8degreesoflatitude

THINGS THAT INTEREST, ENGAGE AND ENRAGE

Category: Global Politics

Beggaring Belief

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other (usually) non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

 

FAITH is a personal compact between a person and his or her deity. The faithful, of any ilk, should be honoured for their commitment to a life beyond secular concerns and for the higher calling that this condition imposes. Those who study their religious texts and who seek to live within the strictures these impose, are honourable people.

In the secular west – fundamentally these days a godless society – these things, and the various deities in whom a great many people believe, are often scoffed at or made the topic of comedic intervention. That is wrong, when the objective is only to get a cheap laugh. It’s possible – or it should be so in a rational society – to debate the existence of God. It’s plain rude just to slag off at people who believe, if you yourself don’t.

The three Abrahamic religions, each of which sprang from the Levant or its contiguous desert interior without any intervention from Europeans until after their invention (a seminal fact that Europeans should note and really should try very hard to comprehend) share syncretic theologies, a melange of mythologies, and, in the Old Testament, a common liturgical origin. Yet each has historically been at war with the others (and often with themselves) forever, philosophically if not actually.

That’s a rather cursive way to get into a matter of current concern in Indonesia, but it’s necessary to set the parameters of debate and to avoid stepping unnecessarily on possibly angry toes. Of course, the problem is far wider than just the archipelago. Islam’s sectarian schism leaves the former fatal fractures within Christianity for dead, so to speak.

In Indonesia, where, except for Aceh, Islam has traditionally adopted a Southeast Asian rather than an Arabian face over the half a millennium of its establishment here, a more fundamentalist mind-set is taking root. That cannot be denied. Neither can its future risk to the integrity of Indonesia if it flourishes.

The proselytes of Indonesian Islamic fundamentalism assert that theology is the driver of their intentions. It’s perfectly possible to encourage deeper religiosity in the faithful, and to prescribe firmer and more restrictive patterns of social behaviour for them, from a philosophical standpoint. It’s when the boys with the bother boots take to the streets that problems emerge. There’s very little that’s philosophical about a mob armed with sharpened sticks and intent on enforcing their own interpretations of Ramadan rules, after all. These actions may be clothed in Islamic cloth, but their purpose is political – it is to manoeuvre government policy – and thus is plainly secular.

There’s an interesting article in The Diplomat, written by Benedict Rodgers – for context: he’s East Asia team leader for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide – that illustrates the point. He instances a broken long-term friendship between two fifteen-tear-old girls at a Jakarta high school, one Christian, the other Muslim. Rodgers reports that the Christian girl got a phone call from her Muslim friend telling her: “We can no longer be friends. My God does not allow me to be friends with people like you.” It sounds almost apocryphal, or would if the messages that are coming out of the mosques weren’t couched in similarly simplistic and fundamentally threatening terms.

There’s much more than this to Rodgers’ article, which is very readable. He cites the conviction and imprisonment of now former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a Christian Chinese-Indonesian, for blasphemy; and Aceh, church burning, death threats and other signals of restrictive intent. He warns that Indonesia could become Pakistan.

That’s a bit dire, and Rodgers says so himself in the article. Indonesian culture is very far from those of the sub-continent and (like anywhere else) Pakistan is what it is because of its own cultural mix, not someone else’s. But it’s understandable that other Islamic sects, moderate Sunnis (the great majority) and other religious communities should feel deep concern.

The real risk, and the real warning that needs to echo through the rainbow archipelago, is that doltish insistence on Islamic exclusivity will ultimately risk fracturing Indonesia. Political figures whose vision fails to extend beyond the next convenient deal and endless machinations to buy votes should consider that. Seriously.

That said, there is some brighter news. Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defenders Front (the FPI), faces arrest when he returns from Saudi Arabia if he fails to answer his third summons from police – he ignored the first two, of course – to answer questions about alleged breaches of the anti-pornography law. He wanted the porn laws and he influenced their scope. What an interesting case this will be.

It’s That Man Again

THE unedifying spectacle of Donald Trump shoving through the throng and shouldering lesser leaders out of the way to get to the front of the photo opportunity at the NATO summit last week, and then posing, Mussolini-like, complete with superior grin, is further evidence that real-estate shysters and reality TV hosts do not necessarily make good leaders.

