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Fundamental differences of Culture
November 30, 2007 7:21 AM   Subscribe

A few months ago, a British Schoolteacher in Sudan allowed a class of hers to vote on a name for a teddy bear. The class of seven year olds decided - with a majority of 20:3 - to name the stuffed toy Mohammad. Last week, she was arrested for this 'crime' after several of the parents complained, and has been sentenced to 15 days in prison and will be deported. However, that isn't good enough for the thousands of people that marched on martyrs square today and demanded that she instead be killed for this crime.

Despite the fact that one of the pupils voted for the name as it was the
same as his own, and the Foreign Office intervening (calling it a 'storm in a tea cup'), the cultural differences raised over the simple naming of a toy and its deep religious implications to the Sudanese Islamic people may well be creating an international incident worthy of watching.

Interestingly, the school has felt the need to close until January for fear of reprisals.
posted by Brockles (253 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess that's why they call it "martyrs square".
posted by GuyZero at 7:24 AM on November 30, 2007


Martyrs give their own lives, don't they? Not have them taken by other people...
posted by Brockles at 7:26 AM on November 30, 2007


The PR guy for Sudan must have the worst job in the world.
posted by billysumday at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


It wasn't the parents who complained:

from the Guardian report:



"It had emerged earlier in the day that complaints about naming the teddy bear Muhammad had come from a fellow member of staff at the exclusive Unity high school where Gibbons worked.

Teachers and clergy from the school's board turned up at court to support Gibbons. Robert Boulos, the school's director, said education ministry officials had originally told him that parents had complained about the naming of the bear. But, he said: "Today I heard that it was a member of the school staff. I was horrified."

The complainant was named as Sara Khawad, an office assistant at the school, who was the key prosecution witness"
posted by khites at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2007


LOLFUNDIES!
posted by papercake at 7:28 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the demonstrations were organized by the government. This way it can appear "lenient" with the 15-day sentence and deportation.
posted by gubo at 7:29 AM on November 30, 2007


Watching the two main news channels in the UK this morning, Sky News were describing the protests as thousands of angry men baying for a public execution.

BBC news described it as "a few hundred", mostly good natured, with people laughing, while only a few seemed to be genuinely angry. The exact phrase the BBC guy used was "rent-a-crowd".
posted by afx237vi at 7:31 AM on November 30, 2007 [6 favorites]


Once again, I find myself wishing that Allah had mentioned something to his prophet on the subject of proportionality.
posted by felix betachat at 7:32 AM on November 30, 2007 [15 favorites]


Martyrs give their own lives, don't they? Not have them taken by other people...

That doesn't even make sense. How can they give their lives if no one takes them?
posted by delmoi at 7:32 AM on November 30, 2007


What they don't mention is that the runner-up name choice was Osama Been Huggin'. So she kind of dodged a bullet there.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2007 [30 favorites]


Reason #4,523,488,990,251 that religion is a dumb idea
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


I wonder if this incident could prove to be instructive in America's militaristic efforts in the Middle East. "We have the house surrounded. We know you're in there. We know there is a large cache of weapons in the house. We know you're responsible for yesterday's bombing. Now, come out immediately with your hands in the air, or our little fluffy friend here," (dirt-covered, bloodied Marine holds up a totally adorable teddy bear) "gets a brand new name!"
posted by billysumday at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Putting the absurdity of this row aside...

Why isn't naming your son after the prophet considered idolatry?
posted by butterstick at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Murder/martyr, tomato/tomahto. What's important is that the person who offended me be killed in a hideous public manner. Stay focused, people.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:37 AM on November 30, 2007


Why isn't naming your son after the prophet considered idolatry?

What can't be named Muhammed? Who, what, why.
posted by afx237vi at 7:41 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Putting the absurdity of this row aside...

Why isn't naming your son after the prophet considered idolatry?


It's the animal issue.

This just pisses me off today. Time to grow up, dear protesters, and find something worthy to complain about.
posted by etaoin at 7:43 AM on November 30, 2007


This is the stupidest "crime" ever. She's already avoided the 40 lashes they threatened her with. She's been sentenced to some jailtime, which I bet is all she will do, after which she will flee Sudan and never look back.
posted by Camofrog at 7:44 AM on November 30, 2007


after which she will flee Sudan and never look back.

Thereby fulfilling the lifelong dream of most Sudanese.
posted by aramaic at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2007 [8 favorites]


This just pisses me off today. Time to grow up, dear protesters, and find something worthy to complain about.

To people where religion in the end-all be-all of life, it's obviously something worth complaining about. It's all about the rose colored glasses.
posted by jmd82 at 7:50 AM on November 30, 2007


I was about to make an intemperate comment about being ready to abandon my liberal beliefs and throw in with the right-wingers who excoriate Islam as inherently bad, until I remembered (for example) the recent news stories about fundamentalist Christians picketing military servicemembers' funerals and similar fundie lunacy. Sure glad I'm buddhist...
posted by twsf at 7:50 AM on November 30, 2007


Why isn't naming your son after the prophet considered idolatry?

Ok, so "just cuz". Seems the same to me, but with the added benefit of being arrogant, dangerous, and self serving.
posted by butterstick at 7:51 AM on November 30, 2007


It's a good thing there's nothing else to worry about in Sudan.
posted by Mister_A at 7:54 AM on November 30, 2007 [6 favorites]


felix betachat: Once again, I find myself wishing that Allah had mentioned something to his prophet on the subject of proportionality.

He did, over and over again. In fact, he said more about proportionality to Muhammad than he did when he was chatting with Moses or his kid. The phrase 'this is just the lunatic fringe' may seem overplayed, but it's nonetheless true.

That won't prevent the "sigh, Muslims are just nuts" crowd from blubbering all over this one. But, friends, keep in mind that saner heads prevail in the US when people march calling for the death gay people; they will most likely prevail in the Sudan, as well.
posted by koeselitz at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


That doesn't even make sense. How can they give their lives if no one takes them?
posted by delmoi at 7:32 AM on November 30 [+] [!]


Have you ever heard of suicide?
posted by proj at 7:58 AM on November 30, 2007


koeselitz - true, but here the lunatic fringe doesn't often arrest you.
posted by concreteforest at 7:59 AM on November 30, 2007


I was listening to an Islamic scholar on TV last night trying to explain why this is serious stuff, and lamenting the fact that the West just can't seem to understand why it is so abhorrent to Muslims and why it shouldn't be so hard for non-Muslims to understand... and so on, and so on.

I was listening closely, because I really do want to try to understand.

But for the life of me, when I woke up this morning and heard that some demonstrators are calling for her execution, I realized that the line between me and understanding this is likely going to forever remain a unbridgeable chasm.

Doesn't "intent" even enter anyone's thinking any more?
posted by Mike D at 7:59 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


This FPP will not end well.

I heard something on Radio 4 last night suggesting the Sudanese haven't gone entirely mad but it is just part of a much wider game with regards to the West and Darfur. What they are attempting to do, hell only knows, but I am sure there are some in the administration think it will advance certain ends. Does anyone know what these actions will advance? I am at a loss to understand this.

The sooner Richard Dawkins ascends the throne to become secularist overlord for all humanity the better.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2007


it's bullshit, but it's also bullshit even if you reason in Islam. It's not a depiction of the Prophet Mohommed, any more than calling, say, a photograph of a kid called Mohammed is a depiction of The Prophet Mohammed.
posted by dydecker at 8:01 AM on November 30, 2007


And I'm sure (and God-willing it's more than hope) that the lectures of plenty of Imams echo through the Mosques to the tune of 'this is utter evil, and beyond anything that the prophet taught, that we should treat a non-Muslim who seeks to honor us with hatred and contempt.'
posted by koeselitz at 8:02 AM on November 30, 2007


The sooner Richard Dawkins ascends the throne to become secularist overlord for all humanity the better.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:00 AM on November 30 [+] [!]


Well, that sounds even more reasonable.
posted by proj at 8:03 AM on November 30, 2007


Well I was being facetious Proj.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:05 AM on November 30, 2007


So is it more offensive to name things Allah or Muhammed? I don't understand the ins and outs of this.
posted by cmonkey at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2007


I was about to make an intemperate comment about being ready to abandon my liberal beliefs and throw in with the right-wingers who excoriate Islam as inherently bad, until I remembered (for example) the recent news stories about fundamentalist Christians picketing military servicemembers' funerals and similar fundie lunacy.

Look, nobody defends the Phelps clan. And your liberal beliefs damn well better be making intemperate comments about this kind of bullshit, unless you think progressivism means not being able to name your stuffed animals certain words. The right-wingers here are the protesters, not the teacher. Oh, and yeah, this incident isn't indicative of all Islam, but there's nothing impolite in saying that this particular woman's punishment is ridiculous and wrong.
posted by billysumday at 8:08 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


My pet name for my penis is Muhammed.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2007 [12 favorites]


PeterMcDermott - awesome.
posted by notsnot at 8:15 AM on November 30, 2007


PeterMcDermott, I'm not sure I see how that's funny at all.

These threads suck for MetaFilter, because they bring out the most racist, vile, and stereotypical comments every time. "Hey, let's point at silly religion and claim our moral superiority!"

MetaFilter: We preach tolerance, but if we can mock others to claim superiority, well fuck it, our culture is better than your culture.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:16 AM on November 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


This is incredibly stupid and I have no patience with or time for the "you don't understand" faction of Muslims - anymore than I had patience with a former friend of mine who kept saying I "didn't understand" why she wouldn't even consider leaving a man who slapped her around and raped her after I'd listened to her complain non-stop about him for three years. Some people really need to learn the difference between people not understanding/being uninformed and people disagreeing with them. I can only hope this is one of those things that will prove to be a catalyst for more Muslims to take a turn for the moderate.

And I'm so glad that teacher will not get 40 lashes. I hope she makes it out of Sudan safely and I'm sure if and when she does she will quickly find a job in a place that knows the value of a good teacher.
posted by orange swan at 8:18 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Can anyone with a knowledge of Darfur, relations with the West yadda yadda yadda explain to me how this can work out well for the Sudanese government? Surely they would have suppressed it otherwise. Or is this 15 days in jail the compromise?
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:19 AM on November 30, 2007


there's nothing impolite in saying that this particular woman's punishment is ridiculous and wrong.

Of course not, but as we see from this very thread, it's easy for the, uh, less thoughtful among us to leap right to "Islam is dumb" or "religion is a dumb idea." This thread is actually going better than I expected when I dived in, not that it's going all that well.

I suspect ClanvidHorse has it right: this is something the overlords of Sudan seized on for some purpose that may or may not become clear. It's not about Islam, or religion, or the Sudanese. It's about a nasty government (as are so many bad things in this world).
posted by languagehat at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


My uncle named his dog God. It was funny, because it was doG backwards. He never got arrested, was never threatened with lashings or execution. Never really took any crap for it.

This anecdote is in fact morally superior to the anecdotal situation in Sudan.

Extrapolate away...
posted by butterstick at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


PeterMcDermott, I'm not sure I see how that's funny at all.

So get yourself appointed to a Sharia court and give me forty lashes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:26 AM on November 30, 2007 [9 favorites]


My uncle named his dog God. It was funny, because it was doG backwards. He never got arrested, was never threatened with lashings or execution. Never really took any crap for it.


When I was in Israel in 2000, the Shas rabbi had been making a lot of inflammatory and intemperate statements (Palestinians are snakes, Ashkenazim who died in the holocaust were sinners, etc etc). Imagine my joy at visiting friends of friends at a kibbutz and learning that they'd named their dog "Ovadia Yosef" after the same rabbi. Hours of fun were had calling out to the dog and watching it come running obediently, stupid grin on its face.
posted by felix betachat at 8:27 AM on November 30, 2007


This is just beyond me.

As hard as I try to find cultural or religious explanations, all I see are bloodthirsty barbarians. I don't care what sub-sect, no matter how small, of humanity these people belong to their behavior is appalling. They deserve all the understanding granted to a pack of feral dogs.

My tolerance for cultural "differences" is diminishing daily and some things are just wrong. Wrong anywhere and anytime.

But, friends, keep in mind that saner heads prevail in the US when people march calling for the death gay people.

It's also worth keeping in mind that US law doesn't allow for the public stoning (to death) of adulterers. We may have our lunatics and murderers, we may execute far too many people, but it isn't quite the same as a tradition of publicly killing or mutilating (sometimes both) people convicted of petty or 'civil' offenses.
posted by cedar at 8:28 AM on November 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


Hmmm.


There comes a point when, after all these many, many examples of ridiculous thinking that don't stand up to the harsh light of logic, inappropriate punishments for pointless 'crimes', and mass murder of innocent people ...

all, let's not forget, in the name of religion...

that "religion is dumb" actually becomes a very valid viewpoint, and "no, it isn't" stops being a good enough argument to counter those that call it such.

Using the belief in a divine being, including and especially the differences in that belief, as a way of deciding how one treats/maims/bombs/imprisons/whips/kills/goes to war with other people is fundamentally flawed. Blanket denial of the ridiculous nature of this concept is becoming harder and harder to defend, in my opinion.

I'm pretty sure some coffee is being brewed around some sleeping people with all this...
posted by Brockles at 8:30 AM on November 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


billysumday: "The PR guy for Sudan must have the worst job in the world."

It's a regional co-op. from here (self-link)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2007


Nine out of ten males I met in Egypt were named Muhammed. It's an honor to name human children after a Prophet. It's naming a stuffed bear after the prophet that upsets people, I'm sure. When I told a Muslim man in Turkey that my camel in Egypt was named Moses, he actually got very upset. He kept saying, "Moses is the name for a holy man, not a CAMEL." Many people have been taught that such a thing is very, very sacriligious and disrespectful to the prophet.

