What’s in a name? asked Juliet. Quite a lot, as she found to her sorrow, notwithstanding the constant redolence of that botanical efflorescence we happen to call a rose but others might call une églantine, die Rose, la rosa. I expect that Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old British school teacher working in Sudan, knows just how Juliet felt. A weirdo by any other name, she must be thinking to herself, would be as strange. Miss Gibbons was busy bringing literacy and civility to 6- and 7-year-old Sudanese children when she made her big mistake. She let her pupils name a teddy bear. And the name they chose, poor darlings, was “Muhammad.”
It was, Miss Gibbons protested, an “innocent mistake.” (“Mistake”? What mistake? For Christ’s sake–if I may so put it–we’re talking about children naming a stuffed animal!) Several parents complained that naming Teddy Muhammad was “an insult to Islam’s prophet.” Result: Miss Gibbons was arrested, put into a Sudanese jail (think about that, mon brave), and is waiting to discover her fate, which, according to a BBC report, might include 6 months in the cooler, a fine, or 40 lashes. A spokesman for the British embassy assured reporters that “We are in contact with the authorities here and they have visited the teacher and she is in a good condition.”
Reassuring, isn’t it?
Actually, Miss Gibbons may be getting off lightly. Consider the fate of a 19-year-year-old Saudi woman who was gang-raped by 7 men. She, too, was tossed into jail and faces 200 lashes. Her crime? Being in the company of a man not her husband.
Not only women need fear the lash. Consider Massoud Bastan, a young Iranian journalist who is in jail an faces 74 lashes for . . . Well, it’s hard to say. He refused to grovel to the court and ask for a pardon: that seems to be the long and the short of it. As one commentator observed, it is pointless to ask what the crime is because
in the Islamic Republic, punishment is not related to having committed a crime, but related to a refusal of being servile to the authorities and the self appointed representatives of Allah on earth. Yet, it is appropriate to ask where are the Western journalists? Should they not be standing by their colleague?