Asylum for Apostates

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We just got the news that Rahal al-Qunun has been granted asylum in Canada. Indeed, the 18-year-old Saudi woman is already on her way to her new home.

Rahal al-Qunun

Most people applaud her courageous escape from an oppressive regime, under which the renunciation of Islam (apostasy) is punishable by death. One hopes that by her action she will embolden other women to rebel.

One can also feel sympathy for her family, who will surely be condemned for letting this happen while they were on holiday in Kuwait; and for Canadian authorities who will be responsible for protecting Rahal from vengeful attacks by Muslims who consider death a necessary punishment for apostasy.

How likely are such attacks? According to the Independent newspaper there are twelve Muslim-majority countries in which apostasy carries the death penalty. Scholars are divided over this issue. As often happens where religious belief is based on a very old book, texts can be cited to support any point of view; and because the Quran has been supplemented by a body of writings known as the Hadith (meaning ‘tradition’) Islam is especially vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Asia Bibi

But judging by the scale of violent outrage when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, was acquitted of a charge of blasphemy against Islam, views that most non-Muslims would consider extreme are not necessarily rare. (Blasphemy is a capital offence in Pakistan, but apostasy is not.)

Given that a) most people in the world would rather live in Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand than in their own countries, and b) some of the nastiest countries to live in have Muslim-majority populations, should we not expect a blossoming of apostasy in the expectation that it will confer immediate refugee status and resettlement somewhere nice?

Muslim readers are especially welcome to comment on this post. I claim no theological expertise.

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Australian Liberals

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Here’s a letter I wrote to my MP, who happens also to be a Minister in Australia’s Liberal-led Commonwealth Government. I have just received a stock answer.

Dear Christopher,

As one of your constituents and a Liberal voter since I came to Australia in 1978, I have to tell you of my growing disenchantment with your party, to the point where I feel I can no longer vote for it.

I would like you personally to remain in Parliament and on the front bench, whether in government or in opposition, but the ongoing factional civil war and our new PM’s antics have me in despair. First there was the lump of coal in Parliament, now we’ve had the abandonment of the NEG, the refusal to take a stand on climate change, the description of the country’s most iconic building as a ‘billboard’ and – the last straw for me – the news that Mr Morrison is considering moving our Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem!

I know we have to trot submissively at President Trump’s heels to some extent, to keep our place under the USA’s nuclear umbrella, but to kowtow to a rogue state whose disregard for humanitarian principles and international law matches Russia’s or China’s, and to take sides against some of the most oppressed and dispossessed people in the world… well, words fail me.

And is it really only a device to curry favour with the 13% of Wentworth voters who are Jewish, as I heard on Radio National this morning? Is our foreign policy being driven by short-term electoral gaming? If so, I’d rather give Penny Wong a go.

I don’t usually send off an email while I’m still angry; I prefer to wait, re-read and edit. But not this time. I suspect my anger will only grow, so I might as well shoot this off now.

With good wishes to you, if not to your party or its present leader…

John Standingford
Linden Park
https://StroppyGit.com
16/10/18

Explanatory notes:

In February 2017 Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into Parliament as a prop for a speech promoting the continued mining and burning of coal in spite of its alleged contribution to climate change.

NEG was the National Energy Guarantee, the closest thing to an energy policy that Australia has had for many years. It resulted from hard negotiations between parties that put energy prices ahead of decarbonisation and vice versa, Federal and State Governments, industry and consumers. Scott Morrison dumped it as soon as he became Prime Minister.

Wentworth is the constituency where Malcolm Turnbull, the deposed PM, had a 17% majority. The Liberal-led ruling coalition had a 1-seat parliamentary majority and was desperate to retain the seat after Turnbull’s resignation. They lost it to an independent. Coincidentally a TV serial called Wentworth is running at the moment. It’s set in a women’s prison and shows brutality almost on a par with what’s going on in the Liberal Party.

Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister – fair-minded, level-headed and popular.

Delicious Lucy Turnbull

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Emmanuel Macron came to Australia with a pretty meaty agenda. He has been described as the de facto Leader of the Free World, with some justification. The media covered his visit and his picture was on every front page, but the journalists chose to focus on the French President’s unusual use of the word ‘delicious’, applying it to the Australian Prime Minister’s wife Lucy.

Emmanuel Macron and Malcolm Turnbull in Australia, 2018

Perhaps it was a quaintly framed compliment, perhaps he mis-spoke. After all, he was doing us the courtesy of addressing us in our own language instead of relying on an interpreter. Whatever the case, allowing this one word to dominate the news trivialises an important occasion and demeans a man who deserves our respect.