As for Allah, people seem to think that if you say "Allah" you are only speaking about the Muslim god. But what I've learned is that "Allah" is simply the WORD "God" in Arabic. So whether an Arabic-speaking person is Coptic Christian or Muslim or whatever, they would all still pray to Allah. Just like in English whether you're Christian or not, you pray to God -- albeit your own version. If you speak Arabic, your God is named Allah no matter who you are praying to.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:33 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Right, Brockles, because irreligious people never do bad things.
posted by languagehat at 8:36 AM on November 30, 2007


Nine out of ten males I met in Egypt were named Muhammed. It's an honor to name human children after a Prophet.

An honor for who exactly?
posted by butterstick at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2007


Look. I-- I'd had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was, 'That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.'
posted by kcds at 8:42 AM on November 30, 2007 [8 favorites]


Ah ha. So we begin to see Brockles real point in posting this. An op-ed post, with the editorializing contained in-thread rather than in the post itself? A brilliant way to get around the rules.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 AM on November 30, 2007


While some blame religion for all of the world's problems, I, myself, beg to differ. Religions, like chopped mushrooms, are neutral carriers - they pick up the flavor of whatever they happen to be steeped in.

Culture, on the other hand, is perhaps the most destructive force known to humankind.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:43 AM on November 30, 2007 [8 favorites]


Belief in God isn't dumb, imo. Child-like, yes.
posted by docpops at 8:45 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brockles: Using the belief in a divine being, including and especially the differences in that belief, as a way of deciding how one treats/maims/bombs/imprisons/whips/kills/goes to war with other people is fundamentally flawed. Blanket denial of the ridiculous nature of this concept is becoming harder and harder to defend, in my opinion.

This is a charming notion, but has absolutely nothing to do with the case at hand, given the fact that protestors calling for the death of Gillian Gibbons are ignoring the Koran and all the Sunna in doing so, and therefore are being profoundly irreligious. We'd all be better off, in this case, if they were more religious.
posted by koeselitz at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2007


There comes a point when, after all these many, many examples of ridiculous thinking that don't stand up to the harsh light of logic, inappropriate punishments for pointless 'crimes', and mass murder of innocent people ...

Dude, anyone who lives in the country that voted in Dubya really has no place to go lecturing people about this shit.

And if you argument is that you didn't vote for him, then neither did most Sudanese people approve of this over-reacting punishment for this English teacher.

Really. Paging pot and kettle, blackness, aisle 67021.
posted by GuyZero at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


When I first heard that a teacher had been arrested for allowing children to name a toy Mohammed, thereby causing offence to Moslems, I honestly assumed it was in the UK.
posted by Phanx at 8:47 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco: I'll see your culture and raise you an avarice.
posted by butterstick at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2007


Right, Brockles, because irreligious people never do bad things.

Not at all. They do bad things because they are bad people. Doing it in the name of religion is somehow excusable, though, apparently. I think that is wrong.

Ah ha. So we begin to see Brockles real point in posting this.

Do the rules state that we are only allowed to post things we have no opinion over, then? Or only things that we agree 100% with? Or things with no controversy?

My feelings on it are precisely the reason that I considered it noteworthy. As, it seems, do others. My point (which I removed from the OP) is that, while there is such a massive difference in logic versus religious based laws and belief, issues such as this say (to me) we are still decades at least from being anywhere close to seeing eye-to-eye globally.

I think that is sad and, yet, also a bit daft.
posted by Brockles at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2007


the Sudan doesn't exactly have the same cultural image of Teddy Bears we have. So for a number of people this was reported as "a foreign (FEMALE, liberated western etc., etc.,) teacher told our children that The Prophet PBH is a wild animal....

cultural miscommunication is easy when both sides are willing it to happen as is the case here.

and Butterstick for whom, for whom ?
posted by Wilder at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2007


OMG Brockles is from Canada!

Abject apologies to all my American friends!

Brockles, your deployment papers for Kandahar are in the mail.
posted by GuyZero at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2007


Dude, anyone who lives in the country that voted in Dubya really has no place to go lecturing people about this shit.


So the fact that I am not american, nor live there, kind of destroys your entire point/snark, right?

Ok. That's that cleared up, then.
posted by Brockles at 8:51 AM on November 30, 2007


How is it that this action is considered the action of the 'lunatic fringe', or the 'fundies' when in facts it's the sort of actions you see all the time in the general Muslim world? It's not just the protesters calling for her death, it is religious clerics and scholars as well. This is the kind of action that reflects the mindset of a huge part of the Muslim world, and therefore reflects on the religion. Look at this. Look at what happened in Denmark. Look at the rape verdict in Saudi Arabia. This shit isn't fringe. This is why you have people throwing round an uncomfortable term like 'Islamofascist'. To pretend this is the exemption rather than the rule seems delusional or naive.
posted by xmutex at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Right, Brockles, because irreligious people never do bad things.

LH, it's the unceasing hypocrisy that gets so redundant and tiresome, I think. This constant impenetrable cloak of God that people are allowed to use to explain bad behavior and their own noxious motives.

The apparent need to exterminate persons who blaspheme the Prophet of Islam points to a deep lack of evolution on the part of those true believers. If not, then it points out a basic absurdity of religious faith. Either way, if those people acted on their own, with no scaffold of religion to support them, it would honestly seem more palatable as an act of lone lunacy and not an extension of mass delusion.
posted by docpops at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2007


Brockles: My point... is that, while there is such a massive difference in logic versus religious based laws and belief, issues such as this say (to me) we are still decades at least from being anywhere close to seeing eye-to-eye globally... I think that is sad and, yet, also a bit daft.

You think it's sad that we don't all agree on everything? Welcome to life. The difference in how we see the world, and the fact that we take the difference seriously, is an essential part of being human. Some of us have learned to enjoy it a bit, while all the while seeking to guide it and mold it into something beneficial; I think you'll be happier if you learn to do the same.

And if you think you can excise the divisive and contentious character from the human experience, then you're putting your faith in much stranger gods than the Muslims could ever come up with.
posted by koeselitz at 8:54 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


As for Allah, people seem to think that if you say "Allah" you are only speaking about the Muslim god.

I suppose that's because although, as you say, 'Allah' is a synonym for 'God', English-speaking Muslims still - don't they? - tend to use 'Allah' rather than 'God'.
posted by Phanx at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2007


'That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah'

Any witnesses?
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2007


Mohammad is a terrible name for a teddy bear. But, then, so is Winnie the Pooh.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


You think it's sad that we don't all agree on everything? Welcome to life.

No. I think it is sad that people want to kill others that don't agree with them. Seeing eye-to-eye doesn't suggest parity of thought, merely acceptance. Don't be obtuse.
posted by Brockles at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2007


As much as my gut instinct is that this is a poor innocent woman who just made a really bad decision, I can’t help but see this as another example of ignorance on the part of westerners who go into foreign countries expecting the laws and the workings of the legal system to be the same as it is in the US or the EU. Proportionality of the punishment to the crime is a pretty subjective judgment, and in this situation, it’s not up to us (non-Sudanese people) to make that decision. As soon as she cleared immigrations, she made herself voluntarily subject to Sudanese law. I’m certainly not holding up Sudan as the portrait of responsible lawmaking or law enforcing. (Hell, who is these days?) But if you want to live or travel in a foreign country, you should be prepared to respect the customs and laws of that country. If you don’t agree with them, don’t go.
posted by c lion at 8:57 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


So Peter McDermott has a crush on dios.
Apart from that small matter languagehat has it here. A rather nasty government with an agenda siezes on an incident caused by a naive school teacher. There is history at work here as well as modern day politics - Darfor; and fundamentalism. Kitchener reconquered the Sudan for Britain after the evangelical General Gordon was killed by the Mahdi's forces.
posted by adamvasco at 8:58 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Koeselitz: Brockles is saying that we're using different means of reasoning about these things, not that he expects agreement. Two parties can't really disagree if we're arguing from completely different contexts using different semantics and value systems any more than they can agree.

If I think teddy bears shouldn't be named Muhammed because they are clearly already named Ted, I'm not exactly agreeing with the outraged Sudanese.
posted by butterstick at 8:59 AM on November 30, 2007


There was an interesting Times article on this story, challenging the way it has been framed:
The row has been framed as a religious confrontation of a depressingly familiar sort: from one side, it is yet further evidence of the barbarism inherent in a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam; from the other, it is further proof of a concerted campaign to denigrate Islam. Yet the Sudanese decision to punish this blameless woman over something so apparently trivial has little to do with rival gods: it is a political manoeuvre, a calculated gambit by a regime under stress that has every reason to want to play to the Islamic gallery.

Khartoum seems to have picked this fight over a cuddly toy deliberately: to distract attention from its pernicious role in the Darfur conflict and deteriorating relations with the south of the country, to demonstrate its Islamic credentials, to shore up its own power and to tweak the nose of the West.

President Omar al-Bashir has been itching for a confrontation with Britain since the UK threatened sanctions against Khartoum if Darfur peace talks failed. Mrs Gibbons is a teacher at Unity High School, a school run by Christians that follows a British-style curriculum. It is a prominent reminder of Sudan's colonial past, making her a most tempting target.

...The decision has little to do with theology and everything to do with the politics of Sudan, international and internal.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:59 AM on November 30, 2007 [10 favorites]


How long until the masters of subtlety at LGF or wherever start flogging MoBears with little turbans? Only then will this story have all the props of serious global ethical debate.
posted by WPW at 9:00 AM on November 30, 2007


xmutex: How is it that this action is considered the action of the 'lunatic fringe', or the 'fundies' when in facts it's the sort of actions you see all the time in the general Muslim world? It's not just the protesters calling for her death, it is religious clerics and scholars as well.

Do me the small favor of pointing out how you've come up with that. Exactly which 'religious clerics and scholars' called for her death? I ask because it's an important question. Islam can be a religion of peace. It will not be if we over here keep ignoring the good leaders which they do have and wringing our hands over our (unfounded) concern that they're all violent and unjust.

It is delusional and naive, true, to pretend that there are no Muslims who wish for violence and injustice. It is equally delusional and naive to pretend that there is no room in Islam for peace and nonviolence, and that there is only room for hate.
posted by koeselitz at 9:00 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


We'd all be better off, in this case, if they were more religious.

Ah - no - they, in their own eyes are being very religious.

That is the problem - they interpret things literally, they use religion as a crutch to avoid thinking, they willingly place their choices in the hands of "religious leaders".

They ask us to "understand" them, yet they refuse to understand anything but themselves.

However - I don't want to single out Islam - give them a few hundred years to progress and things would be tolerable - it worked for the Catholic church.
posted by jkaczor at 9:00 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


In my earlier comment, by "flogging", I meant "selling" - British slang. But the other meaning seems oddly appropriate.
posted by WPW at 9:02 AM on November 30, 2007


Brockles: No. I think it is sad that people want to kill others that don't agree with them. Seeing eye-to-eye doesn't suggest parity of thought, merely acceptance. Don't be obtuse.

Okay. Now please explain precisely how you relate the tiny minority of Muslims, who wish to go against the Koran and the Sunna and all religious doctrine and kill this woman, should somehow be lumped together with the majority of Muslims, who do not, as 'people who want to kill others that don't agree with them.' I find it offensively obtuse that you can, in your rank provincialism, accuse a whole civilization which you know absolutely nothing about of resorting to killing those they disagree with.

We used to have a term for stereotyping like that... what was it? Oh yes. Bigotry.
posted by koeselitz at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Exactly which 'religious clerics and scholars' called for her death?

This one, for starters.

Others here are correct that this is a political move on the part of the government. But the government uses clerics to rile up the masses.
posted by billysumday at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2007


How long until the masters of subtlety at LGF or wherever start flogging MoBears with little turbans?

Undoubtedly. The persecution of this woman is inexcusable, but just like the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper, this is going to be a fantastic excuse for the right-wing weblog crowd to joyously be as racist as they want against Muslims in a show of "protest" against... something.

Michelle Malkin, I assure you, is writing another blog post with her free hand about all of this.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2007


Er, sorry, the cleric in the video doesn't call for her death. He just states that the punishment is too lenient for the crime.
posted by billysumday at 9:12 AM on November 30, 2007


Koeselitz: Take off the blinkers a second. I have, at no stage, said 'all muslims are bad'. I have sad that killing (insert other type of oppression here) in the name of religion is wrong. Intolerance of others based on religious beliefs is wrong. In addition, I think that using religion to construct laws that perpetuate this is also wrong.

Where on earth do you extrapolate that I have said "Muslims are all bad, m'kay" from there?

I find it offensively obtuse that you can, in your rank provincialism, accuse a whole civilization which you know absolutely nothing about of resorting to killing those they disagree with.

Can you read? I said 'People that kill', not 'all muslims stab children in the eyes over the slightest thing'.

Calm down.
posted by Brockles at 9:13 AM on November 30, 2007


Thank you, TheophileEscargot, for a sane perspective on all this.
posted by koeselitz at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2007


this is going to be a fantastic excuse for the right-wing weblog crowd to joyously be as racist as they want against Muslims in a show of "protest" against... something.

Well, they'll characterise it as a roguish display of exuberant free speech, exactly the description they will not be applying to the chaps in Martyrs' Square.
posted by WPW at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


koeslitz, where in fact did brockles state anything remotely bigoted?
posted by docpops at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2007


but just like the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper, this is going to be a fantastic excuse for the right-wing weblog crowd to joyously be as racist as they want against Muslims in a show of "protest" against... something.

As sadly true as that is, it's also true that it'll be another excuse for lefties to downplay it and say it's the exception to the rule, and that Islam is peace, and that this is a sad cultural thing and not reflective of the religion in large, and in general put their heads a little deeper in the sand.
posted by xmutex at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2007


Dude, anyone who lives in the country that voted in Dubya really has no place to go lecturing people about this shit.

And if you argument is that you didn't vote for him, then neither did most Sudanese people approve of this over-reacting punishment for this English teacher.


One problem here.

