Top up . . .

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I did find myself composing another song about Enid Blyton, but sought distraction before it could be perfected. Then, while cycling home from the gym, I passed a petrol station and started involuntarily singing to an old hymn tune:

Top up, top up for Jesus
With ninety-five octane –
It may not be a dollar
Twenty-eight again . . .

Thankfully (you may say) lyrical inspiration gave way to a serious thought. People raised in the Christian tradition are often shocked by the violence that seems to be condoned in the Old Testament and the Koran. “How good it is,” they think to themselves, “that Jesus replaced that jealous, vindictive, racist Yahweh with a loving god, arranged in three neatly-fitting pieces. And what a pity it is that Mohammed conjured up that narrow-minded Allah, obsessed with rigid rules and slaughter.”

In fact all three of the Abrahamic faiths are pretty nasty if looked at closely. A Jew or a Muslim might listen to “Stand up, stand up for Jesus …” or “Onward Christian soldiers…” and look around in alarm for an approaching horde “with the cross of Jesus going on before!”

And how should Muslims react when a representative of a heavily-armed predominantly Christian nation talks of embarking upon a ‘crusade’?

ISIS Brides and Babies

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There are thousands of them: foreign women who married Daesh (aka IS, ISIL or ISIS) men and who are now sitting in refugee camps, in many cases with their children.  Some are alleged to have attacked other refugees whose behaviour does not conform to Daesh norms, and even to have set firs to those people’s tents.

Mother and Child in a Kurdish-run Camp

Their home countries are reluctant to take them back, for understandable reasons. It’s hard to believe the claims that they were too young to know what they were getting into, or were taken in by the propaganda about the creation of a perfect Islamic state and somehow missed the bits about murder, torture, rape and slavery.

The case of Shamima Begum has hit the headlines in the UK, whence she fled at the age of 15 to join Daesh. Her Dutch husband survived the fighting and has renounced Daesh. Shamima wants to go home with her baby. The UK doesn’t want either of them. It’s a similar story with Australia Zehra Duman. An estimated 9,000 are nationals of the Russian Federation (mainly Chechnya) and other former Soviet Republics.

My view is pretty simple. These people, however wicked, deluded or gullible they may have been, are citizens of countries which have laws, institutions and financial resources far beyond those of the Kurds and others who are holding them. It’s our responsibility to receive them back, subject the adults to due legal process, and care for the children in such a way that they will grow up sane, productive and law-abiding. This will not be cheap, but it will surely be cheaper than letting stateless extremists and their hapless offspring roam the world working mischief.

I just checked, and Australia still has a law dealing with treason. It is contained in Chapter 5 of the Criminal Code. The penalty for intentionally assisting, by any means whatever, another country or organisation [my emphasis] that is engaged in hostilities against the Australian Defence Force is life imprisonment.

The law is specifically framed to include terrorist organisations. One would hope that the phrase “by any means whatever” is broad enough to encompass making one’s way into a war zone to marry an enemy combatant and bear his children, who will be educated in extremism and brought up to be Daesh’s foot soldiers – and martyrs if they’re lucky.

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.

Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome

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An Australian federal politician, Fraser Anning, has just made his maiden speech in the Senate, in which he called for a return to the White Australia Policy and a ban on Muslim immigration. Just to make sure he had everyone offside he talked of this being the ‘final solution’.

When it was pointed out to him that the very phrase ‘final solution’ was indissolubly linked in everyone’s mind to Hitler, Nazism and the attempted annihilation of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables, he said his words were taken out of context.

Either he doesn’t know what the ‘final solution’ is in historical terms, in which case he may be considered too ignorant to be a useful member of the legislature; or he’s too lacking in sensitivity, political savvy and common sense to be a useful member of the legislature. Either way . . .

Mind you, Mr Anning is not alone in his choice of infelicitous words. How often, even now, do we hear politicians and activists claiming to be on a ‘crusade’?

Yes, I know, in in our nice liberal secular democracies the word ‘crusade’ just means a passionately executed campaign – nothing to do with the repeated Christian assaults on the so-called Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. But to a great many Muslims, even today and even in educated circles, the word is still burdened with its original meaning. Its casual use only confirms the suspicion that The West has hostile intent towards Islam and its followers.

Is This Racism . . . ?

