Wednesday, August 29, 2012

White and Delightsome

From time to time, I read the Washington Post which obsesses at length about the presidential election circus. I asked myself ‘what possible concern is it to me whether the democrat with the Medicare overcomes the Mormon with the money?” Yet, the implications of the outcome on November 6th are likely to be far-reaching, in particular in respect of US foreign policy. Voters tend, I think, to cast their vote over no more than two or three major policy issues – for some, women’s issues is at the forefront of their thinking, for others, jobs and the economy, yet others will consider their immediate tax position, and so on. The office the winner will hold is greater than the one holding it so the development of the perception that he must be as far as possible all things to all men is where all the obscenely inflated advertising money goes.
This is a mitt. $30 a pair
Why, I wonder, is Willard Mitt Romney in a position to challenge for the top job? He is spectacularly wealthy, having made his estimated $190-250million in various financial enterprises – it’s hard to see how an up-and-coming accountant with a wife and a mortgage, for example, could possibly challenge since the required resources would not keep him in the running for more than a few minutes. He is, of course, a Mormon. As a people group, particularly in Utah, they do seem to have rather a lot of cash. Why, then, are there so many wealthy Mormons? Perhaps the answer in part lies simply because they got to Utah slightly ahead of the rest of the westward migration, grabbed a lot of land, built property and set up a self-managed infrastructure in these areas. Their wealth has grown over the generations – Mormonism is fiscally conservative - and set families up for prosperity and recognition in their communities. Of itself, this even might not be enough. The religion itself teaches that if you are righteous, you will be wealthy because of God's blessings. H’m. I wonder where I’ve heard that before. Righteousness in Mormonism seems to consist of adherence to a set of tightly prescribed rules for life and conduct - the list for Mormon missionaries - which Romney was for thirty months – is prescriptive to the point of obsession and the consequent mind control its adherents must and do invariably practise has more than a little of the cult about it, down to a remarkably detailed dress code for women and appropriate undergarments. {Ed - he must be bored witless if he has nothing better to do than trawl the Net for this kind of thing. Do get on with it.} By way of light relief, Stephen Fry's encounter with a tourist guide in Salt Lake City is worth two minutes. Creeping back on-topic, the result of all this constipated moral rectitude is that people like Mitt Romney, who have had a lifetime’s practice at rule-keeping, are often accused of being inflexible control freaks. Which is unfortunate since the sea of politics requires a lot more thinking on one’s feet, consultation and compromise. If the strict pyramidal hierarchy of Mormon leadership is his model – no problem if you’re at the top of the pyramid – he’s a stake president (aka high priest, already with the title of ‘President’) then the White House will find itself regimented beyond endurance. Also, the President is what people like Ahmedinajad, Morsi and others see when such people are called upon to practise high level diplomacy. It does seem unfortunate, therefore that Mormonism has at its heart institutionalised racism. No LDS rebuttal to date has been made in response to the following piece of anthropologically fictitious nonsense:
"You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation ...When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel;  but by-and-by they will become a white (pure) and delightsome people" (Journal of Discourses 7:336).[Brigham Young, 1859].
Where, I ask myself does this leave Barack Obama? He’s black and a Democrat – what could possibly be worse?  It’s been almost a tradition amongst, shall we say, the more colourful elements on the loony fringe of Christianity, to routinely brand the US president, along with the current Pope, as the Antichrist or some other satanically inspired personage. Additionally, many Mormons give more than passing credence to the so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy” which was a statement purportedly made in 1843 by Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS, regarding the future of the Mormons and the USA.  The Latter Day Saints, according to the prophecy, would "go to the Rockies and ... be a great and mighty people", identified figuratively with the White Horse described in Revelation 6:2. This contradicts Irenaeus who suggested that the White Horse was in fact Christ and Billy Graham thought it might be the Antichrist, so there’s something of a polarity of opinion here. The prophecy further predicts that the United States Constitution will one day "hang like a thread" and will be saved "by the efforts of the White Horse. Well, cometh the hour, cometh the man. We'll see, shall we?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Being Retired

I haven't really got used to the whole notion of Being Retired. The old war horse, out to pasture. Nothing to do except nibble the odd blade of grass and assemble IKEA. It suggests a terminal finality - crawling the earth waiting for the inevitable onset of osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis, necrosis or whatever other 'oses' are enthusiastically discussed in places where the elderly gather. Nothing could be further from the truth but I have a vivid imagination. Outsourcing retirement to less expensive locations is, like call centres, a viable possibility - the subject of the vastly entertaining 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the elderly and beautiful)'  Filmed in Rajasthan, the film's colourful British cast, who for various reasons all find themselves arriving simultaneously at a hotel which, let's say, doesn't quite match the aspirational rhetoric in the brochure, contrast vividly with the equally colourful, teminally noisy, chaotic location with spectacularly inefficient hotel 'management', with all its Indian-ness and borrowed linguistic finery – a kind of Asian Basil Fawlty.  The location was a perfect emblem of an older feudal system and an agricultural economy colliding inescapably with the modern technological India, the melting pot being a perfect metaphor for the way in which the location influenced the lives of the cast, a rather rag-bag collection of retirees all with different expectations, hopes and dreams played by seven superb veterans whose sheer presence carried the action and manipulated the subplots wonderfully.  Much like some of the characters – not the cast - the beautiful old city is very down on its heels now. Extraordinary architecture suffering terribly from dilapidation but at the same time beauty and light peep through the ageing. The overall theme was a willingness to embrace change and having done so the past can reconfigure a future hitherto unimagined, with some very, very funny lines. "You're not worried about having sex at your age?" "If she dies, she dies..."