Without debating whether or not Bush was really elected -- Hell, I'll grant that he was elected and admit we're not a very smart people -- he didn't take over the country in a military coup and indulge two decades of genocidal civil war leading to the death of millions. Bush might, given a chance, but we're not there yet.

Anyway, we get a chance to fix that. I'm thinking the Sudanese might not be so lucky.

I find it offensively obtuse that you can, in your rank provincialism, accuse a whole civilization which you know absolutely nothing about of resorting to killing those they disagree with.

I'm not sure anyone is claiming this. For myself, my rage isn't directed at Muslims, it is directed towards the people waving knives screaming for this womans execution. Who happen to live under a system of law that does not make this an impossibility.

I would feel the exact same way if Fred Phelps took the presidency by force, packed the Supreme Court with his flock and started castrating and then hanging homosexuals in front of the Washington Monument.
posted by cedar at 9:19 AM on November 30, 2007


Call me a relativist but I just don't believe Sudanese people are exceptionally stupid. I believe there's much more to this story than we see. I see previous commentators have started providing some interesting details.

It's like creationism in the US. It's only partly about reality and reason and belief, it's mostly about identity and picking sides. If I have certain religions beliefs and I believe that the liberal elites despise my values, my traditions then I'm going to be a creationist just to piss them off and provide support to the people that think like me. Most people liberal or conservative don't care that much about what happened 10,000 to 100 million years ago.

The questions is, how do Sudanese feel about the British & vice versa? What's the approval of western netheads buy them? Spurning that approval could buy them pride & I understand that completely. "You think we're ignorant Africans? Fuck you."
posted by Wood at 9:20 AM on November 30, 2007


Theophileescargot's post, while interesting, kind of misses the underlying point that I think is important:

Someone allowed some kids to name a teddy bear. The government thinks that this is be worth beating that person with leather straps and a significant prison term (even if they chose not to exercise that option fully).

For naming a toy.

That there is even one person who doesn't think that is incredibly severe and ridiculous is staggering. That there are people that believe it is an offense worthy of death leaves me short on superlatives to describe the notion as sufficiently ridiculous.
posted by Brockles at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2007


To everyone out there who is advocating the viewpoint, "religion, just like any other cultural force, can be a transmitter of good or evil," could you please give me a scenario where thousands would protest for a altruistic woman's death over something so trivial as the naming of a teddy bear for purely secular reasons?

Also, it is true that people commit abhorent acts for secular reasons, see, e.g., stalin. But isn't that like saying it is okay to commit bad acts for one reason since people commit thing same bad acts for another reason? In other words, I believe it is fair to say that religion, especially, in today's world, Islam, is, controlling for comparable secular acts of good works, a negative societal force.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2007


It's like creationism in the US. It's only partly about reality and reason and belief, it's mostly about identity and picking sides. If I have certain religions beliefs and I believe that the liberal elites despise my values, my traditions then I'm going to be a creationist just to piss them off and provide support to the people that think like me. Most people liberal or conservative don't care that much about what happened 10,000 to 100 million years ago.

That type of intellectual dishonest is exactly what is wrong with most political debates -- right or left. Who gives a fuck about the truth -- I just want to win.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:22 AM on November 30, 2007


The timing of this is interesting, along with the other "WTF Muslims?" story that is getting a lot of play right now, the rape victim in Saudi Arabia being sentenced to lashings and prison.

Everyone, of every cultural background, needs to stand up and say "WTF Muslims?" when things like this come to light.

The problem is nation-states that are founded on these religious principles. So, these absurd legalistic enforcements are being meted out by the governmental justice system.

Comparing this to some lunatic fringe group picketing in America is not only inappropriate but intellectually dishonest. (Not that those guys aren't tools and need to be shouted down whenever they raise their hateful voices. Just like skinheads or the Klan.) Picketing and having your own court system are not in any way comparable.

The ridiculous behavior you are seeing in Saudi Arabia and the Sudan are codified in their national formative documents.

I too am growing weary of the "you just don't understand" and "you should be tolerant" proclamations.

This is wrong, stupid, dangerous, and intolerable in an increasingly shrinking world stage. We are "closer" to each other than any other time in history.

And, the end-all answer of everything is NOT "tolerance". How many of you want to be tolerant of hate speech? How many want to be tolerant of violence against homosexuals? How many of you want to be tolerant of stoning 16 year old girls to death because some guy in their village thought they saw them walking too close to a guy who was not their brother.

What's incredibly ironic and really scary about this is that many of the same voices that would cry out in America (and on MetaFilter) over the execution of a criminal who killed 3 people while robbing a liquor store are the SAME voices who cry out in favor of tolerance and respect for barbaric practices done under Islam.

And what is even more incredibly ironic is that this unending tolerance for religion and culture seems to only extend to Islam.

If the Pope were calling for Britney Spears to be executed due to obscene behavior and disrespectful dress, how many people, and MeFites in particular, would support this? Now, take it further, and imagine the Pope can convene a legal court, and enforce a death penalty (or lashes, or prison) to Britney Spears for her behavior. How many people would be willing to support that now?

But, EVERY SINGLE TIME something comes up regarding Islam and it's ridiculous, obscene, violent behavior going on in its name, there is a rousing chorus defending it and saying "you just don't understand" and "not all Muslims are like this". Nobody's saying "all" Muslims are like this. We're saying "these" Muslims are like this, and they are wrong, and it should not be tolerated.

If the Pope were stoning people to death, it would not make all of Christianity bad, but it would certainly make HIM bad, and the Christian community should act to prevent him from doing it in their name.

The same goes for Islam. This does not make all of Islam bad. But it does make these particular Muslim fundamentalists bad. And it is okay, or should be okay, to say that.

This punishment is not anywhere close to being rational or just, as can be attested to by anyone with even a modicum of intelligence and awareness who doesn't have an axe to grind over perceived slights or a banner to carry for an absurd philosophy, whether that absurd philosophy be abusive interpretation of an ancient religion, or omni-tolerance.

Also, to be clear to the poster above, she will not "leave" Sudan when released from prison, she is being deported. Over the naming of a Teddy Bear, not by her, but by her students.

Again, I feel like I can't say this strongly enough. If an American court were to threaten lashings for any crime it would never be tolerated. But could you imagine if an American court were to throw someone in jail and then deport them for naming their dog "Jesus"? Certainly noone HERE would be supporting that.

On preview, TheophileEscargot, I appreciate the sentiment of the excerpt you posted, but understand that all of that would be back-room actions by the power elite. To the man-on-the-street, this is just about a white woman disrespecting Islam. Why not kill her?

koeselitz: You are somehow missing or avoiding the point that it is the legal system of the Sudan, a legally convened and empowered court, that is mandating punishment, potentially of lashings and prison, for this "crime". The fact that they still imposed a 15 day prison term for this gives legitimacy, VIA THE SUDANEESE GOVERNMENT, to this kind of hatred and intolerance by the people at large.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2007 [19 favorites]


Crazy muslims are crazier than crazy christians. Let's not treat a candle like a bonfire. I don't think it is the theology itself, or the specific people, but for whatever reason Islamic extremism is more extreme. They care more on average about people breaking their stupid rules and that's a problem.
posted by I Foody at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2007


It's a continuous disappointment that the good citizens of MetaFilter are so quick to call the institution of Christianity in the West on its evils yet they remain quiet or apologist on the generally far greater transgressions of the Muslim world. I won't ever understand it.
posted by xmutex at 9:24 AM on November 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


The PR guy for Sudan must have the worst job in the world.

Naw. It's worse than being a jizz-mopper, for sure.

But worse than assistant crack-whore or crack-whore trainee? No way.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:26 AM on November 30, 2007


MetaFilter: We preach tolerance, but if we can mock others to claim superiority, well fuck it, our culture is better than your culture.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:16 AM on November 30


Evidently your idea of "tolerance" is very different than mine. I consider myself a 'tolerant' person, but 'tolerance' doesn't mean having to censor oneself in order to prevent offending people who are themselves intolerant. It's a two-way street.

Being "tolerant" doesn't mean accepting intolerance and other kinds of evil just because somebody else stands up and says 'this is what I believe,' particularly when they're doing things that are detrimental to others.

If being "tolerant" carries with it an inability to call others out for their beliefs when they're totally out of line, if it means giving up the idea that some things are just fundamentally wrong, then I don't think I want any part of it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not all Muslims stab children in the eyes.
posted by everichon at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2007


Brockles: I'm sorry, but your statement-- that you believe 'religion is dumb'-- directly implies exactly that. If a case where a few religious people call for the death of an innocent schoolteacher can be generalized to all religious people whatsoever, then on what basis can it be so generalized? Why would you even be able to say that this case says something about all religious people unless all religious people share the characteristics observed in some of the religious people in the story?

And even if you're not directly implying that 'all Muslims are willing to kill those who they disagree with,' you fairly slit the wrists of this thread when you said:

There comes a point when... "religion is dumb" actually becomes a very valid viewpoint...

Did you not see this coming?
posted by koeselitz at 9:28 AM on November 30, 2007


Teddy Bear Arrested in Sudan (spoof)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:31 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Without debating whether or not Bush was really elected -- Hell, I'll grant that he was elected and admit we're not a very smart people -- he didn't take over the country in a military coup and indulge two decades of genocidal civil war leading to the death of millions. "

Well, he didn't take over the country he's President of - that much is true.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2007


Koeselitz, in re your most recent comment, I suppose the problem with "religion" itself as opposed to the problem with a handful of soi-disant religious loudmouths is that religion, like nationalism, gives ugly, illegitimate regimes like Sudan's a convenient way to divert their wretched populations away from anger at said regime. Which isn't the fault of "religion", as an abstract, or the fault of the majority of Sudan's religious population. It's just a handy lever for the government, and any hardline clerical allies it may have, to use.
posted by WPW at 9:37 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


religion is dumb

Religion is so frequently problematic in such unpleasant ways that it might be a net gain for our species to see the end of it.
posted by everichon at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2007 [9 favorites]


Incidentally, I am not arguing that "religion is dumb".
posted by WPW at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2007


Religion certainly isn't intellectually strong. You wouldn't want to argue that.
posted by xmutex at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2007


voices who cry out in favor of tolerance and respect for barbaric practices done under Islam.

Voices that I would submit are, by and large, in your head.

I do get so amazingly bored with people claiming that they're being discouraged from "calling out" evil when they see it — this idea that in the west, or on Metafilter, or wherever, there is some kind of reluctance to acknowledge that events like this one are bad.

Guess what? The illiberal religious people demonstrating in Khartoum today think they're "calling out" evil too. To make sure that your humane, liberal ethics prevails over theirs, you're going to have to do something more than engage in this back-and-forth of "calling out". For example, you might seek to understand the causes of the problem. Personally, I think it's obvious that religiosity — the superstitious belief in a deity — is a prime cause, since without that belief this outrage could not possibly have unfolded.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Koeselitz: Your extrapolations are without much in the way of logical progression.

your statement-- that you believe 'religion is dumb'-- directly implies exactly that.

Absolutely not. Utterly not, in fact. There is completely no correlation between the two. 'Religion is dumb' and 'people that kill in the name of religion are wrong' doesn't in any way extrapolate as 'all religious people kill in the name of their religion'. Not at all.

What on earth are you reading?

Religion, in my opinion is dumb. That isn't all that relevant to this discussion, and is essentially a derail. Go and see the aetheist thread if you want to see a tiny fraction of my feelings on how dumb religion is. It is the people that try and dismiss the concept, out of hand, that religion (when it is so badly misused and abused like this) is STILL completely justified as a concept and beyond reproach that was being brought into question.
posted by Brockles at 9:41 AM on November 30, 2007


From now all thanksgiving turkeys I prepare will been named Mohammad.
posted by hexxed at 9:43 AM on November 30, 2007


I've heard people say that Islam is very similar to Christianity and other religions...that there are a few crazies out there but most are sane.

But when crap like this happens, there is no comparison. No protest riots occur because a cross is burned (well, there are other connotations to that) or when someone says that Jesus didn't exist.

I'm starting to firmly believe, as unpopular as this opinion is among 'thinking peoples', that Islam is fundamentally broken. Whether that means it needs a true leader to rebuild it in a sane fashion, or that it just needs to fade into history and obscurity, I don't know. But it certainly cannot continue this way...especially not when this sort of fundamentalist lunacy spreads itself across the world.

(disclamer: I'm a Zen Buddhist, not a Christian)
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:43 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ynoxas: EVERY SINGLE TIME something comes up regarding Islam and it's ridiculous, obscene, violent behavior going on in its name, there is a rousing chorus defending it and saying "you just don't understand" and "not all Muslims are like this". Nobody's saying "all" Muslims are like this. We're saying "these" Muslims are like this, and they are wrong, and it should not be tolerated.

Not one person in this thread is saying that this arrest is not terrible. Not one. The step you're missing is the part where Westerners throw up their hands and declare that Muslims are hopelessly violent; that declaration wins a lot of outrage, as well it should.

Every time a black person kills someone, it's wrong. Murder is wrong, it's a crime, and it should be punished. But every time that someone else looks at that case and says 'well, he's black; they're all like that,' I'll be among the many who get pretty pissed off. And I'll be in the right for doing so.

Anyone who takes a case which is clearly about recent ethnic (not religious) genocide and the power struggles in its aftermath and tries to generalize it into a statement about a world religion is at best not reasoning correctly, and at worst is engaging in bigotry no less than someone who points at a rich Jew and says 'they're all like that.'
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Fundamental differences of Culture

I'm not sure what this has to do with religion, or some odd PC concept of "cultural differences." I would love for someone to point out where the concept "no teddy bears named Muhammad" appears in the traditional culture of Sudan.

Sudan has an oppressive government. You may have heard about it; one or two people have mentioned it in the media occasionally over the last few years.

