Home > Current Events, Thoughts > The perils of teaching English

The perils of teaching English

The last few days have seen the story of Gillian Gibbons broadcast over the airwaves. She’s been charged with insulting Islam in Khartoum, having named her students’ teddy bear Mohammed (or having allowed it to be named this). And today she’s been sentenced to fifteen days in jail.

Having taught English in a foreign country will almost certainly do so again, I have a feeling of there but for the vagaries of chance go I. She also has the same surname and is from the same place as someone I know, but it turns out there’s no relation.

She could be accused of being naïve, but it’s difficult to comprehend how seriously and personally people from other cultures take religion – especially when you come from a secular society like Britain where religion is almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, the reaction of the Sudanese authorities and religious groups seems completely wrong to me. Even taking into account that Gillian Gibbons’ ‘crime’ may be more serious in the context of Sudanese society than it would be here, the Sudanese have taken the opportunity to make a crisis out of a mistake.

I don’t understand why someone at the school didn’t deal with this before it got out of hand. Gillian Gibbons can be forgiven for not appreciating the sensitivites involved, but another member of staff could easily have quietly fixed things. Instead, the school sent letters about Mohammed the bear home to parents. Were they trying to get her arrested and deported?

I’m not surprised that Muslim representatives in Britain have been saying they’re embarrassed by all this – the last thing relations between Isalm and the West need is for parts of the Muslim world to live up to the fundamentalist stereotypes that people in the West have.

The sooner everyone becomes atheist, the better. Can you wait a few thousand years?

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