Mothers, cover your childrens’ eyes: Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old British schoolteacher working in Sudan, has allowed the children in her class to name a teddy bear…Muhammad. The Sudanese government’s reaction teaches us a lesson about the weapon we most neglect in the ideological war with the global jihad.
Gibbons’ blasphemy couldn’t go unpunished. She was sentenced to fifteen days in prison and deportation, but mobs in Khartoum wanted more: on Friday they burned photos of Gibbons and called for her blood while chanting, “Shame, shame on the UK”; “No tolerance — execution”; and “Kill her, kill her by firing squad.”
Yes, shame on the UK. Shame on the West. Isn’t it time we learned? Manya Brachear, writing at the Chicago Tribune blog The Seeker, thinks so: “Should all have been forgiven or does the teacher’s sentence send a fair message that foreigners should be more sensitive when it comes to religion?” And Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd on ABC’s "The View" scolded Gibbons for not being sensitive to Sudanese customs.
It’s time we get serious about being culturally sensitive. The penalty for blasphemy in Islamic law isn’t fifteen days in prison — it’s death. What better message of accommodation, then, could we send to the Islamic world in these days of Islamophobia than to hand Gibbons over to the mobs? After all, if she isn’t executed, it will send a signal that blasphemy against Muhammad is just fine — and what will come next? Blasphemous…cartoons of Muhammad?
Oh, wait, we already had those. And the reaction was frenzy, rage, riots, and — in that case — murders of innocent people. It should be clear: the Islamic culture is at this point extremely brittle and insecure. Would Gibbons be pardoned if her “offense” were to have brought a puppy to class? premeditated? Probably not. She might have had to join Salman Rushdie in the elite category of those condemned to death — irrevocably — for disrespect to Islam. Amidst the black humor, there is an important point.
The insightful Flemish journalist Paul Belien observed last year, when Muslims were rioting over the Pope’s quoting the 600-year-old words of an obscure emperor: “If a person is incapable of tolerating criticism, including mild criticism, and especially if he perceives criticism where there is none, this is often a sign of this person’s deep psychological insecurity. Rude aggression and wild rage, too, are usually not the normal behaviour of a self-confident person, but rather of someone who knows that he will lose an argument unless he can bully others into silence….It looks as if Muslims cannot cope with an open society and the modern globalized world.”
Even Muslims in the West who condemned the arrest and sentencing of Gibbons did so in disquieting terms. A delegation of British Muslims — having met with the Sudanese — apparently expects her to be pardoned. But Muhammad Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith.” But what if there had been? If Gibbons had named the teddy bear Muhammad in order to mock the Muslim prophet, would Muhammad Abdul Bari have approved of her being arrested, imprisoned, lashed or even executed?
It’s madness, mind-boggling madness: what Bush, Brown, Blair, Rice and the rest keep calling a “great religion” brought to its knees by a teddy bear. But this should be a point for strategists. Years ago, at the height of French Chiracism, William F. Buckley, Jr. pointed out that the French were most vulnerable in their national ego: puncture their balloon and the whole of France zipped around the room, falling flat in a corner. The same would be true if we used humor – and apt insults – against the jihadis.
Many have said that we are in is as much an ideological war as a shooting war. In so many ways, words can be as effective as bullets and bombs. So how do we win the war of ideas against the jihadists? By remembering the Will Rogers Rule.
The great Depression-era comedian was a huge political force because he understood that you can do more political damage by hanging a good joke on someone than by calling him names. And that’s what we need to do in the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. Our greatest weapons can be humor and ridicule.
Sure, the jihadists look lethally formidable now, but if they can be undone by a stuffed animal, let’s beam Jackie Mason and Dennis Miller behind the Qur’anic curtain, and end this thing once and for all.