Yes, they couch their oppression in terms of "Islamic law." But this would not happen in Jordan, Turkey, India. or most other countries which happen to contain many muslims.

This is happening because Sudan has an oppressive government.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Then again, it may be simply that, though we are feature-rich, we are nonetheless primates, and that we will do horrible stupid violence to others even without religion.

I am going to continue in my half-assed devotion to Bacchus, over here in this corner, with a nice chevre and some crackers. Carry on.
posted by everichon at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is happening because Sudan has an oppressive government.

Really? Did people call for the death of cartoonist and have newspaper editors fired and shoot filmmakers because Denmark has an oppressive government?
posted by xmutex at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2007


It all depends on how you define religion. The word itself is too broad. If you are referring to a belief in an imaginary sky-man, a heaven full of virgins, or a man who rose from the dead after spending a few days in hell - these are dumb ideas. They may be correct, for all anyone knows, because no one can certainly know otherwise, but they are certainly dumb. Or stupid. Ignorant. Idiotic. Those definitions fit.

But religion as a cultural and social adhesive, as a tool for great societal change (good/bad), as a way for people to feel connected and a way to give great importance to their lives. That's not dumb. That's interesting. And this is a good example of that. A governmental body, under pressure for serious crimes against humanity, makes a stink about a woman naming a teddy bear Muhammad, and uses its religious allies to divert attention from serious current societal problems.
posted by billysumday at 9:47 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Ah ha. So we begin to see Brockles real point in posting this. An op-ed post, with the editorializing contained in-thread rather than in the post itself? A brilliant way to get around the rules.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 AM on November 30 [+] [!]


Huh? That happens all the time on MeFi. Is it not generally accepted that posters can express an opinion later in the thread after posting?
posted by the other side at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2007


I believe it's spelled "Sunnah."

And Koeseltz under the Qur’an for a Islamic nation there is no separation of Church and State. That is the root of these problems. NOT interpretation of Shar'iah or the stories in it, the Hadith. That is why the kooky minorities of extremists can hold sway. To pretend there is no problem here is stupid.

Can you imagine what it would be like HERE if a principle tenant of Christianity was zero tolerance of secular government? Some people want that. But it is not so clearly stated in the Bible as it is in the Qur'an.

So yes. That is somewhat unique to Islam.

We preach tolerance, but if we can mock others to claim superiority, well fuck it, our culture is better than your culture.

ENOUGH! Enough with the relativism. In terms of human rights and equality there ARE superior cultures. There are no PERFECT cultures. But some are farther up the ladder than others. Fascistic cultures are NOT equal to ours. The culture of national socialism is not equal to ours. And cultures that execute women for being VICTIMS of rape are not equal to ours. If we constantly whine about this moral relativistic crap there is no room for change anywhere. Including HERE.
posted by tkchrist at 9:53 AM on November 30, 2007 [6 favorites]


billysumday: My own definition of religion is "beliefs which are espoused without rational cause." I'm still debating how essential they are, so I don't know whether I'm a religious person. But I'm repeatedly struck by how much people who claim to be rational are actually very religious in this sense of the word. The sky-man hypothesis is not, by far, the most popular superstitious belief. There are plenty of superstitious beliefs out there, such as "justice is good" and "atoms are small, hard balls."
posted by koeselitz at 9:54 AM on November 30, 2007


But this would not happen in Jordan, Turkey, India. or most other countries which happen to contain many muslims.

You better do a Lexus/Nexus search on that bro. While it certainly doesn't happen as often in those countries, if memory serves in the case of Jordan a few years ago, it DOES happen. "It" being repressive and regressive religious laws and barbaric punishments.
posted by tkchrist at 9:57 AM on November 30, 2007


Let's just delete this thread.
posted by dead_ at 9:59 AM on November 30, 2007


The step you're missing is the part where Westerners throw up their hands and declare that Muslims are hopelessly violent; that declaration wins a lot of outrage, as well it should.

Every time a black person kills someone, it's wrong. Murder is wrong, it's a crime, and it should be punished. But every time that someone else looks at that case and says 'well, he's black; they're all like that,' I'll be among the many who get pretty pissed off. And I'll be in the right for doing so.


And nobody here is saying this, either. Calm down.
posted by tkchrist at 10:00 AM on November 30, 2007




Let's just delete this thread.

Yeah. Afterall, this is the new civil Metafilter. When it might be scary or offensive — pretend it doesn't exist.

LALALALAAALLALALA LA LA ... I CAN'T HEAR YOU! LALALALALA LA...
posted by tkchrist at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2007


I believe it's spelled "Sunnah."

Nitpicky, but it is really proper to correct spelling of something that is a transliteration?
posted by proj at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2007


We preach tolerance, but if we can mock others to claim superiority, well fuck it, our culture is better than your culture.

What if it is?

Isn't the culture of the American south better today, even marginally, than it was under Jim Crow? Do most Russians prefer their post-Stalinist culture to the gulag? Do mainstream Roman Catholics prefer the modern church to the crusading church?

Of course some cultures are better than others, it's called evolution. To write off human rights violations and oppression in the guise of 'tolerance' and 'understanding' strikes me as a very pessimistic view.
posted by cedar at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


tkchrist, there aren't superior cultures. There are certainly elements of cultures that are superior but you can't package up two entire countries and then say one is better than the other. IOTW, you may feel that civil rights for women means that the Saudis would be better off if they were just American. Yet a liberal force for change in that culture would say that's not an acceptable trade-off, that sure they want to improve civil rights but that they do not accept that the rest of their culture should go on the scrap heap. I don't disagree with them & I don't want to argue with them. They are going to be the agents of change in their culture.

It's not British diplomacy that's going to increase women's rights in the Islamic worlds. It will have to be native change. In part because of course the main interest of the west in Africa & the middle-east (mefi aside) is not human rights.

So, in this case as in the rape case in Abu Dhabi, it's a westerner who's getting abused. My stance gets me branded a relativist, but really what possible good does all this "Islam sucks" crap do? You may think you're a humanitarian but you're joining a war in progress and the war on Islam has nothing to do with women's rights, gay rights, or laws around rape.

Do you really think a smart Muslim in the middle east or Africa is going to look at what's going in the world (aka Iraq) and think "Damn, we sure are violent unlike those Christians, we could learn so much from them." Is it moral relativism to look at Iraq and ask how that represents our superior culture?
posted by Wood at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nitpicky, but it is really proper to correct spelling of something that is a transliteration?

Dude. I get it ALL the time here. I mention it becuase I think "sunna" implies something very different. Though it has been 20 years since my college courses on the matter. So I could be wrong.
posted by tkchrist at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2007


Let's remember that Bush said "we fight the terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here." And furthermore he claims the terrorists are not Iraqis. Can anyone explain how we're not using Iraqi women and children's lives as a honeypot to protect ourselves?

I don't hate America, I just don't buy into this rah rah bullshit or the anti-Islamic flip side.
posted by Wood at 10:14 AM on November 30, 2007


I don't hate America, I just don't buy into this rah rah bullshit or the anti-Islamic flip side.

Remember that this was a British woman teaching in Sudan. Some things exist outside of the realm of American foreign relations.
posted by billysumday at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2007


You had me at "Sudan".
posted by Artw at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2007


There's nothing wrong or offensive, in my opinion, with saying that something that a government does (in the name of religion or not) is wrong. In fact, I find it patronizing and offensive to resist calling out extremist behavior when it clearly crosses moral lines (like. uh. genocide, for one). And, as others have pointed out, the Sudanese government doesn't exactly have the best track record.

However, it is offensive to apply that righteous outrage to religion or muslims in general - intentionally or unintentionally, implied or directly stated. Previous posters were right when they said "you don't understand." You don't.

That doesn't mean that you can't look at the situation and say, "this is wrong", but it does mean that you need to check your perspective/bias going into the discussion. There's a subtle line between effectively critiquing something from a culture different from your own (especially one with significantly less power, at least in the United States) and judging that entire culture - which you don't understand - based on a few, heavily publicized incidents. (Which is not to even get into the discussion of the institutionalized racism/anti-islam sentiments of pretty much every news source.)

It is fucked up when people are resistent to denounce this action (for fear of being racist?), but, in my mind, that's a whole lot less fucked up than coming in here and making sweeping generalizations, or coping a "holier than thou" tone. Cultural context is really, really important.

Also, Christian fundamentalists have a whole lot more power in the world (politically, economically, etc.) than Muslim fundamentalists. This is an essential dynamic to keep in mind when comparing the two, and one which seems to have been glossed completely over.

And, yeah, I think that naming a teddy bear Mohammed is offensive. Not getting arrested worthy (and certainly not execution worthy), but offensive.
posted by lunit at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Martyrs give their own lives, don't they? Not have them taken by other people...

In the sense of refusing to reject their religious beliefs, even on threat of death, sure, they "give their lives." And then a nice group of people throws stones as a symbolic gesture to indicate that they accept the gift. It's all very generous.

This is not unlike how many martyrs died-- break a cultural rule, face a violent mob, become a symbol of a bigger struggle. I hope her story has a happier ending.
posted by Tehanu at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2007


Khartoum has a population of nearly 2 million presumably 99% muslim. The raging crowd was a couple of hundred. This is lynch mob politics by people with an agenda. The question to ask is which people and whose agenda.?
posted by adamvasco at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mohammad is a terrible name for a teddy bear. But, then, so is Winnie the Pooh.

On the other hand, "Mohammed the Pooh" is a great name for my hot new scat video.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:26 AM on November 30, 2007


A similar tempest in a teapot happened to John Kenneth Galbraith when he was ambassador to India. His family named a kitten "Ahmedabad " which caused some anger due to "Ahmed" being one of Mohammad 's names. Despite the prophet often being portrayed as a cat lover, the locals were terribly upset at a cat getting this name.

JKG changed the name of the cat to "Gujarat" and issued a brief apology and everyone was incredibly happy again.
posted by pandaharma at 10:32 AM on November 30, 2007


All I said was, "This meal is fit for Jehovah!"
posted by everichon at 10:37 AM on November 30, 2007


Goddammit, cynicalknight. *frown*
posted by everichon at 10:38 AM on November 30, 2007


I'm glad the Sudanese Islamic community could take time out from raping and murdering people to focus on the real issues.
posted by empath at 10:43 AM on November 30, 2007


(sorry, I just indulged my inner Ann Coulter there, I apologize). But still. Sudan is a fucked up country.
posted by empath at 10:44 AM on November 30, 2007


And, yeah, I think that naming a teddy bear Mohammed is offensive. Not getting arrested worthy (and certainly not execution worthy), but offensive.

Why? Plenty of people, including some very bad people by anyone's estimation are named Mohammed.

If it's offensive to name a toy 'Mohammed', then what about the boy named 'Mohammad' in the class that voted for the name, as detailed in other news reports? Should that kid's parents be killed for naming their son?
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:44 AM on November 30, 2007


I don't hate America, I just don't buy into this rah rah bullshit or the anti-Islamic flip side.

Remember that this was a British woman teaching in Sudan. Some things exist outside of the realm of American foreign relations.
True (though not so much British foreign relations right now.) In any event the "I don't hate America" was meant to be specifically a personal statement about how as an American refusing to participate in war of civilizations rhetoric does not mean I don't believe in anything good about my own nation. The opposite of self-righteous is not self-loathing.
posted by Wood at 10:46 AM on November 30, 2007


Wood. Who says they have to swap cultures? Nobody said that. Personally I think OUR culture could stand to adopt some of the values of the Yanamamo and the Aborigine.

But we have these ideals. Every culture has these ideals, see. Visualize it like they are some ladder and at the top is your vision of your principles fully realized. Most of us share most of the same vision at the top of the ladder, right?

Happy prosperous people. Healthy children. A fruitful future.

How to get there? We in the west will agree that general notions of equality is a big first step. Equality of the sexes is one of those next steps. THESE values move us forward. And it has worked and one reason our cultures have BEEN so prosperous.

But SOME cultures simply have little critical mass for the necessary steps to get there. In fact regressive principles are intrinsic to the self identity of some cultures. Our values are the anathema to some of people who run these cultures as it threatens their hold on power.

OUR culture was very much like that a hundred years ago and gradually we began to change. At that time the SAME argument was made that you made. Wealthy powerful slave holders said "how dare you alter our culture, we are not northerners!" Racists who profited from the oppression of blacks in the US made the same argument against civil rights. Culture is also about who is in charge and HOW they stay in charge.

We KNEW the burgeoning progressive culture that embraced civil rights was the path to the future— that is was SUPERIOR to the culture of the past. And it inverted some of the power in this country.

Quit buying into the notion of how sacred traditional things like national or racial identity and religion are and see this for what it is — it's the Future against the 13th Century.

The 13th Century is OVER. Like the 19th century was over for 1963 America.

Saying everybody is equal is not only factually incorrect it is utterly non-productive.
posted by tkchrist at 10:51 AM on November 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


This makes me wonder - are dolls of Mohammad Ali offensive to Muslims?
posted by billysumday at 10:53 AM on November 30, 2007


And, yeah, I think that naming a teddy bear Mohammed is offensive. Not getting arrested worthy (and certainly not execution worthy), but offensive.

This comment pretty much shot the rest of what you said in the foot.

Therefor I named my Teddy Bear Iunit.
posted by tkchrist at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2007


Lunatic fringe
posted by sfts2 at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2007


tkchrist: Quit buying into the notion of how sacred traditional things like national or racial identity and religion are and see this for what it is — it's the Future against the 13th Century.

Is it trolling for me to say that part of me is rooting for the 13th century? Or is it temporal provinciality that makes most of us prefer our own time?
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Burn the witch
posted by A189Nut at 11:15 AM on November 30, 2007


Is it moral relativism to look at Iraq and ask how that represents our superior culture?

Okay THIS is a reasonable statement. But examine it.

Certainly after 9/11 we behaved like idiot children having a tantrum. Children with the added horror of having the most powerful toys on the planet.

