A teddy bear found itself at the center of a religious furor.


And, yes, it's every bit as absurd as it sounds.

Gillian Gibbons is a 54-year-old British teacher at a private school in Khartoum, Sudan. Her pupils love her. Her colleagues can't say enough nice things about her.

And because of an innocent misunderstanding, she was sentenced to 15 days in prison and faces deportation.

Over a teddy bear -- named Muhammad.

Gibbons recently was teaching her class about animals, and asked a pupil to bring in her teddy bear. When Gibbons asked the class to name the bear, the names Abdullah and Hassan were tossed around before the class settled on the name Muhammad -- after a boy in the class.

Each child got to take the bear home on weekends, and kept diaries about what they did with it. The entries were compiled in a book, titled My Name is Muhammad, with the bear's picture on the cover.

Somehow Sudanese authorities got wind of this harmless school activity, and they slapped Gibbons with charges of insulting religion and inciting hatred.

This is despite the fact that the boy who lent his name to the bear leaped to his teacher's defense. His mother agrees: "I'm annoyed that this has escalated in this way. If it happened as he said, then there is no problem here -- it was not intended."

Of course it wasn't. She certainly didn't rub her hands together and think to herself, "How can I offend Islam today?"

That's what makes this whole episode overblown nonsense. Gibbons didn't do this on purpose. She didn't accept a teaching post in a Muslim country so she could hatch a plot against the country's dominant religion. She innocently named a bear Muhammad with no intent of causing outrage, but she has been pilloried needlessly as if supposedly sullying the name of Islam's prophet was her cunning plan all along.

Meanwhile, Christianity is disrespected intentionally, continually and willfully -- and the politically correct crowd doesn't bat an eye. Artists who submerge a crucifix in a glass of urine, or render the Virgin Mary in animal dung -- that's just another day at the office for those guys.

And how do Christians overwhelmingly deal with these gross affronts to their faith? With tolerance and nonviolent disagreement -- not with giving the artists 15 days in prison and deporting them.

It is this kind of ordeal in Sudan that shows precisely what the peace-loving world is up against in its continuing struggle against radical Islam. Extremists become so blinded by intolerance that they can't parse out the finer points of a simple misunderstanding.

"This is an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad," one protesting cleric said.

What? "Teaching our children hatred?" She named a stuffed bear at the urging of her loving pupils . And armed protesters took to the streets of Khartoum to call for her execution . Could there possibly be a more profound lack of perspective here?

Moderate Muslims who are more closely bound to the principles of peace and reconciliation should make themselves heard over this sorry state of affairs in Sudan. This beloved teacher deserved no punishment.