A British schoolteacher has been arrested in Sudan for lese Islamicité because her 7-year-old students voted to name a stuffed bear Muhammad. There seems to be a constant dribble of stories like this out of conservative Islamic regimes, where laws forbidding disrespect to the religion and the Prophet are common. Apparently Islam makes every other religion in the world so incredibly seductive to its believers that apostasy can only be prevented by a death penalty and rigorous suppression of any proselytization. What explains this amazing fragility of Islamic belief (or the civil authorities’ perception of this fragility)? If one believes one’s confession so vulnerable to ephemeral disrespect (from non-believers, no less), never mind feeble in the face of direct challenge, that it needs to be shielded by the criminal law, doesn’t that belief constitute the primary irreverence?
In the present case, the policy is incoherent, as Muhammad seems to be one of the names of half the Moslem males around and about. Naming an infant Muhammad runs a finite and non-trivial risk of thus naming a criminal or otherwise really bad person, as some kids are always sure to turn out. Aren’t these bad apples a lot more dangerous to the reputation of the original than a stuffed bear, especially a stuffed bear a bunch of seven-year-olds were trying to honor? I don’t think bears are specifically unclean in Islam (contra dogs, pigs).
When I was in school, there was a lot of demanding that we not be taught about Communism, because, I guess, the doctrine had such incredible magnetic attraction that a couple of classes about Marx and [then] Russia would completely unAmericanize us. The flag attracts the same kind of insecurity about symbols, and generations of Boy Scouts were terrified about what would happen, in general and to them, if they folded it wrong, or hung it the wrong way, or it touched the ground, and so on.
My guess is that a bear named Abe or Moishe would not be a problem in even a very orthodox Jewish classroom, and I don’t see Sister Mary being put in the slam even in Italy or Spain for an ursine Jesus. Not needing the state to enforce respect for religious symbols, and trusting that the faith will survive argument and confrontation, never mind well-meaning mistakes and faux pas, looks to me like an indication of more, not less, confidence in one’s religion.