But there is a huge difference. Since ours is not a religious theocracy (yet) ,and we have a Secular form of government, we can have nearly 60% of the society openly questioning the direction the leader has taken us without offending God.

Like Mullahs in Islamic Republics there are people in this country who want God in charge of the executive branch. They want the president to be head priest. Our own President almost wants this.

You think being called unpatriotic is an oppressive manipulative tool? Make that profane to God and you have total control. Not only of what people do here on earth but whether or not they get to go to an afterlife. That is what people in Sudan and Iran live under.

Them is some very high stakes. And it's HOW kooky extremists control Islamic Republics. They USE the accepted CULTURAL idiom of no separation of church and state for ultimate oppression. Imagine thee people with the modern equipment to extend that oppression?

Imagine if that was us? We are bad enough as it is.

But we have one thing that is (still. For how long?) superior in our culture and that is our notion of equality and the separation of church and state. And we must chant that those things ARE superior like a mantra so WE don't lose them. Not so much to impose them on others.
posted by tkchrist at 11:17 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]



Is it trolling for me to say that part of me is rooting for the 13th century?

Yes. The 13th Century was awful.
posted by tkchrist at 11:18 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Luckily this is the worse thing happening in Sudan right now.

Oh wait.
posted by chunking express at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2007


If namin' teddy bears 'Mohammad' is wrong, then I don't wanna be right...
posted by Pecinpah at 11:31 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not British diplomacy that's going to increase women's rights in the Islamic worlds. It will have to be native change.

I'm sorry, but this doesn't make sense to me. Are you saying that the American South in the sixties would have embraced the civil rights movement w/out the efforts of northern activists and the feds stepping in to enforce the laws? Do you think MLK, et al, would have prevailed w/out outside help? Because things didn't seem that way to me.
posted by landis at 11:31 AM on November 30, 2007


Is it trolling for me to say that part of me is rooting for the 13th century?

That depends. Would you be a 13th person living in some Central American coastal village, peacefully living off of the land and content in your communal, pre-historic society, or would you be a 13th century person living in some Central American coastal village, peacefully living off of the land only to be surprised by a rival, more technologically superior invading northern army of warriors intent on raping the women, brutalizing your children, castrating the men and setting your simple but elegant thatch hovels aflame?
posted by billysumday at 11:32 AM on November 30, 2007


kickstart70 - there is a difference between _people_ and _teddybears_.

I don't understand why you are so unsympathetic to the viewpoint that something like that is offensive. Dismissing that possibility right off the bat comes really close to saying "religion is dumb."

The world is full of things that are offensive. I'm certainly not arguing that the government - or anyone else - should punish that, necessarily, but I think it's worth noting that her actions - especially as an outsider - had cultural weight and repercussions she maybe didn't fully understand/expect. I think it's ridiculous for her to be arrested (or worse, executed), but I don't think it's ridiculous for her to be made aware that she (however inadvertantly) transgressed on something that people hold dear, and appropriated some aspects of Muslim culture/religion.

Would it kill you to consider that maybe you don't understand why something like that would be offensive because you don't understand the religious tradition/culture?
posted by lunit at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2007


(errr...13th century person...)
posted by billysumday at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2007


I wonder what her students think of this whole mess, of a bunch of grown men creating an international incident over the name they gave to a teddy bear.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:37 AM on November 30, 2007


Soooooo, when the boy king claimed he was gonna invade a Muslim country and remake it as a free market liberal democracy to act as an example for other countries in the middle east.......did you laugh or cry or both.
posted by wrapper at 11:38 AM on November 30, 2007


kickstart70 - there is a difference between _people_ and _teddybears_.

Genuine curiosity, here: what exactly is the difference? It is that animals are not as advanced as people? Further, what if a retarded person were named Muhammad? This is a serious question.
posted by billysumday at 11:39 AM on November 30, 2007


We're not talking about a real bear. You understand that, right?

Teddy bears are inanimate objects. They also compute much more easily to "idols" than people do. As to whether or not a real bear named Mohammad would be offensive to some Muslims, I couldn't tell you. But that doesn't mean that their religion is somehow inferior/crazy/dangerous for holding that it is inappropriate to name things - not people - after the prophet.
posted by lunit at 11:47 AM on November 30, 2007


kickstart70 - there is a difference between _people_ and _teddybears_

Yes, there is. IMO it's more offensive to name people Mohammed, with all their failings/sins/foibles/lies/flaws, than it is to name a toy (an item of joy and wonder, sinless and without evil intent) Mohammed.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:50 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


We're not talking about a real bear. You understand that, right?

Yes, I understand that.

Teddy bears are inanimate objects. They also compute much more easily to "idols" than people do.

Osama bin Laden vs. a teddy bear. On this point I think you're incorrect.
posted by billysumday at 11:51 AM on November 30, 2007


Well, like you said, that's you.
posted by lunit at 11:53 AM on November 30, 2007


And who are you to tell other people what is and is not offensive in terms of their prophet in their religion?
posted by lunit at 11:55 AM on November 30, 2007


Also, lunit, you say that it matters that the bear is a toy and not a real bear. Earlier in the thread was this comment: When I told a Muslim man in Turkey that my camel in Egypt was named Moses, he actually got very upset. He kept saying, "Moses is the name for a holy man, not a CAMEL."

So it seems that the ban on naming things Muhammad extends both to animals and objects, but not humans. I just find it odd and hard to understand, that's all.
posted by billysumday at 11:56 AM on November 30, 2007


I'm sure a penis is ok because it's animate. or at least I hope it's animate
posted by dydecker at 12:01 PM on November 30, 2007


A dildo would be bad. This we can surmise.
posted by billysumday at 12:02 PM on November 30, 2007


And, yeah, I think that naming a teddy bear Mohammed is offensive.

Perhaps you should tell the Sudanese Muslim children that decided on the name for their teddy bear that their choice was offensive, lunit. You can do so after the forty lashes, and just prior to the clitoridectomy.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:07 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wood:It's not British diplomacy that's going to increase women's rights in the Islamic worlds. It will have to be native change.

landis: "I'm sorry, but this doesn't make sense to me. Are you saying that the American South in the sixties would have embraced the civil rights movement w/out the efforts of northern activists and the feds stepping in to enforce the laws? Do you think MLK, et al, would have prevailed w/out outside help? Because things didn't seem that way to me."

Hey, landis? The American South and North are different regions of the same country. The example you give is native change. But you'd have a point if, say, Sweden sent a delegation here in 1955 to help Mississippi move out of racism. To the best of my knowledge, there was little foreign intervention in the Civil Rights movement.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:13 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Suffice it say that I don't think that the example of the American South is the model for cultural change in the rest of the world. Pedantic as it may be the South and the North have always been part of the same country. (We did fight a shared war.)

How do any of the details of the civil war or rights movement in the south apply to the ME or Africa? Is a war going to work? Sending over busloads of volunteers to confront the local police?

PeterMcDermott, children are told all the fucking time that their innocent statements are offensive. Wait, am I engaging the Mohammed/penis idiot in conversation?
posted by Wood at 12:13 PM on November 30, 2007


Okay, that's fair. I should have said "I can understand why many people feel that naming a teddy bear Mohammed is offensive." I'm not personally offended by it - because I'm not Muslim - but I hear why it would be offensive to many people.

As to the children, it is kind of interesting that the fact that it was their choice didn't really enter the debate. ::shrug:: People are different.

Again, I'm not saying anything should be done (especially not by the government) just because it's offensive to many people. I'm just saying that they have a right to be offended.
posted by lunit at 12:17 PM on November 30, 2007


...a side note on one aspect of this stage of the debate...it was the French who made American independence from the British possible via their blockading of British Ships. Sometimes outside interference to allow native change is entirely justified.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:20 PM on November 30, 2007


I love how this has become an international incident! You couldn't get a more perfect storm. To the West, teddy bears is kinda the ultimate symbol of innocence, and then to hardline Islamists naming a non-person Muhammad is the ultimate blasphemy.

The more it escalates, the more fucking funny it gets. Bring on burning teddy bears in the Arab streets, and send in the special forces to bust Muhammad out of Sudanese captivity.

Some journo should find out if the kid gets to keep the bear.
posted by dydecker at 12:22 PM on November 30, 2007


The Muslim community in Britain have criticised Sudan for "overreacting"..."This case should have required only simple common sense to resolve. It is unfortunate that the Sudanese authorities were found wanting in this most basic of qualities. They grossly overreacted in this sad affair and this episode," said Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain...Dr Bari said that Mrs Gibbons should be released immediately. "Mrs Gibbons should never have been arrested, let alone charged and convicted of committing a crime. We hope that Gillian will be able to return home without much further delay," said Bari.
From here. And as I recall the MCB is not a particularly liberal body.
I have several problems with mainstream Muslim theology as I understand it, but in this case I am with those who say this outrageous incident is more about Sudanese politics than anything else. jason's_planet - one of the BBC stories did have a number of quotes from both current and former pupils at the school, all condemning the treatment of the teacher iirc.
posted by Abiezer at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2007


Maybe it's a "wag the dog" scenario to take the focus away from the Darfur crisis.
posted by cass at 12:33 PM on November 30, 2007


Yes, the French intervention is perhaps a better example, but considering the size and diversity of the US I have a hard time remembering that it's all one big country. Sure doesn't feel that way sometimes.
posted by landis at 12:38 PM on November 30, 2007


I think it's interesting that, while one might expect Metafilter to be skewed to the Left, it's actually skewed Rightwards for me. I understand that there are plenty of people around who believe worse things than "Islam is an inferior religion". And I know that, as far as "things bigots say" is concerned, the whole "ha, ha, Muslims have no right to be offended" is really pretty enlightened by comparison.

It's just that I don't know very many folks in real life that think like that, and it's surprising (and probably good for me) that I see them here. I mean it--I've never had a conversation with a friend in real life in which they talked like this. Crazy drunk dudes in the subway, maybe.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2007


Suffice it say that I don't think that the example of the American South is the model for cultural change in the rest of the world. Pedantic as it may be the South and the North have always been part of the same country. (We did fight a shared war.)

How do any of the details of the civil war or rights movement in the south apply to the ME or Africa? Is a war going to work? Sending over busloads of volunteers to confront the local police?

PeterMcDermott, children are told all the fucking time that their innocent statements are offensive. Wait, am I engaging the Mohammed/penis idiot in conversation?


Wood you totally lost me there. This is at least an obsfucation bordering on an obscene reading of what I said.

Details? What? You do know what an analogy is? It's not a strict comparison by any stretch. As thinking adults we should be able to see through the details of a basic analogy so we can communicate.

The north and South fought a WAR over their cultural differences (among other things). Right? The cultures were painted at that time as night and day just as YOU did the ME and us. People back then held to their deep seated cultural traditions as immutable back then JUST as the ME does now. And many of those traditions are as wrong as some traditions are now.

You are making the same KIND of arguments about cultural purity and relativism that people in the past did when they were WRONG. And now looking back we know they were wrong. Pick any analogy you want.

I wasn't implying invasion or war as cure for cultural backwardness. And I think you know that. Noting that our shared cultural ideals about equality and separations of church and state as superior to those who do not hold this value is not advocating cultural war. So stop saying that.

I'm afraid I cant explain this any better than I already have.
posted by tkchrist at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2007


I think it's interesting that, while one might expect Metafilter to be skewed to the Left, it's actually skewed Rightwards for me. I understand that there are plenty of people around who believe worse things than "Islam is an inferior religion".

Squid Voltaire, I'd venture that most of Metafilter doesn't think like this. Most people here don't respect any religion at all. And that doesn't make them "bigots" or "right wing", it makes them sensible.
posted by dydecker at 12:51 PM on November 30, 2007


I think it's interesting that, while one might expect Metafilter to be skewed to the Left, it's actually skewed Rightwards for me. I understand that there are plenty of people around who believe worse things than "Islam is an inferior religion".

You do understand that Left means progressive and liberal and the right to be able to name teddy bears whatever you wish. And that Rightwards means religious and fascistic and morally rigid and not letting people name a teddy bear a particular name for fear of prison, or lashes, or death. I mean, you know that, right?
posted by billysumday at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2007


It's just that I don't know very many folks in real life that think like that, and it's surprising (and probably good for me) that I see them here. I mean it--I've never had a conversation with a friend in real life in which they talked like this. Crazy drunk dudes in the subway, maybe.

Well now is your chance to do something about it rather than being so passive aggressive. Come out and say it instead of implying it. Who is the big bad bigot in this thread? It's what you mean by comparing us to crazy drunk people in the subway, right?

We must be reading entirely different threads becuase all I see is people disagreeing only slightly more than they agree.

I will tell you what I see in comments like yours... the kind of drive-by insulting rhetoric that does not help anything.
posted by tkchrist at 12:58 PM on November 30, 2007


Sensible? That's a wrong lot of people in the world that you're not "respecting" right off the bat.

I have my qualms with religion, too, but arguing that not respecting any religion is sensible seems like a pretty (needlessly) inflammatory world view to have.
posted by lunit at 12:58 PM on November 30, 2007


I think it's interesting that, while one might expect Metafilter to be skewed to the Left, it's actually skewed Rightwards for me. I understand that there are plenty of people around who believe worse things than "Islam is an inferior religion". And I know that, as far as "things bigots say" is concerned, the whole "ha, ha, Muslims have no right to be offended" is really pretty enlightened by comparison.

