Asylum for Apostates

Standard

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.

Populism

Standard

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.

White Australia Policy

Standard

We’ve had a rash of news stories about employees being paid less than the legal minimum wage. In the most extreme cases it has not been an oversight or a one-off try-on, but a business model that works like this:

  • A small-time businessperson buys a franchise from a big company, such as Seven-Eleven.
  • The cost and conditions of the franchise make it impossible to pay legal wages and make a profit.
  • So the franchisee employs foreign students and pays them a fraction of the legal wage. The big company (the franchisor) may give a nod and a wink, or even informally explain how to do it.
  • People on a student visa are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week to help finance their studies, but they are induced to work 40 or more hours per week for 20 hours’ pay. How are they able to do this and study effectively as well? The likely answer is, “They can’t.”.
  • Timesheets are falsified to make the books look right, and the students don’t complain because they are as culpable as their employers: they are breaking the terms of their visas and could be deported.

In revelations of this law-breaking on TV most of the students and most of the franchisees appear to be of South Asian origin. None (that I have seen) appear to be of Anglo-Celtic origin. This observation sent me to my bookshelves to find an old publication called ‘Australia: Official Handbook’. It is dated January 1945 and it was sent by the Repatriation Commission to a new immigrant. The following passage is interesting:

“At the outset it may clear away misconceptions to give a brief outline of the immigration policy that is generally known as the “White Australia” policy.

“To the principle of “White Australia” all political parties in the Commonwealth subscribe, for the economic reason that the white man’s standard of living would be endangered by the introduction of coloured labourers who would be prepared to accept wages and to work and live under conditions that are not acceptable to a white workman.”

I share this without editorial comment.

Trump

Standard

I know, I know. It’s high time I made a pronouncement on the US presidential election. On this occasion I defer to another deep thinker, because he expresses my own thoughts more eloquently than I can express them myself.

Philip Welsby, my relation-by-marriage, has drawn my attention to a 10-minute talk by Sir Roger Scruton that was broadcast by the BBC and may still be heard at the BBC website. Sir Roger (pictured below) explains, dispassionately and succinctly, what went wrong for the US political class and why Donald Trump is President Elect. I found myself agreeing with everything in his talk and I recommend it.

rogerscruton

Multiculturalism

Standard

Wherever I am in the world I read the Sydney Morning Herald online. This is one of the newspapers published by the Fairfax Media group with a generally centre-left slant, balancing the definitely right-of-centre slant of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

I don’t pay anything to read this excellent newspaper, so when they asked if I’d take part in an online survey I agreed. The questions were mainly about my opinion on a range of social, moral and political issues and I had only to click one of five boxes on the scale ‘Strongly agree’ to ‘Strongly disagree’.

I was motoring along quite easily until I came to the question about multiculturalism. Has it gone too far in Australia? (I’m paraphrasing.) I hesitated, hand on mouse. I wanted to say, “What do you mean by multiculturalism?” But there was no-one to say it to.

When the term came into usage in Australia in the 1980s it was never, as far as I remember, defined. Some people thought it was just about having people from many diverse cultures living side by side, and having more kinds of restaurant to choose from. But that’s not an ‘ism’. I took it to mean that all cultures represented in the population would have equal status, which sounded OK and consistent with my own internationalist world view.

But at that time cultural diversity did not have the political and ethical connotations that it has today. The cultures we were thinking about were different but not contradictory. Italians were more family-orientated than Anglo-Celts, exemplified by bus-sized extended families that went to the airport to meet or farewell travelling members. Chinese liked gambling and pushing their children to get good grades at school. Indians drove taxis and opened corner shops. Nothing threatening there.

But what about today’s Muslims? And I’m not talking just about a tiny lunatic fringe. What about the 100,000+ demonstrators in Jakarta who called for a Governor to be imprisoned for allegedly ‘insulting the Koran’? What about the 52% of surveyed British Muslims who believe homosexuality should be illegal, and the 8% who sympathise with those who commit acts of terrorism for political ends?*

I will stick my neck out and suggest that in many respects mainstream Islamic culture directly contradicts that of Australia’s dominant population, which I would describe as secular with a strong Judaeo-Christian influence. Sharia Law is not compatible with Australian civil law. Islamic attitudes to women, LGBTI people, atheists and followers of competing faiths are quite out-of-step with prevailing attitudes. Equal cultural status is not possible.