They said of No. 45 that he probably needed time to become presidential. Time was not the only thing he needed, as events and growing awareness that they’ve been duped among many who voted for him last November now show. Some character would have helped. H.L. Mencken, who in the 1920s predicted that profane and populist politics meant that America would one day have an imbecile for its president, would be rolling his eyes if he were not rolling in his grave.

Trump still has a cheer squad, of course, not all of it confined to America where he’s making things grate again. We saw an Asia-based Australian observer’s view this week that suggested his hard line on NATO funding and self-reliance had paid off, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said publicly that America’s allies needed to do more.

They do. You get what you pay for. But the obverse of that coin, for “the leader of the free world” (whatever that is) and his country, is a proportionate reduction in America’s clout within NATO. That mightn’t be quite what the master of the universe is looking for, but it would be no bad thing, since the Custer gene remains ascendant.

Sent Home 

SCHAPELLE Corby, 39, the Australian woman who was convicted of drug trafficking in Bali in 2005 and spent nine years behind bars before being paroled three years ago, was deported from Indonesia on May 27. Immigration authorities put her on a plane to Australia. That is all.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. It appears monthly. The current diary was published on May 24 and the next will appear on Jun. 21.

Law v Lore

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His diet of worms and other delicacies

Bali, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017

 

THERE’S a great deal of misinformation about on the issue of Sharia law, particularly in western countries. So when Ubud identity Darsih Gede passed along a handy brief from a long-time friend, an American woman married to an Indonesian Muslim, we thought it would be good to share.

Here it is:

“If you are anyone who feels fear when you hear the words ‘Sharia law,’ or interpret it to mean that something is coming to get you, or will be imposed upon you, I really hope you’re listening.

“Time for a little ‘Sharia Law 101’:

” 1. All Muslims believe in Sharia law.

“2. No. 1 is true because Sharia law is the religious law governing the members of the Islamic faith; it is formed by what it written in the Quran (Muslim holy book) and in the Hadiths (reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad).

“3. Do not confuse Sharia law with the laws that exist in countries that call themselves ‘Islamic’ or happen to have a Muslim majority: Absolutely not the same thing. For example: the fact that women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive has nothing to do with Sharia law or Islam; it has to with men trying to control women under the guise of religion just like they try to do in various ways in the United States.

“4. Part of Sharia law (Al-Baqarah 256, from the Quran) states that ‘There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.’

“So, to summarise: Sharia law is something that Muslims follow willingly, and no one can force you to become Muslim (aka: someone who believes in Sharia law).

“It would be great if people from other religions wouldn’t attempt to force people to follow their religious leanings by attempting to legislate their views into civil laws that are applied to the masses, especially in a country like the United States, wherein religious freedom is supposed to exist.

“Thanks for listening. ~ A Muslim (aka: someone who believes in Sharia law)

“Note: Please, find a Muslim and ask them questions instead reading articles from Fox News and/or listening to what uninformed people like Newt Gingrich have to say about Islam. They have no idea what they are talking about, ever.”

That’s a message that needs to be heard far more widely than only in the USA, where a tidal surge of untreated dyspepsia has just been converted into bother boots under the big desk in the Oval Office.

Trumped

THERE is something seriously wrong with the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. It’s not his policies that worry me in this instance, though many of them seem to be based on a Locker Room-Neocon-Robber Baron belief that the clocks can be turned back to earlier imagined eras of American capitalist supremacy and gross private wealth and some are frankly execrable.

It’s his behaviour. Half a million invisible people were at his inauguration. He lost the popular election by 2.5 million ballots because undocumented aliens and other illegals didn’t vote for him. The CIA loves him to death and he took along his own cheer squad to demonstrate this when he visited Langley. All three of these things are plainly delusional. He has senior people on his staff whose fortitude doesn’t extend to being able to tell him so, and who, moreover, will tell lies for him. That’s a real worry.

Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if he were just another Idi Amin intent on gazumping some poor little country somewhere that no one really cares about, even if they should. And we all understand the political imperative to deliver something that will make the people hum, since, as a lovely old ditty puts it, the alternative is to vanish with a boot up the bum.

