So here we go again. For several days, I have been trying to decide what to write about the teddy bear named "Mohammed" in the Sudan. I was trying hard to avoid it, since the GetReligionistas strive to write about how the press covers religion events, as opposed to commenting on the religion events themselves.
But the issue will not go away and, in fact, events seem to be getting worse. Here is part of a typical CNN report:
Hundreds of angry protesters, some waving ceremonial swords from trucks equipped with loud speakers, gathered Friday outside the presidential palace to denounce a teacher whose class named a teddy bear "Mohammed" -- some calling for her execution.
The protesters, which witnesses said numbered close to 1,000, swore to fight in the name of their prophet.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, was given 15 days in jail late Thursday after she was convicted of insulting religion. She was cleared of charges of inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs, her lawyer, Ali Ajeb, said.
But is this nationalism or religion? This is the standard question. The details, again, point to direct links to religious institutions.
This part of the standard wire-service reports is especially chilling:
The demonstration began around 2:30 p.m. as worshippers spilled out of mosques in the capital after Friday prayers. They marched to the palace, which is on the same street as Unity High School, where Gibbons taught grade school students. Those who named the bear were 7 years old.
... Armed with swords and sticks, the protesters shouted: "By soul, by blood, I will fight for the Prophet Mohammad."
The bear in question was, of course, named "Mohammed" by a boy named "Mohammed." The rest of the class liked the idea.
So what is the journalism question? What does all of this mean, in terms of the language that we use to describe the different forms of Islam that keep making news around the world? Stated another way, what is the difference between "Islam" and "Islamist"?
Gibbons is, of course, an "infidel." She is also in a land where the common law is sharia. That is the only law in Sudan (and forget the U.N. Charter of Human Rights). So is the whole land of Sudan "Islamist" and, if so, what makes it "Islamist" or an "Islamic" state, instead of simply being a "Muslim" state?
I am seeing little evidence that journalists are drawing, or being allowed to draw, these kinds of lines clearly. I know there are journalists who know these lines exist.
There are government angles to all of this. There are public policy and political angles to all of this, too. Everyone knows this. But this Time passage seems to state the obvious.
I'm not saying that I know exactly what these "obvious" facts mean, right now. But here's the bottom line:
The case is an embarrassment for the Sudanese government, whose policies in Darfur have helped make it an international pariah. But the government is hamstrung by extremist elements, who will capitalize on any perception that Khartoum is bowing to British pressure, said Professor Elteyb Hag Ateya, director of Khartoum University's peace research institute.
"There is a sort of 'who is the best Muslim?' competition to this whole thing which makes it difficult for the government to be seen to back down," he said.
Surely that statement is depressing reading for mainstream Muslims.