I don't think you know what Left and Right actually MEAN. The further left you go, the less tolerant of religion of any kind you become.
posted by empath at 12:58 PM on November 30, 2007


Just one question:

Why aren't they punishing and deporting the children who actually named the bear?
posted by Parannoyed at 12:59 PM on November 30, 2007


It is rather perceptive of the Sudanese children to have recognized that teddy bears are objects of religious veneration for us.
posted by jamjam at 1:01 PM on November 30, 2007


(if you consider the far left to be marxism, that is)
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on November 30, 2007


The French assistance of the US is a terrible analogy... European culture, from a global perspective, contained both factions. The French were playing the same geopolitical game on the same board with the same mindset as the British and also the American colonists. This thread is full of objectionable judgments of people outside our cultural context without any real angle for appreciation of what is actually at stake in this issue, save for a few commenters. Focusing on the teddy bear named Muhammad is like focusing on the hanging chads. "It's just a piece of paper, silly lib'rals."

IANA fundie, but some (white American, usually male) people need to spend some time meditating on the Serenity Prayer.
posted by Embryo at 1:03 PM on November 30, 2007


I'm just saying that they have a right to be offended.

That, a "right" to be offended, DOES imply action be taken or can justly be taken.

But. No one has a "right" to not be offended. It's an impossible right to enforce.

What they have is a right express themselves. And if that expression is "I'm offended!" so be it.

If enough people feel offended by something they then have the right seek some sort of recourse collectively through a justice system that balances every bodies rights.
posted by tkchrist at 1:05 PM on November 30, 2007


Sensible? That's a wrong lot of people in the world that you're not "respecting" right off the bat.

I respect people plenty. I just don't neccessarily respect their ideas.
posted by dydecker at 1:06 PM on November 30, 2007


"The further left you go, the less tolerant of religion of any kind you become."

If that's true, it's only because the Left has allowed the Right to hijack religion as an issue. If the Left is ever going to be successful at coalition-building, it's got to re-frame and provide a place for liberal religion alongside secularism. Giving the Right sole ownership of religious identity - a really powerful political tool - is a terrible suggestion.

But I guess that's kindof a derail.
posted by lunit at 1:06 PM on November 30, 2007


The sooner Richard Dawkins ascends the throne to become secularist overlord for all humanity the better.

I don't think Turkey is going to go for that: Dawkins' publisher faces jail over 'atheist manifesto'
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2007


Kind of a derail, but relevant in a thread so full of people busy throwing out babies with bathwater. Religion is just a spiritual culture/community... the need for healthy spiritual practice is universal, IMESHO. Acting like there are absolutely no healthily-spiritual communities/cultures is just ig'nant.
posted by Embryo at 1:10 PM on November 30, 2007


...this is going to be a fantastic excuse for the right-wing weblog crowd to joyously be as racist as they want against Muslims...

It's good to know that, upon encountering something we all know to be unjust and outrageous, the first thought in many of our minds is not: "This is unjust and outrageous," but rather: "How will my political enemies use this against me?"

This kind of attitude will never come back to bite you in the ass. Never.
posted by Krrrlson at 1:13 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Religion is just a spiritual culture/community

That is a very niaive observation. I am surprised by it.

That is ONE of the functions religion can have. But religion pulls a great deal more weight than that. WAAAAAY more.

Liitle "r" religion can be healthy for small collectives and can be even healthier for individuals.

But that is an incomplete picture of what religion inevitably becomes — which is a is a defacto political community.

Big "R" organized religion has rarely proven to be healthy for enire societies. Not any that live in competition with other societies with other religions.
posted by tkchrist at 1:21 PM on November 30, 2007


tkchrist -
That's semantics, but okay. They have a right to express their hurt. Which is very different than they have a right to arrest the person responsible.

And, surely you don't think the criminal justice system is the only way of addressing concerns like this one? In fact, I would argue it's the _worst_ way of addressing the concern. Instead, someone in the administration could have sat the woman down and explained to her why that was offensive. She could have been asked to apologize. Whatever. All it takes is a little creativity.

And the whole point of discussing whether or not the teddy bear is offensive was to try to explain the idea of cultural/religious context, and get at why some of the comments in this thread thinly mask their racist/xenophobic/anti-islam sentiments.
posted by lunit at 1:25 PM on November 30, 2007


Bunch of savages.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


tkchrist: which is bigger: religion, or a subset of religions? I believe you just proved the point that your reaction to religion blames the many for the batshit-loony few. Which interestingly parallels the reaction to Islam that many in this thread are cautioning against.
posted by Embryo at 1:28 PM on November 30, 2007


I know this isn't an original idea, but it's like all this is Islam's karmic revenge on Christianity for the Crusades. The Islamic world (though not all Muslims in general) appears to be going through its Middle Ages right now, and we've swapped places in terms of cultural advancement. It's all the shitty things Christians used to do that have led up to this happening. So now what do we do?
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2007


If that's true, it's only because the Left has allowed the Right to hijack religion as an issue. If the Left is ever going to be successful at coalition-building, it's got to re-frame and provide a place for liberal religion alongside secularism. Giving the Right sole ownership of religious identity - a really powerful political tool - is a terrible suggestion.

I hear this point raised a great deal. I understand it and sympathize. But what people have to grasp is that the big Organized Religion, when looked at throughout history, has always trended to be repressive. Counter intuitive since we seem so "liberal" now— until you actual do the reading.

There are only brief moments in one society or another where religion liberalizes but the majority of the trend is regressive. It's kind of two steps forward and one back. I think it was modern economics and technology than more or less helped enshrine progressive values in wester culture. Realizing that that movement, the enlightenment, was lead by protestant Christians I don't think those values would have held so well had the industrial revolution and colonizing North America not helped move the classes upwards.

Think about what was happening in the Catholic church? We had Vatican II. AND then BAM! Pope John Paul puts the hammer down on liberation theology and takes the church BACK 100 years. This current "Nazi" Pope in there is gonna drive it back even farther. Eventually Liberal Religion, unless it gets very wealthy and powerful (a self defeating goal), just cannot hold out in the race to the bottom.
posted by tkchrist at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2007


You know tkchrist, I don't think you're giving me a very charitable reading either. Where did I make the argument of monied slave holders? My point is not that culture is immutable or needn't change, my point is that the sweeping statements of people about "Islam" are inappropriate. I started by saying that you can't say one culture is superior to another, you have to talk about elements of that culture.

I said basically this same stuff about the South in the post about the rape in Abu Dhabi, but: the culture of the South was not destroyed. In fact, Lincoln always had limited war aims. Thankfully abolition became one of them but even then he didn't speak about the destruction of Southern culture. He wanted a specific evil ended.

Lincoln never said the north was "superior" to the South. Is that clear enough?

Maybe I'm biased because of my background but whenever people talk about how religion has never benefited society I think of the civil rights movement.

Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and as a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other...The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully...If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope - fervently do we pray - that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

With malice toward none; charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

posted by Wood at 1:34 PM on November 30, 2007


If that's true, it's only because the Left has allowed the Right to hijack religion as an issue.

Liberalism begins with secular humanism, which at it's core stands opposed to organized religion, and irrationality of any kind.
posted by empath at 1:37 PM on November 30, 2007


I believe you just proved the point that your reaction to religion blames the many for the batshit-loony few.

No. I believe that certain cultural beliefs will increase the likelihood of giving the extremist few power. If it be here or in the ME.

When you ad to that the Word — control of who gets to Live Forever, IE: Religion — you get a much more dangerous mess to contend with.

I think you need to read my other posts as I am starting to get tired.
posted by tkchrist at 1:37 PM on November 30, 2007


It does seem stupid and draconian to jail and deport someone over naming a toy (even someone so dim as to go to Sudan without realizing that you need to be careful with the name Muhammed there). It also seems stupid and draconian that millions of Americans would consider it perfectly sensible to hand someone a one-year jail sentence and a $2000 fine for burning a flag.

I'm not sure they'd favor flogging flag-burners (although I bet a fair number of folks would like to kick the shit out of them), but many -- including political leaders -- would undoubtedly demand the deportation of a flag-burning foreign national, especially if there was video of the incident. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if you were able to field a "rent-a-crowd" of a few hundred hotheads who'd honestly say flag-burners should be shot.

I'm trying to envision the repercussions of a Sudanese immigrant grade-school teacher in my small, traditional, working-class town asking the the kids what they wanted to do for recess and then, on request, letting them burn a flag. And taking pictures of it. And making a keepsake album for the kids to take home to their families. Yeah, (s)he'd need to invest in some kevlar, all right.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:38 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Lincoln never said the north was "superior" to the South.

What does Lincoln have to do with it? I'm talking about our perspective on history NOW.
posted by tkchrist at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2007


Liberalism begins with secular humanism, which at it's core stands opposed to organized religion, and irrationality of any kind.

Tell that to Unitarians, including some of the founders of Liberalism.
posted by Embryo at 1:42 PM on November 30, 2007



No. I believe that certain cultural beliefs will increase the likelihood of giving the extremist few power. If it be here or in the ME.

When you ad to that the Word — control of who gets to Live Forever, IE: Religion — you get a much more dangerous mess to contend with.


That's not at all what religion is about. The way you talk about the "risks" of religion, you're starting to sound like a fearful fundie yourself.
posted by Embryo at 1:44 PM on November 30, 2007


Sorry, small-quotes there: 'risks'.
posted by Embryo at 1:44 PM on November 30, 2007


Just thinking Lincoln has credibility on the moral basis of the civil war. You're trying to say that we went to war because of "cultural differences" and you don't think that the words of the actors at the time are relevant? You're talking about our perspective on why we fought the war right? Or some sort of "why in retrospect we fought the war?"

I live in NOW and I don't think the North was "superior" to the South.

You've damned me as similar to supporter of slaveholders. My point is that at the very time the opponents of slaveholders did not view this as a cultural war, or as a war of superiors on inferiors. Self-righteousness doesn't right wrongs. The actual forces for change and good are in my view generally much more reasoned less sanctimonious.
posted by Wood at 1:47 PM on November 30, 2007


In particular women's rights in Islam will be furthered in alliance with Islamic women. They will be looking for partners that are nuanced in their understanding of the culture. They are not looking to be freed of both oppression and Islam at the same time.
posted by Wood at 1:52 PM on November 30, 2007



"When you ad to that the Word — control of who gets to Live Forever, IE: Religion — you get a much more dangerous mess to contend with."

That's not at all what religion is about.


Idealy it shouldn't. It should be about defining meaning.

But that's not what happens on the scales we should be concerned about.

Why I differentiate Little r with Big R.

But that is what Big "R" religion has become. Like it or not. And once a critical mas is reached I beleive almost inevitably will become.

I'm not including Buddhism in that becuase I don't know enough about it.

But Theisms that speak of eternal life are always inevitably about who gets in and who doesn't. The power in that belief is just too strong not not have it be the big carrot. That's more power than ICBMs. We are talking eternal life on the balance.

Hence why it's not just about being a "spiritual culture/community."
posted by tkchrist at 1:53 PM on November 30, 2007


Wood now YOU are just arguing semantics. I think you need to read what I said again. I can't explain it anymore with out Godwinizing the shit out of this. But I guess all cultures are equal, huh.
posted by tkchrist at 1:56 PM on November 30, 2007


he way you talk about the "risks" of religion, you're starting to sound like a fearful fundie yourself.

PS. This comment was a gross mischaracterization, discourteous, and unnecessary. I have refrained from making such gross character assassinations with you. I would expect the same from you.
posted by tkchrist at 1:59 PM on November 30, 2007


> And who are you to tell other people what is and is not offensive in terms of their prophet in their religion?

Happily, you don't have to be anyone in particular to do that.
posted by jfuller at 2:01 PM on November 30, 2007


But what people have to grasp is that the big Organized Religion, when looked at throughout history, has always trended to be repressive.

Exactly. I mean, faith or belief or spirituality or what have you is fine if that's your thing, but the organized part is where it gets problematic since the organizations tend to be hierarchical and authoritarian. Catholicism, for all its little "progressive" threads, is still fundamentally feudalism.

It's not just religion, or just culture, or just government, or just the foul malodorous aftereffects of colonialism -- it's all that taking the repressive authoritarian tendencies that all cultures and nations contend with and ramping them up to an epic level. But it really just takes a little bit of chaos to bring it out; in the US, all we'd need is about three 9/11s in a row, or a month-long power outage, or a similar hiccup in the orderly course of things to start seeing at least the beginnings of some truly ugly medieval authoritarianism with lots of popular support.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:04 PM on November 30, 2007


I'm not sure they'd favor flogging flag-burners (although I bet a fair number of folks would like to kick the shit out of them), but many -- including political leaders -- would undoubtedly demand the deportation of a flag-burning foreign national, especially if there was video of the incident. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if you were able to field a "rent-a-crowd" of a few hundred hotheads who'd honestly say flag-burners should be shot.

This is an excellent comparison.

Now imagine if Flag Burning was declared a sin and an offense against God. No only do you shoot 'em. The offenders are sent to hell to burn FOREVER on top of that. The family of flag burners would be shunned and afraid of going to hell as well.

Imagine trying to repeal THAT law.
posted by tkchrist at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2007


Yup, that's the way to consolidate power and keep the masses in line. You have to hand it to guys like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, the Kim family for accomplishing what they did without using the "eternal life" scam, except that in those cases, leader-worship or nation-worship functions as a religion placebo. And you can't keep that going nearly as long as a Holy ____ Empire.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:21 PM on November 30, 2007


tkchrist: You know, if only there was room for modern liberal religious sects like Unitarianism or Congregationalism on the near-Christian side, Wicca and other practices on the pagan side, and Buddhism on the Eastern side -- among many other examples -- your fearful attempts to paint all "small-r" religions as just feudal domination waiting to happen would make more sense. However, it doesn't; so it doesn't. Religion IS about many things, but just because people at the top twist those genuine things into tools for manipulation doesn't mean that their followers ever needed to depart from positive searching to have been woefully misdirected. The real evil is hierarchy and domination, as mentioned previously, not religion. Nations , corporations, and militaries all commit similar crimes. Blaming religion is just inane, and if you want to keep talking about it I'll keep poking your argument full of holes.
posted by Embryo at 2:29 PM on November 30, 2007



PS. This comment was a gross mischaracterization, discourteous, and unnecessary. I have refrained from making such gross character assassinations with you. I would expect the same from you.