But it’s America we’re talking about: the place some people still think of as the leader of the free world.

At this point in the Trump presidency the best policy is still to laugh. It’s his Beer Hall Moment, even though his oratory gets nowhere near the exclamatory splendour achieved by a certain murderous malcontent of Central European origin and late gross notoriety.

A beer hall rant is something the duplicitous Trump might manage. He’d be a sorry failure at a Nuremberg rally.

His trade policy, which during the election campaign was taken by the duped masses to mean he’d bring factories and jobs back from China where successive American governments and multinational corporations had sent them, risks a trade war with China.

This in turn creates risk for other nations rather closer to the locus of China’s acquisitive predispositions than the USA, and, in turn, may prompt political responses that (to take up the point a late Japanese emperor made in his surrender broadcast at the end of World War II) may not develop to our advantage.

His Mexican wall policy is risible, though it’s of less concern globally than other aspects of his Bonfire of the Vanities platform.

We could go on. But we’re not quite ready for Seppuku, our hara-kiri moment, just yet, so we won’t.

Except to have a lovely laugh at a report that a Native American nation in Arizona whose traditional lands include 120 kilometres of Mexican border won’t be allowing the POTUS to erect his ridiculous wall along it.

Mexico is known for Montezuma’s Revenge (think Bali Belly). Perhaps Mr Trump is about to experience Geronimo’s Revenge as well. That thought, at least, gives us a smile.

Not So Bad

WHEN sometimes it may seem that one’s life is a mess, or at the very least, is conflicted, it is useful to have friends in far more interesting places.

An acquaintance who works in West Africa and who seems to spend a deal of time in Burkina Faso advised yesterday that he had just checked in (again) at the Hotel Splendid in Ouagadougou, the country’s capital city.

“Bullet holes have been removed now,” was his laconic situation report. We shot back a note: “Splendid!”

Rice Field View

WE made a brief foray to Ubud this week, to stay with an amusingly lovely French friend who – we discovered – has a fondness for North African music, which is right up our alley. Her house, in the rice fields and just completed, is up an alley too. The Diary’s trusty mini-SUV just made it through, in L for go really slowly, exterior mirrors retracted.

It’s lucky we were staying the night. The little thoroughfare back to the main road might have been a challenge on a rainy evening after a glass or two of red. It was eminently negotiable the next afternoon, by which time enough restorative coffee had been taken. Though we did take the precaution of switching on the iPod’s drive-time playlist to drown out the Distaff’s exclamatory outbreaks.

On the way home through the mayhem of pre-Gong Xi Fa Chai traffic we decided to extend our French experience. We stopped at La Tartine on the bypass at Sanur for refreshments dans le style français. The scrambled feta salad was wonderful (the Distaff had quiche Lorraine) and we were quite unable to resist trying the Unicorn Poop afterwards, as a shared desert. You really can’t beat the French for chocolate cake.

Back to Work

WELL, that’s in the notional sense, since we are retired gentlefolk who live quietly and whose singular mission is to fail to ripple anyone’s pond. But being of Australian provenance, one of us fully and the other by long adoption, we’ve always found it difficult to get back into harness until Australia Day has come and gone, which it now has.

It is celebrated on the same date that India celebrates its Republic Day. Perhaps this secretly inspires Australian non-monarchists, those chaps who are always looking for an excuse to fast-forward a forthcoming inevitability. Patience is not a public virtue in these days of instant crowd-funded issues.

Anyway, this weekend has been set aside for quill sharpening and post-it noting. Focused scribbling has recommenced.

Flaming Feathers

WELCOME to the year of the Red Rooster, aka Fire Rooster. If flaming roosters of our acquaintance – these include the Distaff – can get through it without setting their tail feathers on fire, good luck to them.

The other occupant of The Cage has just managed to survive his Year of the Monkey. It is surely a cruel joke that our zodiacal challenges should be consecutive. Thank goodness there are 12 years between run-ons. Or run-ins.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. His next appears on Feb. 1.

Waiting for the Last Trump

U.S ELECTION

Sep. 29, 2016

 

Them good ol’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singing ‘this’ll be the day that I die’ 

– Don Maclean, ‘American Pie’

161010-donald-trump-is-a-vulgar-pig

Update 10 Oct. 2016: This election sign somewhere in America says it all.

