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.

Multiculturalism

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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

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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.

Hijab and Pants

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I just read an article about an Iranian model called Elham Arab, who was hauled up before the Revolutionary Court for posting pictures of herself in which her hair was visible – and dyed blonde.  This is how she looked in court:

ElhamArab

The article included this interesting snippet: “In Islam, hijab can refer both to the headscarf women wear to cover their hair and the principle of modesty that underlies the practice.”

I wondered whether there were parallels in our own culture, and I think I found one: “to be caught with one’s pants down.” In our culture to be without pants is as immodest and shameful as it is for a woman to be without a headscarf in Iran.

Can you think of any more?