It's a kind of reductio ad absurdum, this teddy bear business. It was possible, perhaps, to defend the Islamic reaction to the Rushdie affair, and indeed many of our great and good did just that. All those rioting Muslims were, clearly, deeply offended, and though we may not fully understand such a reaction in our secular age, we should nevertheless respect their feelings. And then a few years later we had the Motoons affair, and once more we had rioting Muslims, and once more, though perhaps with less conviction, we had those who argued that, yes, well, it may seem odd to us, but really if these kind of things provoke them to such an extent then shouldn't we, perhaps, respect their sentiments and avoid giving offense? And the question hovered in the air, well, just how far does this respecting of feelings go? How trivial does the offense have to be?
And now we have our answer: there's no limit. It goes as far as naming teddy bears. It's as petty and trivial and infantile as that. We have adults, grown men (didn't see many women) demonstrating on the streets of Khartoum, demanding that a woman who taught a class where they gave a teddy bear the name Mohammed should be taken out and shot. It just doesn't get any more pathetic than this. Are we still talking about having respect for their outraged feelings? What does John Berger think now, or John le Carré?
Watching the news, as we go over to Our Correspondent in Khartoum, it's difficult to maintain the normal level of seriousness that one usually brings to these situations. You're waiting for someone to break the spell, to shout out, oh for fuck's sake!...this is teddy bears we're talking about! We're dealing with idiots! But the standard requirement that we must treat these subjects with due solemnity and respect means that, as yet another clown explains why a punishment of 15 days in jail is nowhere near harsh enough for such a sin, the interviewer nods understandingly, for all the world as though it was a case of one rational adult talking to another, when they should be spluttering with incredulity - "and this is for...for naming a teddy bear? Are you completely out of your mind?"
I don't want to imagine the next stage. There's a possibility, I suppose, that a significant portion of the Islamic world will begin to wonder if they really want their religion to become a laughing stock, and might start some kind of reassessment. Muslims here in Britain seem to have realised that this is an offense too far, an embarrassment. But I wouldn't count on improvements any time soon.