Martyrs

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Causes thrive on martyrs. Suicide bombers are described as ‘martyrs’ by their puppet masters. Interestingly, people who gain moral strength from their own martyrs rarely recognise that their enemies may gain equal moral strength from theirs.

The opponents of fanatical Islamism, which is fuelled by the blood of ‘martyrs’, have gained a new martyr of their own: Colonel Arnaud Beltrame (pictured). He was the police officer who exchanged himself for a hostage at the Super U supermarket in Trèbes.

Not only did he expose himself to the most extreme danger. He kept his mobile ’phone with him and connected to fellow police officers, allowing them to hear what was going on inside.

Arnaud Beltrame died a hero’s death. His heroism and his name will be remembered when the ‘martyrs’ of Daesh, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and their like are at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history.

Populism

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The Cambridge Dictionary has chosen ‘populism’ as its Word of the Year. The word doesn’t even appear in my Australian Modern Oxford Dictionary – only a definition of a populist as “a person who claims to support the interests of ordinary people.”

That sounds pretty admirable to me. So why are the words ‘populism’ and ‘populist’ always used pejoratively? Nobody ever says, “That Trump fellow is a real populist. Good for him!” Could it be that the political élite, the pointy-headed intellectuals, the upper middle class people who work in universities, newsrooms and government departments, really do look down on the unwashed masses as Trump and many others claim? Do those people really think they know better what’s good for the common people than the common people themselves?

I have just read an article by Cas Mudde (pictured) in the Guardian Weekly (wishing that I’d thought of that name to give one of my characters in The Eeks Trilogy) in which he argues that what is often called ‘populism’ is really nativism. He goes on to define nativism as “an ideology that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (‘the nation’) and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state;” and characterise it as “nasty.”

This got me thinking about the concept of the nation-state and why it was regarded as such a good thing in the 19th and early 20th centuries; why political heavy­weights in the richest countries of the West now consider it anathema; and why the epithet ‘racist’ is routinely hurled at anyone who expresses a preference for living among people with similar cultural practices, beliefs, values, history and language.

I flipped through a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly and found stories about conflict arising from this preference in six countries: Cameroon, Cyprus, Hungary, Myanmar, Poland and Tibet. And there was a story about German politics, which was dominated for over 40 years by a desire to restore nation-statehood.

Perhaps it’s time for us to be more tolerant of this preference, which seems to be deeply embedded in human nature whether we like it or not.

Life Imitates Monty Python

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We’re used to life imitating art, but sometimes this goes right off any reasonable scale. In the past week I’ve seen four glorious examples, all reported in the good old Adelaide Advertiser.

First, there is the story about a sit-in by Saudi princes to protest against having to pay their own utility bills. The princesses were showing more decorum, it seems. Or perhaps they were otherwise occupied at the motor show for women, soon to be allowed to drive.

The second story to catch my eye was that Oprah Winfrey is being touted as a potential presidential candidate, on the basis of a speech she made about sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry. Germaine Greer was asked what she thought about it on ABC Radio National, and said that if Ronald Reagan could be President, why not?

Next comes the appalling news that “Struggling families are being deterred from travelling overseas because of the high cost of leaving the country. … Australian passports are the second most expensive in the world, behind those of Turkey.” Has overseas travel really become a necessity of life, in the same category as a flat-screen TV or a smart ‘phone?

Finally, I read about a 50-year-old Australian man called Craig Whitall. He is/was a drug addict with a history of 10 driving disqualifications, 50+ other traffic offences, 9 convictions for unlicensed driving and a 9-year driving ban. While driving home from a methadone clinic he caused an accident that killed 3 people – all members of the Falkholt family. “At what point,” I wondered, “does a sane law enforcement system give up on somebody, lock them up and throw away the key in order to protect everyone else?”

Hair

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Who is the most reviled man in the world at the moment? There are quite a few candidates, but I think a global vote would put Kim Jong Un at the top of the list: he of the unbecoming and widely derided hairstyle. (No, not that hairstyle, you’re thinking of Donald Trump.)

But what do I see as I walk the streets and the airport transit lounges, when I glance through the windows of barbers’ shops, when I see news clips on TV? Every male human under the age of 30 seems to want to emulate this hated man! Even little boys, for whom the choice of hairstyle is presumably made by their mothers, have shaved sides and bushy tops!

I’m old, I know, and out-of-touch. I’ve given up hoping that I’ll ever really understand the human race. But can anyone explain this bizarre phenomenon to me?