I have, over the last few years, as I'm sure many others have, been watching the tensions between the "western world" and "middle east" with a great deal of worry. It is evident that these tensions have contributed to the rise in global terrorism, with both feeding off each other (a sort of chicken and egg type of quandary).
Over the last 3/4 days, therefore, I have been following the events of the Sudanese-based UK teacher Gillian Gibbons, her arrest, and subsequent conviction for insulting religion by calling a teddy bear "muhammad", with great interest. Finding myself becoming more liberal over recent years, towards many areas of political and social life, my thoughts were that, whilst it did seem harsh to imprison someone for 15 days because of a cultural mishap, she should pay consequences for the naivety, and perhaps recklessness, of her actions. Stories of 40 lashes and 6 months in prison frightened me, so when I heard yesterday that she had been sentenced to 15 days I was slightly relieved (although still with thoughts that it was a bit harsh) that some sort of cultural compromise may have been found.
Fast-forward to today, and I find on the BBC website the one thing which I think many people could have predicted - riots by sections of the Muslim community
at a "western conspiracy." I was disgusted to see the calls for her to be killed, and that it was part of a larger western conspiracy to "slag off" or "bring down" islam. Now before anyone accuses me of cultural indifference, I will try to mitigate what I am describing. Firstly, I realise that this is not representative of the entire Muslim community, and that many (if not all) of the Muslim community in the UK have been behind Ms Gibbons. It is, however, a large group of people choosing to protest this decision, described by the BBC as "thousands." I have always been of the opinion that if the cultural differences which threaten to rip the world apart are to be solved, it will need a great deal of work by both sides. And this time, I truly thought we had it cracked - on the basis of todays protests though, it seems not.
Lets rewind slightly and look at other "inflamed" situations. These are situations, I believe, of extreme overreaction (even whilst I admit and realise the offence to the culture caused):
Earlier this year, protestors in India
burned effigies and called for richard gere to be killed over the kissing Shilpa Shetty incident.
2005/2006 saw the massive fallout from the danish cartoon publishing. The protests I could understand, but the burning of flags, burning of buildings, attacking of embassies, looting of stores, burning of effagies
etc I could not.
Similarly, after the pope quoted from a medieval emperor, people were calling for him to be killed
One of the only conclusions I can reach from these continued events is that, until these reactionary, over-the-top protests are condemned and stopped (and bear in mind I am referring to the burning etc, not normal, peaceful protesting), then it devalues and counters any good work that other cultures around the world may undertake.