You will have all read about Gillian Gibbons, the Liverpool teacher working in Sudan, who was sentenced to 15 days in prison followed by repatriation yesterday. Most seem to agree that what she did was simply a misunderstanding of Islamic sensitivity to the use of the name Mohamed for the class teddy bear. However, in Sudan a teddy bear is not regarded as a cuddly symbol of mercy but rather a representation of an animal.
Clearly the incident infuriated many hard line clerics, some of whom were calling for Mrs Gibbons to be executed. The normal punishment for the crime would have been 40 lashes and a term in prison. The Sudanese judge obviously felt that the sentence passed was as lenient as he could impose.
At least she wasn't convicted of selling alcohol like Gavin Sherrard-Smith who in 1993 was given 50 lashes. He said that he “didn’t realise the human body could tolerate such pain.” Or the two expatriate workers who were sentenced to public beheading after confessing on television to taking part in illicit trade of alcohol. They retracted their confessions and were released after the Saudi King granted them “royal clemency.”
The point is that Mrs Gibbons was living in a "hard line" Islamic country and should possibly have been more aware of the implications of that. We live here in a predominantly Catholic country where religion assumes a much greater importance in people's live than it does in much of the UK. It's a fact which we need to be aware of. I doubt that anyone would be punished for calling a teddy bear Jesus in Spain but it would probably be regarded with disdain.
When you live in a foreign country, you don't necessarily have to adopt the culture but you do have to be at least sensitive to it. I'm sure that Mrs Gibbons will have learnt that lesson well by the time she returns to the UK.