I have on my bookshelf Mahathir Mohamad’s book The Malay Dilemma. I bought it in Singapore because it was banned in Mahathir’s own country of Malaysia. He introduces the concept of ‘definitive people’, meaning the ethnic group which may not have been the earliest to settle on the land, and may not now be in the majority, but whose language, values, customs and laws are generally accepted as those of the country and therefore have to be accepted by all other comers.

mahathir

Now that we have progressed beyond the nation state to the multinational state, it is essential to have a commonly accepted set of rules. Mahathir’s concept is a useful one. As far as Australia is concerned the definitive people are my people, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I have nothing against Muslims, by the way. The great majority were born and brought up in Muslim societies and had no real choice. But I do have quite a lot against religion in general and Islam in particular. You might like to read my earlier post ‘Seeds of Evil’.

* Survey undertaken by ICM on behalf of Channel 4 and reported in the Guardian Weekly.

Understanding Islam

Standard

Sometimes the best that a blogger can do is offer a link to something written by someone else.

Maher Mughrabi is Fairfax Media’s foreign editor. He was born a Muslim and, although he no longer counts himself a member of that faith, has an insider’s understanding of the compexities and contradictions that permeate the Koran itself, the interpretive work of Muslim scholars, the sectarian divides within Islam and the cultural practices that overlay and underpin people’s perception of what it is to be a Muslim.

Koran

I commend this piece that was published by Fairfax Media today. It contains links to some of Maher’s other writings. If you share my curiosity about this diverse, dynamic and problematic religion, and its adherents, please take the time to read some of them.

Maher mentions Pauline Hanson, who says she is studying the Koran to gain a better understanding of Islam. She will be familiar to Australian readers, but others may want to read about her at her own website or at Wikipedia.

Burkinis

Standard

OK, I know what you’re thinking: When is StroppyGit going to pronounce on the row in France over burkinis? Never let it be said that I am insensitive to popular demand, so here goes.

First, I completely agree with those who see the burka as an instrument and a symbol of patriarchal oppression of women. The great majority of women who choose to wear it do so because of the cultural/religious environment into which they had the misfortune to be born. Muslim women who live in Western societies and wear the burka in public must expect to have difficulty making friends and getting a job. They should also realise that they are reinforcing prejudice and hostility against their religion, whose values with respect to gender relations are utterly opposed to modern secular values. In any situation where security is an issue, faces must be revealed and body searches must be submitted to.

Having said all that, it does not follow that a bathing costume that covers everything except the face, hands and feet should be banned. Yes, it may be provocative inasmuch as it is associated with Islam, and most non-Muslims find aspects of Islam objectionable. But is it a religious symbol, in the way that a cross or a crescent or the star of David are religious symbols? I don’t think so. I see it rather as a cultural by-product that will fade away as the culture that spawned it matures.

I like this photo, by the way, which I took from a website – but I forget which one. If it was yours, or if you took the photo, please tell me and I will add an acknowledgement. It’s brilliant because of the almost-exact equivalence of the two women’s figures and movements; the matched horizontal stripes on both costumes; and most of all the happy smile on the face of the burkini-wearing woman. Well done, whoever took it.

Burkini

Being practical, the case is very clear. Banning the burkina is even more provocative than wearing it. Making Muslim women display an amount of flesh that is for them unthinkable will simply amount to a ban on their being part of the beachloving community and enjoying the healthy pastime of swimming in the sea. It will further isolate those women from mainstream secular society and retard their advance towards enlightenment and freedom. And it is a propaganda gift to the Islamists who want to portray Western society as hostile, corrupt and ungodly.

StroppyGit has spoken.

National Stereotype Conformance Syndrome

Standard

People tend to conform unconsciously to their national stereotypes when they are abroad or when they are interacting with foreigners. The Italians behave excitedly; the Germans are stolid and efficient; the British are polite and orderly (unless they are football hooligans, who constitute a special case outside the scope of this post).

I saw a great example of this today. Mrs SG and I are on a cruise in the Baltic and this morning we went ashore in St Petersburg. We had already gone ashore in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, where immigration formalities were handled by P&O and we just tripped down the gangway clutching our cameras, but in Russia we had to go through Immigration Control. I cannot speak for all the immigration officers but ours was straight from Central Casting: she was surly, unsmiling and rude.  (This is a stock photo of a male immigration officer, just to add a little atmosphere and colour.)

