Sunday, December 09, 2007

Of Teddy Bears and Totalitarianism

With Gillian Gibbons now safely back in England, the Sudanese Teddy Bear crisis is ready to take its rightful place among the Danish Mohammed Cartoon controversy, Salman Rushdie affair and the numerous other radical Islamist assaults on free speech and expression. In a December 5 piece for the Weekly Standard web site, Joseph Loconte begins the task of putting this incident into its broader context:

Perhaps most significantly, calling it an "inappropriate" application of Sudan's religious law to threaten a school teacher with torture and execution misses the point. It is, rather, the predictable result of an Islamist theocracy and the culture of hatred, paranoia, and violence it generates. Under Article 125 of the Sudanese constitution, Ms. Gibbons was convicted of "insulting Islam" and "inciting hatred"--catch-all provisions that assuredly create exactly what they pretend to prohibit. (It was, in fact, an aggrieved Muslim ex-employee of the school who complained to education officials.) It's no surprise that this radical shari'a mindset provoked a civil war in Sudan that killed millions. Nor should it shock anyone that al-Bashir's teddy bear brigades are fueling the ethnic cleansing and butchery in Darfur. This is the social mayhem that Islamist regimes threaten to produce wherever they exist--in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and beyond.

Indeed, the pattern is depressingly familiar. Militant Islamic states not only criminalize vast realms of ordinary human activity. As scholar Paul Marshall describes it, virtually all areas of civic and political life--the judicial system, the role of women, educational systems, the media, religious freedom--are forced into the imagined model of seventh-century Arabia. It is an environment made ripe for terrorist recruits. "The adoption of extreme shari'a by a state should be viewed as inimical to American foreign policy interests. It is the most serious ideological challenge of our time," writes Marshall in Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law. "Nevertheless, the phenomenon of the rise of extreme shari'a states is widely ignored in the West."

The disease of jihadi Islam is becoming harder to ignore with each passing outbreak. Two years ago the publication of Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad sparked global protests, riots, and lethal violence. A speech last year by Pope Benedict critical of Islamic militancy led to more protests and dozens of deaths. When a London policy group published a study into hate speech being peddled by British mosques, the Muslim Council of Britain instigated a backlash of vitriol and charges of Islamophobia.

"For almost two decades we've allowed the message of political Islam to breed unchallenged within the British Muslim community, preaching separation and confrontation," writes Shiraz Maher, a former member of the militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir, in the Sunday Times. "Our indifference has allowed Islamism to become the dominant political discourse among young British Muslims."

In an interview with The Observer, Ms.Gibbons unfortunately chose to blame herself for the incident:

Does she blame anyone for what she went through? She pauses. 'I blame myself because I shouldn't have done it,' she says finally. 'Ignorance of the law is no defence.'

Contrary to her statement, it is not Ms. Gibbons who is to blame for what happened: it is the totalitarian fanatics who regard naming a teddy bear as a punishable offense who bear full responsibility for Ms. Gibbons' ordeal.


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