Um, not really. I was making the point that trying to blanketly cast aspersions on religion because it's dangerous is similar to the way that fundamentals rule out other things they percieve to be dangerous, even if only in their most extreme examples.
posted by Embryo at 2:32 PM on November 30, 2007


The real evil is hierarchy and domination, as mentioned previously, not religion.

In solidarity, tkchrist, I'll use as anecdotal support of this argument a train of thought that makes me as unpopular with certain religious folks as you probably often feel among certain religious folks.

Zionism stems from a religious concept of ownership over certain land area... this religious concept is used to justify domination and subjugation of non-Jewish people who live in this land area. You might think this is an example of religion causing people to act abhorrently... but its' not. The reason this happens isn't religion, it's the bigotry of the "chosen people" concept, which is an example of hierarchy built into the doctrines of this particular faith. Religion is not the point... hierarchy is the source of the harmful delusion.
posted by Embryo at 2:38 PM on November 30, 2007


tkchrist-- Yeah, I probably am being a bit passive-aggressive here, but you all just seem so angry about everything. I'm looking back at your first several comments, and they seem pretty much on target. I'm not sure exactly where we disagree, except that a lot of folks here say that in addition to sane and sensible laws, we should also respect cultures that are different from ours, when possible. And a lot of other people disagree with that (seemingly obvious) statement, and they--which is to say you, and sumday, &c.--seem to be disagreeing with an astonishing amount of vitriol. Which has inspired some hot replies by the "different strokes, just don't go executing innocent schoolteachers" crowd.

Left and Right are almost certainly the wrong terms, I'm sure you're right... What should I use, instead? Close minded vs. accepting? And is that really true, about lefties being ineligible for religion? I mean, I'm an atheist and all, but is it ok for me to still respect and love my Christian friends, or do I automatically lose the right to consider myself progressive?

I think a lot of us are reacting to the sort of "As hard as I try to find cultural or religious explanations, all I see are bloodthirsty barbarians." comments which you don't seem to have made, but seem committed to defending... for unknown reasons.

It is wrong to call people in another culture "bloodthirsty barbarians", right? Or does that make me too conservative?
posted by Squid Voltaire at 2:45 PM on November 30, 2007


posted by Squid Voltaire It is wrong to call people in another culture "bloodthirsty barbarians", right? Or does that make me too conservative?

No, it doesn't. The people calling for this woman's imprisonment, torture, or execution are bloodthirsty savages. I'm fucking sick of chalking up the atrocity du jour to "a difference of cultures" when what we need is to collectively condemn it as the barbarism it is. Fuck those people and their idiotic, third-century way of thinking.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:52 PM on November 30, 2007


Fandango Matt--
Ah, I've just realized. Perhaps by "those people" you mean "those specific people who are so intent on getting this teacher executed", and yes that certainly does seem bloodthirsty and fairly savage, I agree.

It's just that "those people" is an ambiguous phrase, very easy to confuse with "the damn ragheads and their heathen god", &c.

Against whom are you directing your anger? Are there many people, or is it a small number? Make no mistake, neither of us thinks very highly of reactionary zealots who want to kill (or whip or, for that matter, imprison or even inconvenience) Gibbons.

Personally, I think it's just fine, though, for folks to get offended and upset if I act in an offensive, upsetting manner while a guest in their culture, even if I really didn't mean to. Is it really so very hard to imagine why one might get hot under the collar when yer kid comes home with "a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a message which read, "My name is Muhammad."?

Because that's what a lot of people seem to be saying here--not that they don't have the right to imprison her (we're all agreed, there) but that it isn't reasonable for them to be even a little peeved about the whole thing.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 3:06 PM on November 30, 2007


if you want to keep talking about it I'll keep poking your argument full of holes.

But your not. You keep building straw men and poking them full of holes. You can argue with yourself from here on out becuase you are simply uninterested in debate rather in using loaded terms like "fearful" etc to drive your straw men into extremes. I'm not interested.
posted by tkchrist at 3:36 PM on November 30, 2007


I'm sure I could do with a careful re-reading of your words. I feel we may be arguing at cross purposes, if only because I don't see my beliefs in your descriptions of my point.
posted by Wood at 3:38 PM on November 30, 2007


LOLASSHOLES!
posted by Smedleyman at 3:39 PM on November 30, 2007



It is wrong to call people in another culture "bloodthirsty barbarians", right?

Not if they ARE. I think ancient Romans, at certain times, were blood thirst barbarians for instance.

I think my culture is superior to theirs. It's not perfect. But's it is better.

Look saying something is superior to something else is not claiming it's ULTIMATELY superior.

If we have to cherry pick and qualify everything like Woods wants where we tip toe around it and say "Elements of my culture" are superior... we don't end up saying much of anything. Because what we mean is: It's these IMPORTANT elements that are superior. The elements that make me live HERE rather than there.

If all cultural is relative and "equal" then why don't we move to Sudan, or Suadi Arabia, Iran or Syria? Economics aside. Why? And why does the brain trust of those states move to the west when ever they can? Economics aside. Why?

And this not some "Love it or Leave it" declaration. So do not go there.

Trust me... if the trend in America towards religious fanaticism and totalitarianism takes a few more steps I'm moving to another "superior" culture like Canada or France.
posted by tkchrist at 3:45 PM on November 30, 2007


Embryo you want to say that Religion isn't the root lf all evil? Is that the hang up here? Well of course it isn't.

But. Neither is Hierarchy. Neither are governments. Or lawyers. Or Clowns.

People are the source of all evil.

Do I NEED to qualify that? Seriously?

But it's these institutions that people create that contribute or accelerate the evil that people can commit.

A tank is not evil. Nor is a flame thrower. But they sure make it easier to commit evil. But they can also be used to defend AGAINST evil. But by and large we recognize how dangerous they are and attempt to control their uses.

Big R organized Theistic religion will always trend towards doing bad things, IMHO. It always has in the past.

Being in control of the big payoff of eternal life is absolute power in the minds of believers. And absolute power corrupts.

Yes. It corrupts only some people. But those people are usuly the ones that dominate this tool. They drive the tank. So far it's been this dominant idea that people believe that leads to this perversion and corruption. Like a tank, once the driver steps out of it... it's just metal.
posted by tkchrist at 4:06 PM on November 30, 2007


Comment from a former pupil at the school:
...the existing government in Sudan has always been prickly, obstreperous and wont to childish displays of inferiority complexes. This is partly rooted in deep insecurity and partly a hangover of the cynical anti-Western propaganda campaign the National Liberation Front employed for years in order to divert attention from its own lack of a political agenda and rally support for the war in the South. They need to be SEEN to be doing something as opposed to actually feeling strongly about the case. The overreaction stems from the government’s lack of touch with the national zeitgeist (the streets of Sudan have hardly been awash with protestors, and those that have showed up have strong affiliations with the government) as well as the miscalculation of how their display of standing up to the big guy will be perceived in the West. Instead of coming across all Iran like, principled and not bowing down to the hegemony of the West (which is how the Sudanese government likes to perceive itself) the real perception is of a joke of a regime that really has no perspective. The frustrating thing is that in the absence of a closer examination of the aforementioned issues, Muslims are being portrayed as primitive grunting zealots. Again.
The comments there yields this lovely toy.
posted by Abiezer at 4:22 PM on November 30, 2007


Christ. What a bunch of Assholes!
posted by strawberryviagra at 4:28 PM on November 30, 2007


Going back a ways in the thread:

There's nothing wrong or offensive, in my opinion, with saying that something that a government does (in the name of religion or not) is wrong ... However, it is offensive to apply that righteous outrage to religion.

Why? Why? Why do religions get this escape clause? We can evaluate forms of government, including agreeing that some are worse than others. We can denigrate philosophies as regressive and stupid, which some are. But religions -- we can't talk about those. They're all of equal value. Their results in this material world are of equal worth. The tenets held by many people who subscribe to that religion? Those tenets are all equally good.

What bollocks. And lunit:

::shrug:: People are different.

That's it, huh? That's not enough. A good thinking mind needs more than that.
posted by argybarg at 4:31 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why is Sudan such a piss-poor, ass-backwards country? Do you think it might have something to do with the fact that the Sudanese spend their time prosecuting and protesting about the name of a teddy bear?

No, must be Western imperialism.
posted by Dasein at 5:20 PM on November 30, 2007


Every day when I'm done drawing pictures of Mohammed, I go outside and play with my dog, which is also named Mohammed.

Muslims: send me hashish and I will immediately cease drawing the cartoons and rename my dog. I'm open to negoatiation.
posted by mullingitover at 7:19 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bonus: throw in an extra 10kg of hashish and I'll stop my daily Koran defilement. Really, I want to do business here. It keeps clogging up my toilet anyway.
posted by mullingitover at 7:23 PM on November 30, 2007


I knew a guy who was in jail in Sudan. Actually, I knew two guys, but one guy was only in for a couple of hours. The other guy, he was in for a week or so, and he told me this:

He had been dating an ambassador's daughter, and when she broke it off with him, he took her on a joyride outside Khartoum. When they came back, he got picked up at a checkpoint and taken to jail. It was one big room with a dirt floor, he said, and everybody pissed and shit in one corner. He said the guards would come in three times a day and hang him from a ceiling fan and beat him.
"It was like my meals," he said.
This started to get old, and he said another inmate, a southern Sudanese named James, told him if he wanted the beatings to stop, he should go to the corner and smear himself with shit.
"Then they'll think you're crazy, and they'll leave you alone," James said.

"It worked," he said.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:52 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Right, Brockles, because irreligious people never do bad things.

Everyone knows that atheists are responsible for the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice".

Actually, it depends on who you ask.
posted by peeedro at 8:48 PM on November 30, 2007


It wasn't that long ago that, right in the USA, rampaging mobs of deranged Christians were murdering (certain kinds of) people in the street for looking at white women. If you could ask them why they did it, they would probably explain it in religious terms, because most of them were religious and, for religious people, religion is a very good way to justify any ethical decision. But it wasn't the religion that was to blame; it was the aftermath of a bloody civil war and the legacy of a political system that had offered certain privileges to whites if they totally renounced solidarity with blacks. Lynchings were a political act that, when necessary, could be defended with dodgy theology, as are most acts that supposedly reveal Islam as fundamentally "broken".

In fact, on the subject of our culture being better than theirs, the current President has often justified his crimes, which are many orders of magnitude worse than imprisoning a woman for blasphemy, by reference to religion. You know, all that rubbish about freedom being a precious gift from God. I don't think anyone (well, maybe Dawkins) really thinks that religion is the motivation for the invasion of Iraq - explaning it in terms of God just makes Bush's political decision sound better when he's talking to a religious audience.
posted by stammer at 8:58 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Every time there's a thread about Muslims I'm always expecting it to be better than the last. I don't know why. I'm starting to give up, though. I find some of the blatant ignorance and racism that rises up to be just so painful to read. So I haven't read this whole thread... I just don't think I can bring myself to.

I suppose that's because although, as you say, 'Allah' is a synonym for 'God', English-speaking Muslims still - don't they? - tend to use 'Allah' rather than 'God'.

Yeah, I see where you're going. Thinking that english speaking Muslims are saying Allah because it's a different God... instead of realizing THE QURAN WAS WRITTEN IN ARABIC and that all of the passages ARE READ IN ARABIC. So since they are reciting in Arabic they say the word God IN ARABIC. Even if they're English. Islam is an Arabic-based religion and many Muslims learn formal Arabic JUST so that they can read the Quran as it's written rather than reading it in English. Which is not how it was intended to be read.

As I said, Allah is the same word in Arabic used by Arab Muslims, Jews and Christians when speaking of God. If you don't believe me, well hey maybe you'll believe Wikipedia. If not, just look a little further because what I'm saying will be confirmed by many sources.

Taking Arabic for 2 years has been an amazing education in various ways for me. I have learned a lot of insights that have really helped me try to understand cultural differences based on reality, versus just the xenophobic propoganda that we're spoonfed daily. Which, whether you realize it or not, is a Hell of a lot.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:04 PM on November 30, 2007


Notice the faces on this teddy's feet.
posted by brujita at 12:55 AM on December 1, 2007


miss lynnster, I have to call you out on this one. Just because you're taking Arabic doesn't mean that you're learning anything about the reality of Islamic culture, in fact the reality and cultural content of most of the language programs I've been in would be like learning about American culture and reality from Norman Rockwell paintings. I took three years of Russian but all of my learning about gulags, pogroms, anti-Semitism and discrimination against Tatars and Ukranians and Poles took place outside of the language classroom. As did lots of learning about positive aspects of Russian culture and history. When I took Japanese I didn't learn about comfort women.

Taking language classes certainly isn't some kind of automatic advantage in distinguishing valid cultural or political criticism from xenophobia, in fact on the contrary the culture that's presented in language classes is usually pretty whitewashed and G-rated.
posted by XMLicious at 1:11 AM on December 1, 2007


Well said miss lynnster. Here is a some insight from the BBC showing part of the political game being played by extremists such as Nafi Ali Nafie the Sudanese ex interior minister.
posted by adamvasco at 2:31 AM on December 1, 2007


I'm prompted to explain that I was neither expressing agreement nor disagreement with miss lynnster's analysis of the use of "Allah" versus "God", just opposing the idea that knowledge of Arabic would give her special insight into what's "reality" and what's "xenophobia."

The sarcasm quotes are because there's a third category of stuff that gets spoon-fed to us, that being "complete bullshit made up by zealous Western apologists of Islam" which I think it's notable that miss lynnster did not mention at the point she revealed her special insight via the two years of Arabic classes. It strikes me as a bit of an artificial dichotomy that what's out their is either truth or xenophobia.

