Contrary to reassurances from the Sudanese embassy in London, Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher in Khartoum who did not realize naming a teddy bear Muhammad was verboten, has been charged with blasphemy, inciting hatred, and insulting Islam. The possible penalties include a fine, 40 lashes, and six months in jail. The government promises a "swift and fair trial," saying, "she will be brought in front of a judge, and now she must prove her innocence"—which gives you a sense of how the court system works in Sudan. Gibbons' lawyer says the defense will be straightforward: She had "absolutely no intention to insult religion, and for blasphemy to take place there must be an insult."
Some observers speculate that Gibbons' arrest and trial are payback for her country's excessive interest in Darfur. ("You say we're a repressive regime? We'll show you!") But A.P. suggests the truth is more disturbing:
The country's top Muslim clerics have pressed the government to ensure that she is punished, comparing her action to author Salman Rushdie's "blasphemies" against the Prophet Muhammad.
The British novelist was accused of blasphemy by many Muslims for his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses," which had a character seen as a reference to the prophet. Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for Rushdie's death.
What's worse than cynically prosecuting a harmless schoolteacher for accidentally violating a taboo that even her Muslim students (who overwhelmingly voted to call the stuffed animal Muhammad) did not know about? Doing so in the sincere belief that she represents an intolerable threat to morality and public order.