Monday, December 03, 2007

Teddy Bears and Terrorists

It's hard to find much in the way of good news to come out of the recent events in Sudan, in which a rather hapless middle aged English woman, Gillian Gibbons, was convicted and sentenced to be flogged for allowing her students to name their class teddy bear Muhammed.

Being a "glass half full" kind of guy by nature, I'll hazard two things that were marginally positive in an otherwise dreadfully surreal set of events.

1. It could have been much worse.

2. Muslim British Members of Parliament played a role in securing Ms. Gibbons' release. (Thankfully, she is reported to be out of the country now).

I'll grant the possibility that the entire Muslim MP intervention to save the day may have been suspiciously well choreographed. A conspiracy theorist might even suggest the entire matter was planned from Day One.

Putting aside the skepticism for the moment, if we posit that all the parties involved were authentic in their positions, the trial, protests, and negotiations for release of Ms. Gibbons all tend to confirm the basic premise behind Abrahamic Small Groups:

Western Muslims can and should play a leadership role in guiding their unhinged brethren back into a realm that is closer to the range of reason.

Fundamentally though, the cries of the out of control Sudanese Muslim crowds to put Ms. Gibbons to death for such an inadvertent and minor offense to Muslim sensibilities brings back all the bad memories of the long list of irrational and violent terrorist activities of Islamists around the world.

September 11, 2001 was, of course, the most memorable of such events, but by no means the first, nor will it be the last. And, the likelihood that it will stand out as the most violent event in the history of Islamist terrorism seems to be entirely problematic.

The suspicion from this armchair in North America is that the frenzied whipping up of this crowd is part of a localized political agenda in Sudan as much as it is of religious fervor.

The American Muslim scholar Muqtedahr Kahn, who has of late generated some controversy of his own, put the controversy in an interesting light with a recent comment on the topic:

Most Muslims have great fervor for Islam, but little knowledge of it.

The fear, of course, is that greater knowledge of Islam may do little to tone down the unhinged craziness of certain Muslim crowds in Sudan, or the suburbs of Paris for that matter. Critics such as Sam Harris and others argue that greater knowledge of Islam will only increase such craziness.

The hope of many of us non-Muslims is that greater knowledge of Islam will have exactly the opposite effect.

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