cuddly_brown_bearDays before the Paris tragedy, for some reason I was thinking about the teddy bear incident in Sudan some years ago. It must have been because Daniel, aged 5, was looking for a name to give to ‘Lisa’s child’. Lisa is his favourite cuddly toy, a lamb who has rapidly grown up to be the mother of a fluffy lamb without a name. If he had wanted to call the lamb Jesus, what would we have said? Jesus is often known as ‘the Lamb of God’, so the association could have been made, the name given, but it never is. To my knowledge, only in Spain have I met a child called ‘Jesù’, just once. Nowhere else. Instead there are plenty of Mohammeds or Muhammeds. So a Muslim child, very fond of his teddy, might well want to call the toy Mohammed. That, some years ago in Sudan, was blasphemy, and the teacher punished. It was a cultural mishap with implications. So easy to slip into.

We are all told to be sensitive to other beliefs and customs. Most of us try to avoid situations that would cause offence. Christianity has borne the brunt of much satire, so why not other religions? Freedom of speech, so freedom to communicate whatever one thinks about any religion anywhere. The blasphemy laws have disappeared in the West, only the libel ones remain. Still, that means there isn’t, actually, any absolute freedom of speech. Or any absolute freedoms, for that matter, curtailed by legal systems evolved over time and custom.

Where religions are concerned, secular viewpoints make no distinction between the actual teaching of the sacred figures and the misuse of power claiming to be in their name but having nothing at all to do with their teaching. I know little, alas, about the Muslim religion, but learn that Muhammad taught peace. There is no doubt that Christ did, offering the other cheek. The tragedy is that followers distort and make up bogus tenets of faith. It’s one thing to draw attention in a cartoon to the iniquities of Sharia Law, another to depict Mohammed when images of him or all humans are banished from Muslim art. Warlike outrages are a measure of last resort by the desperate who feel marginalised be it in the country where they are born and live, or in a world dominated, as they see it, by misunderstood ‘western’ values. More understanding is needed, and Muslims should shout out for peace and march bearing banners proclaiming, ’NOT in the name of Allah!’

I am profoundly saddened by the events in Paris. I support the freedom of speech, but tempered by more cultural understanding of one another from all faiths and none.

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