here.

If a white teacher, working at an inner city primary school with an 80% Muslim intake, decided as way of encouraging cultural awareness to let her class name a teddy bear. And, being mainly Muslim, the children voted overwhelmingly for "Mohammed". Though a white girl, already feeling isolated without her hijab, had suggested the non-discriminatory Pudsy.

The teacher was pleased. And in an attempt to demonstrate her right-on credentials, she sent a letter to all the childrens' parents letting them now that "Mohammed will be joining all our lessons during Eid".

Ahh, how sweet, thought most of the parents. A sign of respect in our multicultural society. Peace Bear Upon Him.

One of the parents, a father who had once briefly been a member of Hizb Ut Tahrir, was less amused. This is no way to treat our beloved Prophet, he decided. So he wrote a letter to the school governors, demanding an apology, compensation for his hurt feelings, and for the teacher to be dismissed.

The governors, frightened, summoned the teacher. They issued her with a humiliating apology and demanded she sign. "I am truly sorry that I have inadvertently offended the faith and Prophet of Islam," it ran. "While it was an innocent mistake, I realise now that the respect with which Mohammed is regarded in Islam can only be undermined by associating him with a child's toy. It is wrong to depict the holy Prophet in any form; to conceive of him in ursine terms can only be construed as insulting."

The governors hoped this would settle the matter. The teacher, being a sensitive, culturally-aware lady who had been on all the relevant training courses, was mortified and truly contrite. The father, however, complained to the police. The bear is not only disrespectful, he told them, but racist. It implies that Muslims are fluffy, cuddly, and dumb.

The police went to see the teacher. "We received a complaint about a possible offence under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, and also the Race Relations Act 1965," Chief Supt Andy Plod said in a statement released to the Daily Mail, which had got hold of the story. "We interviewed her under caution, and have sent a file to the Crown Prosecution Service. The police service is very conscious of its responsibility to a diverse and multicultural population, and minority communities should be aware that we take a zero-tolerance approach to Islamophobia and to hate crime generally."

"As mayor of London I take great pride in the city's tolerance and rich mix of faiths," said Ken Livingstone, although the incident had actually occurred in Bradford. "Insensitivity like this can only undermine community cohesion."

"This is yet another example of Political Correctness Gone Mad" railed Melanie Philips. "A few months ago a school banned the song Three Little Pigs because of supposed Muslim senstivities, and now the police are wasting valuable time and resources pandering to these totally unjustified sensibilities. Meanwhile the Government persists in propping up unrepresentative Muslim organisations with openly extremist and anti-semitic agendas, and fails to condemn Hamas sufficiently strong terms. The police wouldn't have investigated if the stuffed toy had been called Moses."

Trevor Phillips called for "calm".

Meanwhile, a preacher at the complainant's local mosque had denounced the school's action in his Friday sermon. "This is yet another indication of the lack of respect that British society feels for Islam," he thundered. "We Muslims have sat silently and accepted humiliation for too long." A group from Hizb Ut Tahrir picketed the school. "Behead those who insult Islam" said one placard. "Bear Blasphemy must cease" ran another.

Amid mounting tension, politicians and community leaders called for calm. "Clearly, there has been a mistake here," said Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. "This teacher was clearly at fault. However, it was an innocent mistake. We Muslims should be demonstrating the same tolerance we demand from others. We should accept the teacher's apology and the school's assurance that it will not be repeated. What this case does underline, however, is the need for a clear understanding of Islam and more far-reaching laws against religious hatred, so that the community will have confidence and not feel it has to take the law into its own hands."

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears was more circumspect. "This government treats good relations between all our communities very seriously," she said. "In this instance, the school clearly acted against best practice, in that naming the teddy bear Mohammed was culturally insensitive. However, the school has apologised and the bear has now been withdrawn. I would call on the local community to not let this incident be blown out of proportion."

"I think that we as a society often forget the very real feelings stirred up by perceived slights to Islam in the Muslim community," said Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. "Obviously it can be uncomfortable to be confronted by the strength of the reaction these incidents arouse. But there is also something to be learned, I think, from the obvious devotion to the person of Muhammad shown by all Muslims. For us Christians, Jesus is the Son of God, God incarnate; yet often our attitude, even that of professed Christians, is curiously casual. While I hope this incident is resolved speedily, I think we should be more understanding of our Muslims friends and, indeed, other religions generally."

Stephen Green, of the pressure group Christian Voice, said this: "Every day, in newspapers, in schools, even on the BBC, Christianity is vilified and the Word of God in the Bible ignored. Why do the police do nothing about far worse forms of abuse yet take the trouble to investigate this trivial story?"

"I'm embarrassed for myself and my religion," lamented Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent. "There are those who will see this as yet another opportunity to misrepresent Muslims as medievalist, woman-hating extremists who want to kill everyone who disagrees with them. There are many women in the Muslim community who would love to give their child a Mohammed teddy. My daughter had a cuddly camel called Fatimah, after the Prophet's daughter. This can only be a good thing."

Plausible, isn't it?


Tania said…

But what would David Cameron have said?

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