Though I'm not a scholar of Islam by any means, I've read translations of the Koran, commentaries on the Koran, books on Sufism, Arabic and Persian philosophy and poetry, anthropology stuff, and a fair amount of current news and events for several Muslim countries. And I'm frequently amazed by things that people will assert about Islam or Arabic or Islamic culture that they completely make up out of thin air to support notions like "Islam is a religion of peace" or "behavior X is something that only a vanishingly small percentage of Muslims would do" or "practice Y is something that's culturally done in some Muslim countries but it's not part of Islam at all!"

A friend of mine is engaged to a Muslim guy from Pakistan. She's a great (and extremely intelligent) person and he's a great guy but she keeps saying these kind of zealous, clueless, shamelessly disinformational things. Like "the whole polygamy thing, it's cultural in that part of the world, it's not part of Islam!" (Mohammed himself had, is it nine or twelve wives?) Or "The scores of eternally-renewing virgins in the afterlife, that's not in the Koran!" or "Executing people by decapitation, that's not in the Koran!" Even when I showed her exactly where those things were (in many, many places BTW) in the Koran, in multiple, different translations of the Koran, she wanted to insist that it was some kind of conspiracy on the part of the translators and wouldn't give in until we'd looked up several passages word for word and confirmed cases of those interpretations historically in various countries' legal systems.

The thing that really bothers me is that because she's so intelligent and isn't normally an unusually mendacious or manipulative person, she almost certainly has said this kind of stuff to other people and they've swallowed it whole. I think that many of the people who take on the role of the apologist of Islam are also good, intelligent people but out of belief in their principles make sweeping false statements about Islam and sweeping accusations of racism and xenophobia against at least some people who are actually being reasonable, if uncharitable. And "I know the truth about Islam because I took some Arabic" is exactly the kind of false claim to authority that might get forwarded in that case. Taking a couple of years of Arabic does not guarantee any substantial knowledge of the 14-century, multi-billion member*, Morocco-to-Indonesia Dar al-Islam. miss lynnster may well have substantial knowledge of Islam, or she may not, but she shouldn't be tossing out the fact she's taken some Arabic as if it's a trump card in any discussion of Islam.

* at least historically during the 14 centuries, current numbers are different depending on who's counting.
posted by XMLicious at 4:13 AM on December 1, 2007 [2 favorites]


Well said XMLicious.

I'd like to add that perhaps some confusion is caused by the fact that it does not make much sense to look at Islam at its pure essence and compare it to other religions. Sure, there is some wacky stuff in the Bible as well, this doesn't really get us very far.

But the fact remains that there is a large number of countries stretching from Morocco to Pakistan that have a number of things in common:

- theocratic or despotic regimes
- arbitrary imprisonment for minor offenses
- torture
- general unequality between man and woman
- stifling of dissent
- a general feeling of inferiority towards the west combined with the desire to go there if at all possible.

... oh, and in all of them, Islam is the dominant religion.

Sure, there are some exceptions, such as Turkey, which arguably does not have a theocratic or despotic regime (but in which torture is still common), but interestingly, the more "normal" ones, such as Turkey or Lebanon some time ago, are those in which Islam is strictly held in check by the state (Turkey) or not so dominant to begin with (Lebanon).

It doesn't really matter whether Islam is the cause of the state of affairs in these countries. The fact remains that there is a clear correlation.
posted by sour cream at 4:33 AM on December 1, 2007


The Roots of Islamic Reform first of 7 articles by Ali Eteraz ending with Post - Islamism.
posted by adamvasco at 5:45 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Being in control of the big payoff of eternal life is absolute power in the minds of believers. And absolute power corrupts.

Just because you say I'm erecting straw men, tkchrist, does not make it so. This statement above is just not in touch with the reality of religion, in a way that one who has no religious experience might be. Eternal life is not the crux of its power. The crux of its power is -social dynamics-... also known as -politics-. religion is the root of community in many cultures. That is its power. It is just one mechanism of reaching a -greater consensus-. A shortcut. Possibly in some instances not a useful one. But in other ones, harmless. It does not have to be the contradiction in terms that you act like it does. Religions that do not hold their correctness to be mutually exclusive with the correctness of another do not have the potential for blind warmongering -- indeed, they don't call for it the way that cognitive dissonance demands when you've fully accepted an idea that someone else's existence seems to contradict.

Your vilification is, as I've said, a product of you fundamentally not understanding what you're looking at.
posted by Embryo at 6:37 AM on December 1, 2007


It doesn't really matter whether Islam is the cause of the state of affairs in these countries. The fact remains that there is a clear correlation.

1. Yes, it does matter. It does. How can that not matter?
2. Regardless of whatever pseudoscientific theories you or anyone else wants to create, it doesn't matter what we think. We still need to find a way to get along, goddammit. And it's not like we've really tried for even one serious second.
posted by Embryo at 6:39 AM on December 1, 2007


It doesn't really matter whether Islam is the cause of the state of affairs in these countries.

Perhaps the root cause is not worth analysing too much - there may be too many years of many, many different influences to definitively nail down a specific cause, perhaps. So in that respect, it doesn't matter - knowing the basic cause is not helpful or constructive for progress or a solution, perhaps.

That Islam and/or the governments that use it to rule seems to perpetuate the 'state of affairs' in those countries is perhaps the more pertinent point. I suspect it is more the 'that use it to rule' aspect that causes the most problems.
posted by Brockles at 6:52 AM on December 1, 2007


adamvasco, without any actual commentary on your part to accompany those links, I must interpret their presentation as asserting that Islam isn't constituted by what it says in the Koran, it's not the traditions passed down by generations of religious leaders, it's not the actions and policies of current Islamic states and political leaders and those of decades and centuries past, it is not the sum and average of riotous shouting, occasional opinion, and expressive silence of common Muslims around the world, nor their behavior...

No, your links convey that the true nature of Islam is represented by a few fringe progressive political parties in a three of the more Westernized Muslim states. So when we think of Muslims as a group and their attitudes we should think of a stance "somewhere between John Edwards and Mike Huckabee", to quote the article, the people that the author helpfully labels "Post-Islamists"? (I have to imagine these guys don't use that term themselves, there in Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan)

Can you at least grant that it is not xenophobic for sour cream and I to draw a less rosy conclusion than that?

And can you see that throwing links in without any comment is a rhetorical trick that will allow you to wait until after we've responded to make your own statement, and that that's fighting dirty as much as miss lynnster trying to conjure authority is?

Hitting below the belt all the time, using deceptions and tricks to make your points, and being so stubborn that you refuse to concede that we and our words are anything other than irrational and xenophobic is not exactly the stuff that great and friendly debates are made of. Continue playing it as you see fit but I personally would appreciate a more open and straightforward exchange.
posted by XMLicious at 8:30 AM on December 1, 2007


Okay... I suppose should've been more specific.

Spending three weeks in Egypt, two weeks in Turkey, living with a Muslim family for a while, spending about two hours a week for two years talking to my friends in Egypt about their lives and religion, taking an Islamic Studies class, doing constant reading AND taking Arabic for two years has taught me a lot about things I didn't understand before.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:39 AM on December 1, 2007


Plus I've watched every episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie. So of course that makes me an expert.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:40 AM on December 1, 2007


XMLicious - from my point of view you're engaging in a fairly pointless conflation of Islamic theology in toto with certain particular political movements and events of the twentieth century.
Broadly speaking, I have no time for Abrahamic religion in general, and would think that the concept of an all-powerful God in Heaven is undoubtedly a factor in the societies that emerged under such a tradition. But if you were to think of the history of Western Europe, which I presume most of us using this forum are more familiar with, it becomes a reductionist in the extreme to see its history only in terms of the Christian tradition and the responses to that. The same holds true of the Islamic world as far as I can see, and I am dubious that amateur Koranic scholarship tells us much of any use except in the very broadest terms.
posted by Abiezer at 8:47 AM on December 1, 2007


And of course the twenty-first century too. What was that about an edit feature?
posted by Abiezer at 8:48 AM on December 1, 2007


XMLicious I don't remember hitting anything except the "post comment" button, so please spare the inflmatory comments so similar in ways to the fundamentalists by attacking the messenger and not the message. I am not an apologist for fundamentalism, muslim or otherwise. My links to Ali Eteraz' essays were to try and project a deeper understanding of what is happening inside the muslim world and show that there is a progressive movement. Small but progressive. I suspect that the majority of citizens in Sudan, Pakistan, anystan just get on with their lives and curse the politicians and religious firebrands for fucking up their lives ; but they are but dust in the storm. Political power in the Islamic political / religious world has always been largely decided by putting fear into the minds of the populace if not by god alone, then by the sword with god as good excuse - very siimilar to reformation Europe. The Koran is not the only Muslim book. However to be able to comment the populace has to be literate. Rent-a-mob is not literate.
Those in power do not particularily wish Rent-a-Mob to be literate otherwise they might be able to comprehend and argue subtle or not so subtle differences and those in Power might then loose out to moderates. Fundamentalists of whatever creed are not over fond of education and erudition.
posted by adamvasco at 9:08 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm just so relieved that the pursuit of self-rule for an oppressed indigenous people in their historical homeland was called out as the pursuit of domination and subjugation that it secretly is in all those secret Zionist meetings where the true nature of Zionism is revealed, despite the centuries' worth of diverse and divergent writing, scholarship, history, and present to be considered when confronting Zionism...

... particularly in a thread about the intersection of cultural, religious, and political norms involved in the application of corporal punishment for naming a teddy bear in the Sudan.

It's a good thing that it would be a derail to argue about it, because this way it can stand as though it were facially actually substantive and valid, instead of being subject to contention.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:50 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well I'm glad that this dangerous woman is in gaol, and I can only hope that the Sudanese authorities extend her punishment in terms of length and also in terms of - oh, I dunno ... height, I guess. Yeah - I hope she's in prison for a loooooong time, in a cell really, really high up somewhere.

The point here is that, for far too long, sub-sarahan African societies have been extremely lax on protecting any form of intellectual property rights. But now that the Sudanese Court of Appeal has provided a strong precedent in the trademark dispute of Mohammad v Mohammad (2007) 1 SCA 324, other jurisdictions in the "pirate continent" be goaded into similar action.

Think about it - what if YOU paid good money in support of a certain "Jesus Christ," and later discovered that your hard earned cash was not, as you initially assumed, helping the good offices of Judea's hippest and holiest Nazarene, but was in fact supporting the furry fetishes of a toy wombat - a monstrous marsupial with the same moniker? Wouldn't YOU be upset? Wouldn't YOU want to "lash out" at those who "taught" you those lies?

That's why brand names - the very essence of corporate identity - are so important, and why they deserve to be protected by LAW. This woman was clearly thinking of setting up as a rival religious service provider in the Sudanese marketplace by passing off her own teddy bear-related revelations as those of the M-man (peace be upon him). I say flog.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


quidnunc kid, it's too bad nobody else checked in with this thread because that was funny as hell.

Also to Embryo who is appears to be in some sort of continual denial spiral about what Religion "is." He has claimed over and over the Religion is "just" a spiritual community. Though I'm glad he then later appropriated MY addition to his definition that admitted it is also a "political" community. And it's "power" comes from that... the flock.

Well. That is markedly less simplistic than the original "just" a spiritual community, huh? Let me explain.

It is woefully incomplete as a definition (and dangerous) of the Big R religions to say they derive power by being just communites.

How? Why? There are LOTS of communities. Why does a Religion as a political Community gain SO much power, then. There are MANY political communities after all that languish with out power as far steering a culture is concerned. The theist religions essentially were the driving forces that dominated and built our societies. The domination was incontestable until very recently historically speaking.

How. Why? I'll tell you. Because THIS political community— the religious one— tells people they get to live forever. They give you the road map to HOW to get eternal life.

THAT is what it's members share. THAT is why the Big R religions have gotten where they are. The big payoff. They hold the keys to eternal life. And if your a believer you'd have to be a fool to not join that club.

This Atomic Bomb of Belief is the defining difference between Religion and a political community and say your local Grange, Teachers Union, Chess Club, or the NRA. For fuck sake why do you think our main Conservative political parties struggle to be indistinguishable from these dominant spiritual belief systems?

This is why the priest class, not the Jugglers Unions, in times past were ALSO kings. It is why the catholic church, not the ASPCA, has club houses that are six city blocks on ALL the most exclusive real estate on the planet. What ties all these people together to be fanatically loyal is the hope they get to go to heaven. Not so they can have ambrosia salad on Sundays in the church basement.

I'm shocked so simple a truth escapes some people. People need to learn to recognize the difference of how they want things to be and how things REALLY are.
posted by tkchrist at 11:00 AM on December 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's far more to Islam than a teddy
posted by Artw at 7:11 PM on December 2, 2007


also fear tkchrist don't forget fear - hell, damnation, purgatory even, and all the other brain washng.
posted by adamvasco at 12:14 AM on December 3, 2007


Update: she's been freed.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:03 AM on December 3, 2007


I backed off of MeFi for a few days because this conversation was getting my ire up. So this thread is probably dead but in case it isn't:

The thing that really got to me was the false dichotomy that everything out there is either "truth" or "xenophobia". The only acceptable opinion is that Islam is either a benevolent social entity or at least is no worse than other religions; having any negative opinions about Islam is the "wrong" way to think, so obviously all of the misinformation about Islam and Islamic culture is vicious lies on the part of the people who are thinking wrongly. Anything anyone with the right opinion may have made up or any spin that's put on the facts, well that's just a little white lie, it doesn't matter so much as long as the right principles are behind it.

I think that all of the spin and the manufactured facts that come up in this debate, from both sides, are really, really bad. More than almost any other issue it seems to me that we need to have clear, nonpartisan discussions on this with the fact-based stuff clearly separated from the principles-based stuff and aggressively verified.
posted by XMLicious at 2:44 AM on December 4, 2007


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