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I don’t think I’d hear of Valerie Jarrett until CNN told me that Roseanne Barr had insulted her and lost her TV show as a result. The offending tweet was “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Valerie Jarrett

The story was accompanied by a photo of Ms Jarrett, in which she did bear some resemblance to the masks used in the Planet of the Apes films. But Google Images has no photos like that, and the one reproduced here shows her as 100% human.

I’ve since done some online research and found that a false rumour had once been spread by her political opponents, saying that she was Iranian (she was in fact born in Iran of US parents) and a Muslim and having proclaimed an agenda to “help change America to be a more Islamic country.”

But Roseanne’s offence was, according to the media, racism. And I don’t get it. Being a Muslim or an advocate of Islam is unrelated to race. Resembling a fictional non-human primate is unrelated to race. Roseanne was undoubtedly guilty of ‘passing personal remarks’ (which I was taught to avoid) and perpetuating a false rumour. But where’s the racism?

Musings from Bangkok

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That’s not a very informative title, but I’m posting about two separate things and I happen to be in a transit lounge in Bangkok with a lot of time to spare.

I just came off a flight where I watched a film I’d vaguely heard about and a documentary about the Cassini mission to Saturn. Both affected me to the extent that I want to share.

The film was ‘Downsizing’, starring Matt Damon. It has been described as sci-fi satire but I don’t think that does it justice. The title relates to a scientific breakthrough that reduces people to 1/14 their height, and consequently 1/2744 their volume and mass. The aim is to reduce humankind’s environmental footprint before we destroy our habitat, but it has the side effect of allowing the ‘small people’ to use their savings to buy huge mansions in special resort-like communities and live lives of leisure and luxury.

I want you to see the film, so I won’t say any more – except to laud the actress who was for me the de facto star (see photo). Her name is Hong Chau, born in Thailand of Vietnamese refugee parents and now living in the USA. She plays a Vietnamese activist and amputee and she is superb.

The Cassini documentary starred the gallant little spacecraft itself, which was sacrificed at the end of a spectacularly successful mission. It was vaporised in a fireball in Saturn’s atmosphere, with eerie echoes of ancestral sacrifices to uncaring gods. This sacrifice was necessary to avoid the danger of terrestrial contamination of an environment where life already exists or one day may.

I found myself tearing up, not because of Cassini’s death, but because the whole enterprise showed what our species can do and be at our very very best. NASA had a huge team of specialists, men and women, young and old, from many nationalities. They had a common goal to know, a dedication to science, and no malign intent.

The NASA team’s goodness contrasted starkly with the recent horror in Indonesia where a whole family, young children included, wiped itself out in coordinated murderous attacks. This was a team effort too, but instead of being enthused by science their minds were infected by a perverted ideology that thrives only on ignorance and superstition. This was our species as its very very worst.

Hate Speech

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Yesterday I was paddling a kayak on the Dnieper River. I was in the back seat, Tamara was in the front. Out of the blue she asked me about my religion. I replied that I was an atheist. After a moment’s thought she said, “So what do you love?” She gestured upward, as much as one can while paddling a kayak, so clearly “My wife” or “My family” would not do as an answer.

Not really us – our kayak was red.

“Truth and justice,” I said eventually. That seemed too short a list and I searched for more things that I could express in Russian. But even in English I decided those two were enough.

Ashore, I pondered my answer. Does loving truth and justice necessarily mean hating untruth and injustice? After all, untruth and injustice encompass ignorance, superstition, indoctrination, exploitation, tyranny, cruelty… all things to be hated, surely.

Then today I was listening to a podcast: Phillip Adams interviewing US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who when practising as a lawyer had defended extremists’ first amendment right to express views that most people found abhorrent.

“What about hate speech?” asked Phillip. I found myself agreeing with Glenn when he said that freedom of speech cannot be qualified. Who defines ‘hate speech’ – the Government? Facebook? Google? He cited German cases where criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has resulted in prosecution as anti-Semitic hate speech.

But is there a distinction to be drawn between hatred of abstract ideas and hatred of the people who subscribe to those ideas? We all (I hope) hate what is done in Daesh’s name: murder, kidnapping, rape, slavery and the rest. But is it alright to hate the perpetrators? And is it alright to express that hatred publicly?

From kayaking to cognition. From paddling to pontification. What do you think?