THE 2016 American presidential election pits against each other two candidates for whom I am grateful, as a non-American, that I shan’t have to vote. The Republican-Democrat stranglehold on federal power, a function both of machine politics and the complexity of government, prevents any alternative emerging.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is an inspiring figure. Both carry what is crudely called baggage. However, the American election is of interest, because the financial, political and military power of the US naturally impacts on the world at large, and which one of them becomes the next president of the USA is of critical importance.

So let’s briefly look at them both, from an outsider’s perspective.

Clinton has been part of the American political machine for more than two decades. She does know how it works (and probably that this is not very well) and she has standing on the world stage. She is a known factor in international diplomacy.

Things over which she may fairly be criticised are openly known; they are things with which other international leaders are familiar. She has fairly set out the international policy directions she would implement in office. They are mainstream positions. They won’t frighten the horses (or the Chinese, or the Iranians). They represent only modifications to the status quo.

She won’t set the world on fire. Most of us would probably say that this was a good thing.

Trump is a complete contrast. He has no public service experience. He says he’ll do deals with foreign nations, as if they were businesses that the Trump imperium either wanted to work with or to see in court – or to welsh on, another Trump SOP. That’s his record.

His pitch to American voters is that he’ll do things differently. And that’s fine, or it would be if Trump’s word were worth even a lawyer’s letter. His persona is vainglorious, his intellect (which is substantial) is focused on personal acquisition, his manners are appalling, his taste is execrable, his political direction is plainly scary, his social morals are questionable if not entirely absent, and his ethics are notional.

He is also risible, and it is on this last point that his real vulnerability exists. His supporters don’t care for policy, so arguing those is a zero sum game. He is more TV personality than leader in waiting (who would ever want to be Trump’s Apprentice?) He is loose with his language, crassly dismissive of all criticism, a sort of personal bonfire of the vanities.

Liberal democracies can deal with such personalities, if they wish, and if they have the energy and can find the courage. Trump is not actually a figure of fun – he is a clear and present danger – but he is vulnerable to ridicule. Most such people are.

And therein lies the beneficence of liberal democracy. We can slag off at our leaders, actual or putative, without risking police action on behalf of the rich and powerfully offended.

There was no tradition of liberal democracy in Germany when Adolf Hitler seized the public stage and later the nation. If a lot of people had laughed at him early in the piece, he might not have become quite the global problem that he later did. But it was left to the music halls of other western democracies and to Charlie Chaplin to make him a figure of fun, too late in the piece to head off disaster.

His fellow fascist, Benito Mussolini, was of course Italian, and Italy had (and still has) its own risible ways of conducting its politics.

Trump is no Hitler. But he might be a Mussolini, if left unchecked and un-laughed at. He probably does want to make the trains run on time. Mussolini managed that, but by means of adjusting the timetables to take account of time spent idle at train stations en route. He had some sensible ideas. Well, one sensible idea.

We haven’t heard a sensible idea from Trump in this election campaign.

We’ve heard that he’d like to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans and deport millions of illegal immigrants who are chiefly doing jobs Americans won’t do.

We’ve heard that he’d like to repatriate American money to create jobs, but no actual working plan that would achieve that.

He’d like to repudiate the architecture of global commerce and put European members of NATO on a pay-for-the-privilege program.

He thinks Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a good ol’ boy and that the irredentist Chinese, except for their success in stealing American jobs, are doing OK on a range of things, presumably including human rights, which anyway functionally fail to rate on the Trump scale of excellent ideas.

Lately, I’ve been criticised (by people I respect immensely) for making fun of Trump on social media and for playing the PC game. I don’t play the PC game. Economically I’m drier than Innaminka in a drought year. I make no apology for that. But neither do I apologise for publicly laughing at Trump, a living caricature, a man of other people’s means, a sociopath.

He is a risible candidate for POTUS. He is 72. There’s nothing wrong with that. I shall shortly achieve that milestone myself. But I don’t possess the sort of questionable and worrying vanity that would persuade me to wear a ginger stoat on my head.

Sorry, but if Trump’s the answer, the question is stupid.