RussianImmigOfficer

That may be her natural disposition of course, but I prefer to believe that she is normally sunny, charming and witty, given to practical jokes and uploading kitten videos to YouTube. It’s only when she puts on her uniform and has to represent her country to a shipload of foreigners that a voice in her head says, “Now then, Natasha, you are a Russian official. You know what people expect from you. Don’t let them down!”

I have met one immigration official who was ruder than Natasha (that’s not her real name by the way – or perhaps it is, I don’t know her real name). It happened when I crossed the border from Ukraine into Transnistria. Transnistria is a sliver of Moldovan territory occupied by rebels who, since they are of Russian ethnicity, enjoy Russian Government protection. National Stereotype Conformance Syndrome again.

Have you seen other examples of NSCS? Please share them!

PS I should add that we encountered only friendly people once we had passed through Immigration Control. There was the man at an open-air bar beside a public toilet, who didn’t want to change a dollar bill but gave us 20 roubles out of the till so we could have a pee. Three young soldiers were happy to pose for a photo with Mrs SG beside the historic warship Aurora. When we tried to blow our few remaining roubles on ice-creams outside the Hermitage our three scoops weighed more than we could afford – so the man carefully scraped some back into his tub and re-weighed. When the bill came to less than our little pile of notes and coins he insisted on giving us the proper change (which was enough for another pee-and-a-half).

Sportsmen Behaving Badly

Standard

This is not a startling headline, is it? We’re used to sportsmen (not sportswomen, to my recollection) getting drunk, fighting in nightclubs, abusing women…

But today the Australian newspapers are full of a story about Mitchell Pearce, Captain of a Sydney-based rugby league team. Someone posted a video-clip of him behaving very badly indeed in a woman’s home, and it went viral. You can see it online if you want to know the details. It’s pretty disgusting.

My first thought was, “Oh no, not another one.” Then I looked at the clip and had a more profound thought. How should we expect newcomers to Australia – or perhaps I should say ‘the Western World’ because this kind of thing is not exclusive to Australia – to react?

I’m thinking of immigrants from very conservative cultures, including but not exclusively Muslims. Will they not recoil from the culture that produces such exhibitions? Will they not retreat into their own culture, beliefs and values? More to the point, will they not try to protect their children from such malign influences, sending them to separate schools and denying them contact with children from other backgrounds who might ‘pollute’ them?

Mr Pearce and his ilk may be promoting the ghettoisation of our society, with far-reaching and very negative consequences.

The Bleeding Obvious

Standard

I get stroppy when people are pilloried for stating the bleeding obvious. This happens a lot to politicians because whatever they say is assumed to be politically loaded. Let me offer a couple of examples…

First, Tony Abbott (recently deposed Australian Prime Minister) remarked that taxpayers were subsidising a lifestyle choice by many indigenous Australians to live in remote communities, where employment opportunities are scarce and the cost of providing infrastructure and social services is high. I’m paraphrasing but I think that’s a fair summary. He was immediately criticised for making an outrageous attack on disadvantaged people and ridiculed for using the phrase ‘lifestyle choice’.

I don’t know what was in Tony Abbott’s heart and mind when he said that, but it is objectively true that people, indigenous or otherwise, can choose where they live. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics: “At June 2006, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lived in non-remote areas with an estimated 32% of people living in major cities, 43% in regional areas, and 25% in remote areas.”

It may be argued that many indigenous people feel a strong spiritual connection to their land (their ‘country’) and would not be happy living elsewhere. But satisfying that felt need is unquestionably a lifestyle choice, and making that choice is possible only because the rest of the population pays for it. Most non-indigenous Australians feel a mixture of pity and guilt towards their indigenous fellow-citizens so they may be perfectly willing to pay whatever it costs. But what’s wrong with pointing it out?

Second, Theresa May (UK Home Secretary) stated that there was a limit to the rate at which immigrants could be received into the UK without causing social cohesion. Again, I’m paraphrasing.

Her words were perhaps an uncomfortable reminder of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, but they were nevertheless true. Perhaps that limit exceeds the inflow of immigrants that would result from the UK’s acceptance of a ‘fair’ proportion of the current wave of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty, who are hammering at Europe’s door – or in many cases smashing the windows and climbing in. But it cannot be denied that there is a limit. It’s bleeding obvious, isn’t it?

Note: The phrase “the bleeding obvious” is a quotation from ‘Basil the Rat’, the final episode in the brilliant TV series ‘Fawlty Towers’, written by John Cleese and Connie Booth in the 1970s.