It’s good for me to get to laugh with the optimists once in a while. Loved it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Slow Noose

It's quiet here - a place to think.
I had meant to post about holidays - but Facebook is immediate and those interested can look there for whatever details entertain them about my recent travels.
I picked up an old, well-used hunting rifle the other day. It had been abandoned for some time. French-made, the triggers a little worn but the barrelling still smooth and the catches sharp, I realised that I still remembered how to use one. It reached quickly to target, its balance good and quick in my hands. I remembered the requisite care to make sure safety was on and the weapon correctly transported. Curiously, it set in train some thoughts about wars, defensive and aggressive, the Syrian conflict uppermost in my mind. I was reminded of a film – oddly - since its action could not take place further than these hectares of wild land. "The Kingdom"  - made in 2007 - is an strange American take on the impenetrabilities of Middle Eastern life. Very well worth a look, depressing though its outcome was. It is this very depression, a realisation that guns and bullets are not the primary currency of warfare here; instead the imperviousness to Western ideology lying at the heart of the Middle Eastern mindset, which prompted these thoughts. 

The Saudis are in many ways the elder brothers of the Kuwaitis - what happens in Riyadh and Jeddah is frequently mirrored in Kuwait, the long reach of the Wahhabist ideology which spawned Al Qaeda (yes, it did, for those who howl 'foul') crosses the northern border without much dilution. I was there for six years, long enough, one might suppose, to have penetrated the outer echelons of society, politics and finance. Truth was, with hindsight, I hardly scratched the surface, but, sadly, imagined that I had. Kuwaiti friends, almost all Westernised or, at least, Western educated, treated me as their friend and brother - the man in the street however, the stallholder or merchant, the electors of  the strict Islamic majority now presiding in government, superficially treated me with respect as is customary in Islamic cultures, the elaborate protocols of guest and host followed punctiliously,  yet I was no nearer to their souls the day I left than the day I first arrived. Islam in the Peninsula is different than Islam overseas. The Holy Places are revered above all else there and the infidel is to be respected but not trusted. He worships a foreign god - his dissolute, immoral ways anathema to the soul of Islam. He is to be kept apart. The notion of Dhimmitude, originating in the 7th century, still applies today to non-Muslims under Islamic rule—whether Jews, Christians or whatever, whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. It began in 628 CE when Mohammed and his forces conquered the Jewish oasis at Khaybar. They massacred many of the Jews and forced the rest to accept a pact, or dhimma which rendered them inferior to their Muslim conquerors. Over the centuries, the ideology expanded into a formal system of religious apartheid. Although many Islamic countries, including Kuwait, do not practise a full-blown variety, the writing on the wall suggests that some would prefer it to be so. There have been rumblings in the Kuwaiti parliament and church building is disapproved of, pursuant to a deathbed hadith of the Prophet that there be only one religion in the Peninsula, namely Islam.  When free speech and human rights clashes with Islam, human rights take second place and First Amendment expressions of tolerance are disregarded.

In Shari’a law, there are official discriminations against the dhimmi, such as the poll-tax or jizya, not curently practised in Kuwait, but the principle remains.

The infidel has fewer legal rights. Jews may not testify in court against a Muslim and have no legal right to dispute or challenge anything done to them by Muslims. There is no such thing as a Muslim raping a Jewish woman; there is no such thing as a Muslim murdering a Jew (at most, it can be manslaughter). By contrast, a Jew who strikes a Muslim is killed.

Originally, a policy of humiliation and vulnerability was followed. Jews and Christians had to walk around with badges or veils identifying them. The yellow star that Jews wore in Nazi Germany did not originate in Europe. It was borrowed from the Muslim world.

The conditional protection of the Dhimmi is withdrawn if the Dhimmi rebels against Islamic law, gives allegiance to a non-Muslim power (in particular, Israel), refuses to pay the poll-tax, entices a Muslim from his faith, or harms a Muslim or his property. If the protection is lifted, jihad resumes. For example, Islamists in Egypt who pillage and kill the Copts can do so because they no longer pay their poll-tax and therefore are no longer protected. There is clear evidence that Morsi's government are at best turning a blind eye to social and religious injustices and at worst encouraging a more muscular application of the principle - a slow noose. Patrick Sookhdeo - well worth a look at his distinguished bibliography -  published a book in 2002 which examined the condition known in Pakistan as “bonded labour”. [A People Betrayed: The Impact of Islamisation on the Christian Community in Pakistan, Christian Focus Publications; Isaac Publishing, ISBN 1-85792-785-0] It illustrates the subservience maintained by fiscal exploitation and indebtedness which led to expropriation and a system of slavery. Likewise, Sookhdeo demonstrates how the inferior status of the non-Muslim can validate an abuse, in theory forbidden by law, and make it irreversible, as for example the accusation of blasphemy or the abduction of Christian women. This crime, still perpetrated in Egypt today, has been a permanent feature of dhimmitude. As Syria shifts on its axis, it remains to be seen whether the inevitable fall of Assad will create a power vacuum which once again will be filled by the hardliners. If so, the slow noose or stranglehold around Israel will tighten as the new masters in Damascus will take their orders from Iranian ayatollahs for whom the medievalist protocols for dhimmi are enshrined in tradition and shari’a law. I am not, characteristically, optimistic, but by way of a final parry, this came to mind. (thanks to SJ and JR via Facebook)