An article in today's KC Star reports that Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher working in northern Sudan has been arrested for allowing her class to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."
The kids in the class are seven years old.
Officials in Sudan allege that allowing a stuffed bear to bear the Prophet's name is an insult to Islam.
Yeah, maybe she should have realized that she might get this kind of reaction. And yes, it was probably a bad idea to send a letter home telling the parents that she'd let the kids name the bear "Muhammad" and that they should take a picture with the bear. Sudan is in the grasp of a really rabid religious fundamentalism that has cost the lives of a pretty substantial portion of its citizens, so it would be wise to be extra careful. A parable there, perhaps...
So, okay, it was a lapse in judgment, though certainly a well-intentioned one. Her letter noted that the bear was "intelligent," which is surely why the kids wanted to name it after the Prophet.
If Gibbons is found guilty, "she will face punishment, possibly including lashes."
This is appalling. To quote four dark-haired chicks, "What's Going On?"
In a related story, hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., right alongside Christian fundamentalism.
Yeah, I know the difference between correlation and causation. I make the case anyway: there is a link between those two events. The kind of fundamentalism that sets marginalized people in its crosshairs can lead to violence against those people. Its rhetoric is violent, and not all of its adherents are stable and nonviolent.
Kelly Fryer has taken up this very topic on her blog, "Reclaiming the 'F' Word." (The "F" is for faith. What were you thinking?) She includes a disturbing video of Rev. Ken Hutcherson at a Microsoft shareholders' meeting. Rev. Hutcherson threatened the company with a boycott (which turned out to be imaginary, not ready-to-launch-with-a-phone-call as he asserted) over their support of gay rights initiatives in Washington state. Read through the comments, where Kelly takes on the question of the link between the Christian right and hate crimes pretty forcefully.
Here's the thing about this kind of fundamentalism: it picks and it chooses. It divides and it conquers. It is an imperial ideal, a ruse, really. It takes the language of faith, and the holy words of a religion, and bends them and twists them, until they support hateful works.
It is not patient. It is not kind. It is envious, and boastful and rude. It is especially arrogant. It insists upon its own way.
The good news is that this kind of fundamentalism does end. As soon as enough people stand up to say "Excuse me, but that's not what our scripture says. That's not what Jesus taught. That's not what the Prophet wanted."
I realize I'm not being particularly charitable (or merciful, to quote myself back to me, from the fraction of my sermon which was actually spoken aloud). But there is grave danger afoot. Our country has been coerced into war abroad and fierce battles at home, by people who claim Jesus Christ and don't seem to have even a fleeting acquaintance with him. And we've only just begun to see the effect of it all, at least those of us who aren't connected to the war personally. Some have suffered and died for the new "Christian" Imperialism.
And while we're at it, why don't we stop calling it "fundamentalism?" Is hate a "fundamental" of Islam or Christianity? Not last time I looked (and I do know just a little bit about Islam, having had a very good class at the UU seminary in Berkeley).
I'm thinking "religious detrimentalism" might be a better term. That would separate opportunists using religion to advance their own interests from sincere people of faith who are also evangelical Christians, or strict Muslims. This isn't about liberals vs. conservatives. There are conservative people who are doing their best to live out the call of their Lord. We disagree, but at least we're reading the same book.
I just think it is time to take that book (or those books, to include the Koran) out of the hands of the people who are using them but not actually reading them.