Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vick and the teddy bear

Three weeks ago, most Americans didnt know who the candidates were for the presidential primaries (they still dont know) but almost everyone did seem to know that in some crazy place called Sudan, they had thrown a British teacher in jail for naming a teddy bear 'Mohammed' and were threatening to kill her. The hysteria was overwhelming. For a change, it wasnt only right wing nuts screaming their guts out at the grave injustice and the threat of Islamofascism that the incident represented, but nearly the entire spectrum of American punditry came out against it.

I always thought the reaction was misplaced and over the top, but didnt dare say it then for fear of being labelled a Sudan-apologist and being lynched. Tempers have cooled down now that Gillian Gibbons, the teacher in question, has been pardoned and released from jail prematurely. Of course, the judicial or political powers in Sudan had never threatened or hinted that they would execute her - it was demonstrating crowds who had demanded that. Thats like holding the United States responsible for every crazyass thing that Pat Robertson says!

I had two arguments against the outrage. Firstly, Gibbons should have known what the law and cultural sensibilities were before she decided to teach in a new place. Thats true for everyone working in a foreign country, but especially so for a teacher. Imagine the consequence if a teacher from Sudan (where corporal punishment of students is not outlawed, I think) got a teaching job in an American primary school, and started disciplining students the way she would back home. Of course, she would face professional dismissal, social scorn and legal action.

Secondly, many people have been aghast at the very fact that such senseless laws exist. Well, every country has some laws that would invite ridicule or scorn elsewhere, but getting worked up over them after you have been busted is hardly the way to go. Having the benefit (or drawback) of an outsider's perspective in America, I find that some pretty stupid laws exist here too.

Take the case of Michael Vick, the star quarterback of the Atlanta football team, who was sentenced to 23 months in jail for arranging dogfights and killing dogs. In a country that slaughters and eats millions of chicken, pigs, cows and god-knows-what-else annually, this outpouring of national grief and legal wrath on behalf of dogs seems outright ridiculous. Ever more so when the same society relishes the killing of animals for sport (so you didnt know that hunting is a favorite pastime in America?).

Gibbons got a pardon, was welcomed back to society, and surely has plenty of job offers (and may already have signed a book deal). Vick faces a certain suspension when he goes back to his job in the NFL, and possibly his career is doomed. He is now a cultural whipping boy and a icon of cruelty ("so ja munne, nahi to Michael Vick aa jayega"). Now thats what I call unfair.

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