Debate over Teddy Bear underscores how Americans fail to understand Islam

This Christmas, I'm going to splurge and buy each of my two boys, niece and nephew a "Jesus teddy bear."

Yes, I'm willing to line up at toy stores in the frigid cold with all the other crazed parents waiting to purchase "Jesus Bear," including all the accessories: robe, wine glass, plate of bread and realistic wood-grained plastic crucifix, all scaled down to the size of G.I. Joe.

If they aren't already sold out, I'll spend the extra dough and snag the "pre-prophet hammer and saw," and maybe "miniature tomb with angel set." These little extras are hard to track down, but I have faith I'll find them.

Enough? Me too.

Although I think a person should live their life through laughter and not find offense in poking fun at politics or religion once in awhile, I can understand the need to draw a definite line. Luckily, I drew the line before mentioning "Pontius Pilate Poacher," the hunter hand puppet determined to bring down the great Jesus Bear ... that would be plain rude.

Anyway, I wanted to use this make-believe scenario to explore how deeply people are connected to their religious beliefs, and to what level they would protect those beliefs.

Did you laugh? Did you feel angry? Did you want to quit reading? Did you feel sinful reading something near sacrilege? Now I sound like a therapist.

After examining all of your feelings - yes, even you tough guys - I'd like you to consider the following news story, as reported by the British Broadcasting Company, Thursday, Nov. 29. Afterward, ask yourself what you'd do upon seeing a commercial about a new line of cuddly Jesus teddy bears by Mattel.

Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher living and working in Sudan, was found guilty by the Sudanese government last week for "inciting hatred" and "insulting religion." She was sentenced to15 days in prison before her deportation back to Great Britain.

How, you ask, does a primary school teacher stoop to such lows? How does a middle-aged woman go from mild-mannered school marm to international criminal? Gibbons, reportedly, allowed her students to name the class teddy bear "Muhammed."

Now, does "Jesus Teddy" seem so bad, or is it a punishable crime? Should supporters of sacrilegious items face a jail sentence?

Maybe.

The outrage over this jail sentence is only one way Americans fail to understand Islam, which is a huge reason - I feel - we continue to have Middle East "peace talks" every year without the slightest progress. It's a huge reason we are still at war and probably will be for years to come.

How do we know for sure what's fair? How do we know what it's like in another person's shoes unless we walk in them? How do we know what it's like in another person's faith unless we pray as them?

First of all, the "Middle East" is the name Westerners labeled Arab countries long ago. To them, it is not the mid-east, but instead shows our country's arrogance in assigning a foreign region a single name, single identification. It reminds me of the ignorant suggestion English be the United States' primary language because we were here first. If that were true, we'd all be speaking Navajo, Hopi or Cherokee, don't you think?

Secondly, not only are we assigning a region a label, we are labeling an entire culture, society and religion as dangerous, terrorist. And to this day, Iraqi translators who are being threatened by Al Queda for helping U.S. Forces are not allowed refuge within our borders without hoops and hurdles of bureaucratic garbage. How can we insist on being involved yet fear those we are trying to help?

Granted, there are Muslim extremists, but those people are few and far between compared to what media would like us to believe. And if we consider how dangerous our own "Religious Right" or "Moral Majority" is perhaps we'd be less apt to judge - or not.

Thirdly, though we look at the Middle East as an area full of terrorism and threat to our American way of life, that isn't the biggest problem. No, despite the ignorance and rampant fear, the biggest problem is not the racism - it's respect.

With respect, you help eliminate racism, erase racism - ERACISM.

Giving respect to another Arab Muslim and taking time to discuss and listen would show you culture, society and politics are based around Islam.

Within the Qu'ran a Muslim finds rules for living, rules for praying, and rules for ruling.

Democracy isn't the answer for all, and sometimes when we make attempts to take away others' politics, we take away a part of their culture and religion, as is the case with Islam and the Qu'ran.

Ironically, for people who insist on looking at the Middle East in one dimension, they see the wrong one. What they should see is Islam, not terror. More so, they should see humanity.

As for Gibbons, she's recently been pardoned and will inevitably write a best-selling book about her experience that will chastise all Muslims.

Perhaps she should go into toy manufacturing, after all, it is Christmas.

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